critique of Stewart Galanor’s Cover-up
Kenneth A. Rahn
26 May 1999 (Draft)
I am writing this formal critique of Stewart Galanor’s
1998 book Cover-up for two main reasons. The first is that in recent
months, Mr. Galanor has prodded me repeatedly to justify my general stance on
his book and why I do not plan to adopt it for future use in my class at the
University of Rhode Island on the JFK assassination. Although we have discussed
the book several times, he has found each of the conversations unsatisfying in
the sense that he does not feel that I have explained my positions
satisfactorily I hope that by writing down my comments, I can be sufficiently
clear and complete. I invite him to reply, and will post anything he sends me.
The second reason is to offer a counterweight to the reviews that have appeared to date, which have been complimentary because the reviewers generally shared Galanor’s critical approach to the assassination. To help promote their common cause, they were not as critical as they might have been. I believe that readers’ best interests are served when every new JFK book is reviewed by at least two persons of very different outlooks on the case.
This review is in five parts. First is a list of 15 general comments on the book. Second is expanded comments on a few of the 15 general comments. Third is a sample list of ten factual errors from the book. Fourth is a list of recommendations for a second edition. Last is comments on who I think can benefit from this book, i.e., who ought to buy it.
1. I don’t doubt Stewart’s sincerity or commitment to solving the
I have talked with Stewart for many hours about this book and his view of the assassination, and have come to appreciate his sincerity in all things and his commitment to finding (in his view) the president’s assassins. He has repeatedly dealt with me in a higher manner than many of his critical colleagues have. I respect these aspects of his personality.
2. He has clearly worked very hard on the book.
This book is the product of years of hard, dedicated effort. Stewart has every right to regard it as the high point of his life. I respect the effort he has put into it.
3. I could take issue with nearly everything in it.
In other words, this critique represents only the tip of the iceberg. We have deep, fundamental, and wide-ranging differences. So do several other people that I have talked to.
4. The book is too short to do anything well.
In many cases, brevity is a virtue. I believe that here, however, Stewart has carried brevity to such an extreme that it hurts the book—it does not allow him to explain many of the important topics that are required of any successful book on the assassination. (See points 9–12.)
5. The book offers nothing new other than photographs.
My very first impression of Cover-up, after getting it in late 1998, was that it was the same old stuff all over again. That impression has not changed.
6. The book has no special qualities.
With so many JFK books already published, any new one needs to be significantly different from the pack, especially if it interprets the same evidence in the same way and takes the same critical position. This one does not contain any redeeming feature, as far as I can see.
7. This book criticizes but offers no interpretation of its own.
It is easy to criticize but hard to do better. The Warren Commission named their perpetrator and gave reasons; Galanor does not.
8. The book contains numerous factual errors.
See the list of ten sample errors below.
9. The book does not distinguish between probability, belief, and proof.
Of all the critically important concepts that must be laid out carefully in any JFK book that deals seriously with evidence, the concepts of probability, belief, and proof rank among the highest. This book does not discuss any of them. In fact, it routinely confuses belief and proof. Its short section on neutron activation is fatally flawed because it does not use probability.
10. The book does not acknowledge or explain the different types of evidence.
Since direct and indirect evidence lead to fundamentally different types of conclusions, how can any book that works with evidence fail to discuss this critical difference? And yet, this book does exactly that. In so doing, Galanor deprives his readers of one of their most-important tools. It is no exaggeration to state that readers who do not appreciate the difference between direct and indirect evidence cannot fully understand the JFK assassination. The same can be said for the difference between strong and weak (falsifiable versus unfalsifiable) evidence.
11. The book does not give its principles of using evidence.
Stewart Galanor and I have discussed this topic many times. He expects his readers to extract his principles of using evidence by watching what he does with it. I think this is an unreasonable expectation. When it comes to something as important as handling evidence, writers must spell out precisely what they do and why.
