Tue Jul 22, 2008
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Testimony that could help clear executed
American communist Ethel Rosenberg of charges she helped pass atomic
secrets to the Soviet Union in the 1950s will remain secret, a judge
ruled on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected a petition from the
National Security Archive seeking the release of grand jury testimony
by Ethel's brother, David Greenglass. Greenglass was a key
prosecution witness in the famed 1951 spy trial that ended in the
1953 execution of Ethel and her husband, Julius Rosenberg.
The case, which has been described by Rosenberg supporters as a
frame-up amid anti-communist McCarthyism hysteria and Cold War fear,
hinged on Greenglass and his wife, Ruth Greenglass, fellow communists
who became prosecution witnesses.
David Greenglass, 86, admitted in interviews for a book published in
2000 that he gave false testimony under pressure from prosecutors.
But unlike most of the other surviving witnesses who testified, he
has asked that his grand jury testimony not be made public.
Hellerstein said the public's right to know was outweighed by the
tradition of grand jury secrecy following arguments in a hearing held
Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
"He may be a scoundrel, he may be a hypocrite, he may be a liar,"
said Hellerstein. But he added, "It's no easy task to compare the
value of accountability with grand jury secrecy."
Hellerstein reserved a ruling on whether the transcript would be
released following Greenglass' death.
Greenglass' lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said in a letter to the court
that Greenglass' objection was based on an expectation of privacy.
As a rule, grand jury proceedings are secret. In June, the government
agreed to release transcripts in the Rosenberg case, so long as each
of the original 46 witnesses who testified was dead or had given consent.
Greenglass, who confessed to helping Julius and served 10 years in
prison, testified at the 1951 trial that Ethel, a secretary, had
aided the conspiracy by typing notes that included top secret
information on the U.S. Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb.
In interviews, Greenglass has said that he had fabricated that detail
in order to protect his wife, Ruth Greenglass, who was also
implicated in the conspiracy, from being prosecuted, said David
Vladeck, the attorney representing the National Security Archive.
Ruth Greenglass died earlier this year at 83.
Other witnesses testified that Ethel Rosenberg had not been present
when national secrets were discussed, Vladeck said.
"He has, in our view, forfeited any reasonable right to privacy" by
speaking publicly about the case, Vladeck told the court, referring
It was not discussed in the proceedings whether Ethel Rosenberg would
be eligible for a posthumous pardon if evidence came to light clearing her.