Anthrax Probe of Pakistani-Americans
By Riaz Haq
Dr. Bruce Ivins, a US Army scientist, committed suicide as federal prosecutors prepared an indictment alleging he mailed anthrax-laced letters in 2001 in what authorities said Friday may have been a bizarre attempt to test a vaccine for the deadly poison. Listed as co-inventor of the anthrax vaccine that VaxGen planned to market, the scientist worked at the Army's biodefense labs at Ft. Detrick, Md., for 18 years until his death on Tuesday. While financial gain from the vaccine may have been a motive, the media reports indicate he had a long history of homicidal threats.
Five people died and 17 others became ill when anthrax-laced letters began arriving at congressional offices, newsrooms and post offices soon after Sept. 11, 2001.
"As far back as the year 2000, the respondent (Ivins) has actually attempted to murder several other people, either through poisoning. He is a revenge killer. When he feels that he's been slighted or has had -- especially toward women -- he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killings," Jean Duley, Ivins's therapist, said.
She added that Ivins "has been forensically diagnosed by several top psychiatrists as a sociopathic, homicidal killer. I have that in evidence. And through my working with him, I also believe that to be very true."
Prior to Ivins, the focus of the investigation was on Dr. Steven Hatfill, American physician, virologist and bio-weapons expert, and several Pakistani-American city employees in Chester, PA.
After wrongly suspecting and investigating Pakistani-Americans and Army scientist Hatfill, the FBI more than a year ago began looking at Ivins, who worked at the same military lab as Dr. Hatfill. Ivins, a decorated scientist who was working on an anthrax cure, killed himself last Tuesday.
Dr. Hatfill was cleared some time ago and he successfully sued the US government for defamation and settled out of court for $5.8m.
Dr. Irshad Shaikh, a Pakistani-American city health commissioner in Chester, PA, reported in November 2001 that the FBI agents broke down his door and entered his house with guns drawn, followed by members of a hazardous materials team in moon suits and gas masks. Dr. Shaikh, 39, who was trained as a radiologist in Pakistan and holds master's and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University was subjected to several hours of questioning along with his brother, Dr. Masood Shaikh, the manager of the city's program to reduce lead hazards for children.
"The FBI can search my house any time," Dr. Irshad Shaikh said in an interview at City Hall with his brother after the FBI raid and questioning. The two are both legal immigrants and are eager to become citizens.
Dr. Masood Shaikh, 40, who was trained as a psychiatrist in Pakistan and holds a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins, is so eager to accommodate the FBI that he offered to turn over his passport, said the brothers' lawyer, Anthony F. List, who was present for the interview.
Later, FBI agents subjected the wife of another Pakistani-American, Asif Kazi, to the same treatment. Days after the raid, Mr. Kazi, a city accountant who was born in Pakistan and is now an American citizen, told the media, "I'm still in trauma," he said. "I cannot sleep properly. I cannot eat. You are worried of the fear of the unknown. What's going to happen tomorrow?"
Years after the raid at the brothers' home and at the home of their friend the FBI has charged none of the men. Nor has it provided any detail on what led to the raid, other than to say agents were acting on credible information that they had spent more than two weeks checking out.
But here are some possible reasons why FBI targeted them:
1. The FBI was influenced by the US media hype about Muslim Pakistan as the source of all terrorism, regardless of the Pakistanis' ability to access the Texan strain of anthrax used in the attacks.
2. The FBI found Cipro, an antibiotic often used in anthrax treatment, at the home of Asif Kazi. Cipro is not specific to anthrax. It is a powerful antibiotic that is used to treat many ailments.
3. The FBI agents fell victim to general Islamophobia and xenophobia in the United States which resulted in widespread abuses by the US law enforcement against people with Muslim names or of foreign birth. Post-9/11, many immigrants of Muslim faith were jailed or deported. A large number left voluntarily.
4. The FBI investigators were misled by Ivins's anonymous letter, included in the anthrax envelopes, that said "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" and assumed the source to be Muslim.
Former Senator Daschle, one of the targets of anthrax attacks, summed up his criticism of the FBI investigation by saying, "From the very beginning I've had real concerns about the quality of the investigation." Daschle further said in a broadcast interview, "Given the fact that they already paid somebody else $5 million for the mistakes they must have made gives you some indication of the overall caliber and quality of the investigation."
While the FBI has apologized and handsomely compensated Dr. Hatfill, there has not even been so much as an apology offered to the Pakistani-American victims of the FBI indiscretion. It is understandable that the FBI may have made mistakes in its zeal to investigate Pakistanis under severe pressure, but it is hard to accept why they have treated Pakistani-American targets differently in its aftermath. The FBI needs to make amends by treating their Pakistani-American targets the same way as they treated Dr. Hatfill.