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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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