Monday, August 04, 2008


Today's uneasy question is: did Dr. Bruce Ivins kill himself because he was guilty of sending anthrax-laced letters in 2001 and he thought the FBI was onto him, or did the FBI hound an innocent man into suicide?

Now that he's dead, we'll probably never know. The FBI's record in this affair isn't distinguished; they spent years trying to convict Steven Hatfill of the same crime, only to have him sue them for violating his rights by talking to reporters; they just settled that case for $5.82 million dollars. How good was their evidence against Dr. Ivins? The accounts I've read, from the NPR main site, suggest that the FBI was at least a couple of weeks away from any indictments, and still had several witnesses to take before the grand jury. So we don't know whether they could have gotten an indictment at all.

Dr. Ivins' therapist tells a hair raising tale of an unbalanced man who ranted about killing people and threatened her to the point that she asked for, and got, a restraining order against him. But he applied for and got a security clearance, after the 2001 attacks tightened security everywhere.

His colleagues at Fort Detrick say they don't believe the accusations. They do say he was deeply upset at the way the FBI had been questioning him, questioning his wife and children, staking out his house. He "just couldn't get past the fact that the FBI suspected him."

Here was a 62 year old man - my age, by the way - with a 30 year career at Fort Detrick and no incidents on his record that I've seen mentioned. And he thinks he's about to be indicted for a major public crime, bioterrorism. Let's assume for the moment that he was innocent - may he simply have been unable to contemplate the prospect of seeing any good work he'd ever done overshadowed by a public trial? How do you prove you didn't do something? It's very hard - that's why, in our legal system, the defendant doesn't have to prove anything. The prosecution have to prove guilt. But Dr. Ivins must have known that some people always assume "where there's smoke, there's fire," and, "they wouldn't have accused him without proof" - even if there wasn't really any proof. And what about the money to defend such a case? It would have cost tens, maybe hundreds of thousands - taking all his hope of a peaceful retirement with it. It would have destroyed his life - even if it was false.

As I said - he's dead now, and we'll probably never know.

Just remember: the FBI acts in our name. As Pogo once said, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

1 comment:

  1. On the positive side--if we can call it that--prosecution lawyers rarely want to go into court just to harass someone. They usually are convinced of someone's guilt, even if only on the basis of strong circumstantial evidence, before they move to indict and prosecute. In cases like this, I would think the fair thing to do would be to make a clean breast of what evidence they DID have, just to prove that they WEREN'T needlessly troubling him. But of course they won't. The implication--since they won't--is that they DIDN'T have a strong case.

    Does anything that happens on Dubya's watch surprise me?