The reason for a new statute is to ensure that the JFK Act passed in 1992 remains viable today. The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 lost its efficacy in 1998 after the ARRB disbanded. In its final report, the Board recommended that "future declassification efforts avoid the major shortcomings of the JFK Act: (a) unreasonable time limits, (b) employee restrictions, (c) application of the law after the Board terminates, and (d) problems inherent with rapid sunset provisions."
Many of the remaining provisions of the JFK Act continue in force: "The remaining provisions of this Act shall continue in effect until such time as the Archivist certifies to the President and the Congress that all assassination records have been made available to the public in accordance with this Act." This provision is significant because it underscores the continuing obligation of federal agencies to release records on the assassination after the Review Board's term expires. There has been no effective action on this continuing obligation since 1999. It is time for a new review and a fresh start.
I propose a new bill that restores the efficacy of the JFK Act, with no sunset clause. Since a joint oversight group has not been created since 1998, it is apparent that particular model for continuing the work of the JFK Act is ineffective.
Instead, as advocated by the ARRB for the JFK case and cases like it, a new panel of citizens should be appointed by the President, with the same powers held by the last body. The new board will ask the federal agencies to review their holdings, and provide all documents that might fit into the assassination records category. There are several agencies that simply did not provide sufficient documents to the ARRB, and these problems can be easily shown and corrected. The ARRB took depositions from certain witnesses, and that procedure should be retained in this Act as well. It is particularly important to preserve the testimony of elderly witnesses who are passing away before their story can be preserved.
The new bill will use the same definition and regulations propounded by the ARRB for an "assassination record" as a record "related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, that was created or made available for use by, obtained by, or otherwise came into possession of" the federal government (or state or local law enforcement offices that assisted in an investigation of President Kennedy's assassination). The statute and regulations set forth a common-sense definition that was easily applicable.
The Review Board recommended that "a joint oversight group composed of representatives of the four organizations that originally nominated individuals to serve on the Review Board be created to facilitate the continuing execution of the access provisions of the JFK Act." That has not happened. Researchers' efforts in using the JFK Act to get new documents released has been unsuccessful in both the agencies and in the courts. All that is available is the very restrictive procedures set forth in the FOIA for documents not already provided to the National Archives. The Review Board found that in the past "the federal government needlessly and wastefully classified and then withheld from public access countless important records that did not require such treatment."
Section 7 of the JFK Act was perhaps the Act's cornerstone in that it created a truly independent board that would oversee the federal government's implementation of the Act. The Act instructed the President to nominate five citizens "to serve as members of the Review Board to ensure and facilitate the review, transmission to the Archivist, and public disclosure of government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy." The Act required members of the Board to be "impartial private citizens" who were not presently employed by the federal government and had not "had any previous involvement with any official investigation or inquiry conducted by a federal, state, or local government, relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy."
The Act further instructed the President to nominate "distinguished persons of high national reputation in their respective fields who are capable of exercising...independent and objective judgment." The Act envisioned a board consisting of at least one professional historian and one attorney, and it stated that the President should consider recommendations from the following professional associations: the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Bar Association.
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It shouldn't be necessary to go to Congress, but since it is, Congress should just order a blanket declassification of all identified JFK files held by National Archives with a caveat the President personally (so he can't delegate job to any subordinate) can block a particular document release for 180 days. If there's a good reason to continue blocking release--- I dunno, the identity of a still living CIA spy in the Kremlin would be released--- 6 months is plenty of time to lobby Congress to vote to seal that particular record. If it turns there is no good reason to continue blocking release, then the White House is just gifted 6 months to come up with good PR spin if ugly facts will be coming out.
Then there's the problem of unidentified JFK documents (whether wrongly filed at the Archives or still held by agencies). Thirty odd years ago,Congress ordered the Dept of Justice's Office of Special Counsel to scour and declassify govt records with information about Nazi war criminals and their war crimes (John Loftus has written some interesting books about his work there). Likewise the Office of Special Counsel could be ordered to scour govt files, in both the Archives and the agencies- for hidden JFK-related files that should be added to JFK collection (thus making them immediately subject to blanket declassification). They could start with the FBI's collection of Carlos Marcello prison wiretap recordings where he allegedly confessed to involvement with the JFK assassination and provided details of the conspiracy.
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