A few months ago I blogged about a disturbing case in the 1960s that has come to light of FBI officials conspiring to send somebody to jail for a crime they knew they hadn’t committed.
Here’s more haunting food for thought from the witch hunts of a previous and far more geopolitically tense era about vague accusations of Islamic extremism.
In the late 1960s, elements in the government (i.e., the FBI) deliberately withheld evidence that would have exonerated the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. of charges emanating from the Right of him being a Communist plant.
The FBI and Martin Luther King (The Atlantic Monthly):
The transcripts from the wiretaps on King and his advisers also answer a question that came to preoccupy President Lyndon Johnson just as it had the Kennedy brothers and J. Edgar Hoover: Was Martin Luther King Jr. any kind of Communist sympathizer? Of course not—but the FBI never passed along to Johnson or to anyone else what King said to Bayard Rustin one day in early May of 1965, when the SCLC was tussling with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee over a public statement proclaiming movement unity: "There are things I wanted to say renouncing Communism in theory but they would not go along with it. We wanted to say that it was an alien philosophy contrary to us but they wouldn’t go along with it." Instead the FBI continued to distribute utterly misleading reports that declared just the opposite; as one newly released CIA summary from just a few weeks before King’s death asserts, "According to the FBI, Dr. King is regarded in Communist circles as ‘a genuine Marxist-Leninist who is following the Marxist-Leninist line.’"
Here we see the grave threat posed to due process and democracy by poorly informed, ideologically fringe and/or unaccountable security officials. Not only were the charges against MLK unproven, but there was clear evidence that he was innocent. Yet that didn’t stop a government agency under the leadership of a hard line appointee from categorically asserting his guilt and hiding exculpatory evidence. King viewed the very theory of Communism as "alien philosophy" yet officials were free to brand him not only a Communist, but a committed Marxist-Leninist.
In our time of rampant fear, increasingly-socially santioned Islamophobia, and worrying ignorance on the part of government officials charged with sorting extremists from mainstream Muslims, it is not hard to imagine comparable ideologically motivated miscarriages of justice taking place today as constitutional safeguards are either ditched or declared intended for non-Muslims only like a segregated water fountain of old.
I’m reminded a bit of the US government’s rather improbable seeming claims of terrorist links on the part of Tariq Ramadan. We are to accept on blind faith that unsubstantiated government claims that a man who spent decades doing interfaith dialogue and advocating controversial liberal religious reform is a closet terrorist and threat to national security. A far more likely scenario seems that some of Hoover’s ideological and moral successors in the national security system are back to the old tricks.