Sixty prominent Americans have signed a letter calling on Congress to reopen the investigations into the 1960s assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
The letter, signed by historians, journalists, lawyers, and other experts on the four political murders, is an effort to create a national truth and reconciliation commission to begin a reversal of disastrous social and cultural divisions fueled by decades of government sanctioned lies.
Longtime journalist and author David Talbot, who’s written several books about the assassinations and the deep state, is a leader of this effort. He talks to Jeff Schechtman about what he hopes this effort will accomplish, about the corrosive impact that the lack of truth about these killings has had on the fragile US democracy, and why now is the ideal time for the nation to handle the truth.
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|Jeff Schechtman:||Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman.|
|I think it’s fair to stipulate that distrust in all of our major institutions is at an all-time high. Government, business, the military, medicine, even charities, no institution is spared. But it’s important to remember that this didn’t happen overnight. It’s not a product of Trump or Republicans or Democrats. For many, our loss of faith goes back to the ’60s and the death of Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. In each case, the official narrative of these assassinations simply didn’t square with so much public information. Over time and with the advent of the internet and greater public transparency, more and more people began to ask critical questions until it became clear in so many ways that whatever the real story was, we seem to have been repeatedly lied to. And as we all know from our personal lives, when you’ve been lied to enough by someone, they lose all credibility and you lose faith and connection to them.|
|This has had an ongoing corrosive impact on our nation and now, there are a group of people trying to do something about it. On the occasion of this Martin Luther King Day, a group of over 60 prominent American citizens is calling upon Congress to reopen the investigation into the assassinations of President Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy. One of those leading this effort is our guest today, David Talbot. He’s an author, journalist, a media executive. He was the founder and former CEO of Salon and has written extensively on the Kennedy assassination and the deep state. It is my pleasure to once again welcome David Talbot to Radio WhoWhatWhy. David, thanks so much for joining us.|
|David Talbot:||Thank you, Jeff.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Tell us, first of all, how this effort came about. Obviously with so many people involved, it wasn’t one that was easy to wrangle.|
|David Talbot:||You can say that again. This is a very opinionated community of researchers as you know. There was going to be a forum out here devoted to the Kennedy assassination organized by a great independent researcher, a doctor named Dr. Gary Aguilar who I’m sure you’re aware, and many people who’ve been working on this for years, we’re getting together once again to go over the assassination and present papers and so on. I just felt here’s one more meeting where we’re just talking to ourselves. We have to break out of this bubble and begin to actually communicate our ideas, what we’ve found after years of research about the assassination of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X for that matter, the big four assassinations in the 1960s that had such a profound impact on the course of American history.|
|I said instead of just talking to ourselves, why don’t we organize a joint statement and attempt to get it out to the media? Here’s 10 points we can all agree on. Number one, that they were the victims of a conspiracy, a conspiracy organized at the highest levels of the national security system in our country. That is, of course, an explosive thing to say still at this late date, 50 some years later, but yet I was able because it did hit a nerve to get these lawyers, journalists, historians, people who’ve been working on this for years, experts on this dark chapter in American history to agree on these 10 powerful statements about the assassination and who was responsible for it, and why these men were killed.|
|Then it caught fire from there. It started to spread out from the circle of Kennedy researchers to members of the Kennedy family like Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his sister, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend who was the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. It spread to the King family, a nephew of Martin Luther King, Isaac Newton Farris, Jr. who was past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It spread beyond there to celebrities, Alec Baldwin, the actor, Rob Reiner, the director, Oliver Stone, Mort Sahl, the political satirist who’s been so involved in this, going back to New Orleans and Jim Garrison. It has caught fire. Two of the surgeons who worked on President Kennedy and struggled to save his life at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, they saw clear medical evidence, Jeff, with Kennedy lying on the table there in the emergency room that he’d been struck by bullets from the front and the back and that, of course, was evidence of a clear conspiracy.|
