A judge overturns a conviction that put a now 75-year-old man in prison for 20 years based on false information provided by the intelligence agency of that country. The old Soviet Union? China? Zimbabwe? No, try the United States.
The conviction took place in 1983, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The agency that provided the deliberately false information that brought about the conviction and long sentence was the Central Intelligence Agency, the same bunch that missed or fouled up the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The victim of this piece of serious, deliberate injustice was Edwin P. Wilson, a former employee of the CIA. Now, Mr. Wilson was definitely no angel. Convictions of him, for example, that have not been thrown out include one for attempted murder and another for illegally selling arms to Libya.
At the same time, what the CIA did to Mr. Wilson when he was on trial was state in writing that he had provided no services to the CIA after his retirement 12 years before, when, in fact, he had been in contact with the agency on at least 40 occasions during the period in question. In other words, the CIA lied to help prosecutors convict him. He got 17 years.
Fortunately for Mr. Wilson, he and his lawyer, David Adler, never gave up, insisting that the U.S. government permit the lawyer to review hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that in the end verified the former agent s continued contacts with the agency over the years.
Two weeks ago a federal judge in Houston overturned the 1983 conviction, ruling that federal prosecutors had knowingly used false testimony to enable them to obtain it. If the government doesn t appeal the decision, the 20 years of his life that Mr. Wilson has served in prison could make him eligible for parole on the two other concurrent sentences he is serving.
It is essential that the federal government not appeal the reversal of the conviction, given the almost unbelievable dirty tricks that the CIA and the Justice Department used to put Mr. Wilson in prison. If he is eligible for parole he should be granted it as soon as possible.
We do not know what steps the current administration can take to punish those in the CIA and Justice who committed this injustice, but perjury and complicity in perjury before a federal court are certainly serious crimes.
Regarding the question of how this could happen in the United States, we can only say that it did. If we are in fact a nation of laws, no one, including our own intelligence agency and Department of Justice, should be free to operate outside them.
Otherwise, there isn t really a dime s worth of difference between us and totalitarian states where justice truly is a foreign concept.