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An "Easy Shot " ?


Gil Jesus
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The Testimony of Sgt. James A Zahm

In order to show that a shot from the Texas School Book Depository was an "easy shot", the Commission called as an expert witness, Sgt. James A Zahm, a Marine Corps NCO who was in charge of the the Marksmanship Training Unit at the Weapons Training Battalion Marine Corps School, Quantico, Va.. Sgt. Zahm was the non-commissioned officer in charge of the long-range team. This consisted of about 40 members of the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team, and he was responsible of the training, providing weapons, and hand loading the ammunition for practice and eventual firing at 600 and 1,000 yards.

( 11 H 306-307 )

Zahm went on to talk about his experience with rifle scopes:

" the higher powered telescopes are used in the particular type of firing we are doing right now, deliberate slow fire at extreme ranges of 600 and 1,000 yards. We use 12-power to 20-power telescopes." ( ibid.)

So here's the Commission's expert witness on rifle scopes, an NCO in charge of a Marine Corps "long range team" that fired at targets from "600 to 1,000 yards" using "12-power to 20-power telescopes".

And this is the guy whose going to give testimony saying that an 85 yard shot with a 4-power scope is an easy shot ?

But that's exactly what he did.

Mr. SPECTER. How would you characterize that, as a difficult, not too difficult, easy, or how would you characterize that shot?

Sergeant ZAHM. With the equipment he had and with his ability, I consider it a very easy shot.

testimony of Sgt. James a. Zahm ( 11 H 309 )

Let's look at this statement, "with the equipment he had and with his ability".

First, "the equipment he had" :

There's no evidence that Sgt. Zahm ever fired the Depository rifle and could not have possibly known the condition of the rifle prior to the assassination. Therefore, his "expert" testimony regarding "the equipment he had" is nothing more than an opinion devoid of any first hand knowledge and thus any factual basis.

Next, "his ability" :

There's no evidence that Sgt. Zahm was present during either of Oswald's two rifle qualifications and thus he could not have had first hand knowledge of Oswald's ability with a rifle. Because of this, one can assume that Sgt. Zahm was also not present when Oswald's scores were tallied and had no first hand knowledge of whether or not the scores accurately depicted what Oswald shot.

Sgt. Zahm admitted under testimony that his evaluation of Oswald's ability was based solely on the documents he saw:

Mr. SPECTER. Have you had an opportunity to examine the documents identified as Commission Exhibit No. 239 and Exhibit No. I to Major Anderson's deposition, Sergeant Zahm?

Sergeant ZAHM. Yes; I have.

Mr. SPECTER. Based on the tests of Mr. Oswald shown by those documents, how would you characterize his ability as a marksman?

Sergeant ZAHM. I would say in the Marine Corps he is a good shot, slightly above average, and as compared to the average male of his age throughout the civilian, throughout the United States, that he is an excellent shot.

( 11 H 308 )

But when Zahm is faced with whether or not Oswald could have aimed at and hit Kennedy in the head, he backpedals:

"....I think that aiming at the mass of what portion of the President is visible at that distance and with his equipment, he would very easily have attained a hit, not necessarily aiming and hitting in the head. This would have been a little more difficult and probably be to the top of his ability, aiming and striking the President in the head. But assuming that he aimed at the mass to the center portion of the President's body, he would have hit him very definitely someplace, and the fact that he hit him in the head, but he could have hit, got a hit.

Mr. SPECTER. So you would have expected a man of Oswald's capabilities at a distance of 265.3 feet to strike the President someplace aiming at him under those circumstances?

Sergeant ZAHM. Yes.

( 11 H 309 )

So the "easy shot" wasn't so easy after all. In fact, the only easy part about it was that a rifleman with Oswald's capabilities, using a four power scope, could have hit the President "someplace" and that a head shot from that distance would have been " a little more difficult ".

The reader should keep in mind that Oswald's qualifications with a rifle in the Marine Corps was with a .30 caliber rifle with no scope. As this photo shows:

post-3674-058918900 1330274888_thumb.jpg

The point being that Oswald would have had to have experience in "sighting in" a scoped rifle. There's simply no evidence to suggest that Oswald had the skills to do that.

Zahm's own testimony indicated that in order to sight in a rifle, one would have to have fired at least 10 rounds through it:

Mr. SPECTER. How many shots in your opinion would a man like Oswald have to take in order to be able to operate a rifle with a four-power scope, based on the training he had received in the Marine Corps?

Sergeant ZAHM. Based on that training, his basic knowledge in sight manipulation and trigger squeeze and what not, I would say that he would be capable of sighting that rifle in well, firing it, with 10 rounds.

( 11 H 308 )

In other words, for Oswald to have scoped in the disassembled rifle he would have had to have fired ten rounds through it after he reassembled it inside the building on November 22nd.

There's no evidence that Oswald fired 10 rounds through the Depository rifle on November 22, 1963.

In addition to these facts, there's no evidence that Zahm had any experience with ANY Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, let alone the alleged murder weapon. The one time he was asked a question by counsel specifically about the Mannlicher-Carcano, counsel rephrased the question:

Mr. SPECTER. How much familiarity would a man with Oswald's qualifications, obtained in the Marine Corps, require in order to operate a rifle with a scope such as a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle with a four-power scope?

Sergeant ZAHM. How much familiarity would he require?

Mr. SPECTER. Let me rephrase the question. Would it be very difficult for a man with Oswald's capabilities as a marksman to use a rifle with a four-power scope?( ibid. )

So we see that counsel was careful not to seek out information from Zahm with respect to the Mannlicher-Carcano specifically, but rephrased the question to aim it at "a rifle" instead.

Zahm had no business testifying about Oswald's ability or about the alleged murder weapon. He had no first hand knowledge of Oswald's ability, he had no first hand knowledge whether the test scores were accurate, he had no experience with the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and his expertise was with long range shooting from 600-1,000 yards using a 12 to 20-power scope.

One good point his testimony brings out however, is that if the rifle was brought into the building "broken down", the shooter had to have fired 10 rounds through it in order to scope it in.

