Eleven years ago tomorrow, a United States Air Force plane carrying the body of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and those of 32 other Americans left Croatia for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The 33 Americans had died, not all of them immediately, when their U.S. Air Force aircraft crashed “inexplicably” into a mountainside less than two miles from the Cilipi Airport near Dubrovnik.
An hour after the plane departed, and a day before the Air Force was to question him, Croatian Niko Jerkuic, the man responsible for the Cilipi Airport’s navigation system, showed up dead with a bullet hole through his chest. Authorities claimed suicide.
The next day, Easter Sunday that year, an Armed Forces Institute of Pathology forensic photographer, U.S. Navy CPO Kathleen Janoski, mounted a stepladder at the Dover mortuary and began to shoot Ron Brown’s body.
“Wow,” said Janoski upon spotting a circular indentation in Brown’s skull, “that looks like a bullet hole.”
The pathologists who heard her cry and heeded it would soon enough wish they hadn’t. It would cost them and Janoski their careers.
But so far, to no good end. Eleven years after Brown’s death, some very basic questions remain unanswered simply because the powers that be, the major media included, have refused to ask them.
That could change. Presidential aspirant Barack Obama is the first person in the last 10 years with the means and the motive to get at the truth. In the way of oppositional research, he could pose the following questions to Hillary Clinton and expect his friends in the media, especially in the black media, to echo them:
- Why was Brown sent, against his will, to broker a sweetheart deal between the neo-fascists who ran Croatia at the time and the Enron Corporation?
- “We’ve been looking for her,” said the USAF of Zdenka Gast, the liaison between Enron and Croatia. Gast left Brown’s plane to fly with Enron at the last moment. Why did no interview with her appear in the final USAF report?
- Why did Hillary invite Gast to Alexis Herman’s intimate wedding reception at the White House some time after the plane crash?
- Why did Hillary make an unscheduled visit to Tuzla in Bosnia, just nine days before Brown left Tuzla on his fatal trip?
- Time magazine claimed that the plane crashed while “one of the worst storms in a decade was raging.” In fact, it wasn’t even raining at the time, and the sun was peaking through the clouds. Who mislead Time and why?
- The USAF called the crash “inexplicable.” Why was the White House so easily satisfied with that non-explanation?
- Who detoured NATO rescuers for more than fours hours over the Adriatic when the plane crashed just a mile or so inland from the airport?
- Why did the White House deny Brown an autopsy after the apparent bullet hole was found in the top of his head?
- Of all the death certificates filed in Croatia, only one – Ron Brown’s – list the cause as “blunt force injuries to head.” Why did the authorities insist that he, like the others, died of “multiple blunt force injuries”?
- Why did the White House not inform Brown’s wife and two adult children of a possible gunshot wound to the head?
- What happened to the head X-rays that showed a “lead snowstorm”? Why did the Justice Department not pursue the Naval Criminal Investigative Service leak that said they had been purposely destroyed?
- How did Niko Jerkuic really die, and who investigated his death?
- Who determined that three military pathologists and a forensic photographer should have their careers ruined for telling the truth about the flawed investigation?
The pathologists did not go public with their concerns until December 1997, 20 months after the crash. On Dec. 18, the head of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume, took the Brown case to the White House and demanded answers.
On Christmas Eve, protesters showed up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Leading the charge was veteran activist and former comedian Dick Gregory.
The mainstream media largely ignored Gregory, just as they had Mfume. But there was one black leader neither the media nor the White House could ignore. That was Jesse Jackson, and he came forward Jan. 5, 1998.
With Jackson on board, reporters finally raised the Brown question at a press conference on that same day. They obviously struck a nerve.
“The Pentagon, I think, has very thoroughly and in very gruesome detail, and no doubt in ways painful to the Brown family, addressed this issue. And it’s time to knock this stuff off,” snapped press secretary Mike McCurry. “I’m not going to talk about this further or take any further questions on the subject.”
For all of McCurry’s bluster, the White House could not just blow Jackson off. With momentum still building in the black community, the Washington Afro-American ran a lengthy front-page story on Jan. 17. At this moment in time, the story had enough substance and enough bi-racial support to breach the walls of the mainstream media and shake Washington to its foundation, but this was not to be.
In one of the great ironies of modern media, another scandal was brewing at the exact same time. On that same Jan. 17, the name “Monica Lewinsky” entered the public record for the first time.
Two days later, Matt Drudge broke a Michael Isikoff story that Newsweek had been suppressing. So rich was this story in the tawdry details the public loves the major media had no choice but to open the floodgates. By Jan. 21, the Monica tale had inundated the land and left every other news story gasping for breath.
Jesse Jackson had a choice to make. He could either pick away at the administration on a story that had just lost its legs, or he could ride the rising tide of resentment in the black community and come to the besieged president’s aid.
Jackson did the latter. Now an Obama supporter, it may be time for him to make amends. The black community has not forgotten Ron Brown.
As a cautionary tale on the fate of a savvy African-American politician who dared to defy the Clintons, Obama ought not forget Ron Brown, either.
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