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George Clarke

Legless Vet Defies Witch-Hunters

Kutcher Defends Civil Liberties at Kangaroo Hearing

(10 September 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 38, 20 September 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 10 – “Kangaroo court” – these were the words used by James Kutcher, the Purple Heart Veteran of Newark, N.J., who lost both his legs at San Pietro, Italy, to describe the Loyalty Board hearing called today at Philadelphia to decide whether he should be dismissed from his clerical job with the Veterans Administration because of membership in the Socialist Workers Party.

Star-Chamber Hearing

The hearing was held behind closed doors, with only the attorneys and the representative of the Kutcher Civil Rights Committee permitted to attend. The press and the public were excluded. The demand of Jimmy Kutcher and his attorneys for ait open hearing was flatly denied at the outset on the pretext that government regulations, in order to protect the defendant, forbid public participation.

Jimmy Kutcher had nothing to hide. But the Bi-Partisan Government needed secrecy to conceal the great outrage it was perpetrating against the civil liberties of the American people. The three-man Loyalty Board needed secrecy to hide its inquisitional methods at a hearing where it acted as prosecution, judge and jury.

The decision of the board is still being awaited but it was clear from the remarks of Kutcher and his representatives that there is little likelihood that a favorable verdict can come out of this star-chamber proceeding. In reality the Loyalty Board was only going through the farcical procedure provided by Truman’s administrative order. This was a one-way street. The Board considered itself prohibited ‘from considering the validity of Attorney-General Clark’s listing of the Socialist Workers Party as “subversive,” its only job being to ascertain whether Kutcher belonged to the SWP, which Jimmy freely acknowledged in advance.

The Legal Channels

In the event of an unfavorable decision, the case will first be taken through all the channels provided by the Loyalty Board procedure, Michael J. Myer, Kutcher’s attorney, announced. This includes the filing of briefs with the top Loyalty Review Board in Washington and then with the Civil Service Commission. If these steps fail, the case will be taken into the civil courts and carried if necessary to the Supreme Court of the United States, Myers stated.

Jimmy Kutcher told me modestly and unassumingly what happened behind the closed doors of the hearing. The facts he revealed in his story show that this veteran of the North African, Sicilian arid Italian campaigns fought just as bitter a battle against his accusers for civil liberties, for the right to join a party of his own choosing and against the imposition of thought control. This time, however, he was fighting for the ideas he had believed in all his adult life.

The “impartial” Loyalty Board, consisting of Benjamin E. Hinden, Dr. W.A. Jacques, and J.P. Elzroth, with George H. Merker, acting as their attorney, made no attempt to deny Kutcher’s irreproachable four and one half year service record during a war which he opposed because it was not at all fought for democracy or for the “four freedoms.”

They made no attempt to deny Kutchers’ two-year employment record with the Veteran’s Administration where he was rated as “very good” and “excellent.” They did not even question Reverend John I. Daniel, Congregational Minister and chaplain of the Newark Area Committee of the American Veterans Committee who testified to Kutcher’s courage and idealism.

The government freely admitted that Jimmy had no access to confidential information on his job which the prosecutor himself said was not of a “sensitive” character. The government did not introduce any evidence to show specific actions of “disloyalty” on Kutcher’s part, nor did it present testimony that Kutcher had dealings with a foreign power.

The government case came down to “proving” that Kutcher was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. “It was all superfluous,” Jimmy said, “because I had freely and proudly affirmed membership in , the party prior to the hearing.” But that was all the board was required to do, since Truman’s order had specified that government employees holding membership, or even associating. With organizations on the Department of Justice blacklist were subject to dismissal.

The persecution of Kutcher, the very hearing itself, throws dramatically into the limelight the whole vicious circle of thought control the government is how imposing on the American people. M.J. Myer, Kutcher’s counsel, demonstrated to the board that the SWP had been placed on the blacklist without a hearing and that Attorney General Clark, despite a preyious promise to the American Civil Liberties Union, had denied a hearing when demanded by the SWP.

