August 31, 2000

An Open Letter to the U.S. Attorney General

The Honorable Janet Reno, Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
Constitution Avenue and 10th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Madam Attorney General:

We, the presidents of the National Academies, along with our Committee on Human Rights and many of our members, are distressed by several matters which have arisen regarding the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee and his incarceration during the past eight months. Although we make no claim as to his innocence or guilt, he appears to be a victim of unjust treatment.

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.

We write publicly because our private letters of March 10, April 14, and June 26 of this year with regard to Dr. Lee's plight have been responded to only by a form letter signed by your Acting Chief of the Internal Security Section. (His letter was not a satisfactory response to the questions that we had posed, as we indicated in our follow-up letter of June 26.)

We should perhaps explain that, for more than a century, the National Academy of Sciences has provided independent, objective scientific advice to our nation. By extension of its original congressional charter, it established the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. Some 4,800 of our nation's most distinguished leaders in science, engineering, medicine, and related fields have been selected by their peers to be members of the Academies and the Institute.

We are concerned that inaccurate and detrimental testimony by government officials resulted in Dr. Lee needlessly spending eight months in prison under harsh and questionable conditions of confinement. Our assessment appears to have been confirmed by the recent ruling of Judge James Parker in granting bail to Dr. Lee.

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.

Very truly yours,

Bruce Alberts, President
National Academy of Sciences

Wm. A. Wulf, President
National Academy of Engineering

Kenneth I. Shine, President
Institute of Medicine