The Hmong people of Southeast Asia had one of the more interesting diasporas of the 20th century. Now almost vanished from their native Laos, the largest communities of Hmong are to be found in Thailand, California, and North Carolina. Their crime? Like the Montagnards, a similarly displaced minority within Vietnam, they trusted in the United States as an ally and fought alongside Americans during the Vietnam War. Though America has accepted many as refugees, it's questionable whether the Hmong will survive as a cultural group without a real homeland.
That's the background for this troubling story by Tim Weiner concerning the Justice Department's prosecution of Vang Pao, the leader of the Hmong army during the war, for alleged violations of the Neutrality Act, which bars American residents from seeking to overthrow foreign governments. Vang, now a 78 year old refugee in San Francisco, appears to have been indicted based on one non-commital conversation with a federal undercover agent. He's portrayed as the mastermind behind a plot to land an army of refugees in Laos and take over the country. The government he once served as an ally now refers to him as a Laotian Osama Bin Laden and compares the plot to the September 11 conspiracy.
But is the government's case going to crash? Though the prosecution isn't sharing its strategy with Weiner or the New York Times, Brady material obtained by Vang's lawyers paints a disturbing picture which makes the case look like entrapment at best, or nothing at all at worst. Vang's alleged co-conspirators, none of whom directly name him as involved in the plot, appear to be fantasists or perhaps mentally ill. These are men who couldn't plot their way out of paper bag, much less lead an army across the Pacific. Meanwhile, given the Defendant's age and the length of time terrorism prosecutions drag on, there is every chance he may die before his name can be cleared.
If Weiner's story is accurate, this is a case of questionable prosecution fit to be placed alongside those of Umer Hayat and Yassin Aref. Read the story and see for yourself.