Monday, September 29, 2008

Meeropol: Government Abuse Persists in Rosenberg Case

Meeropol: Gov’t abuse persists in Rosenberg case

By Naomi Cohen
Published Sep 26, 2008 11:20 PM

On Sept. 12, the New York Times ran an article based on an interview with Morton Sobell, the co-defendant of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the “atomic spy” case that led to the execution of the Rosenbergs on June 19, 1953. The article gave the impression that Sobell for the first time admitted he and Julius Rosenberg were guilty of the charges against them.

This is not true. A close reading shows Sobell said that, while he and Julius Rosenberg had passed on military information to the Soviet Union during World War II to help it repel the Nazi invaders, they were not “atomic spies,” as the prosecution against them claimed.

The context behind what happened is extremely important. The United States was supposedly an ally of the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany. Yet when the Nazi armies invaded the USSR and millions were dying under the assault, the European and U.S. “Allies” did nothing to open a second front from the West. Only when it became clear that the Soviets would defeat the Nazis on their own, after the battle of Stalingrad, did the Allies launch the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

In August of 1945, the U.S. demonstrated to the world the terror of nuclear weapons by dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in the space of a few days.

After World War II ended, the U.S. and European imperialists launched a broad political, ideological and economic assault on the Soviet Union, including military encirclement by NATO forces—the Cold War. In 1949 after the Chinese Revolution drove the Japanese and Western imperialist powers off the mainland of China, a wild witch hunt was unleashed in the U.S. In the same year, the Soviet Union tested its own nuclear weapon, sending a message that it would not be a defenseless victim of nuclear threats.

The anti-communist witch hunt intensified in 1950 with the opening of the Korean War. Trade unionists, teachers, scholars, writers, actors, artists, journalists and even some government officials were subpoenaed and dragged before the congressional committee headed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Many went to jail for refusing to testify before this committee. Others were forced underground or into exile. Many more were targeted for political repression, losing their jobs and livelihood in a broad FBI sweep aimed at driving all leftists out of the labor and progressive movements.

This was the atmosphere in which Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in 1950 and charged with having given the “secret” of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They were even blamed by the trial judge for the Korean War. In the hysteria created by the media, the FBI, Congress and the courts at the time, it was impossible for the Rosenbergs to get a fair or impartial trial.

Below are excerpts from a statement released by Robert Meeropol, a son of the Rosenbergs, who was six years old when his parents were executed. Meeropol is now executive director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which raises money to aid the children of political prisoners and targeted activists in the U.S. suffering from the same kind of repression and terror that he and his brother Michael experienced.

Excerpts from Robert Meeropol’s statement

Over the last week I have read all 930 pages of Grand Jury testimony that have been released, and my brother has spoken to Mort [Sobell] directly to clarify Mort’s statement. Many of you are wondering about my reaction to these revelations.

Here are my initial thoughts after integrating the information from this last week with the rest of the historical record.

(1) Since the 1980s I have maintained that it is possible that my father engaged in non-atomic espionage, but that he did NOT participate in ANY activities that resulted in him obtaining or passing the “secret of the Atomic Bomb” to the Soviets. Mort’s statement moves me to acknowledge that it is virtually certain that Julius did, in fact, participate with others in passing along military information. But at the same time, I believe the still-evolving record makes it even clearer that Julius did not “steal” or transmit the “secret of the Atomic Bomb,” the crime for which he was executed.

(2) Ruth [Greenglass] and her husband David (my mother’s sister-in-law and brother) cooperated with the prosecution in exchange for a comparatively light sentence for David, and for no charges being brought against Ruth. It was Ruth’s trial testimony that provided the one, key piece of evidence that led to my mother’s conviction. Ruth stated at trial that Ethel typed David’s handwritten notes describing the Atomic Bomb, an act that would have made Ethel an active participant in the alleged spy ring.

However, despite being a cooperative witness trying to remain in the prosecutor’s good graces, Ruth’s Grand Jury testimony included NOTHING about Ethel ever typing any notes; included NOTHING about Ethel even being present at the meeting involving the notes.

(3) All that I have learned in the last week, coupled with all that I have gleaned from the information already available, reinforces the biggest lesson to be taken from my parents’ case—that the U.S. government abused its power in truly dangerous ways that are still very relevant today. Those in power who were involved in my parents’ case:

* Created and fueled anti-communist hysteria

* Capitalized on that political climate by targeting my parents, then making them the focus of the public’s Cold War-era fear and anger

* Manufactured testimony and evidence

* Hounded witnesses for their political beliefs and associations rather than about any alleged illegal activities

* Arrested Ethel simply as leverage to try to get Julius to cooperate with the prosecution

* Used the ultimate weapon—the threat of death—to try to extort a confession from my parents and to force them to name and testify against others.

Ultimately, these new revelations have made me even more steadfast in my commitment to helping those whom the Rosenberg Fund for Children supports: today’s families experiencing similar targeting and suffering similar personal tragedies.

For Robert Meeropol’s full statement, go to
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