|I’m so proud of these engaged Americans that they’re willing years later to say, “We’ve been lied to long enough.” As you had said in your introduction, these kind of lies, these kind of official lies are corrosive. They eat away at our body politic. They undermine our democracy and in many ways, the kind of awful situation we’re in today in America with the enfeebled democracy and authoritarian forces on the rise, they have the direct roots in these terrible events of the past.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Is there a danger in taking on too much, that in looking in or asking Congress to create this kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into all four of these cases, that it’s asking people to absorb too much in terms of the totality of this?|
|David Talbot:||In a way, it does involve, every case is somewhat different, it’s a different murder case and there are different people involved at least in terms of the people who pulled the trigger and so on in different circumstances, but I believe that the same national security forces, we’re talking about the CIA, the FBI, local police agencies were involved in all four of these murders. There is kind of a pattern here that needs to be exposed. It’s a pattern of democracy versus the national security state and that is the story at its heart.|
|I think because there’s a symmetry in all four of these cases, it allows us to treat them and we should treat them as a pattern. It’s a murder spree, serial murders directed at the heart of our democracy to take out these elected leaders. Imagine how different America would’ve been if these four men with their vision for a peaceful America, would disengage from foreign wars, focusing more on domestic programs and peace and civil rights at home, imagine how vastly different our country would’ve been. These four men had a similar vision and they were taken out and killed for that reason because their vision collided with the vision of a cold war, imperialistic America.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Do you think that there is something in our body politic, in our cultural construct today that makes it easier than it has been perhaps at any time since all of this to begin to realistically look at all of this, for people to be willing to do it?|
|David Talbot:||Yes. I think in a way Trump has made everything possible. I mean he’s such a bull in the china shop. He’s destroyed so much. He’s actually in a way that’s quite unintentional made us look again at our system and why it is so fragile, our system on law and justice and so on. Leonard Cohen, the great musician had a line that I always love, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” He has now broken the system so much, there’s so many cracks in the American system. It’s time to fully shed light because we can’t really move forward as a country until we come to terms with our past.|
|I want to say one more thing that I think is very important. The last time we had a system that’s kind of broken was after the Vietnam war with Watergate. There was a lot of actual official introspection going on back then in Congress in 1970s, and we did have a body, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, that really took a pretty close and fairly honest look at really what happened. This was not a Warren Commission cover-up. These were honest researchers like Gaeton Fonzi who was an investigator for the committee whose widow, by the way, Marie Fonzi is one of our signers of our statement. Under the leadership of Chief Counsel Robert Blakey, they called many witnesses who needed to be called, CIA people and so on, and they were grilled, investigated like they were… Actually, this is the first time there was an honest investigation on the Kennedy assassination.|
|Unfortunately, there were too many political pressures so they weren’t able to go far enough. But people forget that in 1979 when they were wrapping up their probe, this committee, Congressional committee, did find that Kennedy, JFK, was the probable victim of a conspiracy. What we’re asking for now is that Congress pick up where it left off decades ago and renew the investigation and this time, take it all the way and complete it. Because there are living witnesses yet still. There are people who have stories to tell that are relevant and important as well as, of course, the investigative journalists and legal experts and historians. Even though it’s 50 years on, these are still live cases.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Even though 50 years have gone by, is there enough in terms of living witnesses, in terms of evidence, in terms of information to really get some real answers to all of this?|
|David Talbot:||Yes, and I’ll tell you why, it’s not just living witnesses ’cause there are a number of them, people who were actually witnesses to the crime who saw it happen. For instance, people assume, of course, because he was convicted of the crime that Sirhan Sirhan was the murderer of Senator Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968. He was there obviously in the kitchen of the hotel firing a gun at the senator and so, it seems like an open and shut case.|
|But did you know, for instance, that the coroner of Los Angeles County, Dr. Thomas Noguchi who performed the autopsy on Senator Kennedy, he later wrote in his memoir, “I can’t say with any certainty that Sirhan fired the fatal shot.” Why is that? Because forensic evidence suggests it would’ve been impossible for Sirhan to have been the killer. He was standing 4 feet or so in front of Senator Kennedy firing his gun. The fatal shot was delivered at point blank range right into Senator Kennedy’s skull from behind. Noguchi and other eyewitnesses said, who’s still alive by the way, Thomas Noguchi, the LA County coroner, former coroner. There’s people like him who can be called as living witnesses.|
|Also, equally important, the CIA is still sitting on thousands of documents that are relevant, and they refuse to release these documents to the public. Why is that? They’re defying the law. The JFK Records Act of 1992 requires the CIA and all government agencies to release all documents related to the Kennedy presidency and assassination. They were supposed to release all these documents last year, actually in the year 2017, but they refused. They stonewalled the public again and President Trump allowed them to get away with it again. What are in these documents? We need to see.|