Unless, of course, this rifle had a "Magic Scope".

Edited by Gil Jesus
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The Testimony of Sgt. James A Zahm

In order to show that a shot from the Texas School Book Depository was an "easy shot", the Commission called as an expert witness, Sgt. James A Zahm, a Marine Corps NCO who was in charge of the the Marksmanship Training Unit at the Weapons Training Battalion Marine Corps School, Quantico, Va.. Sgt. Zahm was the non-commissioned officer in charge of the long-range team. This consisted of about 40 members of the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team, and he was responsible of the training, providing weapons, and hand loading the ammunition for practice and eventual firing at 600 and 1,000 yards.

( 11 H 306-307 )

Zahm went on to talk about his experience with rifle scopes:

" the higher powered telescopes are used in the particular type of firing we are doing right now, deliberate slow fire at extreme ranges of 600 and 1,000 yards. We use 12-power to 20-power telescopes." ( ibid.)

So here's the Commission's expert witness on rifle scopes, an NCO in charge of a Marine Corps "long range team" that fired at targets from "600 to 1,000 yards" using "12-power to 20-power telescopes".

And this is the guy whose going to give testimony saying that an 85 yard shot with a 4-power scope is an easy shot ?

But that's exactly what he did.

Mr. SPECTER. How would you characterize that, as a difficult, not too difficult, easy, or how would you characterize that shot?

Sergeant ZAHM. With the equipment he had and with his ability, I consider it a very easy shot.

testimony of Sgt. James a. Zahm ( 11 H 309 )

Let's look at this statement, "with the equipment he had and with his ability".

First, "the equipment he had" :

There's no evidence that Sgt. Zahm ever fired the Depository rifle and could not have possibly known the condition of the rifle prior to the assassination. Therefore, his "expert" testimony regarding "the equipment he had" is nothing more than an opinion devoid of any first hand knowledge and thus any factual basis.

Next, "his ability" :

There's no evidence that Sgt. Zahm was present during either of Oswald's two rifle qualifications and thus he could not have had first hand knowledge of Oswald's ability with a rifle. Because of this, one can assume that Sgt. Zahm was also not present when Oswald's scores were tallied and had no first hand knowledge of whether or not the scores accurately depicted what Oswald shot.

Sgt. Zahm admitted under testimony that his evaluation of Oswald's ability was based solely on the documents he saw:

Mr. SPECTER. Have you had an opportunity to examine the documents identified as Commission Exhibit No. 239 and Exhibit No. I to Major Anderson's deposition, Sergeant Zahm?

Sergeant ZAHM. Yes; I have.

Mr. SPECTER. Based on the tests of Mr. Oswald shown by those documents, how would you characterize his ability as a marksman?

Sergeant ZAHM. I would say in the Marine Corps he is a good shot, slightly above average, and as compared to the average male of his age throughout the civilian, throughout the United States, that he is an excellent shot.

( 11 H 308 )

But when Zahm is faced with whether or not Oswald could have aimed at and hit Kennedy in the head, he backpedals:

"....I think that aiming at the mass of what portion of the President is visible at that distance and with his equipment, he would very easily have attained a hit, not necessarily aiming and hitting in the head. This would have been a little more difficult and probably be to the top of his ability, aiming and striking the President in the head. But assuming that he aimed at the mass to the center portion of the President's body, he would have hit him very definitely someplace, and the fact that he hit him in the head, but he could have hit, got a hit.

Mr. SPECTER. So you would have expected a man of Oswald's capabilities at a distance of 265.3 feet to strike the President someplace aiming at him under those circumstances?

Sergeant ZAHM. Yes.

( 11 H 309 )

So the "easy shot" wasn't so easy after all. In fact, the only easy part about it was that a rifleman with Oswald's capabilities, using a four power scope, could have hit the President "someplace" and that a head shot from that distance would have been " a little more difficult ".

The reader should keep in mind that Oswald's qualifications with a rifle in the Marine Corps was with a .30 caliber rifle with no scope. As this photo shows:

post-3674-058918900 1330274888_thumb.jpg

The point being that Oswald would have had to have experience in "sighting in" a scoped rifle. There's simply no evidence to suggest that Oswald had the skills to do that.

Zahm's own testimony indicated that in order to sight in a rifle, one would have to have fired at least 10 rounds through it:

Mr. SPECTER. How many shots in your opinion would a man like Oswald have to take in order to be able to operate a rifle with a four-power scope, based on the training he had received in the Marine Corps?

Sergeant ZAHM. Based on that training, his basic knowledge in sight manipulation and trigger squeeze and what not, I would say that he would be capable of sighting that rifle in well, firing it, with 10 rounds.

( 11 H 308 )

In other words, for Oswald to have scoped in the disassembled rifle he would have had to have fired ten rounds through it after he reassembled it inside the building on November 22nd.

There's no evidence that Oswald fired 10 rounds through the Depository rifle on November 22, 1963.

In addition to these facts, there's no evidence that Zahm had any experience with ANY Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, let alone the alleged murder weapon. The one time he was asked a question by counsel specifically about the Mannlicher-Carcano, counsel rephrased the question:

Mr. SPECTER. How much familiarity would a man with Oswald's qualifications, obtained in the Marine Corps, require in order to operate a rifle with a scope such as a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle with a four-power scope?

Sergeant ZAHM. How much familiarity would he require?

Mr. SPECTER. Let me rephrase the question. Would it be very difficult for a man with Oswald's capabilities as a marksman to use a rifle with a four-power scope?( ibid. )

So we see that counsel was careful not to seek out information from Zahm with respect to the Mannlicher-Carcano specifically, but rephrased the question to aim it at "a rifle" instead.

Zahm had no business testifying about Oswald's ability or about the alleged murder weapon. He had no first hand knowledge of Oswald's ability, he had no first hand knowledge whether the test scores were accurate, he had no experience with the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and his expertise was with long range shooting from 600-1,000 yards using a 12 to 20-power scope.

One good point his testimony brings out however, is that if the rifle was brought into the building "broken down", the shooter had to have fired 10 rounds through it in order to scope it in.

