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Mystery Surrounds Archivist's Firing

Why did President Bush give U.S. Archivist John W. Carlin the boot? Carlin, who was asked to resign last December, says he was not given a reason. But White House critics suggest that Bush may have wanted a replacement who would help keep his or his father's sensitive presidential records under wraps, The Washington Post reported on July 26.

Many of President George H.W. Bush's confidential records are scheduled to become public in January under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. But Bush Jr. issued an executive order in 2001 that "establishes new hurdles to access such records," the Post said. The order allows a former president or vice president, or the incumbent president, to block release of documents by claiming "executive privilege." Public Citizen, representing a coalition of historians, journalists and public interest groups, is challenging that order in federal court. The issue remains unresolved, but the White House earlier responded to the lawsuit by allowing 68,000 pages of Reagan materials and several thousand pages of Bush vice presidential materials to be made public.

Bush's nominee for Archivist, historian Allen Weinstein, said he supports the Presidential Records Act but added that if confirmed by the Senate he would be obliged to defend Bush's executive order against the lawsuit, the Post reported.

Meanwhile, Clinton appointee Carlin remains in office and has said he will formally resign when the new Archivist is confirmed and sworn in. That might be a while, as Senate Democrats are asking some pointed questions about the whole affair. Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee insist that Bush explain his reason for firing Carlin.

Click here for more information on the lawsuit.

Posted 07-26-2004 3:16 PM EDT

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Resurrected Records

Payroll records involving President Bush's disputed National Guard service, which the Pentagon previously said had been destroyed, have been founded and released to the news media, the New York Times reported on July 24. On June 25, responding to Freedom of Information requests by several news organizations, the Pentagon said the records were accidentally destroyed several years ago during a period when the Defense Department was trying was salvage aging microfilm.

Now they records are back. But the Times reports that the records do little to clear up lingering questions over whether Bush fulfilled his Guard commitment between May 1972 and May 1972. The records show that Bush did not perform service in July, August and September of 1972, confirming what other records already showed.

"Two other sets of payroll records, previously released, appear to conflict over whether Mr. Bush earned any service credits at all in 1972, but a White House spokeswoman attributed the discrepancy to accounting procedures," the Times wrote.

Posted 07-26-2004 3:07 PM EDT

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Administration Says No to UN Auditors

The Bush administration is withholding information from international auditors about how $1.4 billion in contracts for work in Iraq was awarded to Halliburton without competitive bidding, according to a July 16 story in The Washington Post and wire reports.

The International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB), composed of representatives of the UN, World Bank and IMF, was established in 2003 to make sure Iraq's oil revenues were managed properly during the U.S. occupation. But the U.N. representative says the U.S. has repeatedly stonewalled requests to turn over internal audits, including those pertaining to three contracts awarded to Halliburton, the oil services company headed by VP Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000. The U.S. also has not produced lists of other companies that were awarded no-bid contracts in Iraq.

The IAMB has released an audit that sharply criticizes the management of billions of dollars in Iraq oil revenue by the U.S.-led coalition. The audit uncovered inadequate accounting, high turnover among responsible officials and a failure to ensure competitive bidding - conditions the IAMB said would make it easy for fraudulent activities to take place.

Posted 07-20-2004 10:02 AM EDT

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Records? What records?

The Bush administration's obsession with secrecy might, just might, become an issue in the presidential campaign---at least if the Kerry campaign has anything to do with it. On July 13, John Kerry's campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, wrote a letter to Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman in response to Mehlman's request for a tape of a Kerry fund-raising event. Cahill responded that she would not consider the request until the White House agree to make public a variety of documents withheld from the public.

"The fact is that the nation has a greater interest in seeing several documents made public relating to the President's performance in office and personal veracity that the White House has steadfastly refused to release," Cahill wrote.

Those records include: "military records that would actually prove he fulfilled the terms of his military service"; all correspondence between the Defense Department and Halliburton regarding the no-bid contract awarded to VP Cheney's former company; the records pertaining to Cheney's energy task force "so that the country can learn what lobbyists and special interests wrote the White House energy policy; correspondence between the White House and pharmaceutical industry regarding the Medicare Rx drug bill; and finally, the "remaining documents" about the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.

