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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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White House Has Final Say on 9/11 Report

The White House will review the 9/11 commission's report "line by line" before it is released to the public, 9/11 commission leaders said on NBC's "Meet the Press." While this sort of review is standard procedure, it raises concerns about White House censorship and the possibility that the Bush administration will delay the report's release until after the November presidential election, the USA Today said. Bush adviser Karen Hughes told "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert that she thinks the White House will allow the panel to release the report before the election.

Perhaps if the White House hadn't opposed the commission's creation, stonewalled it repeatedly and refused, until last week, to allow the national security adviser to testify in public and under oath, Hughes' assurance would be more comforting.

Posted 04-06-2004 11:51 AM EDT

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Bush Secrecy 'Worse Than Watergate'

Thirty years ago, as counsel to President Nixon, John Dean played a pivotal role in exposing the Watergate scandal. Now, Dean has written an alarming new book that concludes that the Bush administration's obsession with secrecy and deception is worse than Watergate. Recently, Dean spoke to Bill Moyers of PBS (full transcript of "Now with Bill Moyers") about the "hidden agenda of a White House shrouded in secrecy and a presidency that seeks to remain unaccountable" and his book "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush."

Dean said the Bush administration has tried to block, frustrate or control any probe into the Sept. 11 attacks using "well-proven tactics not unlike those used by the Nixon White House during Watergate."

Posted 04-06-2004 11:43 AM EDT

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Waste of Energy

An editorial in The Washington Post took the Bush administration to task for its "struggle to keep secret the workings of Vice President Cheney's energy task force." The Post also called on the White House to abide by a federal judge's recent order and release more information about the task force's work. It's likely that the Bush administration will appeal U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman's ruling, "but it ought to think hard about simply releasing the information and letting the matter rest," the Post said.

Posted 04-05-2004 5:55 PM EDT

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Judge Orders Release of Energy Task Force Data

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ordered federal agencies to release documents pertaining to their work on Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, The Washington Post reported. The Bush administration has claimed that its employees' work for the task force, which held secret meetings with energy company representatives and crafted national energy policy, is protected by confidentiality privileges. Friedman rejected the White House's argument and ordered the documents be made public by June 1.

case in which Cheney also is trying to keep task force information from being disclosed is pending before the Supreme Court.

Posted 04-02-2004 5:12 PM EDT

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House GOP Halts Medicare Secrecy Inquiry

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives stopped an inquiry into whether the Bush administration illegally withheld information about the real cost estimate of last year's Medicare prescription drug bill, the Los Angeles Times reported. Ways and Means Committee Republicans quashed Democrats' attempts to subpoena Thomas Scully and White House aide Doug Badger, key figures in the controversy. Scully, President Bush's former Medicare Administrator, is accused of threatening to fire his top actuary if he provided lawmakers with his analysis showing the cost of the Medicare law would be far more than administration officials had led the public and members of Congress to believe.

"There was a cover-up of this information and we want to know how high the cover-up went," Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) told the Times.

Posted 04-02-2004 4:50 PM EDT

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Secrecy Is White House's Obsession

Allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly under oath before the 9/11 commission should have been an easy call for President Bush. Instead, his latest reversal came as a result of intense public and political pressure, and it underscores this administration's "obsession with secrecy" and illustrates the White House's "disregard for the public's right to know," a Los Angeles Times editorial said. Also, the Times asserts that since 9/11 the Bush administration has strained "credulity and democracy by insisting ... that citizens have no right to learn whether their tires on their cars could explode or what this administration did with information it had on terror threats."

Posted 04-02-2004 10:33 AM EDT

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White House Declassifies to Serve Political Needs

The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy is maddening, but worse still is the inconsistent decision-making regarding the declassification of documents. "What we're learning is that classification is a political tool," Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy told The Washington Post. "It can be used to advance or retard a particular agenda. The CIA, for example, is reviewing for declassification last year's testimony of former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clark after he told the panel investigating 9/11 last week that the Bush administration ignored the terrorism threat prior to the 2001 attacks.

Posted 04-02-2004 9:58 AM EDT

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Rice to Testify Publicly Before 9/11 Panel

In the face of mounting pressure, the White House has reversed course and will allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, CNN reported. Rice said she resisted calls to testify in public as a matter of principle. In public testimony, former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke has charged that the Bush administration didn't do enough to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also will meet privately with the commission.

The White House had argued that allowing a presidential adviser, such as Rice, to testify before a congressionally created body would set new precedent and violate the executive privilege doctrine.

Posted 03-30-2004 12:02 PM EDT

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Nuke Agency Withholds Unclassified Information

Critics argue that U.S. nuclear power plants and weapons facilities should be able to fend off an attack from as many as 19 assailants in four squads. After 9/11, the Bush administration updated a much weaker 1980s-era security standard, but the attack scenario still involves considerably fewer attackers. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is keeping the new standard secret. What's frustrating watchdog groups now is that the agency is also withholding information about a nuclear power company's unclassified request for a waiver of security requirements, The Washington Post reported.

It's just the latest example of how the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy -- of even unclassified information -- is squelching public debate about security matters. The Bush administration's cloak and dagger policymaking has made it nearly impossible to hold government officials accountable for their decisions.

Posted 03-29-2004 1:40 PM EDT

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Former Official Admits Giving Order to Withhold Medicare Data

Thomas Scully, former administrator of the Medicare program, confirmed to The New York Times that he ordered the program's chief actuary, Richard Foster, to withhold information from Congress about how much the new Medicare law would cost; however, Scully said he did not threaten to fire Foster if he did not follow the directive. Last week, Foster gave lawmakers documents showing that federal payments to private health insurance plans under the new Medicare law could cost more than triple what Congress assumed when it passed the bill last year. Lawmakers had requested the cost estimate several months before the bill passed, but Foster said Scully threatened to fire him if he handed over the data.

White House spokesman Thomas Duffy said no one instructed either Scully or Foster to keep information from Congress. But Duffy admitted that White House officials were aware of Foster's cost estimates while the bill was being debated. Lawmakers, including Republicans, have been critical of the Bush administration for keeping the information secret.

Posted 03-23-2004 6:09 PM EDT

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