|I’ll tell you one thing that I learned that they’re withholding. I’ve actually gone after the CIA through the Freedom of Information Act and legally tried to get them to release these documents, but they haven’t. I want to know what William Harvey, who was a key CIA agent, who’s been implicated in the crime by many people including the House assassination committee, where was he traveling in the weeks before Dallas, November 1963 when Kennedy was killed? He was supposed to be the Rome station chief of the CIA at that time, but he was spotted on a plane to Dallas shortly before the assassination. I demanded that the CIA release William Harvey’s travel records for those months. They refused to do that. There’s many things that they’re sitting on that we need to see.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||As people might remember in the movie “A Few Good Men”, Jack Nicholson has this famous line where he says, “You can’t handle the truth.” Can the country handle the truth now?|
|David Talbot:||Boy, that’s a good question. We’ll see. This is in some ways my final attempt to shake things up. As you know, I’ve written two major books on the subject. I’ve devoted years of my life to it. My last book, The Devil’s Chessboard, wasn’t even reviewed by The Washington Post or New York Times. They blackballed it. In fact, the editor at The Washington Post told my publicist that they wouldn’t touch my book with a 10-foot pole. This is The Devil’s Chessboard, which was about Allen Dulles, the former head of the CIA and the rise of America’s secret government and their involvement in these terrible crimes.|
|When it comes to the mainstream media, boy, they have got their heads stuck in the sand. They do not want to acknowledge the amazing research that’s been done on this in the last five years by independent journalists, historians. They really are just intransigent and I think for one reason, it’s cowardice in a way. I’ve worked in newsrooms. I see the pack mentality that develops editorially. People are afraid to stick their neck out in something controversial. The press can be very timid. Also, unfortunately, I think the mainstream press, the establishment press, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the major TV networks are very tied to the national security state. Just watch CNN every night and MSNBC, see how many of their guests are former CIA guys, FBI, high level national security think tanks. I mean half their guests are from the national security state. How can they report independently on this?|
|Jeff Schechtman:||This statement that was signed by these 60 prominent Americans, talk a little specifically about what it calls for, what is suggests.|
|David Talbot:||Number one, I wanted to just call out one person who signed it who I think we should really spotlight. That’s G. Robert Blakey, the man I mentioned earlier. He was the chief counsel of the House Assassination Committee in the 1970s and he was always convinced that organized crime, the mafia, was behind the murder of President Kennedy. He was a mob guy. I mean that was his specialty. He helped write the RICO Act, the Rack Attack. He was an organized crime prosecutor. That was his kind of bias as it was. But for him, decades later, to come to a different conclusion and saying, “Yes, the mafia probably was involved,” but they were low down on the command chart. At the top, you have to look at national security agencies as the people who were behind this plot. That’s a major shift for someone like Bob Blakey who’s devoted his life to law enforcement. I want to be able to spotlight things like that.|
|These 60 Americans represent a cross spectrum that’s quite amazing. As I said, they’re members of the King and Malcolm X and Kennedy families. These families, it’s very difficult for them to speak out because often is a great emotional baggage involved. Their families often try and keep silent, it’s because they know they’re going to put themselves in the line of fire again if they speak out.|
|In fact, when the King family back in 1999, including Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, supported a civil trial in Memphis to reopen the King assassination, that civil jury, by the way, found evidence of a conspiracy in the death of Martin Luther King. And they heralded this as an important verdict that American people should know about, but what happened to the King family as a result? Were they applauded by the press for their courage to reopen the case? No. They were pilloried, including in their own newspapers in Atlanta, their hometown. They were attacked for digging up the past. They said Martin Luther King would be ashamed of them. It was terrible, the kind of press attacks on them at the time, the King family. For the family members to again wade into this very controversial territory is very brave. Most of us can’t even fathom what it takes emotionally for them to do that.|
|Then there are celebrities like Mort Sahl, the foremost, he’s still actually performing as a stand-up comedian, the great political satirist. Mort Sahl was making $1 million a year back in the 1960s. That was serious money. His career was at the height. Then he decided to go volunteer for Jim Garrison, the New Orleans DA who was reopening the Kennedy case, and his career suddenly plummeted. He couldn’t get any work. He was blackballed. He was on Johnny Carson, the Tonight Show all the time back then, but he wasn’t, suddenly. He just disappeared by the media. For personalities, entertainers like Alec Baldwin, like Rob Reiner, the director, like Mort Sahl yet again to put their names on our list, on our statement is quite … I have to applaud their bravery.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Will it take political leadership, will it take those or some in the political establishment to come forward and put their imprimatur on this in order to make it a reality, do you think?|
