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Joan Mellen: A Farewell to Justice


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Owen, I searched the database at the Mary Farrell Foundation, which I believe to be fairly comprehensive, and that is the only thing I found on William K. Harvey.

Can you supply me with a source for his actual testimony before the Church Committee if he did so testify? I have been looking to no avail, so far.

Mellen gives enough information in her citation that you can drive down to NARA and check it for yourself. This is no excuse for dishonestly representing something that she does not cite as what she cites.

To the point: if Harvey testified as Mellen claims he did, why would the Church Committee have found it so difficult to determine if there was WH approval for plots to kill Castro? That does not make any sense (which is what started my inquiry in the first place).

Probably because they had information from other, better, CIA sources, like Lawrence Houston, that directly contradict the Harvey account.

Edited by Owen Parsons
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So it is NOW your position that if indeed Harvey stated what he did the Church Committee rejected his testimony because it had other testimony it considered more credible (but in its report it never even mentioned the Harvey testimony)?

If this is indeed the case do you then fault Mellen for citing the Harvey testimony without citing the conflict (I am now going by your word) with the Houston testimony?

Somehow, Owen, you cannot have it both ways.

And I was not being dishonest. I searched for Harvey testimony and the only thing I found was the Belin interview on the Farell Foundation web-site.

And let's not forget her reference to the Helms testimony, which is on-line. Do you believe Helms testified that JFK instructed Lansdale to send a written memo to Harvey about assassination plotting? That can hardly be true because if so RFK was a damn fool. Now I think if my memory serves me there may have been discussion or a memo about contingencies if Castro should die--but if that is what she is talking about it is a far cry from assassination plots.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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I do fault Mellen for that, actually. I'm not having it both ways.

And yes, you WERE being dishonest because you did not note that that is not the document Mellen cited and presented it as if it was.

I might tussle with you about the Helms stuff (which you speak of from memory) tommorow, but its high time I got some sleep. I'll just note that if Helm's testimony does make RFK a fool, it hardly means anything as Helms is a proven perjurer and not worthy of belief.

Edited by Owen Parsons
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Well, I do not think Helms testified as Mellen claims he did, which raises questions about her credibility.

But since you admit you cannot have it both ways are you then critical of Mellen for asserting that RFK instructed Lansdale to get a memo from Harvey about assassination plots when her only source is Richard Helms who is, as you note, a convicted perjurer?

And again I was NOT being dishonest. If I can find no reference to any Church Committee testimony but the Belin interview, I assumed that is what Mellen was referencing. (I note that the Farrell database incorrectly labels it as "testimony". ) I will admit I missed the date discrepancy. But the Farrell database includes Helms testimony to the Church Committee--and nothing on Harvey.

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More (apparent) Mellen errors (taken from a review on Amazon posted by Andrew Johnson:

It would take a book of equal length to list the inaccuracies and errors she has made but, just as a random example, let us take her contention on p. 236 that James Kirkwood, the author of "American Grotesque" and who covered the Shaw trial for "Playboy" magazine, drove to Clinton, La, with Hugh Aynesworth and William Gurvich in an attempt to interview (and bribe) a number of Garrison's prospective witnesses. When one finally finds the source for this contention in her endnotes (which is helpfully referenced as being on "p. 235"), one discovers that the origin for this incident is taken from Kirkwood's book itself. If a quick cross-check is made with "American Grotesque", the reader will soon discover that Kirkwood makes no such claim at all. He clearly states that "Hugh Aynesworth of "Newsweek" told me a story that casts some doubt on these Country Folk" and then quotes a lengthy written account, made by Aynesworth and given to him, of AYNESWORTH AND GURVICH'S VISIT TO CLINTON. Mellen has clearly mis-read or mis-represented this account as Kirkwood's own, but only an astonishingly wayward student of the subject, or a dishonest one, would glean that Kirkwood ever went to Clinton himself. Indeed, even the most casual of interested afficionados of the Clay Shaw trial would surely know that this particular visit happened well before Kirkwood ever became involved in covering the case. In and of itself, this glaring error isn't of special importance to Ms. Mellen's overall fiction-posing-as-fact, but it is symptomatic of the type of error that occurs on almost every page of the book. Careless and stupid errors and presumptions that a serious and objective historian or biographer could never make.

