An Interview with Joan Mellen - Oct. 4th, 2008
(Last weekend, I traveled to the Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, to attend the Making Sense of 60s conference. On Saturday, I had a chance to speak with author Joan Mellen about Jim Garrison, and the pioneering work he did revealing Oswald's links to the CIA. Mellen has authored two books on Jim Garrison. The first, A Farewell to Justice (2005), won the critical acclaim of such JFK researchers as Gaeton Fonzi and Gary Aguilar, and director Oliver Stone. It focused on Garrison's JFK investigation and the Trial of Clay Shaw. Mellen has now followed up with a prequel bio of Garrison, Jim Garrison: His Life and Times - The Early Years. Throughout this short interview, 9/11 researchers should be able to see parallels between what they are doing, and what has been experienced by JFK researchers.)
Joan, why did you feel that there was a need for a Garrison bio?
The reason I had the prequel published is that many people didn't understand Jim Garrison's motivation. Why would he investigate the Kennedy assassination? Why would he risk his political career? Why would he give up his entire political career just for this? What did he get out of it?
It must be that he's covering up for the mafia... it must be that he's getting paid... it must be something. So, the book is a biography of Jim Garrison's life apart from the assassinations investigation, and is meant to answer that question.
Many people were introduced to Jim Garrison by Oliver Stone's JFK. Did it seem like the real Jim Garrison to you, up on the screen?
It didn't. However, Oliver Stone created a marvelous film, I think. He did an extraordinary thing, and he too took a tremendous risk, he risked his entire career as a film director, and suffered for years as a result of it. Stone's film is about the investigation, much more than it is about Jim Garrison the man, so it didn't really matter. I asked Stone the question, is this really Jim Garrison? Because I know things about Garrison's life that are not in this film... and Stone said, 'Well, I could have added 15 minutes about his life...' but it didn't make any difference, what counts is the dynamic of the investigation in that film, and also how it all played out in the city of New Orleans.
Some of the best scenes in that film have nothing to do with Jim Garrison. They were in Guy Banister's office, they have to do with the pistol-whipping of Jack Martin, because Martin knew about Banister's associations with Lee Harvey Oswald... and for those not familiar with this aspect of the case, Martin was the one who went to Garrison and told him about David Ferrie, a contract CIA pilot who lived in New Orleans and knew Lee Harvey Oswald, and really helped Garrison get his investigation going.
In my prequel, I've added an appendix; 'Who Was Jack Martin?' Because new documents have come out, CIA documents, which explain that they used the name Jack Martin "in a generic way". They had so many 'Jack Martins' that nobody could know, if they really were to investigate what happened, which was the correct 'Jack Martin'. One of the Watergate burglars was referred to sometimes as a 'Martin'.
When Stone's movie first came out, there were so many attacks on him, including attacks from the New York Times, Stone called up the publisher of Garrison's book, 'On the Trail of the Assassins' and said, 'Why didn't you tell me so many people hated Jim Garrison?' That was humorous, but I think he might not have been prepared for what happened.
Garrison really broke ground back in 1969, exposing the links that Oswald had to the CIA. Over the course of time, despite heavy criticism from the press and some JFK researchers, he has been shown to be on the right path. How has his research been vindicated?
Jim Garrison died just about the time the JFK Act was passed. These 4 million documents that emerged from the CIA and FBI were not available to Garrison. But Garrison knew that Clay Shaw was with the CIA. He had confirmation of it from David Ferrie before Ferrie died, but Ferrie was unable to be a witness at Clay Shaw's trial because he was dead.
After the JFK Act was passed, we got some of Clay Shaw's operations files. And we see that he was linked to 5 different components of the CIA. The Documents released under the JFK Act vindicate Garrison.
Even today, at conferences like this here in 2008, I can't quite understand why, people aren't prepared to draw the obvious conclusion; the overwhelming evidence is Garrison really was right and he had nothing to do with the mob. And that's another reason I did the biography of Garrision, because I wanted to show what his relationship with Carlos Marcello and the mob really was. Marcello told John Tarver, assistant to Louisiana Governor McKeithen, that he wanted Garrison out of office, because Garrison was "unreliable". He was unreliable for the mob.
When he did his Bourbon Street raids, raiding bars in the French Quarter for "B Drinking", he equally busted the bars that were owned by Mafia people. And some of those bars were owned by the Marcello family through [an intermediary], a person who owned three of those bars, one called The 500 Club, and several of the others. Garrison was not tainted by the Mafia, it just plain isn't true.
Garrison accused the CIA of complicity in the Kennedy assassination. That was his main idea. Oswald was a low-level CIA agent, he made a joke about the fact that not only was he not the 'lone assassin', he was not the assassin, but he was also never alone! And who was he with? He wasn't with anyone who wasn't with the CIA, which is typical of Garrison's sardonic humor, (there were one or two who weren't), but it's true... David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, the people that Oswald was with in New Orleans all had something to do with CIA.
