Dr. Frederic Whitehurst took on the FBI because he knew that defendants had been wrongly convicted on the basis of seriously flawed testimony by the FBI crime lab. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the D.C. Superior Court overturned the conviction of a man who wrongly served 28 years in prison for killing a taxi driver. It is amazing to see the positive result of Dr. Whitehurst’s hard work. One person really can make a difference.
Sadly, Mr. Tribble was not the only victim of the misconduct by the FBI crime lab. After Dr. Whitehurst's original whistleblower disclosures, the Justice Department formed a Task Force to review thousands of cases impacted by his allegations and to determine if any individuals were wrongly convicted. Although the Justice Department and FBI pledged to correct their mistakes, documents obtained by the NWC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show they failed.
Last month, the Washington Post published a series of articles about the failures in the Task Force’s “investigation,” including that they never issued a final report and did not inform defendants about the misconduct in their cases. Once again, this only came to light because Dr. Whitehurst followed through on his personal vow to find out who was harmed. He was the one who lead the NWC Forensic Justice Project’s FOIA fight to release the documents about the Task Force.
The Task Force was supposed to be the solution, but it clearly wasn’t. The fact that a court overturned Mr. Tribble’s conviction just weeks after the Washington Post’s expose is further proof that only when we embrace the truth and admit mistakes can we find justice.
At Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, Senators Grassley and Leahy questioned FBI Director Mueller about the Task Force failures. There are many defendants who were harmed by the FBI’s misconduct. The question, thanks to Dr. Whitehurst, is how many cases like Mr. Tribble’s will now be corrected.
Hopefully, all of this public attention will force the FBI to clean up its act. The FBI’s standard operating procedure is to protect the bureau at all costs. They hide information that embarrasses the FBI, and they fight to the end when employees dare to question the FBI. Just ask Jane Turner and Robert Kobus. Their cases have been pending in the FBI whistleblower process for 10 and 4 years, respectively. Senator Grassley demanded answers from the FBI about why their cases are taking so long to resolve, but he has been stonewalled. As so aptly said by Senator Grassley, “At some point, the FBI needs to own up to the retaliation and end these cases. That is something within the Director's power something he could and should do immediately.”
The question we may never get the answer to is why the FBI spends its resources to hide its mistakes, rather than to fix them.