12. The book uses evidence selectively.
The book repeatedly and frequently leaves out critical evidence. Some of the most egregious examples are Dr. Boswell’s numerical road map to the high location of the posterior neck wound, the Parkland doctors’ admissions that the anterior neck wound could have been either entrance or exit, and Dr. Guinn’s clear assertion that matching fragments chemically is probabilistic rather than unique. There are many more.
13. The book ignores evidence that disproves Galanor’s favorite conclusions.
See Point 12.
14. The book proves neither conspiracy nor cover-up.
Galanor’s evidence for conspiracy is hopelessly weak and does not even approach proving it. He neither defines "prove" nor notes the degree to which his evidence can approach it. The same holds for cover-up. Galanor responds that he never intended to prove conspiracy. But this is at odds with at least three features of the book: (1) the obvious need to have a conspiracy if you are going to write a book on how it was covered up (note that the title is not Possible Cover-up of Possible Conspiracy); (2) the whole orientation of the book, which speaks of conspiracy as a given throughout; and (3) the chapter entitled "Death of the Lone Assassin Theory," which begins on page 111 and contains the blunt statement "With one simple stroke Dr. Mantik had scientifically disproved the lone assassin theory." If Galanor states categorically that the lone-assassin theory is dead and scientifically disproven, how can he then claim that he never intended to prove conspiracy? Disproving nonconspiracy automatically proves conspiracy.
15. The book is clearly biased.
Given the book’s lack of rigor, lack of proof for its main tenets, and its selective use of evidence, I can reach no other conclusion than that its answer was assumed from the beginning. This is bias pure and simple.
Detailed comments on selected topics
Selective use of evidence
I am very concerned by Galanor’s selective use of evidence. General Point 12 touched on this above; Factual Error 1 offers another example. Let us consider in more detail the cases of the posterior and anterior neck wound, which are intertwined.
Galanor seems determined to prove that Kennedy’s anterior neck wound (frequently called the "back wound" was low enough to be in the back rather than in the neck. This gets Galanor a nonsensical upward trajectory through Kennedy (shot in the back from the trunk?) and greatly reduces the pressure to take the single-bullet theory seriously. In fact, if followed to its logical extreme, the upward trajectory would best indicate that Kennedy was shot at a downward angle from the front. Galanor wants this because he believes that the throat wound was a point of entrance. But this would be incompatible with the fibers of Kennedy’s shirt and jacket being pushed forward. Well, says Galanor, when he finishes trashing the fiber evidence, the bullet entered at the throat but obviously didn’t exit there from the back. But this creates another serious problem which Galanor fails to acknowledge, namely that the bullet could not have exited anywhere else because there weren’t any other holes, but the X-rays showed no bullet lodged in his body. What does Galanor do with this impasse? He fails to mention it. He thus places himself in the borderline-dishonest position of proposing a impossible scenario (bullet entering through the front of the neck, not exiting, but not being found in the body) without acknowledging any problems with it.
In order to "prove" that the bullet entered the back low, Galanor has to ignore three critical and irrefutable pieces of clear, simple evidence: (1) the autopsy report’s road map to the entrance wound (14 cm from the tip of the right acromium process and 14 cm below the tip of the right mastoid process; page 540 of the WR); (2) the fact that face sheets such as the one drawn by Dr. Boswell are schematic only; and (3) the clear statement in the autopsy report that the "back" wound was "just above the upper border of the [right] scapula." Can anything be clearer? In the face of this evidence, to pretend that the back wound is anything but high is completely untenable. The eyewitness reports, photographs, and locations of holes in jacket and shirt that Galanor (and others) use while ignoring this clearly superior evidence are clearly subservient to this "best evidence" from the autopsy.
Galanor also fails to point out that once one accepts the high position of the back wound, all else falls into place. The angle through Kennedy’s body becomes indistinguishable from the downward firing angle from the sixth floor, the three wounds along the track between back and throat make sense, the bullet obviously exits through the throat, the path then continues directly into Connally’s back, and the SBT takes on front-runner status for explaining the seven wounds in the two men’s bodies. The contrast between problems resolved by the his entrance and problems created by the low entrance can hardly be greater. Once again, Galanor selectively fails to mention this strong point against his interpretation of the evidence.
