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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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Park Police Chief First Silenced, Now Suspended

A few days after U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers was reprimanded for telling the media that her department is shorthanded, the National Park Service suspended her for an undisclosed amount of time, The Washington Post reported. The Park Service did not give a reason for her suspension, but Chambers told the Post that she was being investigated for insubordination. The Park Police labor union criticized the decision to place her on leave, as did Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who is a member of the appropriations subcommittee that approves funds for the Park Service.

"I think it sends exactly the wrong message," Moran told the Post. "I think that's part of their purpose, to send a message to managers that 'you keep your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself.' "

Posted 12-08-2003 3:15 PM EDT

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Park Service to Top Official: Zip It

The National Park Service ordered Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers to stop talking to reporters after she said that her force was stretched to thin and needed more funding, The Washington Post reported. Her boss at the National Park Service told her to stop talking because she broke federal guidelines in interviews with media outlets. One rule prohibits public comments about ongoing budget discussions and the other bars lobbying by someone in Chambers's job, a Park Service spokesman told the Post.

On Dec. 2, Chambers told reporters that she had to cut back police patrols to ensure that there are four officers posted outside each of the three major monuments on the national Mall. She expressed her concern that the new requirement would make other parks and parkways less safe because of decreased patrols, the Post reported.

Posted 12-04-2003 1:15 PM EDT

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Tally of Detainees Shrouded in Secrecy

The Defense Department's reported decision to release many prisoners from Guantanamo Bay has raised questions about the status of thousands of people who have been detained in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. Although the Bush administration says that most of those detained have been deported, civil liberties groups say they don't know if the administration is telling the truth. The Justice Department stopped releasing detainee tallies more than two years ago, but its last count was 1,182 people, the Atlanta newspaper said.

"When the government operates under a shroud of secrecy, there is no way of knowing exactly how many people are being held," Salam Al-Marayati, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told the Journal-Constitution.

Posted 12-04-2003 12:50 PM EDT

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Kosovo Cloak and Dagger

When presidential candidate and retired Gen. Wesley Clark takes the stand later this month at the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic, his testimony will be cloaked in secrecy, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Bush administration has taken steps to blunt the impact of Clark's appearance at the high-profile trial. At the insistence of the U.S. State Department, The Hague courtroom's public gallery will be closed when Clark, the former NATO commander, testifies Dec. 15-16. Also, his testimony, which would normally be broadcast on closed-circuit television and the Internet, will not be shown. And the State Department will delay for 48 hours the release of the trial transcript so its lawyers can examine Clark's testimony and possibly delete parts they deem harmful to national interests.

United Nations prosecutors said they were disappointed with the Bush administration's terms; however, they had little choice but to accept them if they wanted Clark's testimony, the Tribune reported. Milosevic who is serving as his own lawyer, is defending himself against charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity in a decade of war in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Posted 12-04-2003 10:48 AM EDT

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9/11 Panel Member Slams White House Deal

A deal with the White House that will allow select members of a federal panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to study parts of presidential intelligence briefs, or PDBs, related to terrorism and the attacks was criticized by some panelists as being too restrictive, the Associated Press reported. "We should be requesting the entire PDB, not an article from the PDB," said former Rep. Tim Roemer. "How can you get the context of how al Qaeda or Afghanistan is being prioritized in 10 or 12 pages when you only are seeing two paragraphs?"

Roemer and another member of the federal commission, former Sen. Max Cleland, are concerned that only some of the 10 commissioners will be allowed to examine classified intelligence documents and the White House can review their notes. Prior to reaching a deal, the commission had threatened to subpoena the White House to gain access to the documents.

Posted 11-19-2003 11:03 AM EDT

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell

President Bush, who claimed to be a "uniter not a divider," has decided that the White House isn't going to entertain any more questions from Democrats about how his administration is spending taxpayer dollars, The Washington Post reported. That decision, conveyed via e-mail to the staff of House and Senate Appropriations Committees, stunned Democrats and scholars. The question that led the White House to take such drastic measures was how much did the administration spend making and installing the "Mission Accomplished" banner for Bush's May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, the Post said. Bush has said the Navy, not the White House, put up the sign.

"I have not heard of anything like that happening before," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional specialist at the American Enterprise Institute. "This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for."

Posted 11-11-2003 12:15 PM EDT

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Gore Critical of Bush's 'Secrecy and Deception'

The Bush administration is exploiting the 2001 terrorist attacks in order to justify suspending domestic freedoms, while creating a government built on "secrecy and deception," said Al Gore in a Nov. 9 speech. He also urged Congress to repeal the Patriot Act, a law that allows federal agents to "sneak and peek" at citizens' private records; enter citizens' homes in secret; and hold citizens indefinitely without access to legal counsel or a hearing before a judge, The Washington Post reported

In addition, Gore challenged the Bush administration to "immediately stop its policy of indefinitely detaining American citizens without charges," a reference to the administration's policy of using "enemy combatant" status to justify holding U.S. citizens.

Posted 11-10-2003 4:23 PM EDT

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9/11 Panel Backs Off White House Subpoena

The independent panel probing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has decided not to subpoena the White House to obtain records related to the attacks, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported. Instead, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States will rely on negotiations, which may yield quicker access to the classified documents, the Journal said. The panel wants access to documents such as CIA briefings to President Bush during the months prior to the attacks. If negotiations with the White House reach an impasse, the panel may well vote to issue a subpoena.

Meanwhile, the commission voted to subpoena the North American Aerospace Defense Command for records pertaining to the scrambling of jet fighters on the day of the hijackings, the Journal said.

Posted 11-10-2003 3:49 PM EDT

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Bush Administration Secrecy Bearing Fruit

The results of the Bush administration's secret energy strategy meetings dating back to when President Bush first took office have been "policies that broadly favor industry -- including big campaign contributors -- at the expense of the environment and public health, a New York Times editorial said. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrated another example of that bias when it decided to drop investigations into more than 140 power plants, refineries and other industrial sites suspected of violating the Clean Air Act, the Times said.

Public Citizen reported last month that a high-ranking Bush appointee at EPA misled lawmakers when he told them that weakening an air quality rule would not affect EPA's litigation against companies that violated the Clean Air Act.

Posted 11-10-2003 3:24 PM EDT

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Congress Slashes Yucca Mountain Secrecy Provision

Congress denied a request of the U.S. Energy Department to tighten the agency's control of information about the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the Associated Press reported. In drafting the final version of the 2004 defense bill, House and Senate negotiators stripped from the bill a section that would have expanded the agency's power to keep certain unclassified information secret. The bill passed the House Nov. 7 and the Senate was expected to pass the bill this week.

If the language had not been removed, the Energy Department could have kept from the public information about possible security risks to Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste shipping routes.

Posted 11-10-2003 3:03 PM EDT

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