From the July-August, 1997 issue (Vol. 4 No. 5) of Probe
On Wednesday, June 18, 1997, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan stunned a parole board by declaring publicly that he now believes he is innocent of the crime for which he is incarcerated: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
On June 5th, 1968, RFK, the likely Democratic candidate for President, having just won the California primary, was shot in the pantry in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just finished his victory speech and was headed out when Sirhan stepped from the crowd, and said “Kennedy, you son of a bitch.” Sirhan extended his hand and fired shots at the oncoming Senator. Kennedy fell to the floor and was taken to a hospital, where he died a short time later.
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Trapp expressed outrage that Sirhan would now dare to claim innocence, calling such a claim “preposterous.” To someone who does not know the case, such a claim seems preposterous indeed, in light of the following facts:
- Sirhan was witnessed by many people shooting at RFK.
- An LAPD criminalist testified that the bullets found in the victims matched test bullets fired from Sirhan’s gun.
- Sirhan conceded having shot RFK and even provided his motive.
Taken out of context, these facts present a grossly misleading picture of the case. Examined against the full record of the case, the following facts emerge:
- RFK was shot at point-blank range from behind. Two shots entered his back and a third shot entered directly behind RFK’s right ear. By all eyewitness accounts, Sirhan was never closer than one and a half feet to RFK. The bulk of the witnesses put Sirhan at a distance of three feet or more. Sirhan was firing a gun. But clearly, so was someone else.
- The criminalist who testified to the match between the bullets and the gun had stored the bullets in an envelope labeled as belonging to the gun with a serial number of H 18602. Sirhan’s gun had a serial number of H 53725. The tests showed conclusively that the victim bullets matched a gun that was not Sirhan’s.
- Sirhan has consistently, and credibly—even to the prosecution’s experts—asserted that he has no memory of the shooting. With no one to tell him of the exculpatory ballistic and medical evidence, and no memory of where he was and what he did, he believed those who told him he had killed Kennedy, and took his lawyer’s advice to own up to it at the trial. His motive, however, never made sense.
The day after the murder, a leading Arab activist, Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, issued a statement that Sirhan might have been motivated to attack RFK because RFK had promised to sell bomber planes to Israel. On May 18th, in a diary attributed to Sirhan are the words “RFK Must Die!” written over and over. However, RFK’s statement to sell the bombers was not shown on TV until May 20th. So that could hardly have been Sirhan’s motive. In court, during his trial, Sirhan burst out that he had killed RFK “willfully, premeditatively, with twenty years of malice aforethought.” This was not very compelling, however, since Sirhan was only 24 years old at that time of the assassination. He would have had to be contemplating the murder of the as yet little known Kennedy at the age of four! As he saw it, he had only a couple of choices. Either he had killed Kennedy on purpose, or he had lost his mind. Not wanting to believe the latter he embraced the former. And once he believed that, together with his defense team he sought out a motive. Confronted with the possibility that he was out of control or insane, Sirhan replied, “I’d rather die and say I killed that son of a bitch for my country, period [emphasis added].” But believing doesn’t make it so, and the evidence shows that Sirhan could not have fired the three shots that hit Kennedy.
So we are left with the following. The gun was not matched to the victims’ bullets. Sirhan was never close enough to have shot Kennedy where he was hit. And then there is the memory problem. After extensive hypnosis attempts by both the prosecution and his defense, no one was able to find any evidence of a suppressed memory there. He had an utter blank for the period surrounding the shooting.
Either we have a case of many witnesses having a collective illusion that Sirhan was not close enough, or a second shooter was in the pantry. Indeed, there is evidence of well above the eight bullets Sirhan’s gun was capable of firing. This has been well documented in The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (by Bill Turner and Jon Christian, published by Random House in 1978 and later by Thunder’s Mouth Press in 1993); The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination (by Philip Melanson, published by S.P.I. Books, 1994); and the new book by William Klaber and Philip Melanson, based on newly released files from the LAPD, called Shadow Play: The Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, The Trial of Sirhan Sirhan, and the Failure of American Justice (St. Martin’s Press, 1997).
If there were two (or even more) shooters and Sirhan was one of them, doesn’t that prove his guilt, regardless of whether he fired the fatal shot or not? Yes, to some degree. But was he a witting conspirator?
Another possibility, voiced on the air even before Sirhan’s name was made public, was that the shooter was acting under the influence of hypnosis.
In Richard Condon’s famous 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate, the plot centers around a man who was programmed under hypnosis to assassinate the president of the United States. The man was not aware that he had been programmed. While the novel was advertised as fiction, it bore a close resemblance to the most secret of the CIA projects, the mind control experiments held from the early ‘50’s until the mid ‘70’s.
Under names like Bluebird, then Artichoke (after a favorite vegetable of Allen Dulles’), and finally MKULTRA, the CIA was avidly and amorally experimenting on both witting and unwitting subjects with drugs, electric shock, hypnotism, electrode implantation and other technologies in the search for ways to completely control the actions of humans. Another area of search was devoted to finding ways of creating perfect, if temporary, amnesia so that an agent could perform a task and truly be able to have no memory of it when questioned later. The Senate report on these experiments showed the CIA felt this could be done through the administration of drugs.
A R T I C H O K E
1. The ARTICHOKE Team visited [redacted] during period 8 January to 15 January 1954. The purpose of the visit was to give an evaluation of a hypothetical problem, namely: Can an individual of ****** descent be made to perform an act of attempted assassination involuntarily under the influence of ARTICHOKE?
a. The essential elements of the problem are as follows:
(1) As a “trigger mechanism” for a bigger project, it was proposed that an individual of ****** descent approximately 35 years old, well educated, proficient in English and well established socially and politically in the ****** Government be induced under ARTICHOKE to perform an act, involuntarily, of attempted assassination against a prominent ****** politician or if necesssary, against an American official. The SUBJECT was formerly in [redacted] employ but has since terminated and is now employed with the *** Government. According to all available information, the SUBJECT would offer no further cooperation with [redacted.] Access to the SUBJECT would be extremely limited, probably limited to a single social meeting. Because the SUBJECT is a heavy drinker, it was proposed that the individual could be surreptitiously drugged through the medium of an alcholoic cocktail at a social party, ARTICHOKE applied and the SUBJECT induced to perform the act of attempted assassination at some later date. All the above was to be accomplished at one involuntary uncontrolled social meeting. After the act of attempted assassination was performed, it was assumed that the SUBJECT would be taken into custody by the *** Government and thereby “disposed of.” [....]
Source: Page from a CIA memorandum from 1954. Published in Phil Melanson’s The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination, (New York: Shapolsky Publishers, Inc, 1994). in the exhibits (page not numbered).
How far did these experiments progress?