Treatment of neutron activation
I am continually amazed by how passionately conspiracy theorists attack the neutron-activation analyses. I can only assume that they consider it a major threat to their view of the assassination, and rightly so. The NAA data bring a rare ray of light into the otherwise-murky assassination. The CTs innately recognize this challenge and go full blast against the NAA.
How ironic then that Galanor begins his brief treatment of the NAA data with an erroneous sentence: "The Single Bullet Theory is critical to answering the question of how many bullets were fired." Nonsense. The SBT has nothing to do with how many bullets were fired, for it says nothing about how many might have been fired by gunmen other than the one on the sixth floor. The SBT may have something to do with how many bullets from that shooter actually hit the men. But fundamentally, the SBT deals with whether a sixth-floor shooter could have created the motions of the two men observed in the Zapruder film.
In fact, there is no way to tell how many bullets were fired that day. But for determining how many bullets and what kind hit the men, NAA is the key. That is why it is so important for understanding the assassination. That is why the conspiracy theorists attack it so.
I will be producing a stinging critique of Galanor’s total mishandling of the NAA data, for he has gotten virtually everything about it wrong. (I speak as a 30-year veteran in this field.) For now, however, I limit myself to one aspect only, that of his insistence on interpreting the results uniquely rather than probabilistically.
Galanor’s critique of Dr. Guinn and the NAA data is based on the assumption that Guinn claimed he could conclusively distinguish Mannlicher-Carcano bullets from each other. This mistaken assumption is implicit in Cover-up’s section on NAA (pages 42–44), nearly explicit in the last paragraph of 43 and the first of 44, and explicit in Galanor’s talks and conversations on the subject. But it is wrong. To demonstrate this point, one must review Dr. Guinn’s various statements on the subject. To be sure, on page 511 of HSCA Volume I (Guinn’s report to the HSCA), he says that " This great variation [of antimony] from bullet to bullet from the same box [of MC bullets] indicated that, for this unusual kind of ammunition, it would be possible to distinguish one bullet (or bullet fragment) from another, even though they both came from the same box of Mannlicher-Carcano cartridges." But Guinn’s other statements on the same subject are softer. On page 530 (also in the report), he says that "…individual bullets of this brand can usually be distinguished form one another." On page 533, the last text in his report, he repeatedly uses the phrase "highly probable." In his testimony to the committee, he says "high probability of common origin" (page 491). On the next page, he speaks of estimating a probability of common origin [emphasis added]. Thus, Galanor’s supposition that NAA is supposed to be able to uniquely characterize bullets is demonstrably false. Galanor uses it to set up a false straw man and then try to knock it down. NAA was never represented as being able to uniquely identify MC bullets, and must not be portrayed this way. The fact that portions of two MC bullets might have the same concentration of antimony was foreseen by Guinn and dealt with probabilistically. Galanor should have done the same.
Galanor’s misunderstanding of Guinn’s position on this important issue renders his entire section on NAA nearly meaningless. It certainly invalidates his central argument.
Ten factual errors
1. Page 45, 3rd paragraph. Oswald was not "classified
as a ‘rather poor shot’ in the Marines." That was Lt. Col. Folsom's
characterization of Oswald's scores in one of his two marksmanship tests. The
other score, Folsom said, indicated that he was "a fairly good shot."
[WR, 191] Different days, different scores, one of which Galanor omitted. And it
was an officer’s opinion, not a "classification."
2. Page 46, 2nd paragraph. Here Galanor assumes that the WC claimed that Oswald fired three shots in six seconds or less. It didn’t. Instead, it said there were at most 5.6 seconds between the two shots that hit Kennedy, with another shot that missed occurring before, after, or between those two. The total time span mentioned was 4.8 to "in excess of 7 seconds." [WR, 117] Galanor should reread his cited source, WR, 193. His claim that two of the WC’s rifleman couldn't fire "as quickly as Oswald allegedly did" is based on a false premise. This is a persistent myth that will probably last till the end of time.
