Other voices: Release the JFK records

DALLAS — Monday marked the 58th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on the streets of Dallas. It’s time for the government to release all it has on that event.

According to the website of the National Archives, the government holds more than 5 million pages of records, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings and artifacts — about 2,000 cubic feet of material. Just under 16,000 documents remain at least partially classified. Most of those were generated by the CIA and FBI, according to the think tank Just Security at the New York University School of Law. They include contemporaneous reports, interview notes, files of CIA officers who knew about accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and interviews conducted by congressional investigators.

Last month, the White House announced that it is delaying the release of those remaining documents, citing delays from the pandemic. In a baffling twist perfectly suited for the JFK case, a 1,600-word White House memo quotes but does not name David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, who said “making these decisions is a matter that requires a professional, scholarly, and orderly process; not decisions or releases made in haste.”

Haste? Hardly. If 16,000 documents had been loaded onto a Saturn V rocket on the day the Warren Commission issued its report in 1964 and launched into the heavens, they would have been 12.5 billion miles away by now, well out of our solar system. To connect the word “haste” to those records is to write science fiction.

We doubt there are bombshells waiting in those documents. There may be revelations about suspicion around Oswald before the assassination, or even evidence that he had liaised with intelligence officers, a possibility that has long tantalized conspiracy theorists. But there likely isn’t anything that will substantively change the tragic, confusing narrative as we know it.

But if the release of those records isn’t important in setting the record straight for America, it’s certainly important for Dallas.

Our city has lived with the stain of Kennedy’s death long enough. It haunts our politics. It colors our reputation in the world. It draws the crazies to Dealey Plaza. Every president who has visited us since then has thought about that day, and every nut job with a theory on the magic bullet has wondered what the government is holding back.

Will releasing the final 16,000 documents end the conspiracies? No. Will it change that part of our city’s past? Of course not. But it will at least close another chapter of the sordid tale. In our book, Washington could afford a little more haste in that regard.

— The Dallas Morning News

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