2. Behind Closed Doors
“The procedure before the boards,” wrote the attorney, L. A. Nikoloric, in his article, “Our Lawless Loyalty Program,” “violates the provisions of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Bill of Rights. The employe ‘answers’ the charges to his accusers— not to an impartial judge. He is not told where the derogatory information originated; it is impossible to impeach the reliability of its source . . . His only defense is to prove a somewhat nebulous ‘loyal’ state of mind.”
But the “most reprehensible feature of the Loyalty Program,” according to Nikoloric, was “the character of the evidence on which charges are issued.”
The attorney, who had acted as counsel for Government employes in various loyalty proceedings, cited specific cases to illustrate his point. These were some of them:
Miss A. spent one afternoon a week collecting money for Russian War Relief in front of a movie house. She also was instrumental in having Senators Ball and Pepper talk to the people of her city concerning the necessity of accepting Russia as an ally. These events took place in 1943, when the Russians were bearing much of the brunt of the war in Europe. Miss A. also did Red Cross work, collected money and knitted sweaters for British and French War Relief, and spent one night a week at the U. S. O. . . . She was charged on these facts with being disloyal to the United States.
Mr. B. married a girl, who, 10 years before, as a sophomore in college, had been a member of the Young Communist League. The YCL in her school was almost exclusively interested in low-cost dormitory facilities and in higher pay for scholarship jobs. Mrs. B. resigned from the YCL after six or eight months, and it was not alleged that she has since been in any way connected with Communism. Mr. B. was accused of disloyalty to his country.
Mr. C. had an acquaintance in college. The acquaintance, whom C. had not seen for 15 years, was named a defendant in a proceeding involving alleged Communists. In answer to an appeal made to most of his classmates, Mr. C. contributed some money to his friend’s defense. Although the friend was acquitted, Mr. C. was charged with disloyalty.
Mr. D. served as a civilian employe with the occupation forces in Japan. At a conference he suggested that in distributing fertilizer to Japanese farmers the occupation forces require that a certain percentage of the farmers’ produce be marketed immediately, through occupation channels, to stop hoarding. The senior Army officer at the conference asked Mr. D. if he were a Communist, and whether he believed in free enterprise. Mr. D. stated that he was not a Communist, that he believed in free enterprise, but thought that his suggestion would curb the black market. Shortly thereafter, Mr. D. was relieved and returned to the United States on a loyalty charge because of this incident.
It was reported to the FBI by an associate of Mr. E. that the associate had “heard” that E’s mother-in-law was pro-Russian. Mr. E. was charged with disloyalty.
These cases were not unique. They were, in Nikoloric’s words, ‘‘typical of the charges made in the generous sampling of cases with which I am familiar. Frequently , the employee, even after a hearing has been conducted is unable to determine njohy charges were ever preferred.”
No less extraordinary than the “evidence” on which Government employes were charged with disloyalty was the manner of their interrogation by the loyalty boards. Here, taken from transcripts of loyalty board hearings, are some typical questions addressed to Federal employes by the boards:
Are your friends and associates intelligent, clever?
Have you a book by John Reed?
There is a suspicion that you are in sympathy with the underprivileged. Is that true?
Was your father native born? . . . How about his father?
Do you think that the Russian form of Government is good for the Russians?
Are you in favor of the Marshall Plan?
How do you feel about the segregation of Negroes?
Did you or your wife ever invite a Negro into your home?
Would you say that your wife has liberal political viewpoints?
Were any of your relatives ever members of the Communist Party?
Did you ever attend any affairs with your wife where liberal views were discussed?
What do you think of the Italian situation?
Do you understand why the Catholic Church is opposed to Communism?
Suppose you should find out that your wife was a Communist, what would you do about it?
“Loyalty board ‘loyalty’ does not mean loyalty to America,” declared the former Assistant Attorney General, O. John Rogge. “It means loyalty to the bi-partisan foreign policy abroad, to segregation and the open shop at home . . . The loyalty cases are not directed exclusively or even primarily against the Communists. They are directed at the labor movement, and at those who share the intellectual and social bequests of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.”
In a book entitled Our Vanishing Civil Liberties, which was published early in 1949, Rogge recounts the details of some of the loyalty cases in which he acted as counsel for accused Government employes. One such case involved a Swedish-born mechanic named Charles Oscar Matson, who had been employed in the New York Naval Shipyard for thirty years.
In February 1948 Matson’s case came up before the Loyalty Board at the New York Naval Shipyard.
The Board, as Rogge relates, “soon got down to business”:
BOARD: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
MATSON: No, I have never been a member.
BOAP.D: Has your wife or any relative been a member?
MATSON: No, my wife is a church member. All she does is vote. Outside of that she doesn’t belong to anything . . .
BOARD: Do you ever recall attending a meeting of the American League for Democracy?
MATSON: I may have. I don’t know for sure. The name don’t even sound familiar.
BOARD: Did you ever attend meetings sponsored by the Saints and Sinners?
MATSON: What are they? Religious?
BOARD: No . . .
On questioning Matson about his reading habits, the Board learned he had once been a subscriber to the Literary Guild:
BOARD: What kind of books did they put out?
MATSON: They were supposed to be the best for the month.
BOARD: Did they put out books by Theodore Dreiser?
MATSON: Yes, I think-
MATSON: I think there was one by Dreiser . . .
BOARD: Have you ever read any of Feuchtwanger?
BOARD: Howard Fast?
MATSON: I don’t know him. Never heard of him.
The Board proceeded to question Matson about his “political views”:
BOARD: Have you ever discussed the Truman Doctrine?
MATSON: Yes, a little bit.
