Bush: Release King Files

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With the recent passing of Coretta Scott King, the devoted wife who kept the memory of her slain husband and his crusade against violence, war, injustice, poverty and racism and the memory of his life alive, there was renewed attention in the press about his untimely death and the mysteries that still surround the perpetrators of his assassination.

In reality, a portion of the spying by the FBI's COINTELPRO and the CIA's Operation CHAOS on Dr. King and the civil rights movement he helped to lead was motivated by a desire to create and spread defamation and disinformation to prevent the rise of powerful Black leadership that would represent the interests of the poor here and be linked to people of color abroad. Thus, the authenticity of paid informants' reports that are negative toward Dr. King must be evaluated in that light.

Last year, I introduced a bill in Congress, HR 2554, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Records Act to release all federal, state and local government records relating to the life and death of this fearless leader and social justice activist. The bill creates an independent board to make declassification decisions, and which carries a presumption of release. There may be as many as one million or more pages still hidden regarding Dr. King.

Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to organize a massive "March on Washington" to address the unfulfilled promise of basic human rights and dignity for people of color and those suffering cycles of poverty and lack of education in America. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he delivered his now famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

Thirty-six years ago, Dr. King spoke at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, taking a controversial position against the US war in Vietnam, and linking the civil rights and anti-war issues of that time. A year to the day later, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Since that time, government documents have been released concerning efforts by the FBI, Military Intelligence, and the CIA to do surveillance on, infiltrate, and disrupt these movements. All these agencies took a special interest in Dr. King, right up to the day of his death.

In 1976, a House Select Committee on Assassinations was formed to investigate the unresolved issues surrounding the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. Their Final Report concluded that there were probable conspiracies behind both deaths. A civil suit brought by Dr. King's family in Memphis ended with a jury ruling of conspiracy in the murder that reached into the highest levels of the US government and military intelligence agencies.

In 1994, Congress passed the JFK Assassination Records Act, which has, to date, effected the release of over 6.5 million pages of classified documents, the largest declassification effort in American history. Hundreds of thousands of pages relating to the House Select Committee on Assassination investigations into the murder of Dr. King remain classified under a Congressional rule until 2028.

The questions that remain unresolved concerning Dr. King's assassination and the US government response to the civil rights movement of which he was a crucial member would best be answered by full disclosure. President Clinton signed an executive order for the release of all classified documents after 25 years, but the current Administration has delayed this process.

Not only will this bill shed additional light on the assassination of Dr. King and the role played by the US government in his death, but it will also expose the extent of the surveillance and abuse of Dr. King and the civil rights and anti-war movements he motivated by intelligence agencies and methods that are very similar to those being implemented again under the Bush administration since 9/11.

Right now, the bill has 67 co-sponsors in the House, a growing list; and a Senate version was introduced on April 4 by Senator John Kerry. Once it passes, it will be one more step toward owning our own history as well as learning from the abuses and excesses of the past so that we can protect our precious civil rights and liberties in the 21st Century.

The history of Dr. King belongs to all of us. The time for declassification is overdue.

Ms. McKinney is a U.S. Representative (D-GA)

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