II. A Tale of Two Show Trials, 1
A show trial is a “highly public trial in which … the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the defendant… its only goal [is] to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as… a warning.”
“…the case has always been controversial… discoveries since the trial of perjuries on the part of the prosecution witnesses, and gross misrepresentations on the part of the government… judicial improprieties stretching all the way to the Supreme Court.”
(Michael Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg)
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: In the United States the term “show trial” conjures up images of Stalinist oppression. Few Americans associate United States with the term. But such things happened “over here” even as they were occurring in Russia. The Rosenbergs and Stalin’s “Doctor’s Plot” overlapped in time.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg arrested, (Wikipedia)
The trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg took place in an atmosphere of continuing and intense antisemitism in the United States. According to the steady stream of news reports the Rosenbergs had provided atomic secrets to the Soviet Union resulting in America’s ally against Hitler turned post-war enemy Russia, in the words of presiding judge Irving Kaufman, getting “the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted.” It was later revealed that, while espionage had provided “atomic” secrets to Russia, the spy involved was not the Jew Julius Rosenberg who was an electrical engineer working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, but a Lutheran nuclear scientist working on America’s top secret “Manhattan Project.”
Recently released government documents disclose that the FBI knew who the source of “atomic espionage” was; knew also that Julius Rosenberg’s espionage did not involve “atomic secrets” but radar. Regarding Ethel Rosenberg’s innocence of her husband’s espionage,
“declassified documents now show that decrypted information reporting that Ethel was NOT involved in Soviet spy work was passed to the FBI… the government knew she did not commit [the crime].”
According to the FBI’s own files the agency had implicated Ethel in order to coerce Julius’s cooperation in other on-going investigations.
“The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and on April 5 were sentenced to death.”
FBI chief Hoover knew Ethel innocent but allowed her execution to proceed. (Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, p. 425)
In sentencing the couple to death Kaufman described them as guilty of treason.
“I consider your crime worse than murder. Plain deliberate contemplated murder is dwarfed in magnitude by comparison with crime you have committed... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason [italics added].”
But the couple were not charged, neither were they convicted by this judge for “treason;” they were charged and convicted under Section 2 of the Espionage Act of 1917, 50 U.S. Code 32 which was enacted “to deal with the American anti-war movement.” And there is no death penalty under the 1917 Act.
Possibly the overzealous Kaufman was ignorant of the legal distinction between espionage and treason; or perhaps he was unaware that at the time of Julius Rosenberg’s espionage the United States and the Soviet Union were not enemies (which might suggest “treason”), but “allies” in the war against Germany. Treason refers to aiding an enemy in time of war, not an ally of the United States.
When Klaus Fuchs, a German-born Lutheran and naturalized British physicist employed on the Manhattan Project was later tried for the crime he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He served nine years and was released.
Lawyers for the Rosenbergs appealed seven times to the Supreme Court, and were seven times denied. As Arnon Gutfeld describes in his, The Rosenberg Case and the Jewish Issue:
“Most of the justices were motivated by personal considerations such as personal prestige and a conservative point of view. They deliberately ignored breaches of law and ethics that took place during the trial, as well as perjury and dubious and unreliable evidence and,” etc, etc...
Justice Felix Frankfurter was alone in supporting the appeal and accused his fellow justices of having made up their minds, “long before they met.” He later remarked that the,
“manner in which the Supreme Court disposed of that case is one of the least edifying episodes in its modern history (for a trial summary: The Supreme Court decision against appeal)
III. A Tale of Two Show Trials, 2
“The actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as an impressive example and as a warning.”
The Pollard Affair: Thirty-four years after Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed another Jewish couple were accused and convicted of espionage, and again the trial was highly publicized, and the sentence far exceeding usual limits.
On November 21, 1985 Jonathan and Anne Pollard were arrested at the gates of the Israel’s Washington, DC Embassy. And, as with the Rosenbergs, Jewish reaction to the Pollard’s crime and the punishment imposed exposed,
“debates that have been going on in the Jewish community for several decades,” said Jerome Chanes, a New York sociologist who once headed a Jewish interagency task force on Pollard. “The reaction reflects deep ambivalence about the Jewish place in American life.”
As the government pursued its case against the Pollard’s an uncanny similarity emerged to how the Rosenberg case unfolded. Both cases were prosecuted for espionage and both, Pollard and Rosenberg were, following conviction, deliberately misrepresented to the media as having committed “treason.” And again in both cases, the government charged the wife of the spy in order to coerce the husband to implicate others, real or invented. Anne Pollard spent several years in prison; Ethel Rosenberg was executed. And both were known innocent by the government.
