INTERVIEW WITH ZACHARY SKLAR, CO-WRITER OF THE MOVIE "JFK"
Zachary Sklar is a journalist and a professor of journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism. He is also a contributor to The Lies of Our Times, a monthly journal dedicated to exposing the truth behind twisted and censored reports in the mainstream media. Recently, he collaborated with director Oliver Stone on the screenplay of the controversial movie "JFK", which has been trashed by the very same mainstream media exposed in the Lies of Our Times. This interview was conducted by Frank Morales and Paul DeRienzo on January 14, 1992:
SKLAR CONTINUED: After Garrison's book On The Trail Of The Assassins was published in 1988, Fletcher Prouty wrote a letter to Jim Garrison saying, "You were aware of what was happening on the local end. Let me tell you what was happening in Washington, in the Pentagon, where I was." And what Garrison had stumbled across was "Operation Mongoose" -- the local training camp in Lake Ponchartrain, near New Orleans, where the Cuban anti-Castro exiles were being trained by the CIA to try to create another invasion of Cuba after the Bay of Pigs
. "Operation Mongoose" was running out of Washington and the head of operations for it was a man named General Edward Lansdale, who had also run "black" operations in Southeast Asia for a number of years. Fletcher Prouty knew Lansdale very well, worked with him, and Prouty pretty much lays out in the film exactly what his own first-hand experience was, which was that he was sent to the South Pole two weeks before the assassination on a mysterious trip, the only reason for which could have been to get him out of the office. Prouty had known the Kennedys and had grown up in Massachusetts -- it was an old family thing -- and he didn't agree with Kennedy's policies, but he certainly never would have gone along with any kind of plot to kill the President, had he known about it.
Prouty had also worked on writing the October 2nd memo from (General) Maxwell Taylor and (Secretary of Defense) Robert McNamara recommending that 1,000 U.S. advisors be withdrawn from Viet Nam by the end of 1963, and all the rest, another 15,000, to be removed by the end of 1965. That memo was adopted by Kennedy on October 11, 1963 -- he signed National Security Action Memorandum 263 which actually ordered that the advisors be removed by the end of 1963.
Now, there are a lot of people on the left, and on the right, who all say that Kennedy was a Cold Warrier, Kennedy had sent advisors in in the first place and, therefore, he could have been expected to do just what Johnson did later, that is, send massive numbers of combat troops to Viet Nam. That is a valid viewpoint to an extent. It ignores crucial evidence. The crucial evidence it ignores I would recommend that people read in a book called JFK and Viet Nam by John Newman. That book lays out in great detail the whole series of events leading up to 1963, to the assassination, the whole history of Kennedy's involvement with Southeast Asia, and his own ambivalence about it. One thing is clear, unequivocal, from that history, and that is that Kennedy was repeatedly asked to send U.S. combat troops to Southeast Asia -- both to Laos and to Viet Nam, and that he repeatedly refused to do that. He did send advisors. He also -- the last thing that he did -- signed and sent 263 in order to withdraw some of those advisors.
Now, the film speculates -- we, of course, do not have smoking gun proof of this -- that the withdrawal order from Viet Nam was the last straw in a series of moves that Kennedy had created to alienate the right wing. Regardless of what the left wing thought of Kennedy as a Cold Warrier and regardless of some of his public statements which confirmed that he wanted to stay involved in Southeast Asia, there was a whole series of moves that he made that infuriated the right wing, and this film is not about the left wing response, it's about how the right wing viewed Kennedy, that is, the military and intelligence establishments. That history goes back to the Bay of Pigs in which Kennedy refused to provide air cover for that invasion -- it was a disaster -- and those who were involved in it. People like (CIA agent) E. Howard Hunt, Cuban exiles who were stranded there, had a tremendous hatred for Kennedy, not to mention Allen Dulles, Charles Cabell and Richard Bissell -- the three top people in the CIA -- all of whom were fired by Kennedy as a result of that disastrous situation. Kennedy also, in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, cut a secret deal with (Soviet Premier Nikita) Kruschev in exchange for the Soviets withdrawing the missiles. The U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba.
