“Open the files!” demands Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. And right fully so. The files in question involve the federal government’s attempt to entrap Qubilah Shabazz into a conspiracy to assassinate Farrakhan, who has long been accused of involvement in the 1965 murder of Shabazz’s father, Malcolm X.

Federal prosecutors suddenly agreed in May to drop the murder-conspiracy charges against Shabazz if the 34-year-old woman, who has a history of substance abuse, would submit to two years of psychiatric counseling and drug and alcohol treatment. Sympathy for Shabazz had nothing to do with the prosecutors’ willingness to strike a deal. Reportedly, the federal government’s case against her stank so badly of entrapment that it decided to cut its losses before a real scandal emerged, with Uncle Sam in the hot seat.

Why does this case sound so familiar? The federal government spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars to entrap, try, convict. and incarcerate the mayor of D.C., only to see Marion Barry emerge from the contretemps with greater popular support than ever before. One would think the federal government would be too busy with its trillion-dollar debt and educational system wodd famous for mediocrity and metal detectors to worry about folks like Barry and Shabazz.

But this is not the case, and never has been. Washington has always been interested in stirring up trouble in the black community, particularly among black leaders, both reputable and reprehensible. Columnist Clarence Page has rightly reminded us of the federal government’s involvement with the Illinois Black Panther Party in the late 1960’s. The FBI informant’s contention that the Panthers were stockpiling weapons (where have we heard this charge before?) was the official justification for the early morning raid in December 1969, during which Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed in their beds.

In fact, throughout the 1960’s, Washington feared nothing more than a united front among black leaders. It had a vested interest in keeping alive the war between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam, and between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Many of Malcolm X’s admirers today still hold the federal government in general, and New York City in particular, responsible for not providing adequate protection for Malcolm at the Harlem ballroom where he was shot, for local, state, and federal law enforcement officials knew that an assassination plan was in the works.

Indeed, “Open the files!” But not only on the Shabazz case. A full and fair investigation of the so-called Atlanta child murder ease of 1982 is also in order, if for no other reason than to allay the still-lingering suspicions of many in the black community who believe Wayne B. Williams was framed and railroaded. A full and fair investigation of the Vince Foster affair is overdue as well. Paul Harvey recently reported that European journalists are staggered by the passivity of the American media in pursuing this story, but such kid-glove treatment really isn’t startling at all. Only a foreigner misguided about our “adversarial” press could confuse the neutered American newshound for a bloodhound after blood.

And open the files on Jack Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and on their respective assassinations. We know that both men were far from as virtuous as our textbooks proclaim, and that both were philanderers who associated with men and women of dubious character, whether mob-related or communist. So could the government’s files really reveal anything shockingly new? On the other hand, it has long been rumored that a black man was involved in the assassination of King, and, as Oliver Stone has reveled in, everyone from Russia and the mob to the CIA has been implicated in the killing of Kennedy. Isn’t it time to put the speculations to rest?

A bill passed Congress in the final days of the Bush administration that requires government agencies to release to the Assassination Records Review Board all information related to the shooting of Kennedy, and the review board began formal hearings in April of last year. Of course, the government agencies are allowed to retain any information associated with “national security,” and we know how broadly such escape clauses have been interpreted in the past.

What about the assaults on David Koresh and Randy Weaver, which our Republican saviours have promised to reinvestigate? Even the Wall Street journal, which initially accepted without question the party line on these bloodbaths, has now called for full disclosure on the part of the federal government and branded the official investigations of the two assaults incomplete at best, whitewashes at worst. President Clinton says that the Waco and Weaver cases are now irrelevant in light of the Oklahoma City tragedy, that the bombing shows the dangers inherent in not trusting the actions and explanations of the federal government. But such sophistry won’t wash. Only children believe sin can be absolved by increasing the pool of sinners, and only the intellectually dishonest would contend that an event in 1995 could either discredit or legitimate decisions made two and three years earlier, which naturally must be weighed and measured on their own terms, in the light of their own day.

More importantly, checks and balances, not trust, forge the basis of our national government. As James Madison explained, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” and “if angels were to govern us, no controls on government would be necessary.” If Madison were alive today and advancing such sentiments, the chief author of our Constitution would be excoriated as part of the radical political fringe where “preachers of paranoia” engage in “inflammatory rhetoric” with gun nuts, conspiracy kooks, and assorted “inciters of hate,” say with G. Cordon Liddy.

It is exactly cases like this one involving Qubilah Shabazz that fuel speculation about governmental dirty tricks and the misuse of power, and it is exactly such cases that we should expect more of if the President receives the authority to spy further on our private lives and further repress our personal liberties. Decent, law-abiding citizens are outraged by all forms of malfeasance, deception, and terrorism, whether instigated by racists and fanatics of the private sector or by “jackbooted” zealots of the federal government.

Indeed, “Open the files!” And now rather than later. For the issue is integrity—not of Jack Kennedy, David Koresh, or Qubilah Shabazz—but of a federal government that refuses to tell the truth.