Similarly, to take another random example, her separate listings of "Jeff Biddison" and "Arthur J. Bidderson" in her Index would indicate that she has no knowledge that Jeff Biddison's New Orleans Grand Jury testimony was accredited by a common transcript mis-spelling to "Arthur Jefferson Bidderson". Now, even if Mr. Biddison were a completely peripheral figure, this type of sloppy mistake would raise an eyebrow. But the fact that Jeff Biddison was one of Clay Shaw's oldest and closest friends and appeared as a witness at the trial of Clay Shaw, as well as before the Grand Jury, tells us Ms. Mellen is evidently not in control of her material. One could go on and on, but there is little further point. This book just doesn't merit that kind of serious scrutiny.

This just seems another indication that even when she references a factual assertion to a source (which is not always the case) the citation does not always check out!

Edited by Tim Gratz
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I saw that review. The guy indicts the entire book based on two minor errors that aren't crucial to anything. Its true that the Kirkwood account does not have Kirkwood himself in Clinton, but the entire point is that the account probably isn't true anyway, because it gives an inaccurate description of Corrie Collins' father, which apparently bases its physical description on his nickname, "Snowball." He even says that this particular error isn't important. [Kirkwood's book, btw, is a very good source of information, even if its thrust is wrong. I would use it with caution, however. Perry Russo, for instance, maintains that Kirkwood misquoted him.]

Jeff Biddison/Arthur J. Bidderson is only listed once for each name, and certainly wasn't a major witness. It isn't even in and of itself indicative that she doesn't realize that they are the same person, just that she used both spellings and the indexer didn't catch it.

They are real errors, though. He doesn't go off into Ayton/Lambert territory, so I'll give him credit for that.

Edited by Owen Parsons
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I think Mellen is referring to pages 17 through 18 of the Helms transcript of the 16th of September. The information about the Lansdale memo to Harvey comes from the interviewers, not Helms himself. The trick here is that she cites other sources besides Helms. She cites FBI memos about this and also her interview with Ramsey Clark where he tells her that he found Lansdale assassination memos left over in Bobby's files.

I find this more credible than the Harvey stuff (i.e. that the White House approved the Roselli operation).

Edited by Owen Parsons
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A review of "A Farewell to Justice" that appeared in the Dec 4, 2005 "Baltimore Sun". (Information about biographer at the end.)

The debate over who assassinated President John F. Kennedy 42 years ago will not end. As hundreds of books on the topic pile up, the authors tend to find common ground on only one major point: The official U.S. government version of Lee Harvey Oswald as a lone assassin working for himself is bunk.

Entering the debate is author Joan Mellen, who is simultaneously an unlikely and likely participant. Unlikely because she earns her salary as an English professor inside Temple University classrooms. Likely because she is a polymath seemingly able to write about anything. Look at the range of her 17 books: actress Marilyn Monroe, expatriate author Kay Boyle, film criticism, sports, true crime, Latin America, fiction. Her range and intellect can leave a mere mortal breathless.

This book began as a straightforward biography of Jim Garrison, the controversial district attorney in New Orleans who lived an unconventional life between his birth in 1921 and his death in 1992. At some level, however, Mellen must have known that a biography of Garrison would end up as a JFK assassination inquiry. After all, Garrison's unsuccessful prosecution of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw as a party to the murder is well-known to assassination theory followers. Garrison believed, as does Mellen, that lots of people helped plan the Kennedy assassination, and that many of them lived in or otherwise frequented Louisiana.

In reviewing a book like this, it is difficult to decide whether to reveal the punch line or to merely hint at it, thus allowing readers self-discovery. I have decided upon revelation, for reasons disclosed later in this review.

Mellen asserts that Shaw, Garrison's leading assassination suspect, worked with the CIA. Garrison believed employees of that U.S. government entity planned the assassination, then coordinated the cover-up with FBI agents. Oswald became the pawn of the federal agents, enlisted by them specifically to play the role of scapegoat.

