WASHINGTON – A watchdog group in Washington wants a criminal investigation into the government's handling of last October's deadly anthrax contamination at a Washington D.C. post office that left two people dead.
Judicial Watch, a public-interest group that investigates and prosecutes government what it considers government corruption and abuse, claims that documents it's turned over to a federal prosecutor prove the postal service and other government officials knew anthrax spores had leaked from a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. The group says workers at the Brentwood processing facility were never warned and the site was never shut down.
"The government does not have the right to injure people, to harm them, and that's what (officials) did through their action and inaction," Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman said Saturday.
Two postal workers, Joseph Curseen Jr. and Tomas Morris Jr., died from inhaled anthrax they contracted when working with mail in the contaminated Brentwood facility.
Judicial Watch is representing hundreds of U.S. Postal Service workers and a workers' support group called "Brentwood Exposed" in the anthrax attacks.
Russell Verney, national adviser to Judicial Watch, said the delayed treatment for workers at the postal facility proved fatal.
Judicial Watch has filed its complaint for criminal investigation with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia on Friday.
The groups says records show the decision was made not to close the facility immediately -- because it would have cost the postal service $500,000 a day. It says the decision was made despite a postal service policy written in 1999 requiring evacuation whenever anthrax was found.
The group obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents, according to Judicial Watch, contained new information in a diary or log written by a senior Brentwood postal official that shows that the postal service and U.S. government officials know on Oct. 18, 2001, that "mail was leaking" anthrax spores into the air there, and that a second anthrax spore swab test confirmed that the swabs "tested hot." But the facility was still kept open for four more days until the deaths of Curseen and Morris hit the news circuits. If the post office closed when anthrax was first detected, it would have cost the facility $500,000 per day.
The Judicial Watch complaint said a postal policy written in 1999 ordered that premises must be evacuated whenever anthrax had been found. The group wants an investigation to probe what it considers the government's reckless endangerment, manslaughter, obstruction of justice and conspiracy, among other charges.
Postal Service spokeswoman Kristin Krathwohl said the agency believed the allegations were "without merit."
"But since this complaint has been filed with the U.S. Attorney's office, we will confer with officials there," Krathwohl said Saturday.
The Brentwood facility still remains closed.
The watchdog group has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for violation of the Brentwood postal workers' civil rights, claiming that workers there - who are predominantly black - were given less attention and treatment than workers in Capitol Hill offices who may have been exposed to anthrax.
In other news, a joint congressional committee could vote this week on its findings in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The committee looked into the performance of intelligence services before the attacks. It' has also drafted proposals on how to prevent another attack from happening.
A spokesman for Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., says the panel's four leaders are assembling the recommendations for presentation to their colleagues Tuesday. They hope to have the report completed and accepted by Wednesday.
The New York Times reports the draft does not blame any individuals for failures that preceded the Sept. 11 attacks. But it does recommend a director of national intelligence, to be added to the Cabinet, and an agency for domestic intelligence, which would be based on the British office known as MI5.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.