Unless, of course, this rifle had a "Magic Scope".

So the "easy shot" wasn't so easy after all.

I wonder? If the shot was not so easy after all could one consider it a lucky shot?

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I have an extensive discussion of the Warren Commission's treatment of Oswald's shooting ability on my webpage. It is clear they deliberately deceived the public on this matter.

From chapter 3c at patspeer.com:

Since the Commission refused to decide how the shots were fired, the possibility that Oswald successfully hit a moving target two of three times in as little as 4.8 seconds had to be supported. This put the writers of the report in a bind. As a result, the section of the report on Oswald's rifle capability is among the least credible parts of the report, filled with errors and (almost certainly) deliberate deceptions. This section, from chapter 4, originally written by Joseph Ball and David Belin, and then re-written by Norman Redlich, with a few final tweaks added by the Warren Commissioners, follows... with my comments in bold.

Oswald's Rifle Capability

In deciding whether Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally, the Commission considered whether Oswald, using his own rifle, possessed the capability to hit his target with two out of three shots under the conditions described in chapter Ill. The Commission evaluated (1) the nature of the shots, (2) Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, (8) his experience and practice after leaving the Marine Corps, and (4) the accuracy of the weapon and the quality of the ammunition.

The Nature of the Shots

For a rifleman situated on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building the shots were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade in virtually a straight line with the alignment of the assassin's rifle, at a range of 177 to 266 feet. An aerial photograph of Dealey Plaza shows that Elm Street runs at an angle so that the President would have been moving in an almost straight line away from the assassin's rifle. (See Commission Exhibit No. 876, p. 33.) In addition, the 3 degree downward slope of Elm Street was of assistance in eliminating at least some of the adjustment which is ordinarily required when a marksman must raise his rifle as a target moves farther away.

(As shown on the slide above, the Commission knew full well that the limousine was not proceeding "in virtually a straight line away" from the sixth floor sniper's nest, but was heading to the right. This makes this statement suspicious. That the FBI's Robert Frazier failed to measure the lead to the right necessary to hit the limousine for his March 31 testimony, and that FBI Exhibits Chief Leo Gauthier on June 4 misrepresented a photo taken from across the street of the sniper's nest and directly behind the limo as a photo taken from the sniper's nest, suggests that the FBI was being deliberately deceptive on this issue. That the Warren Commission, which oversaw the May 24, 1964 re-enactment, measured the vertical angle of descent from the sniper's nest, but not the horizontal angle of the bullet into the car (which was subsequently shown to vary from 12 to 8 degrees during the assassination sequence), and that photos of this re-enactment show the limo at frame 313 in line with a shot from the sniper's nest, but out of alignment with the lines in the street, suggests, furthermore, that they were a witting part of this deception. This should make us wonder if some "executive decision" had been made on this point. That Legendary LAPD Chief William Parker called a press conference on 11-27-63, and told the big, fat, Canada goose-honking lie that the lateral movement of the limo during the shooting sequence was so small it would have been "imperceptible" to a shooter in the sniper's nest, should only intensify this suspicion.)

Four marksmanship experts testified before the Commission. Maj. Eugene D. Anderson, assistant head of the Marksmanship Branch of the US. Marine Corps, testified that the shots which struck the President in the neck and in the head were "not ... particularly difficult."

Robert A. Frazier, FBI expert in firearms identification and training, said:"From my own experience in shooting over the years, when you shoot at 175 feet or 260 feet, which is less than 100 yards, with a telescopic sight, you should not have any difficulty in hitting your target. I mean it requires no training at all to shoot a weapon with a telescopic sight once you know that you must put the crosshairs on the target and that is all that is necessary."

(This avoids that, according to Frazier's own testimony, the crosshairs of Oswald's rifle were misaligned, and that his rifle, when first tested by the FBI, fired 4 inches high and 1 to the right at only 15 yards.)

Ronald Simmons, chief of the US. Army Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory, said: "Well, in order to achieve three hits, it would not be required that a man be an exceptional shot. A proficient man with this weapon, yes."

(This avoids that Simmons actually tested the rifle, using three Master shooters employed by the Army, and that, of the 14 shots rapid-fired by these men, not one of them hit as close to the center of the stationary head and shoulders target as the two hits attributed to Oswald.)

The effect of a four-power telescopic sight on the difficulty of these shots was considered in detail by M. Sgt. James A. Zahm, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Marksmanship Training Unit in the Weapons Training Battalion of the Marine Corps School at Quantico, Va. Referring to a rifle with a four-power telescope, Sergeant Zahm said:"...this is the ideal type of weapon for moving targets... Using the scope, rapidly working a bolt and using the scope to relocate your target quickly and at the same time when you locate that target you identify it and the crosshairs are in close relationship to the point you want to shoot at, it just takes a minor move in aiming to bring the crosshairs to bear, and then it is a quick squeeze. I consider it a real advantage, particularly at the range of 100 yards, in identifying your target. It. allows you to see your target clearly, and it is still of a minimum amount of power that it doesn't exaggerate your own body movements. It just is an aid in seeing in the fact that you only have the one element, the crosshair, in relation to the target as opposed to iron sights with aligning the sights and then aligning them on the target."

Characterizing the four-power scope as "a real aid, an extreme aid" in rapid fire shooting, Sergeant Zahm expressed the opinion that the shot which struck President Kennedy in the neck at 176.9 to 190.8 feet was "very easy" and the shot which struck the President in the head at a distance of 265.3 feet was "an easy shot." After viewing photographs depicting the alignment of Elm Street in relation to the Texas School Book Depository Building, Zahm stated further: "This is a definite advantage to the shooter, the vehicle moving directly away from him and the downgrade of the street, and he being in an elevated position made an almost stationary target while he was aiming in, very little movement if any."

(It bears repeating that the vehicle was not actually moving directly away from the sniper in the school book depository, but away and to the right. It is also suspicious that Zahm was shown an overhead view of Dealey Plaza to convince him of this alignment, long after photographs of the May 24 re-enactment, and showing the exact angle of the limo to the sniper's nest, were available. It is also intriguing that Zahm was only asked to testify after the report had been completed, and was being re-written. Why was his speculation on the difficulty of the shots considered more significant than the tests performed by Simmons?)

