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Justice Department Corrects Court Filing In Anthrax Suit

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department corrected a legal filing Tuesday to reassert its conclusion that a lone federal scientist in the fall of 2001 staged the anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

Court papers the department submitted last Friday suggested that the government had altered its position regarding circumstantial evidence pointing to Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator.

On Tuesday, the department said that it was not altering its position and that the earlier filing contained “inaccurate information.”

The court filings, prepared by the Justice Department’s civil division, came in a $50 million lawsuit filed by the widow of the first anthrax victim.

The Justice Department is trying to get a federal judge in Florida to dismiss the suit filed by Maureen Stevens. Her late husband worked in Boca Raton at American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, Sun, and Globe tabloids, when he was exposed to anthrax. He died Oct. 5, 2001.

The lawsuit contends that the government was negligent in failing to adequately safeguard strains of anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.

The government’s motions contend there is no proof its actions, or lack of adequate security or precautions, was the direct cause of Stevens’ death. The motions also reject Stevens’ claims that the Army facility had a history dating back to at least 1992 of missing pathogens and failure to track dangerous microbes.

Tuesday’s Justice Department correction involved whether a containment laboratory at Fort Detrick, where Ivins worked, had equipment that could be used to turn anthrax from a liquid into the powder form used in the attacks. The filing last Friday said the containment lab did not have the equipment — a statement sharply at odds with the conclusion of the FBI criminal investigation of Ivins. Tuesday’s filing said that a containment laboratory did contain such equipment, though it said it was not in the specific containment laboratory where the anthrax used in the attacks was stored.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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