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The Witch Hunt Of Michael Dini

by Christopher R. Brauchli

With Powers Like These, Can Repression Be Far Behind? (Oct 2001)
Every time you read about failings in John Ashcroft's Justice Department, it's good to be reminded that from time to time it can still take care of the really big problems -- things like developing Patriot Act II or investigating Michael Dini.

The most recent example of failings falls in the area of statistics and makes no difference except to those who hope for accuracy in what the government tells us. (Those are not the same people who constantly complain about a perceived lack of accuracy in the media.) On February 20, 2003, it was reported that the Justice Department's federal prosecutors have been inflating their success in terrorism-related convictions during the year ending September 30, 2002.

In December 2001, the General Accounting Office began a study of Federal Prosecutors' success rate in convicting terrorists. The study was begun in response to a Knight Ridder newspaper article suggesting that federal prosecutors had classified 174 convictions as involving "international terrorism" and had been wrong most of the time. According to the GAO the error rate may be even higher than suggested by the newspaper but the GAO did not review all the cases. According to the GAO, the inaccuracy "limited the ability of Congress to accurately assess terrorism-related performance outcomes of the U.S. criminal justice system."

Among the cases that were classified as involving "international terrorism" was the arrest of illegal immigrants who worked at airports around the country. Justice Department, Mark Corallo said arresting illegal immigrants working at airports was part of antiterrorist efforts to protect airports but agreed they were not "international terrorism" cases. Other cases that were classified as "international terrorism" cases involved prisoners rioting for better food, passengers getting drunk on airplanes and erratic behavior by people with mental illnesses. The case of a Mexican citizen who filed a phony passport application in San Francisco was labeled a terrorist case. The San Francisco U.S. Attorney's office placed the same label on a man who went into an FBI office threatening to kill President Clinton when he was no longer president.

According to the GAO report, the Department of Justice "does not have sufficient management oversight and internal controls in place to ensure the accuracy and reliability of terrorism-related conviction statistics included in its annual performance reports." That does not mean the Justice Department is falling down on all fronts. It has been busy working on Patriot Act II which hopes to make us all safe from everything and everyone except the government. It has also found time to investigate people like Michael Dini.

Dr. Dini is a professor at Texas Tech University. The Justice Department has begun investigating him which, given all the other things it has to do these days, shows what a conscientious man John Ashcroft is.

Dr. Dini teaches biology. As a teacher he is often asked by students to give them recommendations for advanced studies. A scientist who believes in evolution, on his web site Dr. Dini advises students who are seeking references from him that they must "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of how the human species originated. As he explains on his site: "How can someone who does not accept the most important theory in biology expect to properly practice in a field that is so heavily based on biology?" Micah Spradling and Mr. Ashcroft have the answer.

Mr. Spradling sat in on two sessions of Dr. Dini's introductory biology class and looked at Dr. Dini's web site. Armed with that bit of learning and assuming his best callow student pose he said that there was "no way" he would have enrolled in Dr. Dini's class or asked him for a recommendation to medical school. Why Mr. Spradling thought he needed a recommendation to medical school from the teacher of an introductory biology class was not explained.

Mr. Spradling did not simply boycott Dr. Dini's class. He went to the Liberty Legal Institute, a group of Christian lawyers in Plano, Texas. The group filed a complaint with the Justice Department. The Justice Department could have responded to the Plano lawyers by telling them that it was really busy coming up with language for Patriot Act II, hunting down terrorists, trying the ones they'd already found and trying to properly classify the kinds of crimes for which it was arresting people. It could have said that even when time permitted it needed to spend time looking for garden variety criminals who love the United States and wish it no ill, but have an uncontrollable urge to sell drugs, rob banks, steal from shareholders of large corporations and do the sorts of things for which patriotic crooks have long been celebrated in film and fiction. The Justice Department did not take the easy way out. Instead it commenced a formal investigation of Dr. Dini.

The Justice Department investigation has had an effect even before it has arrived at what is surely an obvious conclusion. Before the investigation started Dr. Dini's web site stated that he required students to "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of how the human species originated. After the investigation commenced he changed the language. His site now says that he wants students to "give a scientific answer" to the question: "How do you account for the scientific origin of the human species." What Mr. Ashcroft will conclude we wait to learn with bated breath.

A budding intellectual, Mr. Spradling explained his actions saying: "They've taken prayer out of schools and the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms, so I thought I had an opportunity to make a difference." He made less of a difference than he might have hoped. Opening an investigation makes John Ashcroft and the Justice Department look like fools. That is a difference that is no difference.

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Albion Monitor February 25, 2003 (

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