June 19 marks the 60th anniversary of the assassinations of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg at Sing Sing prison in New York. The Rosenbergs were convicted in a show trial of violating the 1917 Espionage Act by “stealing” atom bomb secrets for the Soviet Union, a charge which was totally false.
Today, that same law is being used to prosecute Pfc. B. Manning in a secret trial for disclosing to the WikiLeaks website U.S. government and military atrocities and corruption. And now Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency analyst who disclosed that secret government programs monitor phone calls and computer network sites, is being targeted for prosecution under this same law.
Congress passed the 1917 Espionage Act supposedly to deal with German saboteurs, just after President Woodrow Wilson stampeded the country into World War I. Along with the 1918 Alien and Sedition Act and other draconian legislation, this law soon targeted progressives and labor leaders, particularly following the Russian Revolution. Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for simply stating that these laws were unconstitutional. Under these laws, the infamous Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920 jailed thousands of communists, anarchists and other political activists, and some were deported with no evidence of any wrongdoing.
During the U.S. war against Korea, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two dedicated communists, were tried for supposedly transferring nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, which in 1949 exploded its first atomic bomb. A show trial convicted the Rosenbergs using false testimony and secret evidence never shown to their defense lawyers. Albert Einstein wrote letters to both the trial judge and President Harry Truman stating that the so-called scientific “secrets” passed were not vital.
Despite mass protests in the U.S. and abroad, the Rosenbergs were executed. The imperialist establishment conveyed one message: “Oppose our racism, our exploitation, our wars and you will face our cruel, barbaric punishment.” This was part of the Cold War anti-communist campaign that cost thousands their jobs and sowed fear.
The government is using the nearly century-old 1917 Espionage Act against Manning because it contains no exceptions for “whistleblowers” — those who uncover and expose U.S. government crimes. Daniel Ellsberg was tried under this law for revealing President Lyndon Johnson’s deception of a non-event in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, which he used to escalate the U.S. war against Vietnam.
The imperialists have changed their targeted “enemy” from communists to “terrorists,” but their tactics are similar. They are trying Manning in a secret military court at Fort Meade, Md., for violating the 1917 law by disclosing U.S. military atrocities in support of “friendly” dictator regimes, etc.
In an era when young workers around the world and millions of unemployed youth use cell phones and social networks to organize mass protests and huge resistance campaigns against imperialist and imperialist-backed regimes, Snowden’s revelations exposing the U.S. government’s secret programs to monitor phone call numbers, email and other cyber messages has raised the ire of government officials.
Prosecutors’ phony claims that Snowden’s disclosures make U.S. workers and their families more vulnerable to “terrorist” attack are designed to cover up the U.S. government’s own crimes and to intimidate all those who might reveal other outrages. Clearly the repeal of these unjust World War I laws is long past due, as is the replacement of the imperialist system itself, which they were designed to protect.