American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts

By Stephen M. Kohn | Go to book overview

California decision. 80 Significantly, the Supreme Court did not overturn the Schenck and Abrams decisions and did not address the open issues related to wartime sedition laws.

The Espionage Act, the Smith Act and most state criminal syndicalism laws are still in effect. Given the past history of these laws and the Supreme Court's failure to unequivocally declare such laws unconstitutional on their face, the future abusive application of sedition legislation is a realistic possibility. Worse, since 1917, the investigatory powers and prosecutorial authority of federal and state police agencies have massively increased. The ability of the government to punish political dissidents is far greater today than it was in 1917. 81 For example, during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, the FBI, CIA and other police agencies utilized their vast investigatory and prosecutorial powers to "neutralize," "discredit" and undermine the major civil rights organizations and leaders (including Dr. Martin Luther King), women's rights organizations, peace groups and the so-called "New Left." By 1973 the FBI alone, using paid informants, wiretaps, illegal break-ins, secretly installed microphones and the indiscriminate opening of political subjects' mail, had created political intelligence files on over 500,000 American citizens. The U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations concluded that many of the actions of the Federal police agencies "adopted tactics unworthy of a democracy," and "reminiscent" of those of "totalitarian regimes." 82 Perhaps most significantly, the Committee found that the "Constitutional system of checks and balances" did "not adequately" work. 83

The legal history of political imprisonment demonstrates that, in time of crisis, all three branches of the U.S. Government have aggressively used repressive legislation to silence dissent.


NOTES
1.
Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Book II, Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, 94th Cong., 2d sess., 1976, S. Rept. No. 755, 23.
3.
See, e.g., Amnesty International, Proposal for a Commission of Inquiry into the Effect of Domestic Intelligence Activities on Criminal Trials in the United States of America ( Nottingham, England: Russell Press Ltd., 1981); Robert J. Goldstein, Political Repression in Modern America: 1870 to the Present ( New York: Schenkman Publishing Co., 1978); Lennox S. Hinds, Illusions of Justice: Human Rights Violations in the United States ( Iowa City: School of Social Work, University of Iowa, 1978).
4.
See, e.g., Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S.444,450-457 ( 1969) ( Douglas, J., concurring).
5.
40 Stat. 217 ( 1917).

-22-

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American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Background to the Sedition Laws and Their Use During the World War I Era 5
  • Notes 22
  • Chapter 2- The Selective Service Act 27
  • Notes 29
  • Part II- Inside Golgotha: The Prison Experience of the World War I Sedition Act Inmates 31
  • Notes 37
  • Chapter 4- Prison Discipline 39
  • Chapter 5- A Transfer to St. Elizabeth's Hospital For the Insane 45
  • Note 48
  • Chapter 6- A Death 49
  • Notes 53
  • Chapter 7- The Most Indolent Man At Leavenworth 55
  • Note 58
  • Chapter 8- Military Justice 59
  • Notes 62
  • Chapter 9- Isolation 63
  • Notes 68
  • Chapter 10- Relief from the Psychopathic Ward 69
  • Note 73
  • Chapter 11- Release 75
  • Part III- The Prisoners 81
  • Notes 141
  • Chapter 13- State Anti-Sedition and Criminal Syndicalism Prisoners 157
  • Chapter 14- Political Prisoners Who Died While Incarcerated in Federal, Military And State Prisons 183
  • Notes 189
  • Chapter 15- Conclusion 191
  • Notes 192
  • Notes 193
  • Index 205
  • About the Author 217
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