On the actual anniversary of the storming of the Bastille as the contras roamed south of the Honduran border, the Senate Intelligence Committee charged the F.B.I. with having investigated the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador and other groups on the basis of "allegations that should not have been considered credible." The committee's 150-page report called on the F.B.I. to purge its files of the records of this investigation, which had scrutinized 2,370 individuals and 1,330 groups, displaying a pertinacity that would have impressed Joseph Fouche, the Jacobin (and later Napoleon's) police chief, who caused the words "Death is nothing but eternal sleep" to be posted at the gates of French cemeteries.
The New York Times calmly noted thc senators' belief that the Bureau's inquiry had not "reflected significant political or ideological bias in the conduct of international terrorism investigations"; with similar detachment the Los Angeles Times said that "the report deemed the [Cispes] case an 'aberration:" Aberration? Consider the following hisory, assembled by my colleague Tristan Reader.
Between 1981 and 1985 the F.B.I. undertook investigations of Cispes claiming that the group had been Connected with terrorist activities in El Salvador. As details of this were uncovered in 1987, it became clear that the F.B.I. had been investigating 178 other groups critical of the Reagan Administration's policy toward Central America. (The Senate committee has so far issued only a nine-page summary of its report, which does not explain the basis for its numbers.) The targets of these spinoff operations included the Washington Office on Latin America, El Rescate, Fenestras and NACLA, as well as Oxfam, the A.C.L.U., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, Amnesty International, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Federation of Teachers, Filipino support groups, anti-Klan and antinuclear organizations. With these disclosures came public outcry, and in subsequent hearings the F.B.I. assured Congress that all the investigations had been stopped as of June 18, 1985.
But the files have not been sealed. Last summer Thea Lee, a graduate student and activist at the University of Michigan, put in an F.O.I.A. request for information on organizations in Ann Arbor. After months of delay she received a letter stating that the Detroit office of the F.B.I. had several references to the Latin American Solidarity Committee of Ann Arbor but that the documents were being "kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy." The F.B.I. further admitted that it had a reference to the Coalition for Peace in Central America, an organization founded in October 1985, four months after the Cispes investigation was supposed to have ended. In Chicago a member of the local Cispes chapter who filed an F.O.I.A. request well after the F.B.I. formally ended its operation was denied information on the ground that it was part of a "ongoing investigation."
Alicia Fernandez of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been …