Vial Prosecution


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Tucked away near the bottom of the contents page of the current issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, among the studies on kidneys and colitis, there is a listing for an extraordinary article that for the first time suggests the often complacent scientific community has begun to fight the Bush government’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Signed by a string of 14 eminent scientists, this article is a brief for the defense of the distinguished Dr. Tom Butler, whose work on oral rehydration is known and widely respected throughout the world, having helped save the lives of millions of children suffering from uncontrolled diarrhea. It is also a call to the scientific world, which so often shrinks from any political action, to stand up and fight.

In short, here is Butler’s case as set forth in the article: In January 2003, Butler, working to discover antibiotics that could effectively combat bioterror strikes of the plague, could not locate 30 vials of plague specimens. He reported this to the safety officer at Texas Tech University, where he had worked for many years. The university notified the FBI, and 60 agents soon arrived. Butler was interviewed by the agents without the presence of a lawyer—he waived his rights to legal counsel because for years he had worked with military and federal agencies, and he wanted to help the FBI allay public fears.

Butler was interrogated hour after hour with no sleep. He had been promised that the questioning would prevent legal action. But when the agents were finished, he was handcuffed, led away to jail, and accused of lying to the FBI. After spending six nights jailed, Butler was allowed to post bond of $100,000, which then was increased to $250,000. He was put under house arrest with electronic monitoring. He couldn’t use his computer or otherwise contact colleagues who had been put on a witness list.

He was offered a plea bargain: six months in jail and a guilty plea. Wanting to clear his name, Butler refused. The possibility of bio-terrorism was absurd, and the government did not pursue it. Instead, the Justice Department buried Butler in a blizzard of charges having no relation to bioterrorism or the loss of the vials. These included illegal transportation of plague bacteria, tax evasion, embezzlement, and fraud. In all there were 69 charges carrying a maximum sentence of 469 years in prison and $17 million in fines. At trial, government prosecutors called Butler an “evil genius” and compared him to “a cocaine dealer.” And as it does in so many detainee cases, the government suggested—but never charged—that terrorism was involved, that he lied to the FBI, and that he put the public at risk.

The jury acquitted Butler of lying to the FBI and tax evasion, but he was found guilty of technical charges involving an express mail package of “lab specimens” sent to collaborators in Tanzania. He was also convicted of administrative charges connected with drug company grants that the university had encouraged him to seek. Members of the Texas Tech administration testified against Butler, while his colleagues supported him.

The result of this Justice Department foray into “terrorism” was that this eminent scientist was stripped of his professorship, tenure, salary, and medical license. He has spent his life savings and retirement funds to defend himself. Butler is married and has four children but no longer any income. Even the federal judge in his case, Sam Cummings—renowned as “Hanging Sam”—went out of his way to push the federal sentencing guidelines downward, pointing out, among other things, “There is not a case on record that could better exemplify a great service to society as a whole.”

Butler, 63, is in his first year of a two-year sentence. The case is on appeal; a hearing is scheduled for June 8.

Jackass had sex

Right-winger condemns ‘beast fornicators,’ but loves his mule

Alan Colmes, on his Fox radio talk show last week, asked anti-abortion extremist Neal Horsley if he was kidding when Horsley once claimed to have had sex with animals as a boy growing up in Georgia. Horsley is best known for his “Nuremberg Files,” which, according to Planned Parenthood, lists abortion doctors “marked for death.” Here was the exchange between Colmes and Horsley:

Horsley: Hey, Alan, if you want to accuse me of having sex when I was a fool, I did everything that crossed my mind that looked like I . . .

Colmes: You had sex with animals?

Horsley: Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule.

Colmes: I’m not so sure that that is so.

Horsley: You didn’t grow up on a farm in Georgia, did you?

Colmes: Are you suggesting that everybody who grows up on a farm in Georgia has a mule as a girlfriend?

Horsley: It has historically been the case. You people are so far removed from the reality. . . . Welcome to domestic life on the farm. You experiment with anything that moves when you are growing up sexually. You’re naive. You know better than that. . . . If it’s warm and it’s damp and it vibrates, you might in fact have sex with it.

Not knowing whether or not to believe this, we called Horsley and read him the quotes. “That’s correct,” he said. Then we looked at his website. Here’s what it says: “Now when homosexuals, or adulterers, or fornicators, or pedophiles, or beast fornicators and beast suckers, or any sexual outlaws, parade themselves around as if they could be followers of Jesus Christ, they demonstrate a lie and blasphemy and abomination.”

A big bust

Bush touts al-Libbi capturebut where in the world is Osama?

When the U.S. announced the capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi on May 8, the Daily News called it a “Qaeda Bust ‘Bigger Than Bin Laden.’ ” Quoting Time, the New York Post called him Al Qaeda’s No. 3 man and claimed, according to what the paper said was a counterterrorism official, that he was “training and supporting people and planning to send operatives” into the U.S. Here in D.C., President Bush said the capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi “represents a critical victory in the war on terror,” and he praised the Pakistani government and its president, General Pervez Musharraf, for the arrest.

“Al-Libbi was a top general for bin Laden,” Bush said. “He was a major facilitator and a chief planner for the Al Qaeda network. His arrest removes a dangerous enemy who is a direct threat to America and for those who love freedom.”

After a couple of days al-Libbi dropped out of the media spotlight, and with good reason, because it looks as if he is a nobody and wouldn’t be much help in the search for bin Laden. In the first place, as Asia Times Online points out in an instructive article, since al-Libbi was a target for many months, it seems unlikely that Al Qaeda would let him get close to its top leaders. Most likely he had been removed as operational commander in South Asia.

Moreover, it has become more and more difficult to keep tabs on Al Qaeda, because the group not only keeps its cells separate from one another, but doesn’t use electronic means of communication. Messages are thought to be given by hand from one member of a network to another. The people who are part of the message chain are watched on a daily basis. The system is complex, and seems arcane. But when someone in a network disappears or goes missing for awhile, he is cut out, until it can be decided that he’s not being watched or hasn’t become a pawn in the net of some intelligence agency.

Anyhow, if al-Libbi knew where bin Laden was, Western intelligence would have tracked him down by now, because al-Libbi was arrested and probably interrogated weeks before the arrest was made public. “Pakistani intelligence agencies are tight-lipped,” according to Asia Times Online, but the news service’s D.C.-based sources “maintain that al-Libbi has revealed only his immediate contacts in Al Qaeda who passed on his messages. Of course, this chain might still be under investigation.”

Al Qaeda’s Pakistan operations were set back last September, when Amjad Hussain Farooqi, one of its key operatives, was killed in a shootout and several other operatives were arrested. There’s been little evidence of any planned Al Qaeda operations in Pakistan as of late, and it may be that al-Libbi and others were moving around just trying to keep their heads above water.

Al Qaeda is sometimes compared to Palestinian groups, but there is one big difference: The Palestinians go in for leaders, while Al Qaeda picks unknown figures for an attack, after which they are dropped into the wastebasket.

Additional reporting: Natalie Wittlin and Christine Lu

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