Four days after filing court documents saying that Bruce Ivins did not have the equipment needed to prepare the anthrax powder used in the 2001 attacks, the U.S. Department of Justice took back that statement Tuesday and said it stands by its belief that Ivins was the sole perpetrator in the attacks. (For more on this development, see Wednesday's Frederick News-Post.
The statement in question was part of several documents filed July 15 in a U.S. District Court in Southern Florida as part of a civil case brought against the federal government by the family of Robert Stevens, the first of five people to die in the anthrax attacks.
The U.S. Department of Justice has found itself having to point out holes in its own case against the late Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins, accused of having committed the 2001 anthrax attacks, in order to fend off a civil court case by the family of one of the victims.
In a series of documents filed in the District Court in Florida, the federal government seeks to prove it was not liable for the events that unfolded in September and October 2001, when five people were killed and 17 more sickened from anthrax circulated through the mail system.
In seeking to prove the anthrax attacks were not foreseeable ----and therefore government actions to prevent the attacks could not have been conceived ----the Justice Department says that Stevens, the photo editor for a Florida tabloid, was the first human ever in the United States to be killed in a bioterrorism attack and the first person in the US to die from inhaling anthrax since 1976. It also outlines the rarity of mass murders and the difficulty in predicting them because of the complexity behind a person developing into a mass murderer.
However, the Justice Department also discusses the anthrax letters themselves, saying it is unclear when preparation of the anthrax attacks began. The Justice Department notes the very points that many have said prove that Ivins could not have committed the attacks: that the anthrax used in the attacks originated from but did not come directly from Ivins' flask, that the government's anthrax was "genetically similar, but dissimilar in its form, to the anthrax that resulted in the death of Robert Stevens," and that the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases "did not have the specialized equipment in a containment laboratory that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters."
The unforeseeable nature of the attacks, and therefore them being unpreventable, was one of three tactics the Justice Department used in its motions to dismiss the case or move to summary judgment. These three motions were filed Friday and recently discovered by a team of investigative reporters from McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica and PBS's Frontline.
One of the motions to dismiss the case argues that accepting Ivins as the killer means the victim's family cannot receive compensation because federal government employees' actions related to their employment cannot be held against the government. Dismissing the notion that Ivins was the killer also negates the lawsuit, the Justice Department argues, because not being able to prove who the killer was and what his or her methods were means the plaintiffs cannot prove where the government showed negligence.
The other motion to dismiss the case revolved around the argument that, regardless of whether Ivins was the real killer, the plaintiffs cannot prove that USAMRIID policy or procedure, or the breach thereof, led to anthrax attacks.