[News] FBI Hoover wanted to jail 12,000 "disloyal" Americans

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Sun Dec 23 15:31:09 EST 2007

FBI's Hoover wanted to jail 12,000 'disloyal' Americans

Declassified papers reveal push to influence Truman

By TIM WEINER | New York Times
1:55 PM CST, December 22, 2007
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A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the 
long-time director of the FBI, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus 
and imprison some 12,000 Americans that 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 FBI would "apprehend all individuals potentially 
dangerous" to national security, Hoover's 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 percent 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 
administration's 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 FBI 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 U.S. 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.

Hoover's plan was declassified Friday as part of a collection of 
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.

Hoover's plan called for "the permanent detention" of the roughly 
12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The 
FBI, 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 comprised 
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 Hoover's plan was the Palmer Raids of 
1920, named after the attorney general at the time. The raids, 
executed in large part by Hoover's intelligence division, swept up 
thousands of people suspected of being Communists and radicals.

Previously declassified documents show that the FBI'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 FBI the power to make a master list of such people.

Hoover's 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 
Hoover's proposal.

NYT-12-22-07 1438EST


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