Oswald's Marine Training

In accordance with standard Marine procedures, Oswald received extensive training in marksmanship. During the first week of an intensive 8-week training period he received instruction in sighting, aiming, and manipulation of the trigger. He went through a series of exercises called dry firing where he assumed all positions which would later be used in the qualification course. After familiarization with live ammunition in The .22 rifle and .22 pistol, Oswald, like all Marine recruits, received training on the rifle range at distances up to 500 yards, firing 50 rounds each day for five days.

Following that training, Oswald was tested in December of 1956, and obtained a score of 212, which was 2 points above the minimum for qualifications as a "sharpshooter" in a scale of marksman/sharp-shooter/expert. In May of 1959, on another range, Oswald scored 191, which was 1 point over the minimum for ranking as a "marksman." The Marine Corps records maintained on Oswald further show that he had fired and was familiar with the Browning Automatic rifle, .45 caliber pistol, and 12-gage riot gun.

Based on the general Marine Corps ratings, Lt. Col. A. G. Folsom, Jr., head, Records Branch, Personnel Department, Headquarters US. Marine Corps, evaluated the sharpshooter qualification as a "fairly good shot" and a low marksman rating as a "rather poor shot." When asked to explain the different scores achieved by Oswald on the two occasions when he fired for record, Major Anderson said: "...when he fired that [212] he had just completed a very intensive preliminary training period. He had the services of an experienced highly trained coach. He had high motivation. He had presumably a good to excellent rifle and good ammunition. We have nothing here to show under what conditions the B course was fired. It might well have been a bad day for firing the rifle, windy, rainy, dark. There is little probability that he had a good, expert coach, and he probably didn't have as high a motivation because he was no longer in recruit training and under the care of the drill instructor. There is some possibility that the rifle he was firing might not have been as good a rifle as the rifle that he was firing in his A course firing, because [he] may well have carried this rifle for quite some time, and it got banged around in normal usage."

(This is classic obfuscation. The Commission offers speculation by Anderson that Oswald's "poor" shooting could have come as a result of bad weather, but fails to follow through and call the Weather Bureau or check a newspaper archive to see if this was true. Well, for what it's worth, early critic Mark Lane was a little more industrious and found the day in question to have been a warm sunny day with temperatures ranging from 72 to 79 degrees, with only a slight breeze. Anderson's speculation that Oswald's rifle in 1959 may have been inferior to the rifle he'd used earlier is also problematic. Oswald's Marine Corps-issued rifle was without doubt in far better condition and far more accurate than the presumed assassination weapon, a WWII surplus rifle that had not been cleaned for months, and had purportedly been carried to the assassination disassembled in a paper bag.)

Major Anderson concluded: "I would say that as compared to other Marines receiving the same type of training, that Oswald was a good shot, somewhat better than or equal to better than the average let us say. As compared to a civilian who had not received this intensive training, he would be considered as a good to excellent shot."

When Sergeant Zahm was asked whether Oswald's Marine Corps training would have made it easier to operate a rifle with a four-power scope, he replied: "Based on that training, his basic knowledge in sight manipulation and trigger squeeze and what not, I would say that he would be capable of sighting that rifle in well, firing it, with 10 rounds."

(This avoids both that there is no evidence Oswald's rifle had ever been sighted in prior to the assassination, and that it could not be properly sighted-in when the FBI tried to do so.)

After reviewing Oswald's marksmanship scores, Sergeant Zahm concluded: "I would say in the Marine Corps he is a good shot, slightly above average, and as compared to the average male of his age throughout the civilian, throughout the United States, that he is an excellent shot."

(More obfuscation: Zahm was asked to comment on Oswald's ability based upon his earliest test scores in the Marines, and was not asked to speculate on Oswald's presumed abilities after falling out of practice, and firing a rifle unlike any he'd ever been trained on.)

Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines

During one of his leaves from the Marines, Oswald hunted with his brother Robert, using a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle belonging either to Robert or Robert's in-laws. After he left the Marines and before departing for Russia, Oswald, his brother, and a third companion went hunting for squirrels and rabbits. On that occasion Oswald again used a bolt-action .22 caliber rifle; and according to Robert, Lee Oswald exhibited an average amount of proficiency with that weapon. While in Russia, Oswald obtained a hunting license, joined a hunting club and went hunting about six times, as discussed more fully in chapter VI. Soon after Oswald returned from the Soviet Union he again went hunting with his brother, Robert, and used a borrowed .22 caliber bolt-action rifle. After Oswald purchased the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, he told his wife that he practiced with it. Marina Oswald testified that on one occasion she saw him take the rifle, concealed in a raincoat, from the house on Neely Street. Oswald told her he was going to practice with it. According to George De Mohrenschildt, Oswald said that he went target shooting with that rifle.

(Notice that the Commission could not find a single witness to Oswald's actually practicing with the rifle. Notice also that it fails to show how practice so many months before could be of any help in the shooting. It also avoids that neither cleaning supplies nor ammunition were found among Oswald's possessions.)

Marina Oswald testified that in New Orleans in May of 1963, she observed Oswald sitting with the rifle on their screened porch at night, sighting with the telescopic lens and operating the bolt. Examination of the cartridge cases found on the sixth floor of the Depository Building established that they had been previously loaded and ejected from the assassination rifle, which would indicate that Oswald practiced operating the bolt.

Accuracy of Weapon

It will be recalled from the discussion in chapter III that the assassin in all probability hit two out of the three shots during the maximum time span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds if the second shot missed, or, if either the first or third shots missed, the assassin fired the three shots during a minimum time span of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds. A series of tests were performed to determine whether the weapon and ammunition used in the assassination were capable of firing the shots which were fired by the assassin on November 22, 1968. The ammunition used by the assassin was manufactured by Western Cartridge Co. of East Alton, III. In tests with the Mannlicher-Carcano C2766 rifle, over 100 rounds of this ammunition were fired by the FBI and the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the US. Army. There were no misfires.