Garrison came to his conclusion slowly, beginning in earnest two years after the assassination. From then until his death, Garrison cared first and foremost about bringing Kennedy's killers to justice.

Mellen met Garrison for the first time during 1969, after her husband had corresponded with the district attorney about Shaw's activities. She found him fascinating. Then she got sucked into his investigation. "What began as the chronicle of a man I once knew, a sardonic ironist, who would talk for hours about the assassination, became a biography of his investigation," Mellen says. She interviewed more than 1,000 sources, demonstrating, she comments, "the specifics of how the FBI and CIA - led by National Security Agency, FBI and CIA veteran Walter Sheridan - attempted to destroy Garrison's effort, not least by bribing his witnesses."

Near the beginning of her book, Mellen tries to assist readers by providing a "cast of characters." It includes 178 men and women. She mentions many, many more in addition to those listed.

Therein lies part of the problem with Mellen's book. She introduces so many characters in the service of so many subplots feeding into the Big Assassination Theory that the storyline becomes incomprehensible. Characters make a brief appearance, then disappear forever from the pages, or else reappear later, maybe under a different variation of their name. The reason I revealed the central thesis earlier in this review is that as Mellen tries to develop it, I became lost. I read several chapters multiple times, but understanding eluded me. Mellen is normally an excellent stylist, but in the face of the Kennedy assassination her wordsmithing implodes until backward the mind reels.

The organization of the book is a puzzle to me as well. I work mightily as a book author and magazine feature writer to provide readers with a compelling narrative. Sometimes that means presenting information chronologically, sometimes thematically, sometimes through flashbacks and flash-forwards. Whatever organizational technique I use, I expect it to be transparent to my readers. Mellen baffled me again and again with her violations of chronology. In some sections, it seems as if she wrote say, 20 paragraphs, cut them apart, threw them in the air, then arranged them in whatever order she retrieved them from the carpet.

Not only the phrasing but also the content of those sentences often confuses rather than enlightens. In the preface, for example, as Mellen recounts the meeting she and her husband held with Garrison, she says the district attorney registered the couple as "Mr. and Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson." Then she drops that fictional registration, without a word of explanation. Is Mellen trying to show that Garrison could demonstrate a sense of humor? That he had become unbalanced? What is the point of that detail? Throughout the book, Mellen offers details and anecdotes that seem to dead end.

Accuracy, or at least factual imprecision, is a problem too. On page 46, for example, Mellen mentions what appears to be a significant document from FBI files. She identifies it as a teletype "directed to J. Edgar Hoover, dated Jan. 14, 1976." I am no expert on the FBI, but I recalled immediately upon reading the sentence that Hoover died in 1972. How come Mellen never caught that anomaly? How come her editors at Potomac Books missed it?

It is painful to write a negative review of a book about Garrison, who fascinates me; about the Kennedy assassination puzzle, which fascinates me; and by an author I have admired for so many decades. But there is no polite way to say it: A Farewell to Justice is a mess.

Steve Weinberg served as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) from 1983 to 1990. Weinberg's investigative journalism has appeared in several dozen newspapers and magazines. He is the author of six nonfiction books.

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Did Ferrie ever get a new certificate for his Taylorcraft?

I've been unable to determine that. His FAA does not reflect that he did so, at least in his own name.

A student taking a test flight in it is one thing, but travel across state lines seems another.

The Sept 62 flight was across state lines. But as the flight test was after the expiration of the last known certification of the L-2, it appears to have been in an uncertificated plane! (As an aside, even though Ferrie had given flight instruction to many people over many years, he was not yet legally empowered to do so, not until 1965!)

Also, I think Ferrie may not have wanted to involve his friend's Cessna in assassination related activities.

But if Shaw was also his friend, he had no qualms about creating a damning record. Doesn't the vagueness and oddness of this alleged rental create at least the possibility that the source (Wagner's friend) might have been wrong?

