Wednesday, May 23, 2007


By William Fisher

Former Justice Department White House Liaison Monica Goodling told the House Judiciary Committee today that she never discussed the firings of eight US Attorneys with Karl Rove or Harriet Miers, never recommended additions to or deletions from the list of political appointees to be terminated, did not know who compiled the list, but admitted she “may have gone too far” in questioning prospective career applicants about their political affiliations.

In a hearing room that appeared to contain almost as many media representatives as audience members, Goodling said she “may have asked inappropriate political questions” of applicants for civil service posts at the Department of Justice in an effort to implement the priorities of the Bush Administration.

She said, “I crossed the line” with regard to applicants for civil service positions, “but I didn’t mean to.” She added that she simply “wanted to make sure” that job applicants were “ideologically compatible” with the Administration. She said her interviews with job applicants often included questions about who they voted for in the 2004 election.

Goodling told the Committee that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who resigned earlier this month, may have misled Congress in his Senate testimony earlier this month by omitting facts she had presented to him.

She also asserted that she believed that the central role in the forced resignations of the eight US Attorneys (USAs) was played by Kyle Sampson, who resigned as Chief of Staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after the firestorm caused by the USA terminations.

Goodling was accompanied at the hearing by three of her attorneys, led by high-profile Washington lawyer John Dowd. Dowd has said Congressional Democrats had already made up their minds about his client's role in the firings.

Goodling originally refused to testify, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution to avoid the possibility of incriminating herself. The House Committee eventually granted her immunity, opening the way for today’s testimony.

The firings of the US Attorneys became one of Washington’s hottest political issues after earlier testimony in which former Deputy Attorney General McNulty told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the terminations were based on “performance-related” issues.

That testimony was later contradicted by AG Gonzales, who apologized to Senators for what he characterized as the mishandling of the affair but insisted that the President has the right to name political appointees who are committed to carrying out the Administration’s agenda.

Many legislators said they have been troubled by the manner in which the USAs were asked for their resignations, and also by charges that Administration officials may have broken the law by applying political litmus tests to prospective non-political job applicants, who would be covered by the protections of laws governing the Civil Service.

These legislators, mostly Democrats but a few Republicans as well, have been trying to trace these issues back to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, the President’s chief political advisor, and to then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Congress has issued subpoenas demanding testimony and documents from Rove, but the White House has refused, invoking “executive privilege” in what could become a case headed for a long court battle.

A key question in the Rove-Miers issue is whether either official sent or received emails using an account belonging to the Republican National Committee, rather than the White House. If they did so, it could be a violation of the Presidential Records Act, which mandates the preservation of all communications involving White House employees.

The White House has admitted that some officials did in fact use RNC email accounts for political, non-official, communications, and has acknowledged that a number of such emails appear to be missing.

In her testimony today, Goodling repeatedly portrayed herself as an implementer of policies crafted by more senior officials. She said lacked the authority to carry out her own decisions, and said her principal role was to make recommendations to others.

In one case, however, she acknowledged delaying the appointment of a prospective career prosecutor sought by Jeffrey A. Taylor, interim US attorney for the District of Columbia, reportedly because the candidate was too "liberal" for the nonpolitical position.

The candidate was Seth Adam Meinero, a Howard University law school graduate who had worked on civil rights cases at the Environmental Protection Agency and had served as a special assistant prosecutor in Taylor's office.

Meinero was eventually hired at Taylor's insistence, but the issue led to
a Justice Department investigation of whether Goodling improperly weighed
political affiliation in her reviews of applicants for non-political positions.
In another case, according to emails and other documents obtained by Congress, Goodling also played a central role in arranging for the appointment of Tim Griffin, a former Republican National Committee official and aide to Rove, as the US attorney in Little Rock.

She also met last summer with two New Mexico Republicans who complained
about then-US Attorney David C. Iglesias, who was later fired. In another
case, she single-handedly blocked the dismissal of a North Carolina prosecutor
who for more than a year had been on the list of candidates to be fired.

Goodling’s critics have described her as a divisive figure at the Justice Department since her arrival in 2002, with a reputation for a mercurial temperament and having “sharp elbows” in her dealings with career employees.

Goodling and former AG Chief of Staff Sampson "knew politics, not law," said Bruce Fein, who served as a senior Justice official during the Reagan Administration. "This extent [of] neophytes running the department is highly irregular," he added.

Goodlng is a 1999 graduate of Regent University law school in Virginia Beach. Regent, which describes itself as a “Christian university,” was founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. The university’s website claims that 150 of its students have served in the Bush Administration. Goodling told the Committee today that she attended a Christian university “because I wanted to obtain justice through public service.”

Goodling, who has six months of prosecutorial experience, was one of a small group of young aides to AG Gonzales, to whom he reportedly granted extensive authority and autonomy in their dealings with seasoned Justice Department lawyers.