In closing, Cahill noted that "today marks one year since Administration sources leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent to Bob Novak in an effort to retaliate against a critic of the Administration."

Posted 07-19-2004 2:42 PM EDT

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Washington Post: Current Classification System Needs Overhaul

The system the intelligence community uses to classify information needs to be examined to prevent blatant abuse of power, according to The Washington Post. With the current system, no one can have confidence that decisions are being made solely for national security.

"It's time to consider an alternative mechanism that could balance the legitimate competing needs for secrecy and openness without suffering from the conflict of interest inherent in the existing system. One solution is on the front end: to reduce the rampant overclassification of information in the first place," a Washington Post July 13, 2004 editorial said.

Posted 07-13-2004 5:24 PM EDT

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High Court Allows Cheney to Keep Task Force Records Secret

The U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision means that the White House won't immediately be required to turn over records that would show what role industry lobbyists played in helping to formulate the Bush administration's national energy policy, various newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported. A federal district judge had earlier ruled that Vice President Dick Cheney had to provide energy task force records to two public interest groups that sued to gain access to them. The case was sent back to the courts to more carefully weigh the executive branch's arguments for shielding information from the public. The High Court's ruling sets the stage for months or years of additional legal wrangling which will ensure that the documents are kept secret at least past the November election.

"The decision is a partial win for Mr. Cheney, who gets to keep the task force's records secret while litigation continues. But it also casts the courts in an odd light," because the Court seems to be giving the Bush administration more leeway than its predecessor, a Post editorial said.

Posted 06-25-2004 1:05 PM EDT

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Public Citizen Sues Attorney General Ashcroft

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), represented by Public Citizen, sued Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today over the DOJ's reclassification of information that alleges corruption, incompetence and cover-ups in an FBI translation unit. The lawsuit asks the court to find the agency's May reclassification of information unlawful and unconstitutional and require it to declassify the information. The information relates to allegations made by whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI linguist who was fired after reporting to superiors numerous instances of wrongdoing in the FBI translation unit where she worked.

This information was presented by the FBI during two unclassified 2002 briefings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee and was referenced in letters from U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley to DOJ officials. The letters were posted on the senators' Web sites but were removed after the DOJ

Posted 06-23-2004 3:27 PM EDT

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AP Sues for Access to Bush National Guard Records

Seeking access to all records pertaining to President Bush's military service, the Associated Press sued the U.S. Department of Defense and the Air Force today, the AP reported. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in New York, seeks access to a copy of Bush's complete personnel file. The file is on microfilm at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin. The Bush administration said it has released all records of Bush's military service, but there are questions about whether the file the White House released earlier this year is incomplete, the AP said.

In April, the AP requested in writing that Bush sign a waiver of his right to keep his records confidential, but the White House had not responded, the AP reported.

Posted 06-23-2004 3:21 PM EDT

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Cloak of Secrecy Hinders Oversight of Biotech Industry

A federal law that protects the trade secrets of biotech companies, which produce controversial genetically modified crops, also shields the industry from oversight, according to The Sacramento Bee. "The cloak of secrecy" employed by companies is the so-called "CBI" -- short for confidential business information, the Bee reported. Biotech companies use CBI to redact large portions of applications for experimental crops, making it difficult to find out when companies break rules designed to prevent introducing disease or infestation to an area and the spread of biotech genes beyond test plots.

The National Academy of Sciences has warned that the lack of transparency in biotechnology is so pervasive that public confidence in federal oversight could be undermined by the companies' ability to withhold vast amounts of information, the newspaper reported. (The article was one in a five-part series about the biotech industry.)

Posted 06-14-2004 4:02 PM EDT

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Newsday: Bush Should Release Torture Memos

Congress and the American people deserve to know why and to what extent the White House was "exploring the boundaries of the laws against torture," a (New York) Newsday editorial said. It called on President Bush to release administration memos that reportedly offered a rationale for torturing terrorist operatives and discussed ways around U.S. and international bans on torture. In the wake of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Bush administration "should release the memos and any other documents that would shed light on its thinking and policy on torture," the newspaper said.

