Foster Case Liar Resurfaces Defending Drone War

Gene Lyons, Paid Liar, Murder Enabler

When it comes to the likes of journalist Gene Lyons, much of what I have to say is already pre-written on my web site.  Take, for instance, his notorious recent article in Salon, In Defense of Obama’s Drones.”  Although I’ll discuss that noxious work briefly at the end of this article, the last verse of my 1998 poem, “Press Peonage,” really says it all:

Though much that we see in our leadership
Is thoroughly reprehensible,
Our scribbling serfs will stick to their trade
Defending the indefensible.

Actually, the subtitle of this article was previously written not just for “the likes of” Gene Lyons, but for the unarrested miscreant himself, and it does not refer to the lying and the murder enabling that he is attempting to do for the current administration, but to his very obvious knowing and energetic contribution to the cover-up of the murder of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr. during the Bill Clinton administration.   Reading the earlier article, you can get some idea of how thoroughly debased and rotten a policy must be that it should require the dubious talents of a Gene Lyons to defend it:

He is a National Magazine Award winner, former editor at Newsweek magazine, and co-author with Joe Conason of the popular 2000 book that became the film documentary, The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary ClintonThough Gene Lyons is not quite up there in prominence with Mike Wallace of CBS or Anthony Lewis, formerly of The New York Times, whose dishonest work I expose in "The Reign of the Lie," which is part 6 of "America's Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster," it's a real shame that I was unaware of an Internet article he had penned when I wrote my piece back in July 1999.  The article is about the British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and it appeared in Salon magazine, an online publication that normally plays the liberal role, with an edge that cuts somewhat more sharply than its conventional magazine and newspaper counterparts.  Entitled "The Pied Piper of the Clinton Conspiracists," it was published on December 23, 1997.

Lyons' lies are important because they are so enormous and outrageous, they are easily proven to be lies, and they go right to the heart of the Foster murder and its cover-up.  Officially, Deputy White House Counsel Foster committed suicide by thrusting a .38 caliber revolver deep into his mouth and pulling the trigger.  Such a shot, if the muzzle was aimed toward the roof of the mouth, would have produced a rather large exit wound near the crown of his head.  Dr. James Beyer's autopsy diagram did, in fact, show a substantial gap in the back of the skull measuring approximately one inch by one-and-a-quarter inch.  If there really was no such wound, and if there was not a big mess on the ground immediately below the path of the bullet as it exited the head, then the official story is not true.  What follows is the beginning of Lyons' article, which sums up his assessment of Evans-Pritchard's book, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, followed by a quick skip to the matter of the exit wound: 

In the past, whenever lunatic Clinton-haters were accused of being beyond the pale, they would point to one particular journalist -- a veteran foreign correspondent who wrote for a respected British newspaper and whose dispatches from Washington and Arkansas, they proudly claimed, bore out their most incendiary charges.

The correspondent's name is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Much to the regret of our home-grown kooks and conspiracists, he has since departed these shores to become the London Daily Telegraph's "roving European correspondent." As a parting gift, however, Evans-Pritchard has bequeathed us a book, "The Secret Life of Bill Clinton," just published by Regnery.

The temptation, in addressing so manifestly absurd and error-filled a piece of work, is to raillery. In form, Evans-Pritchard's book is a feverish concatenation of what his countryman, Guardian Washington correspondent Martin Walker, calls "the Clinton legends" into one vast, delusional epic. In effect, "The Secret Life of Bill Clinton" is a militiaman's wet dream. Evans-Pritchard nowhere advocates violence against the president or the United States government, but he does provide the impressionable True Believer with a rationale. Publishing this book is the moral equivalent of leaving a loaded revolver in a psychiatric ward. And that, perhaps, requires an approach other than satire.

Accompanied by pseudo-scholarly "documentation," Evans-Pritchard's disarmingly glib narrative essentially portrays the president as a criminal psychopath. There is no evidence so contrary, nor tragedy so solemn that Evans-Pritchard will not distort it to this end ...

His methodology remains everywhere the same. If two dozen witnesses, crime scene photographs and an autopsy attended by a half dozen investigators confirm the existence of, say, an exit wound made by a .38 caliber slug in the back of poor Vince Foster's skull, this intrepid reporter can be counted upon to track down an ambulance attendant who failed to see it, and from that failure deduce that all the others have perjured themselves and the cover-up has been exposed. In the footnotes, that source turns out to be a "confidential informant."

