Entry for March 28, 2006

The above photograph shows Dr. Thomas Butler treating a cholera patient in Calcutta in 1969.  It appeared in the first of seven articles in the series, “Plagued by fear” by Cleveland Plain Dealer science writer John Mangel, which started March 26, 2006.

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News alerted his readers to the series.  Materials in support of Dr. Butler can be found on that organization’s website.

Butler, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases has saved millions of lives.  His research contributed to the current practices of hydration in cases of diarhea.  In the post-9/11 world, he is also a convicted criminal.

On January 11, Butler discovered 30 vials of bubonic plague were missing from his laboratory in Lubbock Texas. Despite his eminent reputation,  his  voluntarily reporting of the missing materials and his cooperation with federal investigators, he was prosecuted as a potential terrorist for 69 counts including smuggling samples of plague bacteria into the United States, improperly transporting them within the country, and lying about them to authorities. Additional charges of theft, embezzlement and fraud were added in a second indictment. If convicted of all charges, he would have faced life in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

The outpouring of support from the scientific community included an August 15 joint letter from the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and a  November 3 letter from several Nobel laureates.

On December 1, 2003, a Texas jury acquitted Butler on charges of lying to the FBI, smuggling plague samples into the United States and illegally transporting samples. It convicted him, however, on 44 financial charges and three export violations involving a mismarked Federal Express package containing bacteria.

In February 2004, Butler surrendered his medical license and on March 10 of that year he was sentenced to two years in prison and over $50,000 in fines.  He lost an appeal of the sentence in late 2005 and was released January 2006.

 

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