"Questions about tortured prisoners are too integral to the nation's faith in the rule of law and too damaging to its image abroad to be shrouded in secrecy," Newsday said.

Posted 06-10-2004 4:22 PM EDT

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Ashcroft Refuses to Release 2002 Torture Memo

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft refuses to release a 2002 Justice Department policy memo that suggests some degree of torture might be justified if it yields information that will prevent terrorist attacks on the United States, The Washington Post reported. During his testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic senators asked Ashcroft to give them the unclassified document. The Bush administration has been under fire for the abuse of prisoners that occurred at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and for its questionable interpretations of the Geneva Convention and prisoner classifications.

Meanwhile, editorials in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times criticized the administration for "legalizing torture" and "twisting American values."

Posted 06-09-2004 11:36 AM EDT

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High Court to Rule on Presidential Powers

There's much at stake for the Bush administration as the U.S. Supreme Court enters the final month of its term. The Court will render verdicts in June that will test President Bush's handling of the war on terrorism and the administration's secrecy surrounding Vice President Dick Cheney's national energy task force, the Los Angeles Times reported. (The story was reprinted in The [Myrtle Beach, S.C.] Sun News.) "This is a term that will be remembered for what the court says about executive power," Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who worked in the Bush White House, told the Times. "And it will be played as either the president overreached and abused his power, or that the president was vindicated."

In one case, the Court will decide whether nearly 600 foreign detainees held in military prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should have access to U.S. courts. In two other cases, justices will decide whether the military should be allowed to hold "enemy combatants" without filing charges or giving them a hearing.

Posted 06-04-2004 2:21 PM EDT

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NASA Gags on Global Warming Movie

The premiere of the global warming disaster film "The Day After Tomorrow" prompted a Bush administration memo to NASA that warns employees to stay out of the media hype surrounding the movie and decline media interview requests on the subject. The movie depicts catastrophic change in Earth's climate that causes massive destruction. Climate experts are skeptical about the science behind the chaos, but the idea that moviegoers could become alarmed and blame the Bush administration for its inattention to the environmental issue has caused some concern at the space agency.

A senior NASA scientist who said he resented attempts to muzzle climate researchers sent a copy of the gag order memo to The New York Times. In an urgent e-mail message dated April 1, sent to dozens of scientists and officers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Goddard's top press officer instructs, "No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with (the film). Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA."

The movie contains subtle criticisms of a  Bush-like administration that likely makes the White House cringe. The movie's lead character is a paleoclimatologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bush's proposed 2005 budget would sharply cut the agency's paleoclimatology program.

Posted 05-28-2004 10:10 AM EDT

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Missing Pieces in the Abu Ghraib Puzzle

Senior U.S. officials continue to claim that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military leaders had no knowledge of the barbaric abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and played no role in orchestrating or encouraging such interrogation tactics. Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are trying to find out who knew what and when they knew it, but the investigation is being hampered by the Pentagon's withholding of 2,000 pages of the military's 6,000-page report of the Army's investigation into the prisoner abuse scandal. 

Among those missing documents, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), is a "draft update for the Secretary of Defense" on interrogation rules. Three other key documents the congressional investigators would like to examine are also missing. They relate to a visit by the current commander of all U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, who had some suggestions for improving prisoner interrogations.

Posted 05-27-2004 2:22 PM EDT

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Bush Administration Fights for Secrecy in the High Court

The Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments from the solicitor general and from former Public Citizen Litigation Group director Alan Morrison - representing the Sierra Club - on VP Dick Cheney's refusal to release records involving the energy task force that formulated the Bush administration's energy policy. The government's lawyer argued that because of separation of powers, Cheney shouldn't have to disclose details of the secret meetings with industry executives and lobbyists. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, a conservative group also suing for disclosure, argued that the public has a right to know who influenced energy policy. Morrison contends that task force participants were members of an official advisory committee, and that federal law requires disclosure of such committees' makeup and activities. The resulting energy policy is laden with tax breaks, subsidies and regulatory relief for energy companies.