In an effort to test the rifle under conditions which simulated those which prevailed during the assassination, the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory had expert riflemen fire the assassination weapon from a tower at three silhouette targets at distances of 175, 240, and 265 feet. The target at 265 feet was placed to the right of the 240-foot target which was in turn placed to the right of the closest silhouette. Using the assassination rifle mounted with the telescopic sight, three marksmen, rated as master by the National Rifle Association, each fired two series of three shots. In the first series the firers required time spans of 4.6, 6.75, and 8.25 seconds respectively. On the second series they required 5.15, 6.45, and 7 seconds. None of the marksmen had any practice with the assassination weapon except for exercising the bolt for 2 or 3 minutes on a dry run. They had not even pulled the trigger because of concern about breaking the firing pin.

The marksmen took as much time as they wanted for the first target and all hit the target. For the first four attempts, the firers missed the second shot by several inches. The angle from the first to the second shot was greater than from the second to the third shot and required a movement in the basic firing position of the marksmen. This angle was used in the test because the majority of the eyewitnesses to the assassination stated that there was a shorter interval between shots two and three than between shots one and two. As has been shown in chapter III, if the three shots were fired within a period of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds, the shots would have been evenly spaced and the assassin would not have incurred so sharp an angular movement.

Five of the six shots hit the third target where the angle of movement of the weapon was small. (This avoids that none of these hits landed as close to the center of the head and shoulders target as the final hit on Kennedy, even though the rifle, for this test, had been re-aligned, and was purportedly shooting straight as an arrow.) On the basis of these results, Simmons testified that in his opinion the probability of hitting the targets at the relatively short range at which they were hit was very high. Considering the various probabilities which may have prevailed during the actual assassination, the highest level of firing performance which would have been required of the assassin and the C2766 rifle would have been to fire three times and hit the target twice within a span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. In fact, one of the firers in the rapid fire test in firing his two series of three shots, hit the target twice within a span of 4.6 and 5.15 seconds. (Note that they are discussing hitting the target, not hitting the target as close to center as the purported hits on Kennedy.) The others would have been able to reduce their times if they had been given the opportunity to become familiar with the movement of the bolt and the trigger pull. Simmons testified that familiarity with the bolt could be achieved in dry practice and, as has been indicated above, Oswald engaged in such practice. If the assassin missed either the first or third shot, he had a total of between 4.8 and 5.6 seconds between the two shots which hit and a total minimum time period of from 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for all three shots. All three of the firers in these tests were able to fire the rounds within the time period which would have been available to the assassin under those conditions. Three FBI firearms experts tested the rifle in order to determine the speed with which it could be fired. The purpose of this experiment was not to test the rifle under conditions which prevailed at the time of the assassination but to determine the maximum speed at which it could be fired. The three FBI experts each fired three shots from the weapon at 15 yards in 6, 7, and 9 seconds (Not true: Agent Frazier later corrected his testimony and claimed the correct times were 5.9, 8, and 9 seconds) , and one of these agents, Robert A. Frazier, fired two series of three shots at 25 yards in 4.6 and 4.8 seconds. At 15 yards each man's shots landed within the size of a dime. (Deliberately overlooks that these shots all landed inches high and to the right and that, by Frazier's own testimony, the close grouping of these shots suggested that the scope had not recently been adjusted. This, of course, suggested that the sniper had shot at Kennedy with a severely misaligned scope!) The shots fired by Frazier at the range of 25 yards landed within an area of 2 inches and 5 inches respectively. Frazier later fired four groups of three shots at a distance of 100 yards in 5.9, 6.2, 5.6, and 6.5 seconds. Each series of three shots landed within areas ranging in diameter from 3 to 5 inches. Although all of the shots were a few inches high and to the right of the target., this was because of a defect in the scope which was recognized by the FBI agents and which they could have compensated for if they were aiming to hit a bull's-eye. They were instead firing to determine how rapidly the weapon could be fired and the area within which three shots could be placed. Frazier testified that while he could not tell when the defect occurred, but that a person familiar with the weapon could compensate for it. Moreover, the defect was one which would have assisted the assassin aiming at a target which was moving away. Frazier said, "The fact that the crosshairs are set high would actually compensate for any lead which had to be taken. So that if you aimed with this weapon as it actually was received at the laboratory, it would not be necessary to take any lead whatsoever in order to hit the intended object. The scope would accomplish the lead for you."

(While it's true that Frazier said this, it is a completely ridiculous statement that should not have been repeated, let alone cited. FBI Director Hoover's letter to the Commission preceding Frazier's testimony specified that the misalignment as it was in March, AFTER the rifle had been sighted-in, could have been an advantage. Frazier then screwed up, or was pressured into screwing up, and said that the misalignment of the rifle as first received by the FBI in November could have been an advantage. There's a huge difference. If the scope was as misaligned in November as Frazier indicated, the assassin would have to have fired behind Kennedy in order to lead him while he was moving away. This is of no assistance whatsoever to a sniper.)

Frazier added that the scope would cause a slight miss to the right. It should be noted, however, that the President's car was curving slightly to the right when the third shot was fired.

(This is disingenuous. Yes, the car was curving slightly to the right at the time of the head shot, but earlier, in order to sell the relative ease of the shots, the report has claimed it was driving "virtually in a straight line away" from the sniper's nest. Well, which is it? One can not say that the car started out in a straight line but then curved away, because this simply is not true. It started out curving to the right and continued to curve to the right at a slightly reduced angle.)

Based on these tests the experts agreed that the assassination rifle was an accurate weapon. Simmons described it as "quite accurate," in fact, as accurate as current. military rifles. Frazier testified that the rifle was accurate, that it had less recoil than the average military rifle and that one would not have to be an expert marksman to have accomplished the assassination with the weapon which was used.

(Both Simmons and Frazier were discussing the relative consistency of the rifle, and were operating under the assumption the misalignment of the scope was either not present on the day of the shooting, or was something well known to the sniper. The problems with the scope were, in fact, so severe that the HSCA ballistics panel concluded that the sniper would not have even used the scope, and would have instead just used the iron sights of the rifle.)

