Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950
rah at shipwright.com
Sat Dec 22 18:01:21 PST 2007
December 23, 2007
Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950
By TIM WEINER
A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the
longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan
to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he
suspected of disloyalty.
Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days
after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans
in military prisons.
Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests
necessary to protect the country against treason, espionage and
sabotage. The F.B.I would apprehend all individuals potentially
dangerous to national security, Hoovers proposal said. The arrests
would be carried out under a master warrant attached to a list of
names provided by the bureau.
The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for
years. The index now contains approximately twelve thousand
individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are
citizens of the United States, he wrote.
In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation
suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus, it said.
Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has
been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Bush
administrations decision to hold suspects for years at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, has made habeas corpus a contentious issue for Congress
and the Supreme Court today.
The Constitution says habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless
when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require
it. The plan proposed by Hoover, the head of the F.B.I. from 1924 to
1972, stretched that clause to include threatened invasion or
attack upon United States troops in legally occupied territory.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush issued
an order that effectively allowed the United States to hold suspects
indefinitely without a hearing, a lawyer, or formal charges. In
September 2006, Congress passed a law suspending habeas corpus for
anyone deemed an unlawful enemy combatant.
But the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of American citizens
to seek a writ of habeas corpus. This month the court heard arguments
on whether about 300 foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay had the same
rights. It is expected to rule by next summer.
Hoovers plan was declassified Friday as part of a collection of cold-
war documents concerning intelligence issues from 1950 to 1955. The
collection makes up a new volume of The Foreign Relations of the
United States, a series that by law has been published continuously
by the State Department since the Civil War.
Hoovers plan called for the permanent detention of the roughly
12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The
F.B.I., he said, had found that the arrests it proposed in New York
and California would cause the prisons there to overflow.
So the bureau had arranged for detention in military facilities of
the individuals apprehended in those states, he wrote.
The prisoners eventually would have had a right to a hearing under
the Hoover plan. The hearing board would have been a panel made up of
one judge and two citizens. But the hearings will not be bound by
the rules of evidence, his letter noted.
The only modern precedent for Hoovers plan was the Palmer Raids of
1920, named after the attorney general at the time. The raids,
executed in large part by Hoovers intelligence division, swept up
thousands of people suspected of being communists and radicals.
Previously declassified documents show that the F.B.I.s security
index of suspect Americans predated the cold war. In March 1946,
Hoover sought the authority to detain Americans who might be
dangerous if the United States went to war. In August 1948, Attorney
General Tom Clark gave the F.B.I. the power to make a master list of
Hoovers July 1950 letter was addressed to Sidney W. Souers, who had
served as the first director of central intelligence and was then a
special national-security assistant to Truman. The plan also was sent
to the executive secretary of the National Security Council, whose
members were the president, the secretary of defense, the secretary
of state and the military chiefs.
In September 1950, Congress passed and the president signed a law
authorizing the detention of dangerous radicals if the president
declared a national emergency. Truman did declare such an emergency
in December 1950, after China entered the Korean War. But no known
evidence suggests he or any other president approved any part of
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