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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

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

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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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