The FBI says it is “too bad” that it can’t present its evidence against Ivins in court, while Ivins’ many defenders say that Ivins could have cleared his name in court if he were still alive.
And, now that he is dead, Ivins can’t sue the FBI for harassment and defamation.
Or can he?
The survivors of someone who has died can sue for wrongful death. No smoking gun evidence that Ivins was murdered, you say?
It doesn’t matter. The FBI was complicit in Ivins’ death, as they had him under 24/7 surveillance, and yet failed to stop him from committing suicide or treating him during his agonizing days of dying from poisoning.
At the very least, the FBI harassed Ivins until he killed himself.
The FBI also defamed Ivins and intentionally caused emotional distress.
His heirs can step into his shoes and file a lawsuit based on many of these crimes.
In addition, his family can sue the FBI on behalf of injury which they themselves have suffered. For example, Ivins’ daughter can sue for harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress based upon the FBI showing her gruesome pictures of anthrax victims and saying “your father did this!”
If the Ivins family decides to sue, the government would basically have to prove that it had a reasonable and good faith basis for its actions. Because they won’t be able to do that, the Ivins family will win in court, and Dr. Ivins’ name will be cleared.
Moreover, a lawsuit would give the family power to subpoena FBI records, to get the full details of FBI misconduct.
Indeed, if Hatfill received $5 million from the FBI, Dr. Ivins – who died because of unlawful acts by the FBI – should receive much more. While he is no longer alive to collect it, his family is.
It would be good for the country if the Ivins family sued to clear his name – both for the sake of justice, and so that the FBI is forced to find the real killers. The evidence of FBI misconduct is very strong, and – one way or the other – it led to Ivins’ death, the destruction of his reputation, and his branding as a murderer.
But the choice of whether or not to sue is a personal decision that only Ivins’ family can make.
Note: This essay oversimplifies legal principles for the sake of brevity. Dr. Ivins’ family would have to consult an attorney to advise them on what claims they could or couldn’t sue for, and the likelihood of recovery on each.