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In Support of Wen Ho Lee

Guest Column Robert W. Mann

To the especial attention of the “Wen Ho Lee support group”:

In the September 15 edition of The Tech one of your members is quoted as saying “the MIT Administration or its engineering and science faculty would not touch this with a ten foot pole... because they are beholden with too much grant support.”

I sent the following letter on behalf of Dr. Lee to Attorney General Janet Reno on June 13, 2000:

“Dear Madam Attorney General:

As a member of the National Academies of Science and Engineering and of the Institute of Medicine I have been made aware by their respective presidents of the letter they sent to you on March 10, 2000 requesting your answers to a series of questions on the status of former Los Alamos National Laboratory employee Wen Ho Lee. I note that President Bruce Alberts of the NAS, not having had a response from you, sent to you a follow-up letter on April 14, 2000. As of May 26, 2000 Dr. Alberts had had no response from you.

Frankly I am baffled by your silence which seems so inconsistent with your prior candor. I have been very favorably impressed by your direct and forthright statements in press reports and on television responding to questions on such contentious issues as Waco. But here only silence?

I add my request to that of the presidents of the NAS, NAE and the IOM that you respond to their letter of March 10, 2000.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

The March 10, and April 14 letters, and then a June 26 letter, were private requests from the three presidents that she explain the egregious treatment of Dr. Lee. With no acknowledgement of the first two letters and then an unsatisfactory response by an underling to the third, the presidents sent a public letter to Attorney General Reno which included the following paragraphs:

“We are writing to you, as the chief law officer and legal counsel of our nation, to urge you to rectify any wrongs to which Dr. Lee has been subjected, and to ensure that he receives fair and just treatment from now on. We also urge that those responsible for any injustice that he has suffered be held accountable. Even more importantly, perhaps, we urge that safeguards be put in place to ensure that, in future, others do not suffer the same plight.”

“The three institutions of which we are presidents have an active Committee on Human Rights. During the last 25 years this committee has intervened in the name of our institutions on behalf of hundreds of scientific colleagues, around the world, who are unjustly detained or imprisoned for nonviolently expressing their opinions. The committee writes inquiries and appeals to offending governments and holds them accountable for their actions. Although Dr. Lee has not been detained for expressing his opinions, the handling of his case reflects poorly on the U.S. justice system. The concerns that we have expressed and the questions that we have posed in our letters are identical to those that our Committee on Human Rights regularly poses to foreign governments, some of which have had the courtesy to respond. Surely, we cannot expect less from our own government.”

We are all relieved that Dr. Lee’s travail has been ended, but I want you to know that efforts on his behalf had been made by scientific, engineering and medical organizations and by at least this MIT professor.

Robert W. Mann is a Professor Emeritus in the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology.