As the October 31 date for the resumption of the trial of the Tripoli 6 looms, the world scientific community is weighing in. From the ScienceNow section of the journal Science:
U.S. scientists are adding their voices to mounting international pressure on Libya to release six foreign medical workers who could face execution within weeks. A letter published online today by Science–written by virologist Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, Maryland, and co-discoverer of HIV, and signed by 43 other scientists–accuses the Libyan government of using the medics as scapegoats for the accidental infection with HIV of more than 400 children at a hospital in Benghazi.
Libyan police rounded up the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor in 1999 and used torture to extract confessions that they had deliberately infected the children as an act of bioterrorism, according to human rights organizations. European scientists say poor hygiene likely caused the outbreak before the medics started working in the country (Science, 8 April 2005, p. 184).
Gallo joins HIV co-discoverer, Dr. Luc Montagnier, in condemning the Libyan miscarriage of justice. Montagnier, Gallo and Italian HIV virologist Vittorio Colizzi have examined the scientific evidence and found it grossly deficient:
The scientific evidence supported the medics’ innocence, says Vittorio Colizzi, a virologist at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” and an expert witness in the case. But it was disregarded by a Benghazi judge in 2004 in favor of damning testimony by Libyan doctors that was “full of errors and misunderstandings of basic molecular biology.”
Gallo is especially fierce in his comments, threatening to launch a full scale scientific boycott of Libya:
If the medics are not given a reprieve, says Gallo, “I will do everything I possibly can, starting with a call for an emergency session of the [U.S.] Academies of Science” to consider a “full scientific embargo.” And if Libya decides to free the medics, Gallo says international praise and support should be equally swift: “They need to know that this virus is a problem for all of us, and we scientists can help.”
Science is the official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They now join the U.K.’s Royal Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Federation of the European Academies of Medicine, among others, in expressing dismay at the Libyan action.
The text and signatories of the Science letter can be found here (.pdf).