Exoneration brings to life the sensational "atom-bomb" trial, the outcome of which still – after 57 years and a proliferation of casualties in endless bloody wars – maintains a strong grip on our national consciousness. The young Rosenberg couple were executed in June 1953; Morton Sobell served 18 years of a 30 year prison sentence. Two years ago, in 2008, when Morton Sobell acknowledged that he and Julius had engaged in non-atomic espionage during the 1940s, his admission made headlines across the country and elsewhere in the world. But, as Exoneration demonstrates,it did not bring closure to the case.
Relying principally on government documents, the authors demonstrate that Justice officials were aware they would have to resort to perjuries, illegal coaching for their chief witness, an unprecedented and illegal "political filter" test for jury selection, and a deceptive witness list to persuade the jurors to find the Rosenbergs and Sobell guilty of espionage and treason. Although the formal indictment was for espionage on behalf of an enemy, an oral indictment in the courtroom charged the defendants with "giving the secret" of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union in 1944-1945, when that nation was our chief military ally in the war against Nazi Germany. (The authors document how, even as the prosecution made that charge, they knew the Soviets had already acquired the ability to make the atomic bomb from other sources and their own scientific developments.)
The authors similarly rely chiefly on government documents to show that the presiding judge – Irving Kaufman – had made a pre-trial determination that he would impose death sentences on the defendants. The authors demonstrate that if the defendants had been tried and found guilty of what they actually did – passing non-atomic information to an active ally, their sentence might have been ten years imprisonment which, with time off for good behavior, would have returned them to their families in four years.
The authors are Emily Alman,a practicing attorney for 25 years and at one time chair of the Department of Sociology at Douglass College at Rutgers University (Dr. Alman died in 2004), and David Alman, a novelist and businessman. The Almans were founders of the Committee to Secure Justice for the Rosenbergs, a small band of activists who launched a worldwide clemency movement, 1951-53, to win a new trial or overturn the death penalty. The clemency effort is widely considered to have come close to saving the Rosenbergs from execution.
The book suggests that "guilt" or "innocence" should not deter the effort to overturn the effects of the trial, even if we now know that Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell did carry out some of the (specific) actions they were accused of.
The Almans began writing Exoneration in 1995 after the declassification of the famous Venona-FBI messages (decryptions of messages between Soviet espionage controllers in the United States and their superiors in Moscow). Their exploration of Justice officials’ suborning of perjured testimony was also aided by the recently (2008) released minutes of almost all of the Grand Jury testimonies in the case.
Exoneration breaks new ground in the case by examining the role of anti-Semitism in the case. It cites a report by federal law enforcement officials, made nine months after the Rosenberg-Sobell trial, that assures the public that disloyalty was rarely found among Americans of Anglo-Saxon stock.
The book traces the impact of the notorious anti-Semitism of J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI for 48 years, on the conduct of the case and points out that during his tenure he never reported so much as one indictable non-Jewish atomic spy suspect to the Justice Department to be tried for espionage or treason on behalf of the Soviet Union. The authors lay the silence about Hoover’s and other cabinet-level and highly placed officials’ anti-Semitism on the fear by mainstream Jewish leaders that to do so would provoke further anti-Semitism, a rational fear at a time when the repercussions of the Holocaust were still being felt. One such repercussion was the resistance by our State Department officials to granting a haven to Holocaust survivors.
The authors document that Hoover signaled his bias as a young man when, as head of a section at the Department of Justice, he sent for 12 copies of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" for distribution among his colleagues.
The authors point out that the numerous espionage-treason trials in the last decades of the 20th century, following Hoover’s death in 1972, included Soviet espionage agents in the FBI, CIA and other government agencies. None of the defendants were Jews or "leftists."
Exoneration points to the precedents set in the government’s misconduct in the Rosenberg-Sobell case as having become standard fare in our system of justice today. The authors argue for a return to a strictly Constitutional system of justice, in which due process is adhered to and the primacy of tangible and credible circumstantial evidence over a defendants’ religion or philosophical or political beliefs is paramount. The authors argue that to return to our traditional system of justice, Justice officials must now reject the deceits that resulted in the verdicts and executions of the Rosenbergs, and that they be exonerated of the verdict of treason.
It's time to de-bunk the government propaganda (maintained still to this day) that these people had a fair trial, now that the ex-parte communications between prosecutors, judges, administration officials and Supreme Court justices, which invalidate the legality of the trial, are well known.
It's time to rectify the damage done to our Constitution and demand that the Obama Administration exonerate the Rosenbergs and Morton Sobell to demonstrate their commitment to holding Federal Justice officials to a high standard of conduct that preserves each citizen's right to due process and a scrupulously fair trial.
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