Civil Rights Groups Support Dr. Wen Ho Lee Legal Defense; Seek Information on Anti-Asian Bias in Scientist's Prosecution

August 11, 2000 12:00 am

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM — In separate legal briefs, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian Law Caucus said that Dr. Wen Ho Lee is entitled to any government evidence that he is the victim of racial profiling by officials.

The ACLU brief, submitted today, says that the evidence of selective prosecution based on race in this case is so substantial that Dr. Lee’s request for evidence must be granted. The Asian Law Caucus bolsters this argument with numerous examples of government discrimination against people of Asian descent.

“It is unconstitutional for a decision to prosecute to be based on race,” explained Robert Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, “and Dr. Lee is entitled to the evidence to prove his claim.”

Neither organization takes a position on Lee’s guilt or innocence or whether Dr. Lee can prove his selective prosecution claim.

Dr. Lee, a U.S. citizen born in Taiwan in 1939, worked at Los Alamos for 20 years before his high-profile arrest on December 10, 1999. He was charged with mishandling classified material.

The groups’ friend-of-the-court briefs were submitted in U.S. District Court in New Mexico in support of Dr. Lee’s motion for discovery to obtain government documents supporting his claim of discriminatory selective prosecution. A hearing on that motion will be held on Tuesday, August 15; a full trial is scheduled for November.

Although Dr. Lee has not been charged with espionage, and there is no evidence that he transmitted classified information to anyone, he has been branded as a “Chinese spy.” He has been kept in solitary confinement, denied bail, and shackled with leg irons and chains when he leaves his cell.

The ACLU brief cites statements by high-ranking FBI and Department of Energy (DOE) officials admitting that Dr. Lee was singled out because of his Chinese ancestry. For example, the Deputy Director of the FBI, Paul Moore, in discussing Dr. Lee’s case on national television, stated, “There is racial profiling based on ethnic background.”

In addition, Department of Energy official Charles E. Washington stated in a memo that the DOE Director of Intelligence Nora Trulock was “unfairly singling out Lee and other Chinese American scientists at Los Alamos.”

In light of Dr. Lee’s detailed evidence of discrimination based on admissions of high-ranking officials in the FBI and the DOE and his evidence of similarly situated non-ethnic Chinese who were not prosecuted, the court must grant him further discovery, the ACLU argued.

“If the government has nothing to hide and can dispel the specter of racial profiling that infects this case, then it should not resist providing discovery,” said Lucas Guttentag of the national ACLU. “Full disclosure is essential both to protect Dr. Lee’s constitutional rights and to restore public confidence that the laws are being applied fairly and equally.”

The Asian Law Caucus brief cites a shameful history of anti-Asian discrimination dating back to the 19th century.

“We see the prosecution of Dr. Lee as the latest example of the political and racial scapegoating of Asian Pacific Americans as suspect and disloyal foreigners,” said Victor Hwang, managing attorney at the Asian Law Caucus.

“From the selective prosecution of Yick Wo and other Chinese laundrymen in the nineteenth century to the imprisonment of Fred Korematsu and other Japanese Americans based solely upon their ancestry, we have always looked to the judicial system to stand against the consequences of popular prejudices and xenophobia.”

The Asian Law Caucus brief was submitted on behalf of the core membership of the Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Scapegoating, including the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (NY), Chinese for Affirmative Action (SF), Committee of 100, Japanese American Citizens League, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Organization of Chinese Americans.

The ACLU brief was submitted by attorneys Lucas Guttentag and Steve Shapiro of the national ACLU, Robert Kim of the ACLU of Northern California and Phil Davis and Maureen Sanders of the ACLU of New Mexico.

The ACLU legal brief in the case can be viewed online at:

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