511.00/2–1153: Circular telegram

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic Posts1


862. Following is Infoguide Bulletin 260:

Rosenbergs:2 US output should give matter-of-fact treatment in news and comment to announcement February 11 President’s action sustaining death sentence imposed on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, indicating in tone and content that decision is ordinary exercise of Presidential power based on scrupulously fair process of law. We do not adopt apologetic, defensive tone, but concentrate our efforts on serious, factual presentation of facts of case and its judicial history.

In reporting and accompanying comment on President’s decision we cast discussion in judicial framework, explain President’s constitutional [Page 1669] responsibility (Art. II, Par. 2, Sect. 1, “…he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”) as highest executive authority to receive and pass on appeals for clemency by individuals found guilty and sentenced by courts of United States; carefully establishing fact that President cannot change verdict of jury, may only relieve sentence in cases where in his judgment justice should be studied. Review of case has failed to develop any additional grounds to question soundness of decision of court which might have justified act of clemency. Major considerations are:

Review of legal history of case establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Rosenbergs did procure and pass atomic secrets of major significance to agents of Soviet Union … Rosenberg defense at trial limited to wholesale denials of all charges levelled against them and failed to produce any witnesses who able to substantiate their testimony.
Rosenbergs had and took advantage of every possible legal right to appeal verdict of jury even to Supreme Court, in legal process lasting almost two years, and as last resort appealed for Presidential clemency to modify sentence. Proper conduct of trial sustained at every level. Rosenbergs’ own lawyer said to Judge Kaufman at end of trial that “I, and all my co-counsel feel that you have been extremely courteous to us and you have afforded us lawyers every privilege that a lawyer should expect in a criminal case.”
Sentence, however severe, well in proportion to enormity of their deliberate and premeditated crime which in Judge Kaufman’s words “dwarfs contemplated murder by comparison”. By delivering essential atomic secrets to Soviet Union, Rosenbergs compromised not only security of United States, but security of other countries free world by speeding progress Soviet atomic research. This done in full knowledge aggressive and hostile intentions Soviet regime toward US and free world.
Neither during trial, nor any time since have Rosenbergs by their attitude or actions provided extenuating considerations which might constitute grounds for clemency.

In reporting President’s decision, we do not link directly with Communist trials, avoiding parallelism Rosenbergs who are convicted spies, and Communist victims of Communist purges. We may however, where necessary, encourage indigenous sources compare travesties of justice, with painstaking progress protecting rights of accused and aiming toward highest possible degree of justice.

Efforts to impugn sentence on grounds anti-Semitism should be met by presentation legal history; reference, only where necessary, to June 3, 1952 statement National Community Relations Advisory Council on behalf all US Jewish community relations agencies, which condemned Communist efforts “to mislead the people of this [Page 1670] country by charges that the religious ancestry of the defendants was a factor in the case”.

In areas where particular efforts to counteract Communist distortions appear necessary efforts should be concentrated on inducing indigenous comment and analysis. Official US sources should avoid being drawn into open controversy, maintain serious factual attitude.

For further reference this case see IA Special Instruction PO–53–34 December 11, 1952, entitled “The Rosenberg Case”.3

  1. Drafted by George Jaeger of IIA; cleared by Flexner of L, MacKnight of P, Harris of FE, Sanger of NEA, Cootes of WE, Cox of EUR and Herron of ARA; approved by Montgomery of IIA; telegraphed to 27 posts, pouched to 51 others.
  2. See footnote 2, p. 1640.
  3. Not found, but see the memorandum by Phillips, Dec. 11, 1952, p. 1640.