BOARD: What do you think of it?
MATSON: Well, I went fifty-fifty on that.
BOARD: You aren’t settled on that?
BOARD: Neither for or against?
MATSON: No, I feel sorry for a lot of people over there and I feel sorry for people here. For instance, I will give you a case. They want packages. My daughter and myself gathered up some old clothes and instead of sending them over to the other side we sent them to the Indians. The Navajos or something . . .
Following Matson’s testimony, a number of workers from the naval shipyards were put on the witness stand by Rogge. “Witness after witness,” records Rogge, “declared that Matson had never said or done anything disloyal. Not one witness had an unkind word for him.”
One of the witnesses was asked by the Board if he considered Matson “to be a rather deep thinker.” The witness said he was not sure.
“Did you have any reason,” demanded the chairman of the Board, “to believe that he was fairly well read?”
Summarizing his account of the Matson case in his book, Our Vanishing Civil Liberties, Rogge writes:
I have the transcript of the Matson hearing before me now. It encompasses 95 single-spaced typewritten pages of testimony, every line of which is an indictment of Executive Order 9835. After the indignities of this hearing which was not even a competent imitation of justice, Charles Oscar Matson was fired.
Another loyalty case handled by O. John Rogge was that of George Gorchoff, an Engineering Material and Equipment Inspector in the New York Naval Yard. Unlike many of the individuals accused of disloyalty, who were not unnaturally bewildered and at a loss for words at their loyalty board hearings, Gorchoff turned out to be not only aggressive but extremely articulate.
The hearing had barely opened when this interchange took place:
GORCHOFF: In the charges here — this here — they specify that additional information will be given at the hearing, detailing these charges. Can I have that additional information at this time?
BOARD: This is an informal hearing. We have no additional information for you.
GORCHOFF: It so states in the letter that Admiral Haeberle sent me.
BOARD: That is incorrect procedure. . . . Any information that has been given to me in regard to this case has been given to us as confidential and cannot be divulged to you.
GORCHOFF: It is quite obvious that I can’t refute these specific questions without the people being brought here . . . For example, that I recruited people into the Communist Party.
BOARD: Did you or didn’t you?
GORCHOFF: Who said that I did.
BOARD: This is not a court of law.
GORCHOFF: I know, and I am not a lav^yer.
BOARD: This is not a court of law. You have been accused—
GORCHOFF: Have you— these people— the authority to exonerate me?
GORCHOFF: Who has?
BOARD: All we can do is submit a recommendation to the Commander of the Shipyard.
As the hearing progressed, Gorchoff continued to demand concrete information regarding the charges against him and to protest against the Board’s using as “secret evidence” the vague accusations of unidentified informers. “This is a hearing where I am attempting to prove my innocence,” protested Gorchoff. “In order to do that I have to have something … It is not only a question of a job, it is my life — 15 years of my life. While I was here I got married and had two kids. I am not a young kid flitting around looking for a job.”
At one point, when Gorchoff was requesting concrete information about one of his anonymous accusers, Rogge’s colleague, Robert Goldman, asked the Board: “Are you declining to give such information?”
“We don’t have such information,” answered the Board chairman. “We don’t know the name of the person.”
Rogge spoke up. “You merely have a statement without any proof?”
“It has been corroborated, checked and verified,” said the Board chairman.
“I can’t tell you.”
“By unknown parties?”
The Board chairman hesitated a moment. “Put it any way you like,” he then replied.
“Do you have an enemy who happens to be a government employee or a worker in a plant with a government contract? I will tell you how to dispose of him,” writes Rogge with bitter irony in Our Vanishing Civil Liberties. He continues:
Write a postcard to the F.B.I. Do not sign it. A signature would be a gratuitous gesture of courage … In this postcard state that your enemy’s wife read something by Theodore Dreiser, subscribed to the New Republic^ and once invited a Negro into her home . . .
Mail your postcard, and rest assured— your enemy is finished. The F.B.I, will conduct a secret investigation. Your enemy will end up before a Loyalty Board where your postcard will be vital but secret part of the evidence against him. He will not have the chance to face you, his accuser. He will have to defend himself against charges he has never heard. He may be fired. He may be allowed to resign. He may even be cleared. But in any case, he is a marked man.
He was once investigated for “disloyalty.”
The grim truth of Rogge’s observation was confirmed by an experience of Bert Andrews, Chief of the Washington Bureau of the New York Herald-Tribune and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for 1947.
While collecting material for a series of expose articles on the loyalty program, Andrews visited the State Department to check on the cases of seven employes who had been dismissed on charges of disloyalty. An informal conference took place between Andrews and three State Department officials. Andrews questioned the “decency and fairness” of branding an employe disloyal and dismissing him “without letting him in on the secret of who had accused him of what.” Was this, Andrews wanted to know, the American way of doing things?
Finally wearying of the discussion, one of the State Department officials blurted out:
“Why beat around the bush on a matter like this? It is entirely conceivable that any one of us in this room could be made the victim of a complete frame-up, if he had enough enemies in the Department who were out to get him.”
While Andrews listened with growing astonishment, the Department official went on: “Yes, such a thing would be perfectly conceivable. And we would not have any more recourse than Mr—,” he named one of the Department employes who had been dismissed — “even though we were entirely innocent.”
”What did you say,” demanded the astounded Andrews.
The State Department man calmly repeated his statement.
“If a man of your intelligence,” said Andrews, “can say a thing like that without being shocked at what you are saying and without a feeling of personal peril, then something is wrong.”
Not only in the nation’s capital, but throughout the length and breadth of the land, something very definitely was wrong in the United States.