Tuesday, January 4, 2000

Wen Ho Lee Case: Whatever Happened To Due Process?

Pacific News Service, George Koo, Posted: Jan 04, 2000

Editor's Note: Even a mass murderer is accorded more humane treatment than Chinese American scientist Wen Ho Lee, who is accused of mishandling secret computer data, says PNS commentator George Koo.

In their zeal to force Wen Ho Lee to his knees, federal prosecutors have turned America's system of justice upside-down.

From the outset, Lee has been presumed guilty, and prosecutors have ignored or dismissed every effort to assert his legal rights. "Even if we can't prove he is a spy, we are going to treat him like a spy, keep him in jail and deny him bail because he might be a spy," would be a precise summary of prosecutor John Kelly's position.

To reinforce the government's contention that Lee, 60, is a menace to national security, he is being held in solitary confinement, under constant surveillance and allowed to see his family and attorney only one hour per week -- and then he must speak only in English. Even a mass murderer is accorded more humane treatment while awaiting trial.

Lee is charged with mishandling secret computer data. The government justifies its actions on the grounds that Lee could cause terrible harm to the nation with seven computer tapes he downloaded but has not accounted for. At Lee's bail hearing, the government prosecutor actually stated there is no way to tell whether an apparently innocuous wink or casual comment might be a coded message for an enemy agent.

Lee's defense attorneys have offered to subject their client to polygraph tests to show he poses no danger to the United States and to verify his claim that he destroyed the seven tapes. But Kelly is unwilling to allow any procedure that might allow Lee out on bail. He is determined to keep Lee incarcerated under maximum security conditions for the two years needed to prepare for trial.

As numerous editorials have pointed out, the prosecution has moved from investigating an espionage case to harassing a scientist they were unable to indict as a spy.

It is difficult to see any difference between this and the workings of a police state. Due process, presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial have all been thrown away for the sake of satisfying an appetite for bashing Chinese and Americans of Chinese ancestry.

The FBI actually called its action "Operation Kindred Spirit" to justify the way they homed in on Lee to the exclusion of all other possibilities when the investigation into leaks began. Only after former Los Alamos intelligence officer Robert Vrooman charged the FBI with acting on racial grounds did the public realize that Lee was a victim of "racial profiling."

Attorney General Janet Reno effectively confirmed Vrooman's claims when she ordered the FBI to restart its investigation and cast a wider net.

Paul Moore, former FBI chief of counter-intelligence and widely quoted in the media, admits racial profiling exists -- but says it is a tactic of Beijing. Moore say the Chinese government targets ethnic Chinese to act as spies, but he offers no proof to support his claim. This is the sort of logic used to put 125,000 Japanese Americans into detention camps in World War II.

Accusations without proof have long been a favorite technique of those who want to demonize some portion of the population or revive racial prejudice. Particularly damaging in this respect were leaks from a select committee headed by Congressman Christopher Cox implying that China had stolen every nuclear secret of value due to lax security under the Clinton administration. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson promptly offered Wen Ho Lee as a sacrificial lamb to appease critics of the administration.

The credibility of the Cox report has since vaporized. "The report lacks scholarly rigor, and exhibits too many examples of sloppy research, factual errors and weekly justified inferences," concludes the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Harsher assessments came from Cox's own Republican Party. Former deputy assistant Secretary of the Army, Dr. James Prather, after studying the report observed, "You've been had, Chris. Now just admit it."

Jude Wanniski, advisor to former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who authorized Prather's study, added, "We know that Bill Richardson is ready to destroy the life of the Chinese American computer scientist Wen Ho Lee and several Los Alamos scientists." Wanniski went on, "If you have the right stuff, Chris, you would come clean now before your nose gets any longer, and tell Bill Richardson he does not have to put Wen Ho Lee in the slammer after all."

Alas, the right stuff is not a quality readily found. If Americans of all political persuasions do not strenuously object to the injustices perpetrated against Wen Ho Lee, can a police state be far behind?