Justice Antonin Scalia's questions at the hearing were widely interpreted to indicate that he was on the side of non-disclosure. Scalia's presence was controversial because of a January duck-hunting trip he and Cheney took together.

Read coverage of the hearing in the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today - and a piece by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

Posted 04-28-2004 11:58 AM EDT

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Kremlin More Transparent Than Bush White House?

That's right. While mum is the word at the Bush White House, the Kremlin is talking. When reporters wanted information about President Bush's recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, they turned to the Kremlin, a symbol of secrecy, for comment, The Washington Post reported. The presidents talked about Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and other "situations in the crisis areas of the world," the Russian government said in a statement. Meanwhile, the White House revealed "no details of the conversation," the Associated Press reported.

The Bush White House's routine secrecy and silence prompted Oliver Knox, a White House reporter at Agence France-Presse, to propose a new slogan for the Bush White House: "When we have something to announce, another country will announce it."

Posted 04-20-2004 10:57 AM EDT

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Bush Planned Iraq War While Troops Fought in Afghanistan

While U.S. troops fought the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, President Bush secretly made plans to invade Iraq, according to Bob Woodward's new book, the Associated Press reported. In "Plan of Attack," Woodward says Bush ordered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in November 2001 to draw up a war plan against Iraq. But Bush kept many top officials on his national security team, including CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, out of the loop because he didn't want word of his decision to leak. He feared that people would think he was too eager for war.

Woodward quotes Bush as saying, "It was such a high-stakes moment and ... it would look like I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war." The book says the decision angered Gen. Tommy Franks when he was told to come up with a fresh Iraq war plan while U.S. troops were engaged in Afghanistan.

Posted 04-16-2004 5:44 PM EDT

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White House Withheld Terror Documents

Another day, another story about how the Bush White House is hampering the 9/11 investigation. The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks identified 69 Clinton-era documents, which include references to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, that the Bush administration withheld from investigators, The Washington Post reported. The White House gave the commission 12 of those documents yesterday, but 57 others are in dispute. Although they weren't specifically requested, the documents are "relevant to our work," according to a commission statement.

The White House insists that it is cooperating with the commission; however, Democratic commissioner Timothy Roemer told the Post: "We continue to have document problems with this White House ... Access to documents is absolutely crucial for this commission to be able to do its work."

Posted 04-08-2004 2:20 PM EDT

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FDA Sitting on Report Linking Suicide, Children

After a researcher at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that children on antidepressants were two times as likely to exhibit suicidal behavior as kids who were not, officials sat on the report for months and ordered more research, the Los Angeles Times reported. FDA officials also stopped Dr. Andrew Mosholder from presenting his findings to an agency advisory committee in February. The agency issued a warning in March about the possibility of problems for children taking antidepressant drugs, but FDA officials denied they had any conclusive scientific evidence linking children, antidepressants and suicidal behavior.

"Evidence that they're suppressing a report like this is an outrage, given the public health and safety issues at stake, Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, a Harvard psychiatrist, told the Times. Despite recent media attention, the FDA still hasn't released the report.

Posted 04-08-2004 2:16 PM EDT

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White House Played Down Mercury Health Risks

The White House edited a proposed rule concerning coal-fired power plant emissions and downplayed the public health risks of mercury, The New York Times reported. Documents and e-mail messages show that White House staff members, working with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, made a host of subtle changes that minimized the health risks associated with mercury from coal-fired plants. The final proposal placed less emphasis on potential public health risks. Attorneys general in 10 states and senators asked the EPA to junk the proposed rules because they weren't strict enough, the Times said.

The White House Office of Management and Budget's "role is supposed to be to review the economics of rules -- which they did very poorly here -- not to fly speck the science and minimize health threats," said Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University professor and co-author "Priceless," a book that looks critically at cost-benefit analysis of regulations.

Posted 04-07-2004 11:23 AM EDT

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