FDR, Treason and the 1st Amendment

From http://www.thedailyhammer.com, January 6, 2013

“There are a number of Americans in Europe who are aiding Hitler et al on the radio,” FDR wrote to Attorney General Francis Biddle on October 1, 1942. “Why should we not proceed to indict them for treason even though we might not be able to try them until after the war?” the president asked, specifying that “I understand Ezra Pound, [Robert] Best, [Jane] Anderson and a few others are broadcasting for Axis microphones.” End of memo.

Less than a year after Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge’s declaration that the FDR administration “would not think in terms of suppression” of pro-Axis propaganda, the president was thus instructing Berge’s boss to do the opposite. Whereas Berge had championed the Bill of Rights in the fall of 1941, those words would soon ring hollow.

Two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 laid the groundwork for the internment of Japanese-Americans. And as the three dissenting opinions in Korematsu case (1944) made clear, the procedure of sending U.S. citizens to camps fundamentally contradicted the 5th Amendment’s due process protections.

FDR’s directive that October against Pound and company escalated the administration’s crackdown on 1st Amendment provisions regarding freedom of the press. In the spring of 1942, Attorney General Biddle succeeded in finally shutting down Social Justice, the publication of Father Coughlin. Though Biddle threatened to charge the Nazi sympathizer and longtime FDR nemesis with sedition, he was able to pressure Archbishop Mooney into silencing Coughlin, thus avoiding a potentially controversial trial.

When FDR suggested treason charges for the Axis propagandists, Biddle passed the case along to the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Wendell Berge. Less than two weeks after Roosevelt’s initial note, Berge, in turn, sent a memo to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, “Re: Dr. Ezra Pound.” The esteemed poet, Berge stated, was “an American citizen [who] has been reported…to have been broadcasting enemy propaganda from a Rome, Italy radio station.” Berge then asked Hoover to obtain transcripts of Pound’s broadcasts.

Over the next several months, Berge—the avowed civil libertarian—began to prepare indictments against Pound and six other American citizens who voiced Axis propaganda. “We are confident that this conduct is treason,” Berge advised Biddle in July 1943. Indicting all seven figures at once, Berge further explained, would produce the “desired effect of assuring the public that the Government recognizes these activities as traitorous and intends to punish self-advertised traitors.”

A show trial, in Berge’s view, was necessary in order to establish a precedent—namely, that words alone could now constitute treason.

To be continued…

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