Since Wen Ho Lee was arrested in December of 1999 for allegedly mishandling nuclear secrets, new revelations surfaced, subsequently weakening the governments case against the scientist. During the course of Lees trial, testimonies revealed that federal investigators had lied to Lee about failing a lie-detector test. Lee had actually received a very high score from DOE polygraph operators.
Meanwhile, other allegations of discrimination surfaced within various labs working for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). A group of minority workers filed a complaint against DOE-contracted University of California labs, alleging glass-ceiling barriers. This came at the same time when Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson declared a zero tolerance policy for racial profiling.
In March, a group of Asian American academicians called for a boycott of DOE labs and the release of Lee. They urged all Asian American scientists not to apply for jobs at labs under contract with the DOE. Many in the API community continued to rally, protest and organize throughout the country decrying Lees treatment while he was jailed.
On Aug. 24, Lee was finally set to be freed on $1 million bail, since the presiding U.S. Judge James Parker had said the case no longer has the requisite clarity and persuasive character necessary to keep Lee in jail pending his trial. Lee was to be electronically monitored while federal authorities inspected his mail and monitored phone calls.
Just when Lee and his family thought he was finally coming home after Parker approved the $1 million bail, a team of prosecutors on Sep. 7 persuaded two Court of Appeals judges to stay Parkers decision and return Lee to jail. The federal prosecutors argued the release of Lee would endanger national security.
Family and friends reacted with frustration and anger for being taken on an emotional roller coaster ride.
On Sept. 14, Lee was released, arriving at his White Rock, N.M., home greeted by cheering family and friends. Lee was released under a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling nuclear secrets. He was sentenced to time served. The rest of the charges were dropped and Lee agreed to cooperate with the government about several missing computer tapes in question.
In a move that some would call a vindication for Lee, the presiding judge lashed out at the government for its treatment of the case, and apologized to Lee.
I sincerely apologize to you, doctor Lee, for the unfair manner in which you were held in custody by the executive branch. They have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it, the judge said.
When Lee arrived home, he signed autographs for neighboring children, cooked a meal for his family, and said he appreciated using his own bathtub for the first time in months.
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