Christic Institute Archives
Founded in 1980, the Christic Institute was a nonprofit law and public policy center that combined investigation with high-impact litigation, public education and grassroots organizing. During its 17 years the Institute won some of the most celebrated public interest cases of our time.
As the successor to the Christic Institute, the Romero Institute possesses an archive which includes documents from the Christic cases and other investigations conducted by the founders of the Institutes over the last forty years. The archive materials reveal a chilling portrait of the hidden history of covert operations from World War II to the present and the evolution of our nation's intelligence services into a private, "Off-the-Shelf Enterprise.".
Currently, Romero is preparing an effort to digitize thousands of pages of these archive documents and make them available to schools, nonprofit organizations, and other educational and charitable groups. The availability of this history is key to our society's ability to prevent it from being repeated. Below are summaries of some of the landmark cases investigated and litigated by the Christic Institute, with links to the preliminary archive page for each case.
In Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee, the Institute organized a team of lawyers to represent the family of Karen Silkwood, an employee of the Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation who died in 1975. The case, decided in 1984 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Christic Institute's favor, established precedents in law that give citizens and states more power over the hazardous operations of nuclear corporations. The Institute proved in court that Kerr-McGee was responsible for Silkwood's contamination by radioactive plutonium, and forced the corporation to pay more than $1.3 million to her children. The Institute's case files served as the raw material for the movie Silkwood, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep and Cher.
After a death squad organized by the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan murdered several demonstrators in 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Christic Institute won a verdict in federal civil court against five of the assailants and two police officers. The verdict is one of the few decisions in a southern court to date against law enforcement officials accused of collusion with Klan violence.
In 1989 Christic Institute South and the American Civil Liberties Union helped the black voters of Keysville, Georgia, win back the right to elect their town government—a right which had been abolished by the town's white minority in 1933. Deprived of political power prior to the time of the action, the town's black citizens had no sewers, water system, fire department or schools. Now the town is governed by its own elected council and mayor.
Six months before the Iran-contra affair was publicly exposed, the Christic Institute filed Avirgan v. Hull. The Institute did so in response to a bombing in La Penca, Nicaragua that killed eight people and injured twelve others, including a journalist from ABC. Investigation of the incident by Christic employees revealed involvement in the bombing by former intelligence officials and private "soldiers of fortune" who were supplying arms for the Contra war against Nicaragua.
Acting under RICO, the Christic Institute was granted broad investigative powers by the court. Using these powers to compel testimony and subpoena evidence, the Institute revealed:
- Drug trafficking to finance the contra war against Nicaragua: with the knowledge of officials in the White House, Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, key figures in the covert Contra supply operation smuggled cocaine and other drugs from Colombia to the United States through contra-controlled bases in Central America.
- A pattern of criminal activity in the conduct of covert operations: major figures implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal have a criminal history dating back to covert operations in Cuba, Southeast Asia and the Middle East that included drug trafficking, gun running, money laundering and political assassinations.
- Existence of a lawless "secret government" fighting covert wars worldwide: elements of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council are operating outside the effective control of Congress and the American people, enlisting the services of narcotics traffickers and professional assassins, hiding behind dummy corporations and secret bank accounts, operating independent of democratic oversight and with impunity.