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August 2010


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

FBI Defends itself in Unsolved Civil Rights-Era Murders

Michael Kortan (left) talking to ex-FBI Dir. Louis Freeh in 2008/fbi photo

Michael Kortan (left) talking to ex-FBI Dir. Louis Freeh in 2008/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — From time to time, the FBI publicly shoots back when criticized in the press. Saturday in the Washington Post was one of those moments.

Michael Kortan, chief spokesman for the FBI, fired off a letter to the editor in response to an Aug. 8 op-ed columny by Emery University journalism professor Hank Klibanoff who criticized the FBI and Justice Department for doing far too little to help solve 109 murders in the south in the 1950s and 1960s that appeared to be racially motivated.

Kortan wrote: “It would be wrong to conclude that a lack of publicity equals a failure to investigate murder cases in the South in the 1950s and ’60s that appeared to be racially motivated. For example, in one case the FBI has completed more than 70 interviews, deployed an undercover agent and used our laboratory to evaluate evidence.

Hank Klibanoff/ univ. photo

Hank Klibanoff/ univ. photo

“Prosecuting decades-old crimes involves significant challenges. Many of the crimes represent a violation of state, not federal, law. Accordingly, six cases have been referred to state authorities. And prosecution is not the sole measure of success.

In more than 50 of these cases, the identified suspect is dead. To date, 36 letters were hand-delivered by FBI agents to the victim’s next of kin detailing the investigation’s findings. This is a significant accomplishment that we hope provides a measure of closure to these families.”

Klibanoff,  managing editor of the Civil Rights Cold Case Project, wrote: “Justice and the FBI have not, on their own, generated a single case from the list of 109, or from many other murders in their voluminous files.”

“Every case that Justice has successfully prosecuted has been the result of work by investigative reporters. The killers of Medgar Evers; the four little girls in the Birmingham church; Vernon Dahmer; Ben Chester White; and Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman would not have been prosecuted and convicted without the discoveries made by reporter Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.”

To read Klibanoff’s column click here.

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