05.12.10

Leahy, Sessions Ask Attorney General For Information On Hoax Calls To Military Families

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) Wednesday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for information about the Justice Department’s investigation into hoax phone calls to families of members of the military serving overseas.  The hoax phone calls were reported as early as 1991, and have been placed in Vermont, Alabama, and elsewhere across the country.

Federal officials have opened an investigation into hoax phone calls made to families of Vermont National Guard.  The calls incorrectly told families that their loved ones were killed or wounded in Afghanistan.  Leahy and Sessions requested that the Justice Department provide an update on the Justice Department’s investigation and decisions in the case.  Leahy and Sessions also requested information about whether the Department is in need of additional authorities to protect military families from these hoaxes.

The full text of the letter follows.  A PDF is available online.

May 12, 2010

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We are writing in connection with the troubling phenomenon of hoax phone calls to families of members of the military serving overseas.  The families of the men and women serving in our armed forces give so much to the country that it is intolerable for them to have to face the added trauma of false reports of harm to their loved ones.  We must ensure that these hoaxes are adequately investigated and punished.

Just this month, a Federal criminal investigation was opened into hoax phone calls made to families of Vermont National Guard soldiers.  The late-night phone calls telling families, incorrectly, that their loved ones were killed or wounded in Afghanistan, were devastating to the families that received them.  Such behavior is appalling and may be criminal, and we appreciate the Justice Department looking into the matter.

Although the hoax calls reported to the Justice Department this month involved Vermont families, similar incidents have occurred throughout the country, including in Alabama, and have been reported since as early as 1991, when service members were deployed during the first Gulf War.  It is important that the callers in these kinds of cases be held accountable for their actions to ensure that this despicable conduct does not spread.

We look forward to an update, when appropriate, on the Justice Department’s investigation and decisions in this case.  Appropriately, a criminal statute directly addressing this conduct, 18 United States Code section 1038, was enacted in 2004.  We would appreciate information on whether and how this statute has been used to date, as well as your view on whether the Justice Department needs any additional authorities to protect our military families from this type of behavior.  We look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,

PATRICK LEAHY                                 JEFF SESSIONS
Chairman                                          Ranking Member

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