Key evidence in Rosenberg trial to remain secret
By Edith Honan
Reuters - Tues July 22, 2008 5:54pm EDT
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
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
Ruth Greenglass died earlier this year at 83.
Other witnesses testified that Ethel Rosenberg had not
been present when national secrets were discussed,
"He has, in our view, forfeited any reasonable right to
privacy" by speaking publicly about the case, Vladeck
told the court, referring to Greenglass.
It was not discussed in the proceedings whether Ethel
Rosenberg would be eligible for a posthumous pardon if
evidence came to light clearing her.
(editing by Christine Kearney and Cynthia Osterman)
c Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.