President's Column: The Race Card

The Race Card Edward A. Mallett President's Column November 2000 7 The case of the inscrutable and sinister atomic spy has ended: Dr. Wen Ho Lee entered a plea to “time-served.” Mind you, Dr. Lee's December 10, 1999 arrest on 58 counts of selling out America to the Red Chinese was accompanied by the

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The case of the inscrutable and sinister atomic spy has ended: Dr. Wen Ho Lee entered a plea to “time-served.” Mind you, Dr. Lee's December 10, 1999 arrest on 58 counts of selling out America to the Red Chinese was accompanied by the government's official press release, charging that Lee's handling of sensitive nuclear data at the Los Alamos Lab, “resulted in serious damages to important national interests.” At first, it looked like we'd have to reinstate the Draft.

For most of nine months, Dr. Lee was kept in isolation. They kept the lights on 24/7. FBI agents threatened him with electrocution. Two hours a week he was shuffled out to see his family - his arms and legs shackled. A Special Agent monitored every conversation.

His lawyers, including our members, Mark Hoelsher, John Cline, and Nancy Hollander, said this case was brought because of his race. The judge eventually ordered production of the government's race profiling data. The day before production, the DOJ cratered and set him free.

Janet Reno's defense? “Dr. Lee is no hero. He's no absent-minded professor. He is a felon.” Dr. Lee's status as a “felon” is a consequence of his decision to plead guilty to get out of jail when the alternative is to plead not guilty and stay in jail. Because he is a “felon,” the public is told, the prosecution team “wins.” Reno's comment is a strange reminder of the cliché about the defendant who was convicted of murdering his parents and begged for mercy because he was an orphan.

FBI director Louis Freeh showed more loco-weed spin when he said,

The Department of Justice and the FBI concluded that this guilty plea, coupled with Lee's agreement to submit to questioning under oath and to a polygraph, was our best opportunity to protect the national security.

Duh! Dr. Lee offered to take a polygraph the day the government leaked the story he was under investigation.

Federal Judge James A. Parker dumped on the prosecution team for misleading him on the need to keep Lee imprisoned. Judge Parker took the plea, then concluded: “[The government] did not embarrass me alone, but they embarrassed this entire nation and everyone who is a citizen of it.” Well, Judge Parker, not exactly everybody. I don't know any NACDL members who are “embarrassed.” Perhaps your distance from ordinary people lets you escape appreciating that you have embarrassed yourself. What bothers us about Dr. Lee's case, Judge Parker, is that no one, you included, has “accepted responsibility” for the indifferent cruelty heaped on Dr. Lee.

The judge says he is embarrassed, but not repentant, nor remorseful, nor, I fear, rehabilitated: The next time the “government” comes to Judge Parker and relies on “confidential information” - to legitimize a search, sustain detention, justify a sentence - I expect that it will be business as usual.

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The prosecution? The U.S. Attorney said the plea “was a good deal for the government.” With the plea, the discovery demand for the investigation's race-based criteria for suspicion, and accusation and detention, dies. No embarrassment there and no shame.

The BOP, acting here through the publicly traded Cornell Corrections Corporation, said, “Dr. Lee was treated like everyone else.” (A statement more disturbing, if true, than if false.)

The President of the United States? Clinton says he “always had reservations” about the case, and wonders why it is that one day Dr. Lee had to be shacked or in solitary, and the next day he's no longer a menace and completely free. The New *9 Yorker said Clinton was “speaking as detachedly as if he were the President of Spain.”

Congress? Sure, the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees held hearings, and put on a show, but they did not subpoena the federal race-profiling data. The hearings adjourned without the committee proposing that the Congress do anything to rein in the Energy and Justice Departments.

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The media? The New York Times published a long mea culpa, for the “attitude” in its many biased reports, saying its reporters might have examined all the facts more closely, but ending with a “this story is not over.”

And, no, we are not “embarrassed,” and we are not amused. We know that big coverups often follow prosecution fiascos.

We congratulate the lawyers — our colleagues — for ending the injustice, but the plea to “time served” came at the price of concealing and not revealing the truth about why Dr. Lee was selected to be the scapegoat for 10 years of loose security at Los Alamos.

The lesson for us may be this: Probe the prosecutor's hidden motives. Look for the race card. Play it if you find it. They are (sometimes) “embarrassed” about what they are and what they do. And, save those government press releases for the day when you can show it's all a lie.

Oh, yes, one other citizen of the United States was not “embarrassed.” That's Dr. Lee, of course. His statement? “The next few days, I'm going fishing.”