Conclusion

The various tests showed that the Mannlicher-Carcano was an accurate rifle and that the use of a four-power scope was a substantial aid to rapid, accurate firing. Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, his other rifle experience and his established familiarity with this particular weapon show that he possessed ample capability to commit the assassination. Based on the known facts of the assassination, the Marine marksmanship experts, Major Anderson and Sergeant Zahm, concurred in the opinion that Oswald had the capability to fire three shots, with two hits, within 4.8 and 5.6 seconds. Concerning the shots which struck the President in the back of the neck, Sergeant Zahm testified: "With the equipment he [Oswald] had and with his ability I consider it a very easy shot." Having fired this slot the assassin was then required to hit the target one more time within a space of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. On the basis of Oswald's training and the accuracy of the weapon as established by the tests, the Commission concluded that Oswald was capable of accomplishing this second hit even if there was an intervening shot which missed. The probability of hitting the President a second time would have been markedly increased if, in fact, he had missed either the first or third shots thereby leaving a time span of 4.8 to 5.6' seconds between the two shots which struck their mark. The Commission agrees with the testimony of Marine marksmanship expert Zahm that it was easy shot" to hit some part of the President's body, and that the range where the rifleman would be expected to hit would include the President's head.

(This is as close to the truth as the Report comes. It was "easy" to hit some part of the President. The head is a part of the President. Therefore, it was "easy" to hit the President in the head. This, of course, presumes that the assassin was not actually all that skilled, and that he JUST GOT LUCKY, a presumption that becomes difficult to swallow once one considers that the previous hit is presumed to have landed but a few inches away and that BOTH of these shots landed closer to the middle of a head and shoulders target than ANY of the 14 shots rapid-fired by the Army's test shooters on STATIONARY head and shoulders targets.)

Oswald's Rifle Capability Conclusion

On the basis of the evidence reviewed in this chapter, the Commission has found that Lee Harvey Oswald (1) owned and possessed the rifle used to kill President Kennedy and wound Governor Connally, (2) brought this rifle into the Depository Building on the morning of the assassination, (3) was present, at the time of the assassination, at the window from which the shots were fired (4) killed Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit in an apparent attempt to escape, (5) resisted arrest by drawing a fully loaded pistol and attempting to shoot. another police officer, (6) lied to the police after his arrest concerning important substantive matters, (7) attempted, in April 1963, to kill Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, and (8) possessed the capability with a rifle which would have enabled him to commit the assassination. On the basis of these findings the Commission has concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin of President Kennedy.

("Possessing the capability" is, of course, another way of saying "well, it's possible..." Well, OF COURSE, it's possible. But was it likely? The Commission clearly felt the answer to this was "no", but was so committed to their premise that Oswald alone fired the shots that they saw no alternative other than to pull a Chico Marx and say "well, he musta gotta lucky.")

In a Word: Whitewash

Let's recall that the FBI found no evidence that Oswald have been practicing with his rifle in the weeks before the assassination. They found no extra ammunition or cleaning supplies among his possessions. The re-enactments of the shots by the FBI and outside experts, which suggested that Oswald may have been able to fire the shots as rapidly as presumed, were all conducted on stationary targets. The testimony on Oswald's shooting ability was based on test scores from many years before, and not based on his presumed ability after failing to keep in practice. There was, moreover, no attempt to re-enact the shots using a rifle with the limitations of Oswald's rifle, and shooters of Oswald's presumed ability on 11-22-63, firing cold without any practice shots. It seems clear, moreover, that if such a test had been performed, the results would almost certainly have been negative, and have forced the Commission to explore the possibility Oswald did not fire the shots, and was, indeed, the "patsy" he claimed to be.

And how could they do that when the FBI, the Secret Service, and, gulp, Life Magazine, had already crowned Oswald the assassin?

But maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe, just maybe, the men writing the section of the report on Oswald's rifle capability had no idea how badly they'd distorted the evidence. Maybe they honestly thought the shots they'd assumed Oswald had fired really were easy for someone of Oswald's limited experience...

Leave It to Liebeler

Nope. Not going for it. On 9-4-64, after rapidly devouring a copy of chapter 4 of the report, Warren Commission Counsel Wesley J. Liebeler nearly had a heart attack. Sensing that critics would see this chapter, which lays out the Commission's reasons for believing Oswald was the assassin, as, in his own words, "a brief for the prosecution," he fired off a 26 page long memorandum to Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin on 9-6. His comments on the Oswald's Rifle Capability section of chapter 4 follow...

OSWALD'S RIFLE CAPABILITY

1. The purpose of this section is to determine Oswald's ability to fire a rifle. The third word at the top of page 50 of the galleys, which is apparently meant to describe Oswald, is "marksman." A marksman is one skilled at shooting at mark; one who shoots well. Not only do we beg the question a little, but the sentence is inexact in that the shot, which it describes, would be the same for a marksman as it would for one who was not a marksman. How about: the assassin's shots from the easternmost window of the south side of the Texas School Book Depository were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade virtually straight away from the assassin, at a range of 177 to 266 feet."

2. The last sentence in the first paragraph on galley page 50 should indicate that the slope of Elm Street is downward.

3. The section on the nature of the shots deals basically with the range and the effect of a telescopic sight. Several experts conclude that the shots were easy. There is, however, no consideration given here to the time allowed for the shots. I do not see how someone can conclude that a shot is easy or hard unless he knows something about how long the firer has to shoot, that is, how much time is allotted for the shots.

