In 1951, Morton Sobell was tried and convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges. He served more than 18 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, traveled to Cuba and Vietnam after his release in 1969 and became an advocate for progressive causes. Through it all, he maintained his innocence.
But on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, 91, dramatically reversed himself, shedding new light on a case that still fans smoldering political passions. In an interview, he admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy. And he implicated his fellow defendant Julius Rosenberg, in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.
You've got to admit that this guy had a lot of nerve: over the years he has appeared in several film documentaries and a dozen books as a witness and "victim" and stated that the Rosenbergs were innocent of espionage. Now he comes clean and admits that they were all spies, all along. Even hardcore Rosenberg supporters have had to admit that Julius Rosenberg was certainly a spy. And they have fallen back on the charge that the Rosenbergs didn't get a fair trial. Interesting question: if the defendants are guilty, and they are found guilty in a trial, can the trial be said to be unfair? Does it make a difference? Excepting extremes, of course, like torturing witnesses and using faked evidence. Should we rename the Department of Justice? Make it the Department of Fairness?