Anthrax settlement doesn’t address reporters’ issue or solve case

By | June 30, 2008

How much is the settlement? Some say $5.85 million, but there are several other figures out there too. There seems to be a confusion curse on the entire anthrax case. Based on the timing and the people targeted the anthrax attacks seemed to be an act of political terrorism intended to help get the Patriot Act passed.

The U.S. government will pay $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Steven Hatfill, a former U.S. Army biodefense researcher who was intensively investigated as a “person of interest” in the deadly anthrax letters of 2001, the Justice Department announced Friday.

The settlement, consisting of $2.825 million in cash and an annuity worth $1.8 million that will pay Hatfill $150,000 a year for 20 years, brings to an end a five-year legal battle.

Hatfill, who worked at the army’s laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, in the late 1990s, was the subject of a flood of news media coverage beginning in mid-2002, after television cameras showed FBI agents in biohazard suits searching his apartment near the army base. John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, later called him a “person of interest” in the case on national television.

In a news conference in August 2002, Hatfill tearfully denied that he had anything to do with the anthrax letters and said irresponsible news media coverage based on government leaks had destroyed his reputation.

Hatfill’s lawsuit, filed in 2003, accused FBI agents and Justice Department officials involved in the criminal investigation of the anthrax mailings of leaking information about him to the news media in violation of the Privacy Act. In order to prove their case, his lawyers took depositions from key FBI investigators, senior officials and a number of reporters who had covered the investigation.

Mark Grannis, a lawyer for Hatfill, said his client was pleased with the settlement.

“The good news is that we still live in a country where a guy who’s been horribly abused can go to a judge and say, ‘I need your help,’ and maybe it takes a while, but he gets justice,” Grannis said. … The settlement, Grannis said, “means that Steven Hatfill is finally an ex-person of interest.”…

Nearly seven years after the toxic letters were mailed, killing five people and sickening at least 17 others, the case has not been solved.

An FBI spokesman, Jason Pack, said the anthrax investigation, “is one of the largest and most complex investigations ever conducted by law enforcement.”

“Solving this case is a top priority for the FBI and for the family members of the victims who were killed,” Pack said. “Our commitment is undiminished.” – iht

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