But that was as far as Myers got, Kutcher said.

“The impartial judges refused to permit me to introduce evidence showing that the SWP is not subversive; They refused to permit George Clarke, Campaign Manager of the Socialist Workers Party, to testify on the program and principles of the party. He was dismissed from the stand and from the hearing after having identified himself, he attempted to answer a question by Mr. Myer dealing with the party.”

One man had decreed the SWP “subversive” and there could be no appeal from this fuehrer-like edict. Jimmy Kutcher was forbidden to question this Hitlerite pronouncement just as were his attorney and representatives of the SWP. By such sinister procedure a legless veteran and countless others could be deprived of their jobs without even being permitted to show that the basis of the persecution was groundless.

From Kutcher’s story it was clear that the Loyalty Board “judges” at the hearing were not mere government underlings tied by government regulations which they were executing on orders. They took the role of inquisitors, subjecting Kutcher to a most searching examination, delving into every nook and corner of his political thinking. They were not only determined to convict, which was easy enough because they didn’t require evidence, but to prove to their superiors that they were competent witch-hunters.

What right had Kutcher to be a socialist when he had been treated so well by the government? Dr. Jacques demanded. Did it not provide him with a pension, a job and artificial legs? Did he think an ordinary worker could get as much under socialism?

Sneers of skepticism, Jimmy said, were written over their faces when he told them that the workers would be better off under socialism – since for one thing they will not get their legs shot off. There will be no wars and no depressions, Jimmy told them; these twin evils will be gone.

The main line of questioning resolved around “overthrow of the government by force and violence.” Here the presiding “judge” refused to permit a presentation of the SWP position, but from Kutcher’s description it was clear to me that the prosecutors resorted to all kinds of legal chicanery to make it appear that he and the party he belonged to really believed in and wanted nothing else but the use of force and violence.

In vain did Jimmy repeat time and again that he believed in changing the present outlived capitalist system into a socialist society by convincing the majority of the people of the need for such a change. The judges were nettled, Jimmy felt, because of his understanding of class society and the historical process. He informed them that despite his desires, this transition would not come peacefully because of the refusal of a minority of capitalists to abide by the will of the majority when their privileges hnd profits were at stake. For proof he cited the resistance of the slaveholding minority to the election of Lincoln, and the more recent fascist violence of Franco to overthrow the legally constituted Loyalist Government in Spain in 1936. The inquisitors waived aside these convincing examples in their determination to twist Kutcher’s answers to suit their own sordid purposes.

Jimmy told them that they need only look to the presidential campaign to see that the Socialist Workers Party is seeking the support of the majority. Jimmy recalled one of his inquisitors sneering. “Do you mean to say that you expect to win this election?”

“Not this time,” Jimmy responded; “but I am confident that the American people will turn to the ideas of Marxism as the only solution to the devastating wars and depressions which will plague mankind as long as capitalism endures.”

The great “democrats,” we learned from Jimmy, did not hesitate to question him on how he would vote in the supposedly inviolate secret ballot in November. Why didn’t Kutcher quit the SWP after it had been listed as “subversive”? Clearly, the government and its “judges” were attempting to intimidate and terrorize this veteran with the attorney general’s dictatorial blacklisting of the socialist organization he belonged to as “subversive.”

But Kutcher was not intimidated. He told them he would vote for Dobbs and Carlson, that the SWP was a legal party and he saw no reason why he should not exercise his franchise in accordance with his political beliefs, that the SWP was falsely and arbitrarily placed on the subversive list and a public hearing would bear out this fact.

From his story I gathered the clear impression that the legless veteran had towered above his inquisitors. He represented the truth – and regardless of their decision – the people would presently come to know that truth.

In addition to M.J. Myer, as counsel, Kutcher was represented by Arthur P. Burch. George Novack, Secretary of the Kutcher Civil Rights Committee, was the only other person permitted to attend the hearings.

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