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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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