After 45 Years, a Civil Rights Hero Waits for Justice
A great miscarriage of justice has kept most Americas from learning about a Civil Rights pioneer who worked with President John F. Kennedy. But there is finally a way for citizens to not only right that wrong, but bring closure to the most tragic chapter of American presidential history.
After an outstanding career in law enforcement, Abraham Bolden was appointed by JFK to be the first African American presidential Secret Service agent, where he served with distinction. He was part of the Secret Service effort that prevented JFK's assassination in Chicago, three weeks before Dallas. But Bolden was framed by the Mafia and arrested on the very day he went to Washington to tell the Warren Commission staff about the Chicago attempt against JFK.
Bolden was sentenced to six years in prison, despite glaring problems with his prosecution. His arrest resulted from accusations by two criminals Bolden had sent to prison. In Bolden's first trial, an apparently biased judge told the jury that Bolden guilty, even before they began their deliberations. Though granted a new trial because of that, the same problematic judge was assigned to oversee Bolden's second trial, which resulted in his conviction. Later, the main witness against Bolden admitted committing perjury against him. A key member of the prosecution even took the fifth when asked about the perjury. Yet Bolden's appeals were denied, and he had to serve hard time in prison, and today is considered a convicted felon.
After the release of four million pages of JFK assassination files in the 1990s, it became clear that Bolden--and the official secrecy surrounding the Chicago attempt against JFK--were due to National Security concerns about Cuba, that were unknown to Bolden, the press, Congress, and the public not just in 1963, but for the next four decades.
Four million pages of files were released after Congress passed the JFK Assassination Records Act unanimously in 1992. They document the massive amount of information that had been withheld from at least five Congressional investigations--including in 1975 and 1976, when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were top officials for then-President Gerald Ford. Even worse, the Final Report of the Review Board created by JFK Act shows that files covering the time period of the Chicago attempt to kill JFK were destroyed by the Secret Service in 1995. A report by the government oversight group OMB Watch says that "well over one million CIA records" related to JFK's assassination remain unreleased, perhaps until the mandatory release date of 2017--thought in a court filing last year, the CIA claimed the right to withhold file even after that date.
With a new administration promising less government secrecy, it's time to finally fully enforce the 1992 JFK Act, and release all the files. The Obama administration is considering new rules about more open government, but until federal agencies are compelled to comply with existing laws, how can we expect the agencies to follow new procedures?
Likewise, Congress should ask agency heads why they haven't complied with the 1992 law--and why agencies like the CIA still fight in court to keep clearly relevant files away from the public, the press, and Congress.
There were legitimate national security concerns about some of these issues in 1963, and for decades thereafter. In 2005, the National Archives confirmed the release of files showing that in 1963, John and Robert Kennedy were working with Juan Almeida, Commander of the Cuban Army, to overthrow Fidel Castro. CIA files show the coup (code-named AMWORLD by the CIA) was set for December 1, 1963, ten days after JFK's trip to Dallas. Other declassified files show that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had been making plans for dealing with the possible "assassination of American officials" if Castro found out about the Kennedys' coup plan, and tried to retaliate. That's why the attempt to kill JFK in Chicago (and a later attempt in Tampa) were kept out of the press by the Kennedys.
The thinking behind such plans--and worries that the revelation of the Kennedy coup plan could trigger another nuclear confrontation with the Soviets if exposed just a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis--was behind most of the secrecy surrounding JFK's assassination. That's because Commander Almeida remained unexposed and in place--as Cuba's #3 official--for many years after JFK's murder. However, some US officials--like the CIA's Richard Helms and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover--used the legitimate concern of protecting Almeida and his family to hide their own intelligence failures. Hence, all of that information had been withheld from the Warren Commission and at least five later government and Congressional investigating committees,
We only uncovered the JFK-Almeida coup plan with the help of almost two dozen people who worked with John and Robert Kennedy on the coup plan, their war against the Mafia, and their tragic aftermath. One of them indicated that Robert Kennedy was aware of Bolden's plight and wanted to help, but "couldn't" do anything about it at the time--and in the context of the coup plan and the plans to protect it we had just been discussing, it was clear why. Any intervention on Bobby's part could have unraveled a veil of National Security secrecy that could have led to World War III.
Our sources and all the new documents don't show any vast conspiracy to kill JFK--they confirm what Bobby Kennedy himself came to believe, after several secret investigations by his trusted associates: that members of the Mafia had been behind his brother's assassination. (The three mob bosses--Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli--all made credible confessions to JFK's murder before they died.) Though the Mafia had been barred from the coup plan and from reopening their casinos in Cuba if it were successful, a dozen associates of the mob bosses managed to learn about the JFK-Almeida coup plan. Six mob associates--including CIA agent Bernard Barker, and CIA Miami operations chief David Morales--actually worked on the coup plan. The mob bosses used the intense secrecy surrounding the JFK-Almeida coup plan to prevent a thorough investigation into JFK's death by planting phony evidence implicating Fidel Castro. Because of the resulting cover-ups, high officials who believed that Fidel was involved in JFK's murder--from President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s to Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig in the 1980s--didn't realize the evidence was false and linked to the Mafia.
None of that was known to Abraham Bolden--or the public--when Bolden went to Washington in the Spring of 1964 to tell the Warren Commission staff about the Chicago plot against JFK. It's now clear that an associate of Rosselli and Trafficante--Chicago mobster Richard Cain, who was a high official in the Cook Country/Chicago Sheriff's department--was in the perfect position to frame Bolden.
Abraham Bolden paid a heavy price for trying to tell the truth about events involving the man he was sworn to protect--JFK--that became mired in National Security concerns. Bolden still lives in Chicago, and has never given up trying to clear his name.
Will Abraham Bolden live to finally see the justice so long denied to him?
Will no one be held responsible--or even investigated--for the files withheld from Congressional investigations in the 1970s? Or for the Secret Service document destruction in 1995? And the CIA files withheld from the JFK Review Board in the 1990s? How can Congress expect agencies like the CIA to keep them fully informed today, when so much has been--and continues to be--withheld?
There is no longer any legitimate reason for keeping so many files secret. By 1990, Fidel had finally learned of Commander Almeida's work for JFK and after a brief disappearance, Almeida was allowed to resume a largely ceremonial role high in the Cuba government. In fact, since the public disclosure of Almeida's secret work for JFK in 2006 (in America, but not in Cuba), Almeida has been featured prominently with Raul Castro on many key occasions, including when Raul has made an outreach to the US.
Each of us has a member of Congress and two Senators who can be contacted to let them know we care about these matters. We can also let President Obama know that we wasn't him to take action to release the files and bring Abraham Bolden the justice he deserves.
It's the least we can do for ourselves, for history, and for a brave whistleblower like Abraham Bolden.