UPDATE: American Justice is Laid to Rest with Amerithrax Victim Bruce Ivins
According to an AP news report released today, the FBI is “wrapping up one of its most vexing investigations” by closing the case on Bruce Ivins, thereby formally ending, “the long, frustrating hunt for the killer after years of false leads, no arrest and public criticism.”
A sad ending to a sad story about a man who was posthumously convicted for crimes which — if evidence counts for anything — he didn’t commit.
Too, the words, “public criticism” seem so mild — a euphemism, really — for the depth of grief and outrage expressed by those who knew Bruce Ivins best. Nor do these words begin to describe the reactions felt by those who didn’t know Bruce Ivins at all — but who recognized, in his persecution and his tragic passing, the death of American justice itself. “Public criticism” is such a benign phrase for the fight that I, myself, tried to wage in words as I watched a fellow human being — an American citizen, at that — fall prey to the Dick Cheney One-Percent Doctrine, a legalized form of witchhunting that, beginning in 2001, replaced over 200 years of constitutional law in this country.
Today, in memory of Bruce Ivins, I am posting some of the “public criticism” that has been waged on behalf of Mr. Ivins. The first two statements were made yesterday, in response to the FBI’s announcement that that were closing the case and naming Bruce Ivins as the sole person reponsible for the antrax mailings:
- Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, whose district included the Princeton mailbox used in the attacks, said of the FBI’s decision to close the case: “This has been a closed-minded, closed process from the beginning. The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court. But because their prime suspect is dead and they’re not going to court, they seem satisfied with barely a circumstantial case.”
- According to this same AP report, Ivins’ lawyer, Paul Kemp, said “There’s absolutely no evidence he did anything. All they have confirmed is that they suspected him belatedly after finding out he had psychological problems. Sadly, they substitute that for proof.”
Below are some of the comments spoken by those who knew Bruce Ivins best. These are re-posted from my August 2008 post on Bruce Ivins, with direct quotes in bold italics:
- Ivans’ attorney, Paul F. Kemp, asserted Ivins’ innocence and stated that Ivans had been cooperating with the anthrax probe for more than six years, using his expertise as a scientist to help the government, and had also been cooperating for over a year, after the investigation was turned toward Ivins. In a statement made after Ivins’ death, Kemp said, “We are saddened by his death, and disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to defend his good name and reputation in a court of law.” In another statement, Kemp said, “We assert his innocence in these killings, and would have established that at trial. The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people, as has already been seen in this investigation. In Dr. Ivins’ case, it led to his untimely death.”
- Dr. Russell Byrne — Bruce Ivins’ friend and colleague for 15 years — believes that federal investigators were going after the wrong person, and that it was their pressure on Ivins that led to his suicide. In an interview with MSNBC, Dr. Byrne describes the effect the investigation had on Ivins, starting a year ago, as it incapicatated him to working. Dr. Byrnes scoffed at the “ridiculous motives” offered by federal investigators, and cited examples to disprove their claims against Ivins.
- Arthur O. Anderson, a medical doctor and scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, and a co-worker for many years, said of Dr. Ivins, “He was concerned with how the Institute was perceived and how he was perceived. That manifested itself in the care he took in conducting his research.” Dr. Anderson futher described Ivins as “a hard-working individual with a high level of integrity and pride in both his workplace and his individual work.” Dr. Anderson believe in Ivins’ innocence and believes that Ivins has been used as a scapegoat in the anthrax case.
- Retired Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Adamovicz — former director of the bacteriology division at USAMRIID — told The News that the FBI’s probe into the 2001 anthrax killings had upended the work of the lab by turning scientists into suspects – and pushed his pal over the edge. “I just cannot see that Bruce would in any way, shape or form be responsible for something like that,” he said. “I’d like to see these charges substantiated, because just like [with] Dr. Hatfill, there could be nothing to these allegations.” He said the FBI has created a psychologically toxic atmosphere for scientists at Fort Detrick. “We were there processing information for agents and then one day they turned around and treated us all like suspects. The agents’ criteria for additional suspicion was “who’s working the most overtime,” said Adamovicz, who also was questioned by the feds. “The Bruce I knew,” Adamovicz said, “would not have anything to do with this.” In statement to the Washington Post, Adamovicz said, “I really don’t think he’s the guy. I say to the FBI, ‘Show me your evidence’.” He added, referring to the intense investigative pressure on Ivins, “A lot of the tactics they used were designed to isolate him from his support. The FBI just continued to push his buttons.”
- Friends and neighbors said he was an avid gardener, an active walker and a volunteer with the Red Cross. Ivins and his wife of 33 years, Diane, had 24-year-old twins, whom they raised in a modest white house with red shutters across the street from Fort Detrick in Frederick, where Ivins worked at the U.S. Army’s institute for infectious diseases.
- “Anybody that knew Bruce through his church affiliation is just dumbfounded,” said Bill McCormick, who attended St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick with Ivins for 25 years. He said Ivins was a “quiet, giving kind of guy,” and the news that he was about to be charged in the attacks did not fit with the Ivins he knew.
