John W. Powell, Korean War Sedition Writer, Dies At 89

01/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • New York Times

John W. Powell, an American journalist who in 1959 was tried for sedition in a rare and highly public case after he asserted in print that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, died on Monday in San Francisco. He was 89 and had lived in San Francisco for many years.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son John S. Powell said.

Mr. Powell's case was one of the rare federal prosecutions for sedition -- inciting resistance to the government -- in the decades since World War I. Though the government eventually dropped all charges against him, his case dragged on for five years and became a cause célèbre.

The case against Mr. Powell centered on articles he wrote during the war, in the early 1950s, in The China Monthly Review, the English-language magazine he published and edited in Shanghai. In the articles, Mr. Powell reported claims by the Chinese government that the United States military had used germ weapons against Chinese troops in North Korea.

The United States government charged that Mr. Powell had violated wartime sedition laws by printing false statements. It also charged that his articles were used to undermine the loyalty of American troops in North Korean prisoner-of-war camps, who were forced by their Communist guards to read them.

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