When necessary, Evans-Pritchard resorts to even more questionable methods. He quotes a Little Rock funeral director named Tom Wittenberg asking, "What if there was no exit wound at all? ... I'm telling you it's possible there wasn't." By way of support, in yet another of the book's roughly 500 footnotes, Evans-Pritchard claims to have a tape recording to that effect, surreptitiously made by an unidentified Arkansas private eye. Puzzled, I phoned Wittenberg, an old friend and neighbor for more than 20 years. To my knowledge, the Tommy Wittenberg I know has never spoken to any reporter about a body entrusted to his care. Sure enough, Wittenberg insisted vehemently to me that Evans-Pritchard made the whole thing up. He not only refused to be interviewed, but told the reporter that out of personal feelings for the deceased, he'd never looked at Vince Foster's body at all.

My, my, what a reprehensible human being that Evans-Pritchard must be to distort the facts about such important things in such a way!  But is it true what Lyons says about Evans-Pritchard's treatment of the exit-wound issue, and is it true what Lyons says about the known evidence in favor of the exit wound's existence?  

What Evans-Pritchard Wrote

Here's what Evans-Pritchard actually wrote about the matter of the exit wound on pages 145-146 of his book:

But one thing they could all agree on when they were recounting war stories back at Fire Station One was that nobody saw an exit wound.  Corey Ashford didn't see it.

Richard Arthur didn't see it.

Sgt. George Gonzalez didn't see it.

The head was intact.

None of the paramedics saw the "official" 1 by 1 1/4 inch hole in the back of Foster's skull.  They have forensic evidence on their side, too.  No bone fragments were ever found behind the head.

Over at the Fairfax County Morgue that night the duty doctor was Julian Orenstein, a charming man who now works as a pediatrician.  His job was to verify Vince Foster's death, nothing else.  In his FBI statement taken on May 17, 1994, it says that Dr. Orenstein lifted the body by the shoulders in order to "locate and observe the exit wound on the decedent's head."

It is a clever construction.  Any normal person reading this document would assume that Dr. Orenstein did indeed see the exit wound.  But by this stage I was so suspicious of every FD-302 statement taken by the FBI that I decided to call him up at his home in Falls Church, just to be sure.

What did this exit wound look like, I asked him.

"I never saw one directly," he said, clearly taken aback.  "The hair was matted with dried blood, but I didn't get a clear look.  I really didn't spend too much time looking back there; my suspicions weren't aroused."


A few months later I obtained a copy of the handwritten notes of the FBI interviews, which Christopher Ruddy had shaken loose after fighting and winning a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Office of the Independent Counsel.  There was no mention of Orenstein trying to locate an exit wound.  The passage had been inserted into his FD-302 statement.  It was another of the clues left by the FBI in the Foster case.  Link the little fibs together, and you start to see the anatomy of a cover-up.

There is another clue in the FBI interview of Park Police Detective John Rolla.  In the FD-302 write-up provided to the Senate it says "he observed an extensive amount of blood... on the back side of his head."  But in the original handwritten notes the description of the back of Foster's head is redacted.  Why on earth would the FBI redact that passage?  National Security?   It is a clear-cut violation of the FBI's obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.

After embalming at the Murphy Funeral Home in Arlington, a Defense Department subcontractor, the body went to the Reubel Funeral Home in Little Rock.  There it was prepared for final viewing before burial in Foster's hometown of Hope, Arkansas.  The funeral director, Tom Wittenberg, told me that he never looked closely at the body because he was a close friend of Vince Foster's and the whole ordeal was too distressing.  "I checked his hair, face, suit, and hands.  That's all I saw."

But that is not what he told a private investigator in Arkansas in a taped conversation.  "What if there was no exit wound at all," he said.  "I'm telling you it's possible there wasn't."

So, it's not just one person among the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue team attending the death scene who "failed to see" an exit wound.  Evans-Pritchard wrote that none of them saw it, and he names specifically three men who didn't see it.  His sources for that are not a "confidential informant" in the office of the independent counsel, either.  He provides three separate sources and their allegations are from their depositions collected by the staff of the Senate Banking Committee in the so-called Green Books (Both Ashford's and Arthur's observations are from Arthur's deposition.).  The confidential informant in the OIC's office to which Lyons is presumably referring comes five endnotes before in support of the statement: "Four of the rescue workers testified in secret before the Whitewater grand jury in the spring of 1995 that they saw trauma to the side of Foster's head or neck.  Two of them, including Arthur, described it as a gunshot wound."*

There you have it.  Lyons baldly and brazenly lied about what Evans-Pritchard wrote about the rescue workers and Foster's exit wound. 

