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Joe McCarthy Secret Hearings to Be Unveiled Monday

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posted on May, 4 2003 @ 04:38 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fifty years after Sen. Joe McCarthy conducted some of the most infamous hearings in Senate history, thousands of pages of his secret probes into alleged Communist subversion will finally be made public.

Some 5,000 pages of 1953-1954 closed-door hearings from McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will be released Monday by Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. Levin and Collins have both chaired McCarthy's former committee during the past two years as the documents were prepared for release.

They plan to issue them in the same Senate hearing room where McCarthy himself once held court.

Historians believe the five volumes of transcripts will shed light on what many regard as one of the most shameful episodes in Senate history -- a time when Cold War anxiety about the Soviet Union, Communist China and a perceived domestic Communist threat led to political witch hunts at home.

"This is the first time historians have had access to raw documentation," said Donald Ritchie, the associate Senate historian. "I think it will really stimulate scholarship. They'll have much more substantive information to go on."

Most of the people who took part in the hearings are now dead.

McCarthy himself, a Wisconsin Republican who catapulted himself to fame with his headline-grabbing but ultimately fabricated allegations of vast Communist conspiracies tainting the State Department, the Government Printing Office and parts of the U.S. military, died in 1957. He was censured by the Senate in 1954.

McCarthy's most notorious hearings, the Army-McCarthy hearings, were held in public and the secret portions of that investigation were released long ago.

The very public nature of the army hearings -- they were among the first televised -- helped bring about McCarthy's downfall as ordinary people saw his reckless and brutal behavior as he impugned the loyalty of the U.S. Army.

But before McCarthy was brought down, he brought down scores of people, historians say. Many had some degree of leftist politics or sympathies in their past, but none were traitors or spies.

The documents being made public now were the hearings he held behind closed doors. Some of those witnesses were later called before public panels, where McCarthy asked his trademark question, "Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?"

But some of the secret witnesses were never called again in public. But they didn't necessarily stay secret either. McCarthy often briefed reporters on the secret proceedings -- at least his version of the proceedings. Many people's careers were destroyed simply because he had summoned them to testify.


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