LOCAL COMMENT: Justice Department retaliation is destructive and uncalled for
January 7, 2005
BY VAL CONVERTINO
In the nation's first terrorism trial after the 9/11 attacks, a federal court jury in Detroit convicted three men.
Despite having those convictions tossed aside, and although they had already served several years in prison, two of the defendants have been re-indicted on lesser charges. The reason for the new indictments should be clear to everyone: The Department of Justice still believes these men are terrorists and wants them out of the country. Without a conviction, they cannot be deported. Why else would the Justice Department invest more time and money on charges that would not normally be brought to state courts, let alone the federal system?
The highly publicized retaliatory efforts against the lead prosecutor in the original terrorism case, my husband, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino, led to the inevitable reversal of those convictions, whether or not the decision was legally warranted. The Justice Department actions against Rick began after he testified before the Senate Finance Committee in September 2003, and were then sanctioned in December 2003 by a court-ordered "file review" of the case. The retaliation snowballed in February 2004 after Rick filed a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft, former U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins and others in the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Since then, the Justice Department has seized Rick's computer, mail and work files; read all of his e-mails; launched at least four investigations; and purposefully defamed his name and reputation with "anonymous" leaks. All of these actions were done by people who have taken an oath to uphold the law. This was done for two reasons. The Justice Department realized that a stellar career such as Rick's couldn't be destroyed without undermining his past successes, including the terrorism convictions, and that it couldn't allow Rick's lawsuit to proceed because of the internal Justice Department problems that would be exposed.
Under the guise of "investigations" into Rick's conduct, the government has been able to prevent Rick's attorneys from gaining access to internal memos, interviews, e-mails and other records that would dispute questions into his conduct. His attorneys are also prevented from deposing individuals involved in, and interviewed during, the "file review" of the terrorism case. If the government has "done the right thing" by overturning these convictions, why block the lawsuit and access to this information?
The government and other law enforcement agencies have unstoppable power to open up investigation after investigation against whistleblowers within their organizations. Luckily, there is an agency called the Office of Special Counsel, which was created to protect government employees from abuse of this power. The Office of Special Counsel has decided to open an investigation into the actions taken against Rick, and it has the ability to gain access to all of the things my husband's lawyers are currently being denied. Special Counsel investigators also can analyze personnel actions and the motives behind them to finally expose this unprecedented Justice Department behavior as the retaliation it is.
Rick Convertino has served his country well for 15 years as a government prosecutor. Through his willingness to take on time-consuming, complex and even controversial trials, he has consistently done what is best for the citizens, not what would have been easiest for himself or his family.
Current Detroit U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, who was himself accused of serious prosecutorial misconduct in the past -- although after an investigation, no action was taken against him -- was quoted as saying the Justice Department has "stepped up to the plate" by reversing the terrorism convictions. But Rick, in fact, was really the only one who was willing to step up to the plate by being the first and only federal prosecutor to try a terrorism "sleeper cell" case before a jury. Since then, all the Justice Department has done is throw 95 m.p.h. pitches at his head -- and for internal political reasons, not legal ones.
Enough is enough.
Taxpayers have paid and are continuing to pay for the defense of the terrorism suspects and for the unprecedented nine-month reinvestigation of the case, which involved the Justice Department doing everything in its power to overturn its own hard-won convictions. The taxpayers also have paid for the yearlong investigation of Rick Convertino.
After how the Justice Department has treated Rick, what other assistant U.S. attorney in his or her right mind would ever try a sleeper-cell case again? How will the Justice Department's actions affect future such cases? Will there ever even be another one? The taxpayers deserve a look behind the scenes at how the Justice Department is really mishandling this "war on terror."
Rick has a lot of support, but you would never think so from the slanted press coverage of this matter. Not only is it past time for the government to stop trying to destroy our lives, it is also time for our constitutionally guaranteed "free press" to become a "fair and accurate" press as well.
VAL CONVERTINO is a registered nurse who has been married to Rick Convertino for 19 years. The couple has five children.