June 4, 2006
Written by C.N.
You might recall that Wen Ho Lee was a Taiwanese American nuclear scientist who was initially accused of spying for China and was subsequently detained and kept in solitary confinement for nine months until it became clear that the government had no case against him. He was finally released after pleading guilty to one count of mishandling sensitive documents.
At his release hearing, the presiding judge took the unprecedented step of officially apologizing to him for his mistreatment at the hands of the government. Lee later sued the Energy and Justice Departments and several news organizations, accusing them of leaking and publishing prejudicial information about him. His lawsuit is finally over, as five news organizations and two federal departments have agreed to pay him a $1.65 million settlement:
Lee had accused federal officials of smearing him by leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for China. The case took an unusual turn when federal judges held five reporters in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the sources of their stories about the government’s espionage investigation of Lee.
The payment by AP, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and ABC is the first of its kind in recent memory, and perhaps ever, legal and media experts said. . . . The final terms of Lee’s settlement with the government were not immediately known, but a draft settlement circulated last week included a payment of $895,000 in attorney’s fees and no admission that the government agencies had violated Lee’s privacy rights.
From what I’ve read, it seems that the news organizations were merely reporting what the Energy and Justice Departments had leaked to them. So on the one hand, the news organizations might been seen as “innocent bystanders” who were only doing their jobs and for the sake of journalistic integrity, didn’t want to compromise the confidentiality of their sources.
On the other hand, let us remember that in the wake of the dismissal of virtually all charges against Wen Ho Lee, the New York Times issued an official apology to its readers regarding its coverage of Dr. Lee’s situation and admitted that they did not do the proper research and factfinding when they first investigated the story and that their reporting implied that Dr. Lee was guilty.
Further, the government may try to deny otherwise, but it is clear that this settlement is a clear cut and unprecedented victory for Wen Ho Lee. I hope it will also serve as a warning to the government that even in the prevailing hysteria of “national security concerns,” people are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that leaking prejudicial (and ultimately distorted) “evidence” against people like Dr. Lee is unacceptable.
In fact, I’m sure that thousands of Arab and Muslim Americans who were illegally detained after 9/11 or otherwise harassed by the government might be interested to hear about this settlement.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Wen Ho Lee Privacy Settlement" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/06/wen-ho-lee-privacy-settlement/> ().
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