Should Steven Hatfill Get the Nobel Peace Prize?
This is an enraging, frustrating article to be sure, highlighting once again that cheesy cloak-and-dagger speculation is no match for good old fashioned gumshoe work in uncovering the facts. I was literally in tears reading how a strapping, enthusiastic, and eccentric scientist was reduced to an unemployed, disheartened shadow of himself, watching himself be accused on TV while federal agents tailed his every move.
However, midway through the article changes. We are introduced to an American who was always a bit "off," a bit of a weirdo, a weight-lifting, tobacco-chewing, rare-steak-eating, superphysician novelist who dressed in black (I like him already), who anguished over having to administer experimental drugs to animals, who tended the ailments of indigenous peoples, and who is determined to revolutionize medical labs.
I remember the FBI sweep of his apartment, and the press conference that Hatfill's attorney gave. "Guilty or not," I thought, "he is presumed innocent, and this is a travestry." Of course, I had no way of forming an opinion about Hatfill's guilt or innocence, but if we Americans rush to judgment, we may as well let the terrorists win and go back to being a colony of Great Britain.
However, I did not become convinced that Steven Hatfill is a deserving candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize merely because he fought injustice and won exoneration. Nor do I think it because his fight was also on behalf of all of us, Americans who must cherish and uphold due process, and who must insist that journalists act like investigators instead of the government lapdogs that they have become. This is what convinced me that Steven Hatfill should at least be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize:
When he had had enough, when he was done with watching the television in his girlfriend's home (having lost his own home, any job prospects, and his health insurance), when he was done drinking a little too much, eating too much chocolate (at least he has good taste!), and feeling sorry for himself, Steven Hatfill dug out his old textbooks and began studying again, and then signed up to be part of the relief effort in Sri Lanka after the tsunami. Healing people helped him to heal himself.
He also had an epiphany: build mobile labs to be able to penetrate the remote areas of the earth, where the plants and fungi, out of which antibiotics are made, are found! The FBI tailed him to the hobby shop and back, after which Hatfill began designing his vision in modeling clay.
For Hatfill, rebuilding remains painful and slow. He enters post offices only if he absolutely must, careful to show his face to surveillance cameras so that he can’t be accused of mailing letters surreptitiously. He tries to document his whereabouts at all times, in case he should ever need an alibi. He is permanently damaged, Hatfill says. Yet he still professes to love America. “My country didn’t do this to me,” he is quick to point out. “A bloated, incompetent bureaucracy and a broken press did. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t still love my country.”
Much of Hatfill’s time these days is devoted to teaching life-saving medical techniques to military personnel bound for combat. They are his “band of brothers,” and the hours he spends with them, Hatfill says, are among his happiest. He also serves as an adjunct associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University.
Then there is his boat.
Hatfill has committed $1.5 million to building his floating genetic laboratory, a futuristic-looking vessel replete with a helicopter, an operating room to treat rural indigenous peoples, and a Cordon Bleu–trained chef. Hatfill intends to assemble a scientific team and cruise the Amazon for undiscovered or little-known plants and animals. From these organisms, he hopes to develop new medications for leukemia, and for tuberculosis and other diseases that have been growing increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics. Any useful treatments, he says, will be licensed to pharmaceutical companies on the condition that developing nations receive them at cost. Hatfill hopes to christen the boat within two years. Scientists at USAMRIID, where the FBI once suspected him of stealing anthrax, have expressed tentative interest in helping him mount his expedition.Throughout it all, one gets the sense of a man who really, really loves his country and what he does, and whose greatest desire is to help others. He is bitter toward the government bureaucracy, but not the people of the United States who comprise the true government. His suffering was unimaginable, and yet now he's going to go on safari in his super-boat for more medical cures. He more resembles Superman temporarily weakened by Kryptonite, or Indiana Jones, than a victim of a Kafkaesque bureaucracy. I can hardly believe that someone like this exists! It is a testament to how resilient the human conscience, and our capacity for creativity, really is.
It is time that journalists quit merely reporting Hatfill's lawsuits for libel, and start talking about what this extraordinary man has done and is doing. I know what reading this article did for me. It scared me and made me angry, but it also filled me with gratitude that there are people out there willing to stand up for our rights, and to reclaim their passion despite what the entire world thinks of them. Isn't that what the Nobel Peace Prize represents?
Thank you, Steven Hatfill. I doubted your guilt and applauded your exoneration, but now you are a hero in my eyes.