WASHINGTON – A documentary seven years in the making tying Bill Clinton to an Arkansas prison blood scandal that spread AIDS to thousands around the world is set to screen in Hollywood next week – renewing controversy about the long-forgotten story.
The film, which premieres at the prestigious American Film Institute film festival next Tuesday, reportedly uncovers fresh evidence about how thousands in Europe contracted AIDS and hepatitis through tainted blood deliberately shipped even after widespread problems were discovered in Canada where some 10,000 had already been infected.
“Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal,” made by Kelly Duda, an Arkansas native, will reveal new details about how inmates at an Arkansas jail were paid to donate blood despite authorities knowing they had AIDS and hepatitis.
The documentary shows how senior figures in the state prison system altered prisoners’ medical records to make it look like they were not carrying the deadly diseases.
“While making this documentary, I lost several things. I lost my president, my home state, my family, many friends, and my innocence,” says Duda.
The film reveals how for more than two decades, the Arkansas prison system profited from selling blood plasma from inmates infected with viral hepatitis and AIDS. Thousands of unwitting victims who received transfusions of a product called “Factor 8″ made from this blood died as a result.
Duda interviews victims in Canada who contracted the diseases, state prison officials, former employees, high-ranking Arkansas politicians, and inmate donors.
“In the early days of AIDS, we at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) were surprised that the hemophiliac community was infected so rapidly,” said Dr. Donald Francis, former head of the AID Laboratory for the CDC. “This shocking documentary tells why.”
Duda, who has worked with CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Associated Press Television in their coverage of the blood-scandal story, says he was followed, sued, burglarized and had his tires slashed while working on the documentary. He was also part of the team for Fuji-TV that produced “The Hepatitis C Epidemic: A 15-Year Government Cover-up.” The program won a George Foster Peabody Award in 2003 and was watched by more than 12 million viewers in Japan.
He also worked as a consultant in two major class-action lawsuits in Europe and Japan where plasma from Arkansas’ prison system showed up. He also assisted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in its investigation of the Arkansas prison plasma sales. He has also been in talks with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI about a possible investigation in the United States.
“Kelly Duda’s film screams to be known about,” says William Gazecki, producer-director of “WACO: The Rules of Engagement.” “The blatant abuse of power, the criminal subjugation of prison inmates, and the complete absence of government oversight and accountability make for a compelling, must-see story.”
“Prior to the making of ‘Factor 8,’ I never considered myself an investigative journalist,” says Duda. “In fact, I had never written a newspaper article before in my life. I was an aspiring filmmaker who had a story thrown into his lap. Actually, it wasn’t even a story at the time but a series of events that allegedly took place in my home state in the 1980s. It was a tale I didn’t want to tell, but the more I looked into it, the more I found. It didn’t take long before I realized that regardless of the cost and sacrifice, the story you’re about to see which is a complicated one had to be told. There where quite literally lives at stake. I felt a moral responsibility, a civic duty to do something.”
The organization, which distributed the blood in the 1980s, paid a fine of $4,000 for causing more than 1,000 Canadians to contract blood-borne HIV and as many as 20,000 to become infected with hepatitis C.
As part of the plea deal, Canadian Red Cross Secretary General Dr. Pierre Duplessis issued a public apology via videotape that was played in the courtroom to survivors of the victims.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Bill Clinton was at the center of a scandal in Arkansas in the 1980s involving the sale of AIDS-tainted blood to Canada, which was distributed through the Red Cross.
As governor of Arkansas, Clinton awarded a contract to Health Management Associates to provide medical care to the state’s prisoners. The president of the company was a long-time friend and political ally of Clinton and later was appointed by him to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. Later, he was among the senior members of Clinton’s 1990 gubernatorial re-election team.
The death toll from the tainted blood has grown since the figure of 3,000 was calculated in 1997, but recent estimates are not available, the Associated Press reported.
Duplessis said the organization accepted responsibility for “having distributed harmful products for those that rely on us for their health.”
Prosecutors dropped criminal charges, including criminal negligence and common nuisance.
The Canadian Red Cross already has paid victims $55 million in a separate fund. Along with the fine, the charity will set aside $1.2 million for scholarships for family members of victims.
The Arkansas connection to Canada’s blood scandal began with a deal Health Management Associates struck with the state allowing collection and sale of prisoners’ blood in addition to treatment.
Because of the exploding AIDS crisis, U.S. regulations did not permit the sale of prisoners’ blood within the country.
But HMA found a willing buyer in Montreal, which brokered a deal with Connaught, a Toronto blood-fractionator, which didn’t know the source of the supplies.
Sales continued until 1983, when HMA revealed that some of the plasma might be contaminated with the AIDS virus and hepatitis. The blood was also marketed overseas.
Michael Galster, who conducted orthopedic clinics in the Arkansas prison system during the period the blood was collected, charged HMA officials knew the blood was tainted as they sold it to Canada and a half-dozen other foreign countries. He also alleged Clinton knew of the scheme and likely benefited from it financially.
“It may sound sensational, but I assure you it’s true. In the process of making ‘Factor 8,’ I received strange phone calls, I was followed, my house was broken into, my tires slashed, and sensitive information – including my personal notes – mysteriously appeared on the Internet,” recounts Duda. “I also had a gun pointed at the back of my head, there was a murder, and a key inmate informant was whisked out of state and put into isolation.”
He says when he went looking for Clinton’s governor’s papers to find state documents relevant to his investigation, he was told that 4,000 boxes had been hidden away in private storage and could not be found.
“When I went to the Arkansas State Health Department to request records regarding disease rates at the prison and anything about the plasma program, I was stonewalled,” he said. “I actually had to sue the state agency just to get access to its files that by law are supposed to be a matter of public record. When I went to the Arkansas State Police Headquarters key documents had disappeared. When complete strangers showed up out of the blue asking me what I was doing and with whom did I work for, I had to ask myself, ‘What’s going on here?
One thing is for certain, if I had a dollar for every time someone (in the past seven years I’ve been investigating this story) told me to “be careful!” I could have paid my rent several times over.”
Duda says in 2004 he was sued shortly before “FACTOR 8″ was to screen in Park City, Utah. A federal judge blocked the premiere. The case eventually was settled out of court but set his project back nearly two years.
Suzi Parker, writing in Salon.com, described how the scandal unfolded: “At the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas penal system during the 1980s, while President Clinton was still governor, inmates would regularly cross the prison hospital’s threshold to give blood, lured by the prospect of receiving $7 a pint. The ritual was creepy to behold: Platoons of prisoners lying supine on rows of cots, waiting for the needle-wielding prisoner orderly to puncture a vein and watch the clear bags fill with blood. Administrators then sold the blood to brokers, who in turn shipped it to other states and to Japan, Italy, Spain and Canada. Despite repeated warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, Arkansas kept its prison plasma program running until 1994 when it became the very last state to cease selling its prisoners’ plasma.”
While working at the White House, Linda Tripp – the former assistant to both Vincent Foster and Bernard Nussbaum – said received a phone call from someone who mentioned the “tainted blood issue.” The phone call came just after Foster’s mysterious death. The phrase meant nothing to Tripp and when she tried to find out more from a White House computer, the database denied her access. Testifying in a Judicial Watch deposition, Tripp said, “It had been alarming to me that when I tried to enter data from a caller that I was working with on a tainted blood issue, that every time I entered a word that had to do with this particular issue, it would flash up either the word ‘encrypted’ or ‘password required’ or something to indicate the file was locked.”
The Ottawa Citizen reported attorney Foster had defended a lawsuit against HMA, the Arkansas firm shipping tainted blood from prison inmates.
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