But what about his folksy and engaging account of what his old friend and neighbor, Little Rock funeral director Tommy Wittenberg told him, contrary to what Evans-Pritchard reported, "...that out of personal feelings for the deceased, he'd never looked at Vince Foster's body at all."   This looks like a test of credibility between the American journalist and the British journalist, when it has just been demonstrated that the American will lie.  

We can do better than that, though.  There's the little matter of the interview that Thomas Clyde Wittenberg gave on February 8, 1995, to FBI agent Russell T. Bransford at his place of business, Ruebel Funeral Home (RFH), 6313 West Markham Street, Little Rock, Arkansas.  This is from pages 3 and 4:

WITTENBERG viewed FOSTER's body in the preparation room and was pleased at how well MFH (Murphy Funeral Home of Virginia, ed.) had handled the body.  WITTENBERG had been uncertain about how FOSTER's body would appear because of the manner of FOSTER's death, but WITTENBERG felt FOSTER looked okay.  WITTENBERG did not observe any injuries to FOSTER's face, but WITTENBERG did not turn FOSTER's head to see the back of FOSTER's head.  WITTENBERG did not take any photographs of FOSTER's body, and he is confident that no photographs of FOSTER's body were taken by anyone else at RFH....

WITTENBERG did not observe any disfigurement, bruising or eye dislocation on FOSTER's body.  Eye dislocation sometimes occurs when a decedent suffers a gunshot wound to the head.  WITTENBERG's recollection is that there was no reconstruction performed on FOSTER's body.  WITTENBERG did not observe any other trauma on FOSTER's body.  WITTENBERG recalls feeling sad and perplexed about why FOSTER killed himself.

So much for the inhibiting personal feelings.  Wittenberg looked at Foster's body quite carefully.  

That is not to say that everything in this FD-302 should be taken at face value.  Like journalists, FBI agents have been known to lie when it suits their purposes.  We saw it in the case of the Orenstein interview above.  One of them also wrote in his report that Patrick Knowlton had said that he saw Foster's car at Fort Marcy Park, where Foster's body was found.  We learned that this was not true when Evans-Pritchard tracked down Knowlton, interviewed him, and published the results in London's Sunday Telegraph.  The car Knowlton said he saw was different in color and older than Foster's.  Wittenberg's interviewer, by the way, is the same FBI agent whom Knowlton threw out of his apartment when he treated Knowlton's harrowing street harassment like a joke.  

Seeing no damage to Foster's face and having certainly read that Foster was supposed to have blown out his brains with a .38 revolver stuck in his mouth, Wittenberg would have had to have exercised almost superhuman restraint not to have taken at least one little peek at the back of Foster's head.  My money is on that private investigator's tape in which Wittenberg cast doubt upon the existence of an exit wound.

The Exit-Wound Evidence

What about the two dozen witnesses and crime-scene photographs that Lyons says "confirm the existence" of this half-dollar-size exit wound?  What is Lyons source for such a claim?  What could it be?  He states it so confidently that the reader is led to believe that he has actually seen such evidence, or that it must certainly exist beyond any doubt.

The most likely source would have to be the definitive official document in support of the suicide conclusion, the report by Kenneth Starr and his staff on Foster's death.  If they were in possession of such evidence, they would have certainly published it there, wouldn't they?  Fortunately, the report is available on the Internet in two versions, one from The Washington Post, which omits the officially appended letter from the aggrieved witness, Patrick Knowlton, without informing the readers that it has done so, and one from Knowlton and his lawyer that includes everything.  You might take the time to read the entire report, looking for the evidence that Lyons says exists, but it's easier to take a short cut.  Using the Knowlton version because it is all in one easily searchable file, do an edit/find for the term "exit wound."  What you will discover, in complete consistency with the assertions of Evans-Pritchard and inconsistent with those of Lyons, is that all the evidence that Starr presents for such an exit wound comes from Dr. Beyer's autopsy.  None of it comes from either crime-scene photographs or the testimony of witnesses at the crime scene.

Knowlton and his lawyer, John Clarke, have probably examined the evidence more meticulously than anyone, and they state flatly, with ample documentation, that there is, "No record of any of 26 persons who viewed the body before the autopsy having seen the official entrance and exit wounds."  

Of those 26 people, 10 were medical professionals (two medical doctors, two paramedics, and six fire and rescue workers).  Of the remaining 16, 10 were U.S. Park Police, one was a Fairfax County Police officer, two were White House officials, one a morgue guard, one an intern, and one an incidental private citizen.  

In short, what Gene Lyons has said about 24 witnesses confirming the existence of that gaping exit wound in Foster's head, just as what he has said about what Evans-Pritchard wrote about the matter, is a blatant lie.

