September 15, 2000


Wen Ho Lee: Ethnicity Can Tip Scales of Justice

By George Koo

The government's case against Dr. Wen Ho Lee has ended. He will be released in exchange for pleading guilty to a single charge of improperly downloading classified material.

Lee's penalty is the nine months of solitary confinement he already served.

Lee will not go to the electric chair, as FBI interrogators originally alleged. Lee will not face life imprisonment as threatened by the original 59 charges. Instead he will go to his family, and to the block party hosted by friends and neighbors celebrating his release.

Who is the winner? Certainly not Lee. Anybody else would have received an official reprimand for such an offense. Lee was shackled, sent to prison, deprived of his rights and the due process owed any American citizen.

If Lee is in the right, why doesn't he fight on? Why? Because the government's might can steamroll over any individual's right.

The U.S. government is no different from the third world dictatorships the U.S. is so fond of criticizing. It cannot yield to what's right and just if that means losing face.

Thanks to its virtually infinite resources — American tax dollars — the government can drag a case out indefinitely, and that is exactly what they were doing. They couldn't break Lee's spirit, but they could certainly break his pitiful budget and leave him dependent on pro bono attorneys and voluntary contributions.

The surprise stay of his pending bail release was just the last example of the prosecution's stalling tactics. Prosecutors ran around the presiding judge and the defense and got the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a last-minute stay. The result? More suffering for Lee who had expected to go home. More expenses for the defense team as they prepared to travel to Denver and reiterate they arguments.

The prosecution even professed to be surprised by the court order. "The government doesn't play dirty pool," the lead prosecutor, George Stamboulidis said.

Of course this is the same government whose star witness, FBI agent Robert Messemer, has steadily recanted his earlier testimony under cross-examination. By any usual measure, one could say Messemer flat out lied. In court, he admitted under oath to making numerous "honest mistakes."

As the case unfolded, more and more of the seamy details of the government's case came to light. In recent weeks, virtually every major daily newspaper coast-to-coast has come out with editorials pointing out that the government case has fallen apart and demanding justice and due process for Wen Ho Lee.

Lest anyone forget: This is a clear case of where government's might makes right. Truth and justice had little to do with the outcome. It's all about the government not losing too much face. If we Americans are satisfied with this settlement, we will all be losers.

Let us remember that this case was initiated by Notra Trulock, former intelligence officer at the Department of Energy. He single-handedly convinced the Cox Committee that there really was a witch that could justify their hunt.

Trulock sold Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on the idea of scapegoating Lee to appease the Cox Republicans. Trulock leaked the story to the New York Times that led to the tar-and-feathering of Lee.

The FBI, to its lasting discredit, scurried around looking for facts or some facsimile thereof to build a case around Lee rather than conducting a truly objective investigation.

This has been another shameful chapter in America's history. It won't be the last unless we continue to turn up the heat and put the spotlight on the Trulocks, Messemers, and all other racists and bigots working in the bowels of our government.

Whether it's driving while black or downloading while Asian, the next victim can still be just around the corner.

George Koo is an independent business consultant, former Chairman of Silicon Valley-based Asian American Manufacturers Association, a Human Relations Commissioner of Mountain View, CA, and a member of Committee of 100, a national organization of prominent Chinese Americans.

Comments? Return to the Frontpage