BTW, it is apparent to me (and has been for some time) that you have done a great deal of serious Ferrie research (versus me, who just reads books). I look forward to your tome.

Tome is a good way to put it! I have an advantage in that I know much more about the CONTEXT of Ferrie's life than has ever been published, allowing me to consider things in perspective. That's why I am sonetimes uncomfortable with allegations made about Ferrie, based on an incomplete cartoon image of him. He makes the Perfect Villain in so many ways. But many wrong things have been published about him, and that makes people apt to jump tp conclusions.

Here's a capsule view, from someone with a detailed knowledge of the man: COULD Ferrie have been involved in the assassination? Yes. He was not the screaming right-wing Kennedy hater he's been made out to be, but he was still angry about the BoP in 1963. I think it's arguable whether or not he associated with Oswald in 1963, but it is hard to argue with the fairly high number of people who allege that he did. IF he did, he was certainly mentally screwed up enough to do so, and smart enough to do it effectively. On the other hand, the only evidence specifically tying him to a plot is Perry Russo and Charles Spiesel. All the rest is inferential interpretations of things like his trip to Houston. So yes, he could have done it, but the evidence is lsee strong than most people think. I am surprised that, IF he did it, he does not appear to have benefited financially or in any other way from it. He was on a downward slide from Aug 61-on, and never seemed to recover from it. THAT is part of the missing context.

Anyway, I cover all these possibilities in the book. LOADS of unpublished stuff, some startling. I think most readers will find something of value in it, and the context alone is valuable. I'm just over halfway through it. And I'M learning new things as I stitch the narrative! And while I'm cautious, I am not closed to conspiracy.

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I agree that Joan Mellen's book is deeply flawed. However, it includes some very important material. For example, see this section on Gerry Hemming. http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.ph...90&gopid=47438&

There are better ways for students of the assassination to spend their money and attention than on a book that completely discredits Gerry Hemming while at the same time using his stories as its primary hook.

T.C.

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Re Hemming, AF2J quotes him as telling Mellen in a private interview that Richard Helms was behind the entire assassination. But Hemming denies ever telling her that (or believing that). It would be interesting to see if she has notes on that interview. Moreover, if Helms was behind the assassination, how would Gerry Hemming know that anyway? Since she claims to doubt his credibility, why does she include his quotation on that? Obviously because it advances her theory of the assassination. But is this intellectuallly honest?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Bill Kelly has posted an article on the Forum about the possibility of obtaining a grand jury in order to investigate the assassination of JFK.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=5634

I have started a thread where I have asked researchers to put forward evidence that would justify the case being reopened.

As a result of your own research, what evidence is currently available that suggests that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the only one responsible for killing JFK?

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=5659

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(1) The most controversial aspect of your book is the inclusion of Angel Murgado’s testimony concerning the meeting at Sylvia Odio’s apartment. On reflection, do you think Murgado was telling you the truth?

(2) How close do you think Jim Garrison got to the truth concerning the events surrounding the assassination of JFK?

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I was wondering if during your research on Angel Murgado aka Angelo Kennedy, you got the chance to speak with fellow travellers like Jose Luis Hernandez and in particular Luis Bandrich? It appears possible that some JFK assassination peripherals and even direct participants may have been sourced from the ranks of Brigade 2506.

Given that many of these guys stayed in close contact over the last 44 years, there may have been some chatter regarding this.

Also, do you know if Jim Garrison had ever considered Nestor 'Tony' Izquierdo as a suspect?

I did not speak with Jose Luis Hernandez or Luis Bandrich. These names are not part of my research. Nor do I have evidence that Jim Garrison considered Nestor "Tony" Izquierdo as a suspect.

During your research, did you find any evidence of any contact between Lee Harvey Oswald and David Morales, Rip Robertson, E. Howard Hunt or William Seymour?

NO, I did not find concrete evidence of contact between Lee Harvey Oswald and Rip Robertson, Hunt or William Seymour. With one exception: there was a suggestion that David Morales appeared in the training camp north of Lake Pontchartrain where Lee Harvey Oswald was seen by a number of witnesses.

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