Garrison made a joke about the FBI, if you want to know about what's going on this office, (I'm paraphrasing here), ask the FBI, this is an outpost of their office. The FBI didn't see the humor in this at all, but it was true. His office was under surveillance, there were wiretaps, his office was infiltrated. One of the people who infiltrated his office was Gordon Novel, who reported on a daily basis to the FBI, and those documents have been released by the national archives. He stole documents, he gave them to the Clay Shaw people, and he was a creature of Walter Sheridan who had been sent down to New Orleans to scuttle the Garrison investigation, I think, by Robert Kennedy.
It's very interesting to me, to sit here at this conference about Robert Kennedy, and hear all the talk about how Robert Kennedy wanted the assassination of his brother to be investigated, when here's Jim Garrison, who's a public official, the New Orleans Parish DA, trying to investigate the assassination of his brother, and Bobby Kennedy trying to stop him.
Why did Bobby Kennedy try to stop Jim Garrison? What was it that Bobby Kennedy was trying to hide, that's my question. In 'A Farewell to Justice', I interview a Cuban named Angelo Murgado, who worked for Bobby Kennedy, who went up to New Orleans to see what was going on, they looked at Oswald... they saw that Oswald was training in the anti-Castro camps... they found out that Oswald was an informant for the FBI, and Bobby Kennedy said if the FBI has him under control then they don't have to worry... obviously they didn't. Or they did! However you want to look at it.
Both Kennedys were out of their depth. They had no idea of the forces arrayed against them, just no idea at all.
The Kennedys were politicians. They were in a field of other politicians. They were not saints. They were not role models. There were not your dad.
Norman Mailer was at a meeting that was broadcast on C-SPAN, and someone got up and said, 'What do you think accounts for the interest in JFK all these years later?' And Norman Mailer, who knew the Kennedys, just looked at the person and said, 'He looked like a ski instructor'.
Which means, if he looked like Henry Kissinger, maybe there wouldn't be this adulation of the Kennedys.
You actually met with Garrison back in the late 1960s... how did that come about?
My husband (Ralph Schoenman) at the time had been living in London, he was working for Bertrand Russell, and he was friendly with the correspondent in London for an Italian newspaper called Paese Sera. Paese Sera had printed a series of articles about a CIA front organization called Permindex. Permindex was an organization that was interfering with the political processes in several European countries. On the board of directors was Clay Shaw.
Garrison had arrested Shaw just at that time, so, my husband sent the articles to Garrison. Garrison was grateful for the articles, and so after the Shaw trial, he invited us to come and meet him in New Orleans. Garrison talked and talked about the investigation, even though he had lost the Shaw trial.
The last time I saw him was in 1989, Stone's movie was in the works and his book had been a big success, and he was still talking about the Kennedy assassination, and the motorcade, and the fact that the Mayor of Dallas (Earle Cabell) was the brother of the former deputy director of the CIA, Gen. Charles Cabell, and just mulling it over... what does this mean, what does this mean?
Because Garrison was not one to dwell endlessly on minutiae. Evidence is important, after all, he was a prosecutor, but then you have to draw conclusions.
Tomorrow at this conference there is a panel, 'Where Do We Go From Here?' ... not the media. Not the Law Courts. But just to take a look at the evidence that we have up to this point, and it is considerable, and to sit down quietly and draw conclusions. Where are we? What does this mean? What does what we know mean?
In my new book, Jim Garrison: His Life and Times, I write about an interview I did with someone who saw the documents that meant the CIA debriefed Lee Harvey Oswald after his return from the Soviet Union. Well, what does that mean? What does that tell us about who Oswald was, what his role in all this was, and above all, who planned this murder?
9/11 researchers want justice for this newer crime. Looking at the JFK researchers, it's been 45 years that they have been researching, and only 7 for the 9/11 crowd. What do you have to say about comparing JFK and 9/11?
Maybe they're not not ready in terms of the evidence. But I think still, they're on the right track. I think they should look very carefully at the 9/11 Commission and see what wasn't said, who wasn't interviewed, what wasn't brought out and considered, as we do the same thing with the Warren Commission. In my case, how come David Ferrie wasn't interviewed by the Warren Commission, there was every opportunity to do so. Some people say the case is closed, but I just came across some new evidence recently.
You have to be patient and I think one of the things that the Warren Commission teaches you about the 9/11 case is that you don't look to the government for justice. You don't look to them to solve this, to put people in jail, to put people on trial... there's a cover-up. That's what a cover-up means. You don't ask the fox to guard the henhouse.
You can order Mellen's books at her website: http://www.joanmellen.net/order.html