Case of the Missing Vial of Hemorrhagic Fever In Texas Brings Back Memories of Abusive Butler Prosecution

220px-Vial_examplesThere is an interesting story out of Galveston, Texas where officials say that a vial of hemorrhagic fever has gone missing from a research facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch. What is striking is that the school has simply said that the vial was probably lost in a cleaning process. I represented Dr. Thomas Butler who was charged with numerous national security counts for the loss of vials of plague. I was brought into the case by the National Academy of Science members who were alarmed by the abuse of this esteemed scientist by the Bush Administration. With the encouragement of federal officials, Butler was vilified in the media as “Dr. Plague” in an absurd federal prosecution despite the fact that he revealed the missing vials and also thought that they were likely cleaned. Yet, the Justice Department not only pursued him viciously but enlisted Texas Tech University to make unrelated contracts claims against him to try to force a plea bargain. Butler is one of the leading experts on plague and is revered by many for his selfless work in some of the poorest areas of the world. He went to jail (on the contract claims) while the Justice Department is just shrugging off the loss of this vial on the same theory.


It is not clear how such lax handling of hemorrhagic material can occur or why it is able to be housed in labs like this one. Yet, the response to the case only puts the Butler case in sharper relief. Attorney General Ashcroft wildly misrepresented the Butler case in a meeting with George Bush and dispatched an army of agents to Lubbock. The Justice Department leaked the story to the media which created absolute panic and international press for Ashcroft. They soon found that there was no evidence that Butler, a renowned humanitarian, gave the vials to terrorists. The whole allegation was absurd since plague is widely available in third-world countries if you are looking for samples. It was laughable to think that Al Qaeda would go to Lubbock for such vials. Yet, in the Bush Administration, this type of overreaction was something of a signature move.

The problem was that, after quickly deducing that there was no terrorist threat, the Justice Department needed a scalp to explain its massive mobilization to Lubbock. This followed the Padilla embarrassment when the White House had to disavow a claim by Ashcroft that he and his department had foiled a nuclear attack on a major city. They were not going to simply come home empty handed and leave Ashcroft again looking like a clown. While the jury rejected virtually all of the national security counts (except a minor claim of transportation unrelated to the missing vials), the DOJ secured convictions on charges that were little more than contractual disputes with Texas Tech.

The latest story out of Texas simply shows what a farce this prosecution was and how Dr. Butler was made a scapegoat for an over-reaction by the Bush Justice Department. To this day, I view the jailing of Dr. Butler as one of the worst abuses in the post-911 period.

Source: CBS

32 thoughts on “Case of the Missing Vial of Hemorrhagic Fever In Texas Brings Back Memories of Abusive Butler Prosecution

  1. Eric Holder and John Ashcroft … two peas from the same pod.

    One wonders how good lawyers abide this incredibly dysfunctional Justice Dept and the equally dysfunctional Supreme Court.

  2. Blouise,

    “Eric Holder and John Ashcroft … two peas from the same pod.”

    Correction: Eric Holder and John Ashcroft … two peas from the same ROTTEN pod.

  3. “They were not going to simply come home empty handed and leave Ashcroft again looking like a clown. ”

    A leopard does not change it’s spots.

    Ashcroft was a clown long before he was AG.

    A picture perfect postcard proclaiming the Peter Principle proudly.

  4. Fascist president. Fascist AG. Fascist congress. Fascist DHS. Fascist Supreme Court……

    Our freedom is in grave danger.

  5. I wonder how these connect to the number of world class microbiologists who have been suicided over the past few years

  6. The latest story out of Texas simply shows what a farce this prosecution was and how Dr. Butler was made a scapegoat for an over-reaction by the Bush Justice Department. To this day, I view the jailing of Dr. Butler as one of the worst abuses in the post-911 period.”

    Indeed.

    They did the same thing during The 911 Anthrax Episodes I and II.

  7. Counter-terrorism as terrorism: Career building for reductionist predators; life destruction and civilians as scale production in a manic State of run away power structures. Legitimation is literally justifications manipulating blind Justice with a righteous indignation that borders on the criminally insane. .

