By Nicholas Stix
September 5, 2002
On September 3, Louisiana State University celebrated Labor Day by firing biowarfare scientist Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, on the orders of the Justice Department. Hatfill is one of the world’s leading biowarfare experts.
Hatfill had been hired on July 1 as the associate director of LSU’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. Citing the confidentiality of all personnel decisions, university officials refused to say why they had terminated Hatfill, one month and one day after they had put him on paid, administrative leave from his $150,000-per year position. However, the program Hatfill was hired to help run, is funded virtually in its entirety (97 percent) by the Justice Department.
According to Associated Press reporter Christopher Newton,
Dr. Steven J. Hatfill’s firing from Louisiana State University came after the Justice Department told the school it could not use him on projects funded by grants from the agency, which has called Hatfill a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks.
LSU spokesman Greg Sands said Hatfill’s supervisor, Steven Guillot, received an e-mail Aug. 1 directing him to “cease and desist” from using Hatfill on Justice Department-funded projects.
Hatfill was initially hired by the center on an adjunct basis in April. Among the students in his LSU course for first-responders to biological weapons attacks was an FBI agent who apologetically, according to Hatfill participated in the August 1 search of Hatfill’s home, then in Frederick, Maryland.
That August 1 search played out to saturation coverage in front of a tipped-off media. When LSU put Hatfill on leave the next day, civilians and journalists alike assumed there was a connection between the FBI search and LSU’s action. However, most observers believed that the search had had an indirect, intimidating effect on LSU, rather than that the Justice Department had ordered LSU to fire Hatfill. Then, when Hatfill held his second press conference on August 25, and attacked Attorney General John Ashcroft as the main source of his misery, many of us scribes asked each other, “Why Ashcroft, instead of FBI Director Bob Mueller?” No one outside of the Justice Department or LSU knew that the former had sent the latter the e-mail ordering Hatfill’s dismissal the same day as the FBI search. Now, we all know what Hatfill must have known by the time he held his August 25 press conference.
That day, Hatfill attacked AG Ashcroft for making him a “person of interest,” and using that extra-legal designation to violate his constitutional rights.
According to LSU Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs Gregory Vincent, no one at LSU outside of the Division of Continuing Education knew of the Justice Department e-mail, but that claim beggars belief. In any event, Vincent admitted that the dismissal followed immediately upon the discussion of the e-mail among LSU’s upper echelons on Tuesday.
Hatfill’s spokesman and friend, Pat Clawson, released a statement by Hatfill Tuesday evening, complaining
LSU did not even have the decency to phone me directly... They did not even tell my supervisor or co-workers ... This could have been decided a month ago. Why did they wait until I moved all of my furniture and all of my possessions to Baton Rouge?
The FBI and Justice Department officials have admitted that they have no incriminating evidence tying Hatfill to the anthrax-contaminated letters which last fall killed five people, and sickened over a dozen others. Although they have not charged Hatfill, they have terrorized him since June. Prior to that, Hatfill was victimized by a media frenzy led by Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg of the Federation of American Scientists.
Because Hatfill is a conservative and a patriot, most socialist writers have either jumped on him with both feet, or ignored the ongoing violations of his rights. Meanwhile, based on apparent partisan loyalty to John Ashcroft and George W. Bush, most GOP writers have also given the attorney general a free pass to violate the U.S. Constitution. Even so-called civil libertarians, like the Village Voice’s Nat Hentoff, have left Hatfill to twist in the wind. In “Second Thoughts about Ashcroft: Policies Over the Top,” conservative thinker Jim Antle finds that he can no longer give the attorney general the ringing endorsement he’d given him when he assumed the Justice Department’s mantle:
[A]s far as going about “the business of resuscitating constitutional law” as I had predicted when he was nominated, he has regrettably done nothing of the sort.
As so frequently occurs, the Bill of Rights has become for government officials, the media, and many civilians, an inconvenience. Today, people speak in tones of shock about early 20th century photographs of people lustily watching lynchings. Well, a huge crowd is watching the lynching of Steven Hatfill, and I see lots of smiles.
The Department of Justice has no legal power to decide whom Louisiana State University or any other employer may hire, or for how long. Officials at Justice can only decide whom they will hire to the Department itself. Their invention of yet another pretext for terrorizing Steven Hatfill is an abuse of power, and illegal.
It is time for Mr. Ashcroft to go.