Facebook Twitter

Racism blamed in Lee case

SHARE Racism blamed in Lee case

NEW YORK — The government's handling of the Wen Ho Lee case was "tainted by racism" and played up stereotypes, Asian-American civic leaders say.

Speakers at a town hall meeting before the President's Advisory Commission on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders on Monday alleged that the 60-year-old Taiwan-born scientist was unfairly singled out by prosecutors because of his Chinese background.

"If there is one stereotype about Asian-Americans that has fueled racism and discriminatory treatment, it is that Asians are perpetual foreigners whose loyalties to this country are always in question," said Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"Asian-Americans have rallied to support Dr. Wen Ho Lee because of the realization that this type of racial scapegoating could happen to any of us."

Lee, fired from his job at the Los Alamos weapons lab in March 1999, pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified material and was set free last week. The federal government dropped 58 other felony counts that once charged him with endangering nuclear secrets.

The town meeting at New York University's law school was the second of four planned meetings before the commission. The first took place in Los Angeles in July. No date has been set for the next meeting in Honolulu.

President Clinton said Friday that Lee's nine-month pretrial detention conflicted with America's disdain for "abusive executive authority," but he added that he had not seen evidence of racial profiling in the case.

The speakers disagreed.

"The government's prosecution of Dr. Wen Ho Lee was politically motivated and tainted by racism from the start," Fung said. "The government officials responsible for this debacle must be held accountable for their actions."

Another factor in the Lee case was the scarcity of Asians in leadership positions at the Los Alamos lab, said Henry Tang, president of the Committee of 100, an organization of Chinese-Americans.

"The national laboratories, despite decades of heavy Asian-American employment, have almost nonexistent Asian-American management at the director or deputy director levels," he said.

Tang urged the federal government to investigate the case "so that this whole national shame will never be repeated again."