  8. The abuse of legal power has no systemic comprehensive recognition for critical restraint; in fact, it is considered the equivalent of the invisible hand in our justice system…where claims of objectivity are highly inter-subjective domains of rank, file and the cold pursuit of indifferent influences to achieve status in the system.

  9. Once these strategies and tactics have become standard operating procedure of power, is there any hope that they will ever be expunged or at least “reasonably” modified?

  10. drsigne:

    I don’t know… I guess when you have sociopaths running the store, only sociopaths need apply. How would a sane individual maneuver through such a quagmire?

  11. Occam’s razor dictates that it was destroyed ‘cleaned’ and someone forgot to log that action.

    When I read the story of the missing vial I filed it in anticipation of, possibly, reading at a later time that Iran or N Korea or some other ‘enemy’ had used a chemical weapon (with the same characteristics) proving that they had WMD’s and thus needed invading. Or some variation on that scenario. Maybe it was just lost and maybe it was channeled to people in our own government or an allied government for use down the road.

    Too paranoid?

  12. Gene: “A picture perfect postcard proclaiming the Peter Principle proudly.”
    :-) In a playful mood are we? Nice.

  13. Lotta,

    I don’t know, do the Iranians hate rats? From the Article:

    The medical branch says the virus, native to Venezuela, is transmitted only through contact with Venezuelan rats. It is not believed to be able to survive in U.S. rodents or to be transmitted person-to-person.

  14. Bruce E. Woych: “The abuse of legal power has no systemic comprehensive recognition for critical restraint; in fact, it is considered the equivalent of the invisible hand in our justice system”
    ****

    Right.

    I’d like to know where the 30 vials of plague virus in the original Butler case went too. Reporting them missing probably stuck a big old thumb in a really nasty pie IMO. both corporate and government interests were endangered, Dr. Butler is lucky he didn’t end up in a field, dead by suicide like David Kelly.

  15. Gyges, That’s where the weaponizing comes in. ‘Not believed to be’ isn’t quite a sterling assurance. Thanks for trying to reassure me though.

  16. Lotta,

    That seems like being worried that the stolen marble from the quarry is being used to fashion crude spear points.

  17. Wasn’t the University of Texas medical center the same “non-profit” hospital that was paying its CEO millions?

  18. Gyges, It’s only spear points until you give it to someone that knows what to do with it, then it’s the Pieta.

  19. Butler didn’t have a chance with the case being made high profile but I think there are cases everyday with innocent people going to jail that feel the weight of the “justice” system and would argue they end result was the same.
    The system is broke and is just another law enforcement tool to further the ends of the ruling class.

  20. create an enemy and then attack that enemy to appear to be the savior

    Sounds much like what happened, though a more protracted and worse prosecution in this case, to Richard Jewell after the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.

    At least they eventually caught the right man, Eric Rudolph, who got what he deserved, a cell in ADX Florence.

  21. When I saw this story, the first thing that came to mind was the anthrax investigation, and how the life and career of Dr. Steven Hatfill was ruined. Dr. Hatfill was eventually exonerated completely, but that is a bell that couldn’t be unrung.

    Inspector Clouseau could have run a better investigation.

  22. where is the missing vial of hemorrhagic fever virus.

    something you really don’t want to hear when you go to work on monday

  23. How long are we going to tollerate a Department of Injustice? Bankers go free, good people are persecuted, torturers go free, destruction of documents, whistle blowers are persecuted. The list goes on, and the one common thread here is that it happens under Repo and Demo administrations.

    Please, do not vote for a RepoDemo or a DemoRepo in 2016. They are the same ugly beast.

  24. Paul, I think we should vote for democrat Elizabeth Warren. She will take on the bankers. She will run if Hillary does not.

  25. Lotta,

    The joke was it’s a lot more work to make spear points of marble then it is other things. In fact, you have to use other sharp pointy things that work well as weapons to make the marble into a weapon.

    If you can weaponize this one rare hemorrhagic fever, then you’ve probably got access to other dangerous things that don’t require a ridiculous investment in time, money, and brainpower.

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