4. On nature of the shots--Frazier testified that one would have no difficulty in hitting a target with a telescopic sight, since all you have to do is put the crosshairs on the target. On page 51 of the galleys, however, he testified that shots fired by FBI agents with the assassination weapon were "a few inches high and to the right of the target * * * because of a defect in the scope." Apparently no one knows when that defect appeared, or if it was in the scope at the time of the assassination. If it was, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary one may assume that it was, putting the crosshairs on the target would clearly have resulted in a miss, or it very likely would, in any event. I have raised this question before. There is a great deal of testimony in the record that a telescopic sight is a sensitive proposition. You can't leave a rifle and scope laying around in a garage underfoot for almost 3 months, just having brought it back from New Orleans in the back of a station wagon, and expect to hit anything with it, unless you take the trouble to fire it and sight the scope in. This would have been a problem that should have been dealt with in any event, and now that it turns out that there actually was a defect in the scope, it is perfectly clear that the question must be considered. The present draft leaves the Commission open to severe criticism. Furthermore, to the extent that it leaves testimony suggesting that the shots might not have been so easy out of the discussion, thereby giving only a part of the story, it is simply dishonest.

5. Why do we have a statement concerning the fact that Oswald's Marine records show that he was familiar with the Browning automatic rifle, .45-caliber pistol and 12-gage riot gun? That is completely irrelevant to the question of his ability to fire a rifle, unless there is evidence that the same skills are involved. It is, furthermore, prejudicial to some extent.

6. Under the heading "Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines" we have a statement concerning his hunting activities in Russia. It says that he joined a hunting club, obtained a license and went hunting about six times. It does not say what kind of a weapon he used. While I am not completely familiar with the record on this point, I do know for a fact that there is some indication that he used a shotgun. Under what theory do we include activities concerning a shotgun under a heading relating to rifle practice, and then presume not to advise the reader of the fact?

7. The statements concerning Oswald's practice with the assassination weapon are misleading. They tend to give the impression that he did more practicing than the record suggests that he did. My recollection is that there is only one specific time when he might have practiced. We should be more precise in this area, because the Commission is going to have its work in this area examined very closely.

8. On the top of galley page 51 we have that statement about Oswald sighting the telescopic sight at night on the porch in New Orleans. I think the support for that proposition is thin indeed. Marina Oswald first testified that she did not know what he was doing out there and then she was clearly led into the only answer that gives any support to this proposition.

9. I think the level of reaching that is going on in this whole discussion of rifle capability is merely shown by the fact that under the heading of rifle practice outside the Marine Corps appears the damning statement that "Oswald showed an interest in rifles by discussing that subject with others (in fact only one person as I remember it) and reading gun magazines."

10. I do not think the record will support the statement that Oswald did not leave his Beckley Avenue rooming house on one of the weekends that he was supposedly seen at the Sports Drome Rifle Range.

11. There is a misstatement in the third paragraph under rapid fire tests when it says "Four of the firers missed the second shot." The preceding paragraph states that there were only three firers.

12. There are no footnotes whatsoever in the fifth paragraph under rapid fire tests and some rather important statements are made which require some support from someplace.

13. A minor point as to the next paragraph--bullets are better said to strike rather than land.

14. As I read through the section on rifle capability it appears that 15 different sets of three shots were fired by supposedly expert riflemen of the FBI and other places. According to my calculations those 15 sets of shots took a total of 93.8 seconds to be fired. The average of all 15 is a little over 6.2 seconds. Assuming that time is calculated commencing with the firing of the first shot, that means the average time it took to fire the two remaining shots was about 6.2 seconds. That comes to about 3.1 seconds for each shot, not counting the time consumed by the actual firing, which would not be very much. I recall that chapter 3 said that the minimum time that had to elapse between shots was 2.25 seconds, which is pretty close to the one set of fast shots fired by Frazier of the FBI. The conclusion indicates that Oswald had the capability to fire three shots with two hits in from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. Of the 15 sets of 3 shots described above, only 3 were fired within 4.8 seconds. A total of five sets, including the three just mentioned were fired within a total of 5.6 seconds. The conclusion at its most extreme states that Oswald could fire faster than the Commission experts fired in 12 of their 15 tries and that in any event he could fire faster than the experts did in 10 of their 15 tries. If we are going to set forth material such as this, I think we should set forth some information on how much training and how much shooting the experts had and did as a whole. The readers could then have something on which to base their judgments concerning the relative abilities of the apparently slow firing experts used by the Commission and the ability of Lee Harvey Oswald.

15. The problems raised by the above analyses should be met at some point in the text of the report. The figure of 2.25 as a minimum firing time for each shot used throughout chapter 3. The present discussion of rifle capability shows that expert riflemen could not fire the assassination weapon that fast. Only one of the experts managed to do so, and his shots, like those of the other FBI experts, were high and to the right of the target. The fact is that most of the experts were much more proficient with a rifle than Oswald could ever be expected to be, and the record indicates that fact, according to my recollection of the response of one of the experts to a question by Mr. McCloy asking for a comparison of an NRA master marksman to a Marine Corps sharpshooter.

16. The present section on rifle capability fails to set forth material in the record tending to indicate that Oswald was not a good shot and that he was not interested in his rifle while in the Marine Corps. It does not set forth material indicating that a telescopic sight must be tested and sighted in after a period of non-use before it can be expected to be accurate. That problem is emphasized by the fact that the FBI actually found that there was a defect in the scope which caused the rifle to fire high and to the right. In spite of the above the present section takes only part of the material in the record to show that Oswald was a good shot and that he was interested in rifles. I submit that the testimony of Delgado that Oswald was not interested in his rifle while in the Marines is at least as probative as Alba's testimony that Oswald came into his garage to read rifle--and hunting--magazines. To put it bluntly that sort of selection from the record could seriously affect the integrity and credibility of the entire report.

17. It seems to me that the most honest and the most sensible thing to do given the present state of the record on Oswald's rifle capability would be to write a very short section indicating that there is testimony on both sides of several issues. The Commission could then conclude that the best evidence that Oswald could fire his rifle as fast as he did and hit the target is the fact that he did so. It may have been pure luck. It probably was to a very great extent. But it happened. He would have had to have been lucky to hit as he did if he had only 4.8 seconds to fire the shots. Why don't we admit instead of reaching and using only part of the record to support the propositions presently set forth in the galleys. Those conclusions will never be accepted by critical persons anyway.

