When news broke that Wen Ho Lee's release from jail was imminent, many in the Asian-American communities sighed in relief. Thank God, Wen Ho Lee is out of jail and maybe he will even get his pension back.
Yes, we are all elated to see him leave prison after nine months of solitary confinement. No one could expect him to be a martyr to fight for total vindication when we saw the ferocious manner in which the government officials built its case with the trumped-up charges. Yes, we rejoice at his regained liberty, albeit, as a felon (for knowingly mishandling classified information). But this is a bittersweet resolution that many of us find hard to swallow.
In his plea bargain, Lee chose freedom in exchange for accepting excessive punishment before trial for a crime that was never committed. This is a cruel choice. To be singled out for prosecution solely because of one's ethnic origin and to accept that as part of the bargain is painful for us all to endure.
In the past months, we have witnessed the dedication of Lee's defense team in dueling with our Goliath government, the protests and agitation from pockets of Chinese-American communities, and above all, from individuals who put their professional reputations on the line to speak up.
We have also witnessed a double standard of justice. When Lee passed several polygraph tests, the results were labeled inconclusive. When a FBI agent lied under oath, it was accepted as a honest mistake. When former CIA Director John Deutch committed a far more egregious offense by mishandling truly classified information, he escaped prosecution altogether!
Harvard law Prof. Alan Dershowitz was quoted on Sept. 11 by the Associated Press that he believes the Wen Ho Lee jailing without bail was imposed only to elicit a guilty plea. "This case stinks," Dershowitz said, "and the resolution doesn't make it smell any better. It only makes the contestants happy, but it shouldn't make the public happy."
Many Chinese and Asian-Americans who care a great deal about Lee's personal plight also view his case in the context of civil rights and equal treatment under the law for ethnic minorities. Will those government officials who persecuted a Chinese-American, in the midst of the China nuclear hysteria unleashed by the Cox report, ever be held accountable? Will powerful politicians continue to stay mum and look the other way or will we be witnessing a new round of politically motivated blame games?
In short, will ethnic minorities receive equal justice and equal treatment under the law in America? And lastly, what lessons can we all learn from this unsavory chapter of American history and what actions can we take to make sure that this will never happen again?
A forum on Righting a Wrong and Equal Justice will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. The event is organized by the Justice for Wen Ho Lee Committee of Minnesota.
Kaimay Yuen Terry of Edina, MN is the Chair of the Justice for Wen Ho Lee Committee of Minnesota.
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