Sobell's revelation, reported in a Times piece by Sam Roberts, supports the claim that Julius was guilty of some kind of espionage--even if what he passed along was not the atomic secret that prosecutors charged. Julius deserved to go to prison for that, but he did not deserve to die.
What is deeply disturbing, though, is what Sobell's words, and other information, suggest about the case of Ethel Rosenberg. In all likelihood, she was little more than a bystander in the plot.
Government prosecutors later acknowledged that they had hoped that a conviction and the possibility of a death sentence against Ethel Rosenberg would persuade her husband to confess and implicate others, including some agents known to investigators through secretly intercepted Soviet cables.
That strategy failed, said William P. Rogers, who was the deputy attorney general at the time. “She called our bluff,” he said in “The Brother.”
Ethel Rosenberg was certainly tough and uncooperative. But she was also caught in a terrible bind.
Once she became a defendant, my wife pointed out to me, she could act as a wife or a mother.
As a wife, she could remain silent and refuse to say anything that might falsely implicate her husband--even if that meant that she and her husband might die in the electric chair, as they did. Once that happened, her children became orphans.
If she betrayed her husband, and spoke falsely against him, she might have saved her own life as a mother. But what if she did finger her husband to save her own life and raise her sons? How could they live with her after doing that? How could she live with herself?
Doubtless equally vile schemes were hatched to break prisoners in the bowels of Lubyanka Prison, but that doesn't change one fact.
The prosecutors who pressured Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were more than dishonest. They were sadists.