Simultaneous to the unfolding Pollard Affair was the unraveling of the Iran-Contra Affair. Also known as Irangate (August 20, 1985–March 4, 1987), the Reagan Administration has undertaken a series of illegal ventures involving the sale of weapons to Iran, funding and arming the terrorist Nicaraguan Contras, and money laundering to fund those clandestine activities.
From the Senate’s Tower Commission Report:
“In November 1986, it was disclosed that the United States had, in August 1985, and subsequently, participated in secret dealings with Iran involving the sale of military equipment.”
Congressional legislation made the sale of military equipment to revolutionary Iran illegal. The Reagan Administration, obviously aware that they were acting outside American law, turned to friendly nations as cutouts to serve as intermediaries between the White House and Iran. As a government-to-government “favor” Reagan asked Israel to provide the arms to Iran, while the Saudis agreed to provide the money needed to fund the transactions. The Israeli arms would the be restocked, and the Saudi money repaid.
In his January 26, 1987 testimony before the congressional Commission the president testified that he had,
“approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs [shoulder-launched anti-tank missiles] to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks.”
Why introduce the Pollard Affair with a brief summary of Irangate? It is to demonstrate that those within the Reagan administration who were responsible for Irangate used Jonathan Pollard and Israel as a media diversion. What better diversion from administration criminality than a drawn-out and dramatized judicial process with well-timed “leaks” to provide headlines for the nightly news? Likely this was the best television diversion since the Army-McCarthy hearings and Nixon and Watergate. Eighteen months later, on March 4, 1987, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.
When Irangate surfaced in November, 1986 the continuing drama of the Pollard Affair, complete with Israeli complicity, could always be counted on to overshadow drab and routine government misdeeds!
As governmental criminality Irangate ranks alongside Teapot Dome and Watergate. That it happened fifteen years after Watergate and is all but forgotten today is a tribute to defense secretary Weinberger and his abilities at crisis management and public relations.
As of the time of this writing Jonathan Pollard is in his twenty-eighth year in prison, a term ten-times longer than sentencing norms for the crime for which he was convicted. Almost thirty years later into his sentence Pollard remains both threat and embarrassment to a large segment of American Jewry, an embarrassment also for Israel. Not because Israel was caught spying on its ally: the United States had long been spying on Israel:
“Durenberger, shortly after stepping down in 1987 as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee [reported]… that then-CIA Director William J. Casey had "changed the rules of the game" by employing an Israeli military spy after that country''s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The spy in question was a major in the Israel army, Yosef Amit.”
By way of comparison between the two systems of justice, Amit was sentenced to seven years in 1997 and released after three.
A 1999 article by Seymour Hirsch describes how common spying between allies is. It also demonstrates how anonymous governmental officials have used the media to keep alive the image of Pollard-the-Traitor as threat to American-Jewry and the State of Israel. The article appeared in The New Yorker Magazine on January 18, 1999, at a time Pollard was again being reviewed for possible release. From the article, Why Pollard Should Never Be Released (The Traitor):
“Officials are loath to talk publicly about it, but spying on allies is a fact of life: the United States invests billions annually to monitor the communications of its friends. Many American embassies around the world contain a clandestine intercept facility that targets diplomatic communications.”
In an article replete with exaggeration Hirsch, possibly reflecting disinformation and hyperbole by his “anonymous government informants” (or possibly just confused), mistakenly attributes to Pollard (it was Weinberger who created the myth) a fanciful exaggeration of the “volume” of materials he is alleged to have provided Israel:
“A full accounting of the materials provided by Pollard to the Israelis has been impossible to obtain: Pollard himself has estimated that the documents would create a stack six feet wide, six feet long, and ten feet high.”
The 1998 Wye River peace talks provide another example of the influence of “anonymous government sources” in making use of Pollard at critical policy junctures. When it was announced that Pollard’s release was to be part of the Wye River Memorandum “anonymous” leaks blossomed in the media, some under Hirsch’s pen, once again reminding readers of Pollard’s alleged “treason.” Possibly effective in embarrassing the president, Clinton finally withdrew the promise under the opportunity provided by his CIA director threatening to resign should Pollard be released. And so Pollard remains in prison and Wye River failed. Except or Arafat. That high profile prisoner Clinton promised Arafat to balance the release of Pollard to Israel was honored and Arafat’s terrorist went home with Arafat. And Netanyahu just went home.
The effectiveness of the “show trial” in performing its intended purpose is well demonstrated in the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg which took place during a period of waning antisemitism and continuing Jewish insecurity in the shadow of the Holocaust. For long-time utility the drawn out trial of Anne and Jonathan Pollard served well its dual purpose as distraction from administration lawlessness, and as a continuing reminder to American Jewry that even in our “exceptional” homeland Jews are not quite so secure as we reassure ourselves. And twenty-eight years later Pollard remains both a source of embarrassment to many American Jews and a leaver ever available to “anonymous government bureaucrats” for use against Israel.