Amnesty International vs. the FBI

Amnesty International specializes in tracking down alleged denials of human rights -- usually in authoritarian states. So when a new Amnesty report suddenly pounces on the United States, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the report seems worthy of careful note.

In a 141-page report, Amnesty charges that the FBI used fabricated evidence, engaged in deliberate misstatements, and withheld information, among other practices, to help convict and send to prison leaders of black, Indian, and other minority groups.

The report particularly examines the trials of two persons who were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, Elmer Pratt, a leader of the Black Panther party, and Richard Marshall, a leader of the American Indian Movement. The trials of the two men were held in the early and mid-1970s.

Both men call themselves "political prisoners." Mr. Pratt, however, was convicted of killing a woman in a holdup in California. Mr. Marshall was convicted of killing another Indian in a bar in South Dakota.

Amnesty says that "an independent over-all inquiry" is needed to determine if the FBI violated the two defendants' right to a fair trial. The rights group would also urge that the inquiry consider the broader impact of the FBI on trials of other persons specifically targeted by the agency under its domestic intelligence program.

We called the FBI regarding the report. An FBI official said that the agency has not yet received a copy of it and thus declines to comment at this time.

We also called Amnesty International, based in London.

A spokesman said that the report was based on public documents and that there was "no direct contact with the FBI in the preparation of the report." Why not?

Are such serious allegations true? Certainly, the FBI, under current director William Webster, has undergone major organizational and philosophical changes since the days of the bureau as described in the report, which mainly involves the period through the mid-1970s.

Since then the FBI's role has also been sharply restricted by Congress as well as by executive action under President Carter. For these reasons it is to be assumed that the practices described in the report -- even if they took place -- have ceased.

That, of course, could well be the subject of inquiry by the administration.But would President Reagan, who is urging that existing restraints on the FBI be loosened to once again broaden its national security role, be willing to set up a national commission as urged by Amnesty International? That seems unlikely.

Congressional oversight committees, however, might want to examine the study. Surely the FBI would welcome any opportunity to prove that the allegations in the report are not true.

Or, if they are true, the public should be assured that such practices will not be allowed to take place in the future.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.