ACLU, Civil Rights Groups Move to Unseal Court Documents in Wen Ho Lee Case

June 6, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO–Acting on behalf of Chinese for Affirmative Action, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus and local attorneys today filed a motion in New Mexico to gain access to documents that remain under seal in the case of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.

“”The public has a First Amendment right to review documents filed in court cases,”” said Robert Kim, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “”This right is especially important when the government is a party in the case and when issues of wide public concern are involved. Few cases in recent times have evoked as much public concern as the federal government’s prosecution of Wen Ho Lee.””

On December 10, 1999, the United States charged Dr. Lee, a U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, with 59 counts of mishandling classified information. For over nine months after he was taken into custody, Dr. Lee was kept in solitary confinement, denied bail, and shackled with leg irons and chains whenever he left his cell.

On August 11, 2000, the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus filed legal briefs in support of Dr. Lee’s motion to seek government evidence of race-based or selective prosecution.

A month later, on September 13, the prosecution dropped all but one of 59 charges against Dr. Lee. This occurred two days before the U.S. Attorney’s Office was to have produced documents relating to selective prosecution. In an unprecedented move, the Court apologized to Dr. Lee for the manner in which his constitutional rights were violated.

“”Although Dr. Lee was released last year, many questions linger concerning the manner in which federal employees in our country, including Dr. Lee, are investigated and prosecuted,”” said Diane Chin, Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.

“”The possibility that Dr. Lee was the victim of selective prosecution is a matter of great concern to us and to the American public, which has a right to view documents that could reveal whether the federal government and the nation’s tax-supported laboratories are engaging in racial profiling,”” she added.

Victor Hwang, Staff Attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, noted “”the long history of anti-Asian sentiment in this country,”” adding that just two weeks ago, Representative David Wu (D, OR), the only Chinese-American member of Congress, was denied entry to a Department of Energy facility where he was scheduled to deliver remarks about the importance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Rep. Wu was stopped by guards who questioned him about his nationality.

“”From Dr. Wen Ho Lee’s case to the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II, political and racial scapegoating of Asian Pacific Americans has been a part of American life,”” Hwang said. “”It is for this reason that the documents in Dr. Lee’s case must be unsealed.””

Lisa Sitkin, an attorney with the San Francisco Law Offices of Steinhart & Falconer, which is assisting in the case, added: “”Given the history of this case, the government’s generalized claims that the documents threaten national security are dubious at best.””

“”Just as the Court ordered Dr. Lee released from solitary confinement when the government finally admitted he was no threat to national security, it should also release the documents that will allow us to know what really lay behind his prosecution,”” she said.

The motion to unseal the documents in the case of United States of America v. Wen Ho Lee was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico by cooperating attorney Hope Eckert in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The motion seeks the immediate unsealing of all documents, or portions of documents, that do not threaten national security.

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