Now, Alexander Cockburn is one person who says that Kennedy threatened to blow up the entire world, that he was the closest the President has ever come to creating nuclear war. Well, I have to agree with Alexander about that. What he is not understanding is how the right wing viewed this. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had urged Kennedy to invade Cuba. Their viewpoint was to let the nuclear war happen. When Kennedy refused to invade Cuba, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were very upset and so were those under them. That was another step along the way. The next step we can see is in the summer of 1963, when Kennedy signs a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. Once again, this is over the objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is opening up relations with the Soviet Union that are essentially thawing the Cold War -- something these people have been committed to for a decade or more. Their careers have been spent on this.
The next thing that happens is that Kennedy orders that "Operation Mongoose" -- the very thing that Garrison stumbled across in New Orleans and Lansdale was heading in Washington -- training camps for Cuban exiles and mercenaries be shut down. And they were, in fact, raided and shut down. All their weapons and ammunition were taken. That is the end of the second so-called invasion of Cuba that they were planning. Those people were absolutely enraged at Kennedy for that. On top of that came a back door channel that Kennedy had opened to try to normalize relations with Castro's Cuba. What the film tries to portray is that it was not just the withdrawal from Viet Nam, it was a whole series of events, and these people were outraged at Kennedy. They felt he was an appeaser of Communism. Whether we agree with that or not is really not relevant. This film is about who might have seen him that way.
SHADOW: Today's New York Post headline says the mafia did it. Who really carried out the assassination on the ground? Is this a mafia job as a junior partner to the CIA and military intelligence? What are your feelings about the whole question of mafia vs CIA vs military intelligence?
SKLAR: Sometimes poets get to the truth better than journalists and researchers. I remember Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem "Gotta be playing on the jukebox", and the first line I think was "CIA and mafia together, gotta be playin on the jukebox". I think what he meant by that was that the CIA and mafia have worked together on a number of covert operations, including numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, the mafia got rid of the communists on the docks of Marsailles in 1947 and in exchange the CIA helped the mafia run drugs into the United States -- this is documented well in The Politics of Heroin by Alfred McCoy. If there were a mafia-CIA collaboration, it's clear who's running the operation. The mafia does not run joint operations with the CIA, the CIA runs them. It may employ certain people from the mafia to carry out its orders, but the planning and financing are done by the CIA. Jack Ruby, I think it's absolutely clear, was associated with the mafia, was associated with the conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and was running guns to Cuba for the CIA. There is an intertwining here that is very difficult to sort through, but the question is who was running the show.
SHADOW: There is some criticism for sparing the image of Richard Nixon. The roles of Nixon, E. Howard Hunt and George Bush and their role with the anti-Castro Cubans is all known.
SKLAR: Richard Nixon was in Dallas he day before the assassination. I don't think there's any substantial evidence that links Nixon to the assassination. We didn't want to include things that had weak documentation. I think the Nixon link, at least to my mind, has weak documentation. E. Howard Hunt is another story. He has actually been in court on this issue. (Attorney) Mark Lane's book Plausable Denial tells the story of E. Howard Hunt bringing a suit against the Liberty Lobby which printed a story by (former CIA agent) Victor Marchetti saying that Hunt had been in Dallas and was involved in the assassination and would be sacrificed by the CIA. That's what the article said. In the course of that trial, in which Mark Lane defended Liberty Lobby, the jury ruled that Liberty Lobby had established to their satisfaction that E. Howard Hunt and the CIA had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Mark Lane and Oliver Stone negotiated about use of that material and research for the film, and Mark Lane wanted to reserve the right not to have his material changed in any way for dramatic purposes, and so they decided not to work together on this. There was an article in The Nation, by Joseph McBride, that dug up a CIA memo shortly after the assassination from Miami, which says that George Bush of the CIA was reporting to the FBI about the reaction of Cuban exiles in Miami to the assassination. President George Bush denied that it was he the memo referred to. The CIA also denied it, which they never do -- they never confirm or deny employment by anyone -- but in this case they made an exception. They said there was another George Bush. The Nation then found this other George Bush, who said he had worked for the CIA at the time, but he was a low-level clerk who was never in the field. We do know Bush was working with Felix Rodriguez, a Cuban exile who surfaces in Iran-Contragate. Bush was working at the time to recruit Cuban exiles for "Operation Mongoose". I don't think we had enough direct evidence linking Bush to include in the film.
