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Former Army scientist Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008 just before being formally charged with having sent the anthrax-laced letters to members of Congress that shook the nation a second time just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, may be in the midst of a posthumous redemption, so to speak:

Shortly after Ivins committed suicide in 2008, federal investigators announced that they had identified him as the mass murderer who sent the letters to members of Congress and the media. The case was circumstantial, with federal officials arguing that the scientist had the means, motive and opportunity to make the deadly powder at a U.S. Army research facility at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md.

On July 15, however, Justice Department lawyers acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins’ lab — the so-called hot suite — did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001.

The government said it continues to believe that Ivins was “more likely than not” the killer. But the filing in a Florida court did not explain where or how Ivins could have made the powder, saying only that the lab “did not have the specialized equipment” in Ivins’ secure lab “that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters.”

The government’s statements deepen the questions about the case against Ivins, who killed himself before he was charged with a crime. Searches of his car and home in 2007 found no anthrax spores, and the FBI’s eight-year, $100 million investigation never proved he mailed the letters or identified another location where he might have secretly dried the anthrax into an easily inhaled powder.

That so many credible news and scientific organizations continue to produce reports unraveling the case means the U.S. government under George W. Bush may, as it did with Osama bin Laden, have utterly failed to find the culprit and “bring him to justice.”

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