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Supreme Court Silent on Secret Detentions

The Supreme Court declined to decide whether the administration can legally keep secret basic data about hundreds of foreigners arrested and detained following 9/11. Lawyers for the ACLU, which asked the Court to hear its appeal of an adverse lower court ruling, said that the government sealed immigration records and omitted detainees' names from jail rosters, among other tactics, to make sure details of hundreds of arrests remained secret. Such secrecy was justified, the administration claimed, because releasing details could give terrorists information about the 9/11 investigation, although according to the Associated Press, none of the more than 700 detainees was charged as a terrorist.

Posted 01-13-2004 12:29 PM EDT

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Attacking the messenger?

The Bush spin machine shifted into fulll attack mode after former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill harshly criticized the administration's justifications for and judgment on tax breaks for the wealthy, steel tariffs, the war in Iraq and other policy decisions in interviews with "60 Minutes" and Time magazine and in upcoming book. Bush, he said, is like "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," and began planning regime change in Iraq during the first days of his presidency.

The administration is fighting back, USA Today reports. Yesterday the inspector general of the Treasury Department was asked to look into whether O'Neill - who was fired from his Cabinet post in 2002 - had released confidential material. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said O'Neill's publicity "appears to be more about trying to justify personal views and opinions."

Posted 01-13-2004 12:26 PM EDT

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The Other Shoe Drops

Like the 620 members of the U.S. Park Police, we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop after Chief Teresa Chambers was first reprimanded and then suspended for stating publicly that her department was understaffed. The National Park Service has notified her that she will be fired for improperly lobbying Congress and disclosing secret budget details, The Washington Post reported. Her attorney said Chambers will defend herself against the charges, citing her First Amendment rights and the Whistleblower Protection Act.

All this drama started in early December when Chambers told reporters that she was forced to curtail patrols beyond the national Mall because an unfunded Interior Department mandate required four officers to be posted at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. "It seems like a big overreaction. It seems like it puts [federal officials] in jeopardy of being accused of ... retaliating against a whistleblower," Elaine Kaplan, former head of the U.S. Official of Special Counsel, told the Post.

Posted 12-19-2003 11:46 AM EDT

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U.S. Citizen Can't Be Held as Enemy Combatant

A federal appeals court ruled today that President Bush doesn't have the authority to detain an American citizen seized on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant, CNN.com reported. By a 2-1 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Jose Padilla must be released from military custody within 30 days. For the past year and a half, Padilla has been held in a South Carolina naval brig. Sen. Lindsey Graham recently questioned the Bush administration's decision to keep the dirty-bomb suspect locked up without access to the courts.

Critics have argued that the administration's new anti-terrorism policies, which are cloaked in secrecy, are ripe for abuse. Legal experts told CNN that the Padilla case may wind up in the Supreme Court.

Posted 12-18-2003 2:55 PM EDT

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No One Knows What Goes on Behind Closed Doors

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the White House argue why it shouldn't have to disclose documents from Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, conservative New York Times columnist William Safire asks, "Are Republicans out of their collective mind?" Not only is it wrong to ask the High Court "to erect a high barrier to finding out who is advising whom about the public's business behind closed doors," Safire writes, but it also smacks of hypocrisy because Republicans relentlessly criticized the Clinton administration for its executive privilege claims during the Paula Jones saga. Safire calls out President Bush for going "all out to keep his administration's energy deliberations from public scrutiny." And he has some advice for the White House: If "freedom" is the word Bush and Cheney want as the hallmark of their administration, they should begin with freedom of information.

Posted 12-18-2003 2:37 PM EDT

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White House Web Cleaning

The White House has gotten a jump on its spring cleaning by surreptitiously removing or altering material on government Web sites that leave smudge marks on the Bush administration, The Washington Post reported. Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, rankled White House officials when he said earlier this year that Iraq reconstruction wouldn't cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion, a gross understatement. The transcript and links to his remarks have vanished into cyberspace, the Post said.

Other Web scrubbing has been more subtle. When U.S. casualties in Iraq started increasing after President Bush's May 1 victory declaration, the White House edited the original headline on its Web site. It once read "President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended," but officials added the word "Major" before combat.

Posted 12-18-2003 9:57 AM EDT

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Secrecy Shrouds Potential War Profiteering

Are Halliburton and other American contractors in Iraq engaged in war profiteering? Recent media reports about Halliburton's expensive gasoline imports that may have lead to a $61 million overcharge raise enough questions to warrant a broad, independent investigation, writes Paul Krugman in a New York Times column. "The biggest curb on profiteering in government contracts," Krugman writes, "is the threat of sunshine ... Yet it's hard to think of a time when U.S. government dealings have been less subject to scrutiny." Since 9/11, the current administration has used national security to justify its secrecy, but it really began the day President Bush took office, Krugman writes.

Posted 12-16-2003 12:51 PM EDT

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High Court Takes Cheney Secret Energy Task Force Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on Vice President Dick Cheney's refusal to disclose documents from his secret meetings with energy industry executives, including Enron Corp.'s Ken Lay, Reuters reported. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch sued in 2001 to find out the names and positions of members of Cheney's energy task force. The task force helped draft the Bush administration's national energy policy, which called for more oil and gas drilling and an expansion of nuclear power. More than a year ago, a federal judge ruled that the White House must either produce documents about the energy task force, or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and why.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in spring 2004, and Public Citizen's Alan Morrison will likely argue the case on behalf of Sierra Club. Morrison opposed Supreme Court review of this case.

Posted 12-15-2003 2:26 PM EDT

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License to Over Bill in Iraq?

The Defense Department has discovered that Halliburton Inc., formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, may have overbilled the U.S. government $61 million on a contract to supply fuel to Iraq, The New York Times reported. The government would have also overpaid Halliburton $67 million on a contract to operate U.S. military dining halls if Pentagon auditors hadn't questioned the arrangement, according to a draft audit. This has raised more concerns about the "no-bid" Iraq reconstruction contracts secretly doled out to Halliburton by the Bush administration prior to the war. Before Congress approved President Bush's $20 billion request for reconstruction spending in Iraq, lawmakers insisted on more transparency in the bidding process.

The administration has refused to provide even basic information about the open-ended Halliburton contracts valued at potentially $15.6 billion. Public Citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request but was denied; it is planning an appeal.

Posted 12-12-2003 1:38 PM EDT

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Bomb Suspect's Status Vexes Republican Senator

While touring military bases in South Carolina, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham questioned the Bush administration's decision to keep dirty-bomb suspect Jose Padilla locked up in the Naval Consolidated Brig with no access to attorneys or the courts, The Post and Courier reported. "He's an American citizen who was arrested in the United States," Graham said of Padilla, who has been held in Charleston since June 2002. "Because he's a citizen, I plan to talk with the attorney general about him." Graham said Attorney General John Ashcroft "can't change the rules" regarding due process for criminal suspects.

Not so, says the Bush administration, which considers Padilla an "enemy combatant" who can be held without access to lawyers and without formal criminal charges being filed. This new system, which is cloaked in secrecy, is ripe for abuse, charge critics of the administration and the controversial Patriot Act.

Posted 12-12-2003 11:30 AM EDT

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