The Lesson

Why would he lie like that, and how did he think he could get by with such easily provable lies?  Obviously, the purpose of his lying is furtherance of the cover-up of Foster's murder.  Can there be any other explanation?  Why else would he read a passage in the book by Evans-Pritchard that clearly says one thing, and then tell the readers of Salon that it says something entirely different?  The chance that he could make that error honestly is precisely zero.

How did he think he could get by with it?  Wasn't he afraid that at least one reporter representing an American news organ would take the trouble to pick up The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, read it, and tell us that Lyons was lying?  

The question answers itself.  He did get by with it, didn't he?  With our lapdog press, he knew that he was taking no chance at all.  Truth is not what they are about.  Not only did he get by with it, but Salon, with its quite large editorial staff, which must include a fact checker or two, got by with it as well.  The whole sorry lot of them knew—and they still know—that the approved line is that Vince Foster killed himself, and that lies, slander, and ridicule directed at dissenters from that line are not to be challenged; rather, such disgraceful treatment is to be welcomed.  The facts and common decency simply don't count.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard might as well have been a dissident in the prime of the Soviet Union.  The main difference is the skill and subtlety with which his message was kept away from the public.  

In the late 1920s, a young, pro-Communist journalist was selected by United Press to be their correspondent in the Soviet Union.  Fortunately for the world, he was not blinded by his ideology and slowly made himself persona non grata to his hosts as more and more of the brutish reality of Soviet Communism crept into his reports back home.  In 1937, after returning to the United States, he published a book with the ironic title, Assignment in Utopia. It should have ended once and for all any illusions that anyone in the country might have had about the supposed "workers' paradise."  In his conclusion he wrote something that we should bear in mind daily as we see our own country bearing ever greater similarity to the collapsed Soviet system:

The Russian experience has been for me less a disillusionment than a rededication.  It has forced me to pitch my hopes above the merely nutritive, to recognize that man lives not by bread alone.  In the knowledge of the Russian experiment I am able once more to affirm without shame the value of such things as justice, humaneness, truth, liberty, intellectual integrity, and human dignity.  From the Russian mistakes I have drawn the strength to assert that without those things social systems can only be variations of the old injustice.

Note well the importance he places on truth and intellectual integrity.  Unlike the title character of this essay, that reporter respected the former and radiated the latter.  He was, in contrast to our current subject, a credit to the journalism profession and to the name Eugene Lyons.

David Martin

December 16, 2008

* The confidential informant was, without doubt, Starr's first lead investigator, a man of apparently some integrity by the name of Miguel Rodriguez.  Later, long after he was let go by Starr and after Evans-Pritchard had written his book and Lyons his article, taped telephone conversations between Rodriguez and the head of Accuracy in Media, Reed Irvine, were made public by Knowlton and Clarke. Here, Rodriguez talks about the neck wound:

Both EMTs – you remember when you have a, a emergency and you call the fire department they will send their normal crew and each crew may have an EMT with them, ah, with a specially trained fire department person. Both EMTs that responded to the Park both observed trauma to the neck.  While Arthur remained clear on it despite the FBI's attempt to shake him, the other one was confused by the FBI and kept saying what he saw but they kept writing it a different way. 

I saw pictures that clearly indicate to me that there is trauma on the neck. I believe it's a puncture wound on the neck. 

See also "Howard Kurtz Libels Ambrose Evans-Pritchard."

At the heart of Lyons’ recent article is this passage justifying the extra-judicial slaying of an American citizen living in Yemen:

According to the Justice Department transcript, Holder said [“underwear bomber” Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab confessed in detail to FBI agents “how he became inspired to carry out an act of jihad, and how he traveled to Yemen and made contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Abdulmutallab also detailed the training he received, as well as Awlaki’s specific instructions to wait until the airplane was over the United States before detonating his bomb.

He confessed these things freely, without being tortured.

Bear in mind that the person he’s talking about here is that sad-eyed young African with the vacant, thousand-yard stare who was permitted to get on the airplane he supposedly attempted to destroy along with himself without having a passport, and he accomplished this miraculous feat with the help of a well-dressed, middle-aged Indian-looking man.  We also have only the FBI’s word for it that he incriminated al-Awlaki.

So I have no tears for the late Anwar al-Awlaki,” says Lyons. 

We may assume by extension that he also has no tears for al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, whom we murdered by drone some time after we murdered his father, nor for the hundreds of innocent civilians killed by Obama’s drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and who knows where else next.

David Martin

June 16, 2012



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