Friday, June 27, 2008
A $5.825 Million Mistake: Department Of Justice Finally Settles With Accused Anthrax Doctor Steven Hatfill, But Admits No Liability
After six years, the Department of Justice finally admitted they were mistaken about Dr. Steven Hatfill's involvement with the anthrax attacks which took place after 9-11. Their mistake will cost them (and us taxpayers) $5.825 million. Full story published by ABC News, the New York Times, MSNBC, and CNN.
In his suit against the DOJ, Hatfill claimed they violated his rights because officials there spoke to reporters about the case. He was never charged in connection to the still-ongoing investigation. The terms of the settlement require the Justice Department to pay $2.825 million in cash to plaintiff and his attorneys, to be apportioned between them as they agree, and a $3 million annuity that will pay Hatfill $150,000 per year for 20 years, for a total value of $5.825 million.
But FBI officials declined to say whether the settlement officially cleared Hatfill in the bureau's investigation, deferring to the Justice Department. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse released a statement Friday that said the government "remains resolute in its investigation into the anthrax attacks," but noted, "By entering into this agreement, the United States does not admit to any violation of the Privacy Act and continues to deny all liability in connection with Dr. Hatfill's claims."
In August 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named Hatfill as a person of interest in the mysterious mail attacks, which had further frightened a nation still reeling from the September 11th, 2001, attacks that had been carried out just weeks before. The anthrax attacks left five people dead and 17 sickened after mail containing the toxin arrived on Capitol Hill and at news organizations in Florida and New York. Dr. Hatfill was targeted because the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was similar to that manufactured in the lab where he worked.
FBI surveillance teams began following him everywhere, and a small motorcade sometimes trailed his car around Washington, D.C. The surveillance was so aggressive that in May 2003, an FBI surveillance car ran over Dr. Hatfill’s foot in Georgetown as he approached the car to take the driver’s picture. He was given a ticket for “walking to create a hazard” and was fined $5. Dr. Hatfill also lost his job at Louisiana State University as a result of DOJ pressure.
Attorney Mark A. Grannis released a statement on behalf of Hatfill's legal team, eviscerating government officials and the media: "Our government failed us, not only by failing to catch the anthrax mailers but by seeking to conceal that failure. Our government did this by leaking gossip, speculation and misinformation to a handful of credulous reporters. The collusive relationship between unethical officials and uncritical reporters, which caused such great damage to Dr. Hatfill's personal life and professional reputation, must not be treated by journalists as if it were a respectable method of newsgathering".
Hatfill now conducts most of his research independently, and the settlement money will help him to carry out his work, according to the statement.
As for the ongoing investigation into the attacks, called Amerthrax, the FBI has served 75 search warrants, conducted more than 9,100 interviews and served in excess of 6,000 subpoenas to date. According to the FBI, the anthrax task force is currently comprised of 17 FBI special agents and 10 U.S. Postal Service inspectors.
But Dr, Hatfill didn't just hold the government accountable; he also held the media outlets who regurgitated the government's story accountable as well. In February 2007, Dr. Hatfill reached an undisclosed settlement of a $10 million libel suit against Vanity Fair and Reader's Digest. Dr. Hatfill claimed that he was defamed in an article written in 2003 by an English professor at Vassar College, Donald Foster. Mr. Foster's assessment, first published in Vanity Fair and later carried in abridged form in Reader's Digest, analyzed Dr. Hatfill's writings and travels and claimed they were consistent with patterns seen in the 2001 anthrax attacks, as well as prior hoaxes and suspicious incidents.
Dr. Hatfill also sued The New York Times and the columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, saying that columns Mr. Kristof wrote about the case had libeled him by suggesting that he might be the anthrax mailer. That lawsuit was dismissed in January 2007, but Dr. Hatfill has appealed the dismissal.
However, there is still one more outstanding case. Among the journalists subpoenaed by Dr. Hatfill in order to learn which federal officials had spoken to the news media about the case against him in possible violation of federal privacy laws was Toni Locy, a former legal affairs reporter for USA Today who wrote several articles about the case. Locy was held in contempt of court, facing fines of up to $5,000 a day from Judge Reggie Walton over her refusal to name her sources, and her case is pending before an appeals court. Ms. Locy said Friday that she was relieved by the developments but that it was too soon to celebrate.
Locy said that Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers told her they no longer needed her testimony, though she had not been told whether the contempt order against her had been lifted. Locy said that a federal mediator had tried to get Gannett, which owns USA Today, to negotiate some type of settlement with Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers, but that it had refused.
The Whatreallyhappened.com website continues to believe that the DOJ is ignoring a more likely suspect, Philip Zack, because he's Jewish and the government is concerned his exposure might uncover an Israeli connection to 9-11. This information has been somewhat corroborated by Amapedia.
For more insight, read Newsmax's archive of articles entitled "The Crucifixion of Steven Hatfill".