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Unpublished Letter to Time about Talbot and RFK

by Joan Mellen

[Editor's note: Joan Mellen, author of A Farewell to Justice, wrote this letter to Time Magazine in response to their July 2 2007 issue. That issue featured several articles about JFK from various authors including David Talbot, author of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years].

To the editor:

I applaud TIME magazine's courage in re-examining the issue of the murder of President John F. Kennedy (July 2). It has long been overdue that the mainstream media reconsider this unresolved, horrendous crime. As the author of "A Farewell to Justice" (2005), a work that examines whether there was a government conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy, however, I was taken aback by the appearance of the disingenuous, fictional essay by David Talbot, which is guilty of its own concealment and obscuring of well-established evidence.

Far from the facts demonstrating that Bobby Kennedy planned to re-open the issue of his brother's death, my research revealed to me that Robert F. Kennedy declared in public appearances from 1964 to the year of his death, 1968, that he believed that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone and was guilty. Bobby did everything in his power to prevent any investigation of his brother's death, and that included making X-rays and autopsy photographs available to official investigators.

Research has revealed his purpose: Bobby remained silent because he had something dark to hide. This underlies why no member of the Kennedy family, and no associates of the President, not the late Arthur Schlesinger, not Theodore Sorensen, not Richard Goodwin, or many others, including the next generation of Kennedys, would even discuss the issue for forty years and more.

A White House Memorandum declassified as one of the CIA's "Family Jewels," and available at George Washington University's National Security Archive (editor's note: CIA "Family Jewels" are available online at MFF), discloses a conversation in which President Gerald Ford was told by his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, how Richard Helms had confirmed for him that "Robert Kennedy managed personally the operation on the assassination of Castro."

Helms revealed only half of the truth. The CIA was engaged in separate plots against Castro, working on its own. Bobby, who had enlisted free-wheeling General Edward Lansdale, fresh from Vietnam, sought with his own recruits to organize a different set of plots designed to do away with Castro. A roaming Attorney General, Bobby had an office at CIA headquarters at Langley, running his Cuban operations, even as CIA officers like Helms, as Helms later revealed, somewhat gleefully, concealed from him their own activities.

In his 1998 oral history for the CIA, available at the National Archives, CIA officer Sam Halpern confirmed that Bobby Kennedy had developed his own plans for the murder of Castro. Halpern recounts his discovery that Bobby sent a CIA operative named Charlie Ford, alias Rocky Fiscalini, to Canada to recruit Mafia assassins for the purpose. Halpern was astonished, given Bobby's much-publicized efforts to battle the Mafia, but he checked out his information, and it was so.

Ramsey Clark confirmed for me that he personally had seen memos Lansdale prepared at Bobby's suggestion elucidating methods by which Castro could be dispatched. Like Halpern, with whom he had little in common politically, Clark was flabergasted. (Lansdale was not discreet about what he was up to either: at a meeting of President Kennedy's "Special Group - Augmented" in August 1962 he talked about the "elimination of leaders").

I discuss in "A Farewell to Justice" another example of Kennedy plots to murder Castro. This one was recounted to me by F. Lee Bailey, who has first hand knowledge of both Kennedy brothers being present in the Oval Office as Office of Naval Intelligence operative Guy Johnson introduced to them a Navy commander the Kennedys then enlisted to recruit a sniper to enter Cuba for the purpose of assassinating Fidel Castro.

As for Walter Sheridan, the man Bobby would supposedly ask to investigate his brother's death, as soon - in breathtaking hubris - as Bobby became president, Sheridan was the mastermind of Bobby's "Get Hoffa" squad. He wire tapped conversations between Hoffa and his lawyer. He defied the law by paying such witnesses as Edward Grady Partin, who admitted on the stand that he was being paid, angrily pointing out that they still owed him money! Sheridan blackmailed and bribed others and so obstructed justice that when the Hoffa conviction came for review before the U.S. Supreme Court, an appalled Chief Justice Earl Warren voted to throw it out.

Better that a guilty man go free, if he is guilty, than that the principle of due process be eviscerated. Maybe the argument that the ends justify the means worked in Joseph Stalin's Russia, but it does not in a democratic society. The obsession with illegal wire tapping by Kennedy and Sheridan was legendary. As we oppose George W. Bush's insistence upon National Security Agency illegal domestic surveillance of citizens, it is well to come unburdened by sacred cows from the past.

An earlier example of how Bobby and the man Mr. Talbot calls, affectionately, "Walt," played fast and loose with the system of justice had Walter Sheridan assist Bobby in arranging that Otto Otepka, a high level officer in the State Department Office of Security, be removed from his post. The reason, I was able to establish, was that Mr. Otepka was about to investigate a list of defectors to the Soviet Union that included - Lee Harvey Oswald, "tourist." Bobby Kennedy concealed a history of protecting Oswald and seeing that he was not investigated, not in Dallas in April 1963 when shots were fired at General Walker, and not later.

In 1967, Bobby Kennedy, now a U.S. Senator, dispatched Sheridan to New Orleans, for the purpose of ensuring that Bobby's plots to assassinate Fidel Castro would never emerge during the Garrison investigation. Bobby's "trusted aide," (Sheridan's actual title was "confidential assistant"), admitted openly that he was sent to New Orleans to "discredit" and "destroy" Garrison. He acknowledged to people in New Orleans whom he enlisted to help him that it was Bobby who sent him.

Sheridan went on to attempt to bribe and blackmail Garrison witnesses. Garrison indicted him, only for Sheridan to flee the jurisdiction. Higher authority protected him.

I established that Bobby Kennedy knew about Oswald, that Oswald's anti-Castro activities were known to Bobby months before the assassination of his brother, and that Oswald was even among those anti-Castro activists Bobby's people were attempting to enlist in assassination schemes against Castro. It is this fact that Bobby was trying desperately to conceal; this was why he did not, as Attorney General or as a United States Senator, act to investigate publicly the death of his brother. He had too much to hide, and his presidential ambitions were at stake.

Do you think "any of our people were involved?" Bobby demanded of his press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz immediately after the assassination of his brother. Obviously he meant Oswald. Mankiewicz told me he had thought then: "Did you think there might be?"

Mr. Talbot would do well to withdraw the applications for sainthood he files for both Robert Kennedy and Walter Sheridan and reconsider his highly specious thesis. As a biographer, I am well aware of the temptation to hagiography, glorifying one's subject. A re-examination of those terrible times, however, is too important to the Republic at this perilous moment.

Another cover-up is not what we need.

-- Joan Mellen

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