Albuquerque Journal
June 11, 2003 (editorial)

Unchecked Power Is An Invitation to Abuse

Anyone who harbors no misgivings about the Justice Department cure being worse than the ailment of terrorism ought to study the case of Wen Ho Lee. But that's not possible, because the Justice Department won't allow it.

The Office of Professional Responsibility of the Justice Department -- a name that rings Orwellian in this context -- is refusing to release a report on the investigation of the former Los Alamos scientist.

A previous department report on the earlier phase of the Lee case stated that the FBI's bungling was even more serious than previously believed. But that report followed the investigation only through March 1999. In December 1999, Lee was indicted and ordered into solitary confinement for nine months before a deal dropping 58 of 59 charges.

The second report, requested by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act, is "the other half of the puzzle," according to the federation's Steven Aftergood. He says the report was a response to U.S. District Judge James Parker's stern rebuke of the Justice Department after its case fell apart.

In excoriating the department and apologizing to Lee, Parker posed what he said was the central unanswered question: "What was the government's motive in insisting on your being jailed pretrial under extraordinarily onerous conditions of confinement until today, when the Executive Branch agrees that you may be set free essentially unrestricted?"

It's a question the government needs to answer. Parker also observed that "the Executive Branch has enormous power, the abuse of which can be devastating to our citizens."

Indeed, abuse of that power can be devastating to the foundation of this country, the Constitution, unless the other branches of government exercise their responsibility to check that power.

A start: Congress should pry the Office of Professional Responsibility report out of the Justice Department and make it public.

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