|David Talbot:||Yeah, that is our next round. What our hope is is to, as I say, organize a, number one, a major nationwide campaign to gather more and more signatures and then, to build pressure and to organize a public inquest in the fall, in late fall to hear testimony from living witnesses and other experts. That’s all intended to put pressure on Congress. We need key members of Congress as happened back in the 1970s to pick up the ball and say, “We need to make this official. We need to reopen this inquiry,” because as I say, our democracy can never be safe if you have leaders cut down in broad daylight with impunity and no real investigation occurring. If that’s allowed to continue, that kind of official violence, American democracy will never be safe.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||The fact that there hasn’t been any other assassination or anything similar for the past 50 plus years, what impact do you think that has on the way people perceive this?|
|David Talbot:||I was told that one of the first things Bill Clinton did when he was elected president was to ask his attorney general at the time to dig up whatever he could find about the Kennedy assassination that was buried in government files. I think presidents who’ve come into office since Kennedy all have had this in mind. There’s only so far they can go pushing against the CIA and the military and challenging their policies before their own life is in danger. I think President Obama knew he can only take on the military so much in Afghanistan in trying to draw down troops there. They were pushing back and they were quite firm that they didn’t like Obama’s de-escalation plans.|
|I think when they, not to be too graphic, when they splattered President Kennedy’s brains all over his wife in the presidential limousine in Dallas in broad daylight, that was sending a signal. That was sending a signal not only to his generation of leaders, but to future generations of American leaders, that you can only resist the power of the deep state, of the national security state so far without putting your own life at risk.|
|Kennedy knew. He had intimations of his own death even in office. He knew that by defying these powers on Vietnam, he wanted to withdraw troops totally from Vietnam after he was reelected in ’64. He was trying to set up back channel peace feelers with the Soviet Union and with Havana, with Fidel Castro in Cuba. He knew this was inciting a major backlash from his generals and his espionage officials. He talked to people openly, friends, about the possibility of him being assassinated so he knew. He was a very brilliant guy who had his feelers all through Washington. You could feel these tremors growing. We, unfortunately, have not had a president as brave as President Kennedy since then. They’ve all very been much, I think, cowed in a way by the power of the national security state.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||How does that fit into the current context where we see a president who, for a whole different set of reasons, seems to be pushing back against that national security state?|
|David Talbot:||Some of that is real. I think him doing foreign policy and defense policy by tweet has kind of unnerved and alarmed the deep state forces, announcing withdrawal from Syria the way he did, but then again, he backed down right away on that, right. “It’s not going to happen right away. It’s going to take time to withdraw troops.” Frankly, even the Kennedy decision or non-decision was important. Trump has it in his power in 2017 and he said he was going to do this to make the CIA obey the law and release these documents related to the Kennedy assassination, but he backed out. He let CIA win once again. Trump likes to huff and puff and beat his chest and say how powerful he is, but what it comes down to, the CIA is still running the show and so is the military to a great extent.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||What can the public do to contribute to this effort that you with these 60 other signers are engaged in?|
|David Talbot:||We are soon going to put up a web page. The web page will be known as the Truth and Reconciliation Project. Your site, WhoWhatWhy and other sites, will be publicizing this and you can add your name for one thing and spread the word to your friends, other people you know are concerned about this dark history and get involved in the campaign to organize a public inquest late this year. We haven’t determined the specifics yet, but stay tuned. Join our campaign and get on our mailing list and make this the year that we determine our past will finally become public knowledge.|
|As Americans, we have a right to our own history and this is the year to finally demand it. It’s not a presidential year yet. We have the time. We can focus on this and you know what, we’ll be defending the democracy that is going to be at the polls next year by laying the groundwork right for it now, but make the past available to all Americans so we’ll have a future.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||David Talbot, I thank you so much for spending time with us.|
|David Talbot:||Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate it.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Thank you. Thank you for listening and for joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy Podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman.|
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