Features: The Warren Commission, The Truth, and Arlen Specter: Part 1

THIS IS AN IMPORTANT POlNT and Arlen Specter knows it. When questioned about it he appeared visibly disturbed and made an apparent effort to retain his composure, uncharacteristic for a competent prosecutor who normally exudes self-confidence. He admitted he never saw the x-rays and photographs. "Did I ask, to see the x-rays and photographs?" he said, putting his head down, rubbing his chin and pausing for a long period to phrase his answer. "Aaaaah
that question was considered by me," he finally said, "and … aaaah … the Commission decided not to press for the x-rays and photographs,"

He looked up.

"Have I dodged your question? … Yes, I’ve dodged your question."

He got up and paced behind his desk. ‘Finally, he said quietly, "I, don’t want to dodge your questions."

He stopped, paused again and said, "As the assistant counsel in that area I was interested in seeing the photographs and x-rays. I was interested in every conceivable bit of evidence which would have any line on the issue of direction of the bullet. The Commission considered whether the x-rays and photographs should be put into the record and should be examined by the Commission’s staff and the Commission reached the conclusion that it was not necessary. The reasons for the Commission’s decision were based on testimony and on the considerations of taste and respect for the dead President. I specifically leave out my personal attitude on the subject because I don’t think it’s really a main factor."

Not a main factor? That is doubtful. In fact, the question arises as to whether or not Specter considered resigning.

"Absolutely not," he says. "I would say absolutely not."

The decision of the Commission was not an egregious use of their discretion. The President of the United States didn’t want Arlen Specter to do the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy. The President of the United States appointed the Commission to do that job."

Specter puts up a good front now, but at the time, according to other sources, he was extremely disturbed at the Commission’s decision not to "press" for the x-rays and photographs. In fact, he argued his case strongly and was very upset over the refusal. Another young Commission lawyer reportedly confided that Specter was actually ill tears when his argument was rejected.

That Specter went on with his assignment is an indication of his character. He is not the type of guy who picks up his marbles and quits. His position at the time must also be understood. He was a junior lawyer working with perhaps the most eminent and respected collection of attorneys in the country on one of the most important investigations in history. Certainly he must have considered the significance and consequences both to his career and to the Commission’s task had any violent dissention been made known.

What happened to the x-rays and photographs and why were they so important?

In the early evening of November 22nd an ambulance carrying the body of President Kennedy stopped at the front entrance of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Mrs. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy got out and entered the building. The ambulance was then driven around to the rear entrance where the body was removed and taken into the autopsy room. Present in the autopsy room, besides medical personnel, were FBI agents Francis X. O’Neill Jr. and James W. Sibert, and Secret Service agents Roy Kellerman, William Greer and William O’Leary. Kellerman was assistant agent in charge of the White House detail.

According to the FBI report, after the body was unwrapped and before Dr. Humes began the autopsy, all personnel except those who were to take the photographs and x-rays of the body were requested to leave the autopsy room. The following were then reportedly taken: 11 x-rays; 22 4×5 color photographs; 18 4×5 black-and white photographs; and five exposures on a roll of 120 film. The x-rays were developed at the hospital and Secret Service agent Kellerman was later to testify he viewed one of the President’s skull. However, all the x-rays as well as all the undeveloped photographs were turned over to Kellerman. Whether or not they were eventually turned over to Robert Kennedy or President Johnson is not known.

What is known is that the x-rays and photographs later became tremendously important in view of the serious points of conflicting evidence which questioned the accuracy of the autopsy report Dr. Humes filed.

The Commission never resolved the remarkable questions which that evidence raised — principally because Arlen Specter never saw those x-rays and. photographs.