- David Danley, who worked with Ivins at Fort Detrick to develop a new anthrax vaccine for almost 10 years until 2003, says he has a hard time believing Ivins could be the anthrax killer. He remembers a cute gesture he would make to his daughter when they would see Ivins at their church. “My daughter was involved in a little theater in Frederick,” Danley said. “And whenever she was in a musical, she would walk into church, and [Ivins] would be at the piano. And he would start playing a tune from the musical she was in … just as a quiet sort of hello.”
- Two military scientists who had worked closely with Ivins on projects for years, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday they were stunned and angry that he was being depicted as a suspect in the attacks without hard evidence being released by the FBI.
- “Nobody thinks Bruce did it,” said one scientist. He described Ivins as “socially awkward, but he certainly wasn’t a recluse or a hermit.” He added, “He was kind of a geeky scientist.”
- Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, who worked with Bruce Ivins at Fort Detrick, says he thinks the government needed a scapegoat. He says the FBI was under a lot of pressure after paying nearly $6 million to Steven Hatfill — another researcher who had been under suspicion in the anthrax attacks. “Unfortunately, Bruce Ivins was a good guy — he was probably more vulnerable, and with the pressure they applied to him, they forced him to this position,” Hedlund remembers the scientist as an outgoing, friendly man who juggled at parties. Hedlund says he feels sorry for Ivins’ wife and children, and he is bothered by what he calls the government’s rush to say the problem is solved. “It’s a damn shame that they’ve chosen him as a fall guy, and I think they’ve chosen him as a fall guy because he was too human,” Hedlund says.
- Another colleague said, “I’ve talked to several friends, and we’re all just really sad and shocked. I hate to see him painted as a person who could’ve done this.”
- The official statement issued by USAMRIID in the wake of Mr. Ivin’s death said, “The agency mourns the loss of Dr. Bruce Ivins, who served the institute for more than 35 years as a civilian microbiologist.” Time magazine commented: “That seems like an unusual thing to say if you believe one of your employees had something to do with an anthrax attack. It now remains incumbent on the FBI to reveal what information it had linking Ivins to the attacks. Given the federal government’s record on the anthrax investigation, and the national security interests involved, Ivins’ death should not be used as an excuse for the case to be closed without a full, public airing.”
- Several of Ivins’ neighbors said they believe the government had the wrong man — and suggest that perhaps the real killer is still out there.
- “I feel so badly for his family,” said Duggan, an adult-education worker who has lived next to the Ivinses since they bought the 1,500-square-foot house in 1990. It was just the opposite, she said. Whenever she saw him on the street, he would wave heartily and they would chat. She said he walked regularly, perhaps to help his bad back. When she needed a chain saw for some yard work, Ivins showed up and did the job. “Bruce was the kind of neighbor that anyone would want to have,” Duggan said.
* * * * *
Somewhere along the way (while we were sleeping I suppose, but long before the case was officially “solved”) the anthrax case was renamed “Amerithrax” as a cue to remind us that this was a domestic terrorism case. The name change became a necessity, of course, once it became known that one of the anthrax strains that was mailed in the letters came from a U.S. government labratory and could no longer be passed off as the handiwork of al Qaeda, intent on perpetuating the terror of 9-11.
The good news was that, by then, the anthrax had served its purpose. It paved the way to the passing of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and, in the process , whipped Congress and the media into compliance, lest they wanted to be called soft on terror or terrorist appeasers, which is a real bummer when it comes to ratings and re-election bids.
The bad news was that — even with all the tools at the FBI’s disposal — it turned out to be more difficult than anyone imagined, this business of framing an innocent man for a crime he didn’t commit.
What sounded so good in theory — accusing Bruce Ivins of being a mad scientist bent on testing a new vaccine for this Ames strain of anthrax — turned out to be impractical, since (d’oh!) not all of the anthrax letters contained the same strain of anthrax.
Too, there was that Nevada-Malaysia letter, which may or may not have contained anthrax and pornography, and which neither Steven Hatfield or Bruce Ivins could possibly have mailed (double d’oh!). Not to mention that the precise strain of anthrax sent to Senators Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle was identical to one of the strains in the possession of the CIA, which the CIA initially concealed from the FBI during the early investigation.
The theory now is that Bruce Ivins’ motive came from “intense personal and professional pressure,” over fears that the funding for his anthrax vaccine research would be phased out. As evidence, Bruce Ivins sure did write and say some strange things, didn’t he? God forbid that other people’s interpretations of my most stupid moments, my rantings, my foibles — or yours — should ever be held up as evidence of a crime.
If the early settlers to this country and the later pro-Americans of the McCarthy era learned nothing from their mistakes, history at least knows: when we deviate from our laws, from our constitution, we place our democracy at risk, not to mention our humanity. But this is old news. Let’s move forward. Prologue schomlogue, there’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on the past.