Note that Liebeler's complaints about this section of the report were largely ignored, as the problems he discussed went largely uncorrected. According to writer Edward Epstein, with whom Liebeler confided regarding this matter, General Counsel Rankin at first refused to read the memo, declaring "No more memorandums! The report has to be published!" Rankin then relented and allowed Liebeler to argue his points one by one with Norman Redlich, Rankin's top aide and the man responsible for reviewing and re-writing both the chapters on the shooting and those on Oswald's likely guilt. According to Epstein, Liebeler told him that "Redlich heatedly objected to all Liebeler's criticisms" and that Redlich said the chapter had been written exactly how the commissioners wanted it written, and had even admitted "The Commissioners judged it an easy shot, and I work for the Commission." Rankin then adjudicated the memo point by point, almost always siding with Redlich.

Let's think about this for a second. Liebeler, one of the Warren Commission's top lawyers, had told his superiors in the commission that there were deceptive, even dishonest, passages in their report. And they ignored him, by and large, telling him that this was what the commissioners wanted. This makes it clear that by September, if not earlier, they just didn't give a damn. They were there to sell the public what they wanted them to believe, not lay out all the evidence and let the public decide for itself.

Apparently they thought it best that someone else tackle that job...

And they weren't the only ones pushing back against Liebeler and his efforts. In 1966, after books criticizing the Commission, such as Epstein's Inquest, had garnered some attention, Liebeler went on the defensive, and lobbied his fellow Warren Commission counsel for help in fighting the critics. Ironically, however, he also wrote the FBI asking for their help, and was refused. The key reason, as spelled out in a 10-19-66 FBI memo from Assistant FBI Director Alex Rosen (the man tasked with investigating the basic facts of the assassination), was that Liebeler was "obnoxious" and that he'd pestered the FBI during the Warren Commission's investigation with "completely unreasonable", "screwball", and "idiotic" requests that they'd failed to respond to unless specifically asked to do so by his boss, Rankin.

That Liebeler would be so offensive to Rosen, moreover, should come as no surprise. Let's recall here that Rosen had 1) failed to acquire and study the autopsy report and note that the doctors' interpretation of the wounds had changed the day after the autopsy, 2) tried to blame his mistake on the Kennedy family, 3) refused to investigate the rumor there was a bullet hole in the floor of the limousine beyond calling a top Secret Service official and asking if it was true, 4) threatened to refuse the Warren Commission FBI cooperation when it sought the opinions of non-FBI experts, and 5) refused to investigate when it was subsequently brought to his attention that the CIA and Mafia had teamed up to kill Castro and that one of those involved in the operation had claimed it had boomeranged back at Kennedy.

Wow. That's quite the resume. Is it any wonder then that, with a man like Rosen leading its investigation, the FBI had failed to uncover much of anything?

And there's an even more disturbing aspect to Rosen's refusing to help Liebeler. And that's that, by 1966, Liebeler had become every bit as disinterested in uncovering the truth as Rosen had been in 1964. On November 7, 1966, Liebeler, along with fellow Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball and Albert Jenner, was interviewed on KCBS radio by Harv Morgan. They then took calls from the audience. One of the callers asked about Oswald's rifle capability and the difficulty of the shots. And Liebeler spewed forth the very nonsense he once had found so objectionable...

When asked if firing at stationary targets, as was done in the re-enactments, was easier than firing at moving targets, as was done in Dealey Plaza, he replied: "It depends which way it's moving. If it's moving straight away from you, there's not much difference, is there? ...If the target is moving slowly and directly away from you on a line, there's little difference." (Liebeler knew, of course, that the "target" in this instance was not moving directly away from the supposed sniper's nest.)

When asked why the Army's shooters didn't replicate the shots as closely as possible, he replied: "It was probably too difficult to shoot at a moving target under the circumstances." He then offered: "We shot with a camera from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository towards a moving target."

When the caller pointed out that the sniper in Dealey Plaza wasn't shooting with a camera, Liebeler responded: "The point is that the Commission did set up a situation that was quite similar to the moving target by using three still targets. Now, as indicated, it might be somewhat easier to hit a still target but when the target was moving slowly away in a direct line, as this one was, very slightly curving to the right, there's not very much difference." (Note: Liebeler had thereby admitted that he knew full well that the "target" in question was not moving in a "direct line" away from the sniper's nest, as he'd previously suggested.)

But he wasn't done. Even though the caller had by this time been cut off, Liebeler insisted on discussing the question of Oswald's shooting abilities further. In the process, he revealed just how far he'd come from the lone voice of dissent he'd been in 1964. He complained: "I want to know whether he's asking the question of the accuracy involved or the time sequence involved. The accuracy is a very subjective thing and there may have been a good deal of luck involved in the shot. The time sequence is a different matter. In the time sequence, it was clearly established that there was plenty of time to make these shots. I've always taken the position that the best evidence that you could hit this target in this way from the sixth floor of the building was the fact that it did happen. In fact it was a very easy shot and that's exactly what did happen based on the existence of all kinds of other evidence." (Note: this comes from the same man who'd previously observed that Oswald "would have had to have been lucky to hit as he did if he had only 4.8 seconds to fire the shots" and had similarly observed that the Commission's tests indicated the possibility "Oswald could fire faster than the Commission experts fired in 12 of their 15 tries and that in any event he could fire faster than the experts did in 10 of their 15 tries.")

When asked if the shot was truly easy, he then snapped: "Of course, it's a simple shot. It's less than 200 feet away." (Note: for the "shot" now in question, presumably the head shot, the presumed target, Kennedy, was 265 feet away, not less than 200 feet away.)

When finally asked why, if the shot was so easy, so many critics had claimed no one had duplicated Oswald's shooting, he spat: "There are all kinds of people who've duplicated it. All these people ought to go up there and look out that window and see what an easy shot it is. It's like shooting, well--it's a very easy shot." (Note: Liebeler had thereby pulled an old lawyer's trick, and had avoided answering a problematic question by answering another question entirely. What had started out as a discussion of the Commission's tests and whether Oswald could hit Kennedy two of three times in 4.8 seconds, as claimed by the Commission, had been blurred into whether it was possible for Oswald to hit Kennedy in the head from the sniper's nest when given all the time in the world.)

Edited by Pat Speer
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