150. Editorial Note

On May 1, 1967, an extra-legal, unofficial tribunal, known as the “International War Crimes Tribunal” and the “Russell Tribunal,” initiated by the British philosopher and political activist Bertrand Russell, was convened in Stockholm, Sweden, to conduct an inquiry into possible United States culpability in war crimes in Vietnam. Members of the tribunal included French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, American political activist Stokely Carmichael, and American author James Baldwin. (Dana Adams Schmidt, “Russell Inquiry Will Open Today,” New York Times, May 2, 1967, page 1)

United States Information Agency Director Leonard Marks, under a May 4 covering memorandum, sent to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Walt Rostow, copies of the May 1 and May 3 report “World Wide Treatment of Current Issues” prepared in USIA’s Office of Policy and Research, which included the Russell Tribunal. In his covering memorandum, Marks wrote: “You will note that the European press, including Swedish and French press journals, were highly critical of the sponsors. Typical comments called the tribunal ‘a farce,’ ‘macabre, distasteful and puerile exercise,’ ‘another anti-American demonstration.’” [Page 464] (Johnson Library, White House Central Files, National Security File, Country File: Vietnam, Box 191, Vietnam: The Bertrand Russell “Trial”)

Rostow included the information from the May 3 “World Wide Treatment” publication in telegram WH 70255, May 5, to President Lyndon Johnson at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas. In the telegram, Rostow stated: “You may be interested—and a little cheered by the USIA summary of European press reaction to the shenanigans in Stockholm.” (Ibid.) Also on May 5, Marks sent the President media reaction analysis of the tribunal and a transcript of remarks by the prominent American journalist and CBS television anchor, Eric Severeid, both of which Johnson received. According to the media reaction analysis, “The world press generally have given only minor news treatment to Bertrand Russell’s so-called ‘international tribunal on war crimes,’ which opened in Stockholm this week.” (Johnson Library, White House Central Files, EX FO, Box 3, FO 4/28/67–6/10/67)

On May 8, both the United States Information Agency and the Department of State sent reaction guidance in joint circular telegram 190249, in which both agencies stressed to posts around the world: “The biased and propagandistic nature of this project has been fully documented in the press, so there is no reason for statements to this effect to be attributed to U.S. officials, either for the record or on background. We hope to avoid focusing attention on the tribunal, or raising its stature, by making it the subject of official U.S. notice.” (Johnson Library, White House Central Files, National Security File, Country File: Vietnam, Box 191, Vietnam: The Betrand Russell “Trial”)

After nine days of testimony and examining the evidence various teams which conducted studies produced, the tribunal concluded that the United States was guilty. (“Little Attention Is Being Paid ‘War Tribunal,’” Washington Post, May 7, 1967, page A15; and Dana Adams Schmidt, “‘Tribunal’ Finds U.S. Guilty in War,” New York Times, May 11, 1967, page 6)