SHADOW: Can you mention some of the things you'd like to have gotten included in the film?
SKLAR: It can't have all the information. There have been 600 books on the subject. I am personally satisfied with what is there. It may be even a bit too much information for people to take, although audiences seem to be quite enthusiastic and able to handle that much information. It's rare for a film to actually challenge an audience and I think people are rising to that challenge. I think people are happy to sink their teeth into something that has substance to it. I feel that Jim Garrison as a person is far more interesting than as portrayed in the film. The choice was that this film should be about the JFK assassination and its implications for us as a country. Those who want to know more about Garrison should read his book On The Trail of The Assassins. As far as evidence, the one character missing who I think is important is Dallas Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig. He was an ernest, sincere and credible witness. He came forward and said the rifle found was a 7.65 Mauser, not a Manlicher- Carcano, and he told of seeing a getaway car with Oswald and two other men in it after the assassination. Captain Fritz of the Dallas Police claimed that Craig had never told this story. Later, Chief (of Police) Jesse Curry published his own book, and in it was a photograph of Roger Craig and Will Fritz at Oswald's interrogation, which disproved what Fritz said. It's too bad that didn't get into the movie, but you can't cover everything in a movie.
SHADOW: There's been some controversy over allegations that rightists in the U.S. political scene are infiltrating the left through their support of conspiracy theories that people on the left also agree with. How are we to prevent that from happening in this situation?
SKLAR: I think a lot of people on the right who have been skeptical about government from the very beginning find the idea that the government was involved in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy quite credible. They have every right to believe that as well. There is a place where right and left do meet.
SHADOW: Could we be led down the path by people like Fletcher Prouty and others?
SKLAR: Fletcher Prouty is in the Liberty Lobby, I don't happen to agree with his political views. The question is not whether I agree with him politically, but whether what he said checks out. In this case, it does. John Newman, author of JFK and Viet Nam, confirms virtually everything Fletcher Prouty said from his own first hand experience. I don't think you can discount Prouty simply because of his associations.
SHADOW: How might public reaction to this film be structured for meaningful results and change?
SKLAR: A lot of people have become outraged enough to write Congress and ask that the files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations and the Warren Commission be opened. That is a first good step, but I think we have to go beyond those files and try to get to the "national security" protected files of the CIA and FBI. I don't see the function of secret files in this country. I think there is an outrage at secret government and the ongoing shadow government that we've seen surfacing from time to time. (Senator) Arlen Spector is up for re-election in Pennsylvania. Many audiences laugh, clap and hoot when Kevin Costner in his summation in the film mentions Spector as being the designer of "one of the grossest lies in American history", the "Magic Bullet" theory. By coincidence, it was Spector who was handling the (Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, and we saw how he could manipulate people and how nasty he was.
Another thing that didn't get into the film was Arlen Spector's interrogation for the Warren Commission of Jean Hill, who was the person closest to the president when he was killed. He told her there were three shots, she said she heard four to six shots. He said she heard echos and firecrackers, she said she carried a gun and went to target practice every week and knew the difference between a gunshot and a firecracker and an echo. Spector said "We could make you sound crazy, as crazy as Oswald's mother. We could put you in a mental institution." The transcriber was told by Spector not to put this on the record. I got a call from the Philadelphia Enquirer and they said that Arlen Spector's re-election is threatened by his role in this movie, among other things. I think that textbooks students read in schools are in great need of revision. For such an important event in American history, clearly the history books have to go into greater detail. I'm not such an activist on this to know what could be done at this point, but those are a few ideas.
In the final analysis, people have to go see the film themselves and
decide what they think. The people are the ultimate judge of history.
It's not somebody at the New York Times, or Oliver Stone, it's
people who have to take a number of sources into account. Don't just see
the movie, read books and read the Warren Commission Report and the House
Select Committee on Assassination's report. Read whatever you can get
your hands on, the people will decide for themselves.
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