No. 686

Editorial Note

The trial of Associated Press correspondent William N. Oatis and three Czechoslovak codefendants (Tomas Svoboda, Pavel Wojdinek, and Peter Muntz, employees of the Associated Press office in Praha) on charges of espionage was held in Pankrac Prison in Praha, July 2–4. Two observers from the American Embassy were allowed to attend the trial, but no Western newsmen were present. In his testimony, Oatis admitted to committing acts of espionage and implicated a number of American, British, and French diplomatic officers and correspondents including Ambassador Briggs, Embassy Counselor Tyler Thompson, Embassy First Secretary Alexander Schnee, and American Military Attachés Lt. Col. George L. Attwood and Col. Philip D. Ginder. Oatis and his codefendants were found guilty of the charges against them. Oatis was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the 3 Czechoslovak citizens were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 15 to 20 years.

In a statement issued to the press on July 4, the Department of State described the trial as a “ludicrous travesty of justice in which the victim was required to speak his prefabricated ‘confession’ as a part of a public spectacle exhibiting all the usual Communist trial techniques.… The ‘confession’ of ‘espionage’ was in truth but the admission of an American reporter that, in the high traditions of his profession, he was attempting under the most unfavorable conditions to report a true picture of conditions and events in Czechoslovakia as he saw them.” (Department of State Bulletin, July 16, 1951, pages 92–93)

The proceedings of the Oatis trial, which were broadcast on Czechoslovak national radio, were reported upon by the Embassy in Praha in telegrams in file 249.1111–Oatis, William. A verbatim record of the interrogation of Oatis and a condensed record of the remainder of the trial, were prepared by Mary Horak, one of the American Embassy observers at the trial. This 101-page report was transmitted to the Department of State as an enclosure to despatch 8 from Praha, July 13. (249.1111–Oatis, William/7–1351) A 16-page summary of the proceedings together with a description of the trial, prepared by Vice Consul Richard G. Johnson, was transmitted to the Department in despatch 7 from Praha, July 13. (249.1111–Oatis, William/7–1351)

For a brief summary of the Oatis case prepared in the Department of State, a condensed text of the official Czechoslovak indictment against Oatis, the text of Czechoslovak espionage laws under which charges were made, excerpts from the proceedings of the [Page 1378] Oatis interrogation prepared by Embassy observers, and the text of the final verdict, see Department of State Bulletin, August 20, 1951, pages 283–288. The same material was reprinted in Department of State Publication 4357. A lengthy description of the proceedings of the Oatis trial, based largely upon the American Embassy observers’ report, is included in Dana Adams Schmidt, Anatomy of a Satellite (Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1952), pages 30–46. For a briefer account of the trial, see Briggs, Farewell to Foggy Bottom, pages 97–102. Briggs’ comments on the trial appear in telegram 19, infra.