3. Page 80-81 "Warren Commission Claim." Galanor says that the FBI photographed an agent holding the rifle to try to duplicate the nose shadow in the backyard pictures, but then cut out the head in the demonstration photo. He says, "If the FBI had been able to duplicate the shadows of the backyard photograph, would it have removed the head?" He references WR pages 125 and 127, but there we find a different story. The purpose of the FBI’s photo was not to re-create the shadows but to determine whether the rifle in the photo was the same as the one found on the sixth floor. He misquotes the WC badly on this. (The HSCA found that the angle of the shadow under LHO’s nose would change as his head tilted in one direction or another.)
4. Page 83. The DPD photo with the "white silhouette".... was obviously taken at a later date than the backyard photos, and so could not have been used to fake them. Notice the difference in the foliage of the bush in the background and the presence of a new bush to the right front of the silhouette. (Compare his Documents 30 and 36).
5. Page 90, 1st paragraph. Oswald had recently opened a P.O. Box and the "part of the application authorizing people to receive mail was mysteriously missing." Incorrect. The FPCC and ACLU were listed, and the form survived. [WR, 312, last sentence of 2nd paragraph.]
6. Page 97, near the bottom. "Officer Baker wrote…" Baker didn't write this statement. It was in the FBI agent’s handwriting.
6A. Page 98, part of the same "lunchroom encounter" myth. The reenactment showed that Oswald didn't have to "jog" across the sixth floor. He didn't have to "zigzag" around piles of boxes because there was a clear aisle to the back of the building. He wasn’t yet in the lunchroom when Baker first spotted him, according to both his 11/22 statement and testimony—he spotted Oswald as Oswald was "walking away from the stairway" heading into the lunchroom. Indeed, if he had already been in the lunchroom, Baker could not have seen him from his position in the stairwell—Baker would have turned the corner and headed on upstairs.
7. Page 103. "Why was an avowed communist in the Marines sent to a secret air base....?" To my knowledge, there is no record that anyone in the Marines knew LHO's politics until he returned to the U.S. from Japan and was about to get out of the service. (Atsugi was not a secret base, although the U-2 program there was. The HSCA found that Oswald and fellow Marines had a very low security clearance.)
8. Page 115. I believe that Galanor or his source is slightly misquoting Earl Warren, who said that all the testimony might not be released in our lifetime, not all the facts. (As quoted in Rush to Judgment and Best Evidence.)
9. Page 117, top. The WC documents were not "ordered suppressed." It was (and is) customary for records of such commissions to be sealed for a number of years after the commission expires. LBJ actually signed an order releasing some of the WC files early. That’s how Meagher and others could quote "CD"s—unpublished commission documents that were in the National Archives. She and others also viewed the Zapruder film there in the ‘60s. All the WC files have now been released. What startling new evidence has anyone found there?
10. Page 89, top. What is the source for the idea that Oswald could have bought a gun "anonymously" from "any number of gun shops in Dallas"? This idea has been repeated many times, but without a source. One gunshop owner testified to the WC that he kept records of whoever bought guns and ammo from him. The DPD often checked with him and had brought him to the police station to take a look at the M-C. [Testimony of Alfred Douglas Hodge, vol. XV]
Recommendations for a second edition
If Galanor plans of offering a second edition of this book, I strongly recommend that he use the opportunity to fix the problems in this first edition. The main problems are, in no particular order, factual errors, lack of principles of critical thinking, lack of discussion of the various types of evidence, selective use of evidence, and lack of proof of conspiracy and cover-up. Remedying these problems would greatly strengthen the book. On the other hand, it would fundamentally change the nature of the book into the kind of book that Galanor was trying to avoid in the first place. I think that Galanor needs to realize that his original idea for this book has not worked.
Who should use this book
I think that this book will be most helpful for newcomers to the assassination who wish to have an introduction to the general critical perspective. For this purpose, it is very good. It will be less helpful to veterans of the case, however, because it leaves out too much and does not present alternative viewpoints.
Stewart Galanor’s response to this critique