According to the transcript of an interview with a staffer from the House
Judiciary Committee, Goodling is said to have told a senior Justice official shortly before she quit, "All I ever wanted to do was serve this president, this administration, this department."

The furor over the leadership of the Department of Justice has caused Senate Democrats, joined by a few Republicans, to push for passage of a resolution demanding Gonzales’ resignation. Such a resolution would merely express the “sense of the Senate” and would have no standing in law, since the President is always free to hire and fire Executive Branch officials to whom he gives political appointments.

President Bush, whose relationship with Gonzales dates back to Bush’s campaign for Governor of Texas, has said the Attorney General has his complete confidence.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


By William Fisher

Despite the view of scores of senior military intelligence officers who contend that "torture doesn't work," the audience at last week's Republican presidential candidate debate broke into applause when leading candidates endorsed increased use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

The one notable exception was Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for eight years and experienced torture first hand. His disavowal was greeted with silence from the predominantly conservative South Carolina audience.

The views of the ten candidates for the GOP presidential nomination came in response to a scenario presented by Fox News anchor Brit Hume, in which three American shopping malls had been bombed, resulting in scores of casualties, and terrorists with detailed knowledge of another imminent and deadlier attack had been captured and taken to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The question was, "How far can the authorities go in interrogating the terrorists to get information to avert a fourth attack?"

The most vehement champions of "enhanced interrogation" were the two men considered, along with McCain, to be front-runners in the nomination contest, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Giuliani said he would back "every method" short of torture that interrogators could think of because "I don't want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or any place else."

Romney said he would support "not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques." Romney also said he wanted the Guantanamo Bay detention center doubled in size.

In contrast, McCain said he would not resort to torture because the United States would lose more in world opinion than it would gain in information.

"When I was in Vietnam, one of the things that sustained us, as we went - underwent torture ourselves - is the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them," McCain said. "It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's
about what kind of country we are."

"Enhanced interrogation," a phrase frequently used and endorsed by President George W. Bush, refers to techniques prohibited by the Army's code of justice and the Geneva Conventions. One of these is known as water-boarding, where a prisoner is strapped down, head beneath his feet, as water is poured repeatedly on a cloth covering the mouth until the person thinks he is about to drown.

While the putative front-runners appeared to be competing for the machismo award, the use of "enhanced interrogation" was also endorsed by others who are considered dark horses in the nomination race.

For example, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, told the audience, "Well, let me just say that it's almost unbelievable to listen to this in a way. We're talking about -- we're talking about it in such a theoretical fashion. You say that -- that nuclear devices have gone off in the United States, more are planned, and we're wondering about whether waterboarding would be a -- a bad thing to do? I'm looking for 'Jack Bauer' at that time, let me tell you."

Tancredo's remark was greeted with laughter and applause. His reference was to the controversial television series, "24", in which the protagonist hero is an intelligence agent named Jack Bauer, who freely uses super-aggressive interrogation techniques to obtain information.

Tancredo added, "And -- and there is -- there is nothing -- if you are talking about -- I mean, we are the last best hope of Western civilization. And so all of the theories that go behind our activities subsequent to these nuclear attacks going off in the United States, they go out the window because when -- when we go under, Western civilization goes under. So you better take that into account, and you better do every single thing you can as president of the United States to make sure, number one, it doesn't happen -- that's right -- but number two, you better respond in a way that makes them fearful of you because otherwise you guarantee something like this will happen."

Debate moderator Hume then said, "Let me enrich the scenario just a little bit. Let's assume for the sake of discussion here that we now also have additional intelligence that indicates with high certainty that the attackers were trained in a West African country hostile to the United States, in camps openly run by the terrorist organization that sent them. What kind of response would you agree to for that?"

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the superhawk former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded with a statement that was greeted with laughter. "Yeah, let me just say this would take a one-minute conversation with the secretary of Defense. I would call him up or call him in. I would say to SECDEF, in terms of getting information that would save American lives, even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information. Have it back within an hour, and let's act on it. Let's execute with Special Operations or whoever else is necessary, and I will take full responsibility. Get the information," he said.

Hunter has been an outspoken champion of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, even calling a Washington news conference to show the press the "five-star cuisine" given the prisoners there.

Presidential hopeful Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services in President Bush's first term, had this to say:

"I would do the first thing that President Ronald Reagan would say: Trust but verify. Verify that that information is correct. And I would go in with all the power necessary. Colin Powell said, and I quote him, he says, 'If in fact you're going to war, have a reason to go to war. Make sure you go with all the force necessary in order to do so, and have an exit strategy.' If there's a country in Africa that is not friendly to America, that is anti-America and is promoting terrorism, and those terrorists are going to attack, it's -- be incumbent on all of us to make sure that we do what is right. The president of the United States has got to lead that effort, and if it's necessary, it's got to take those camps out as deliberately and as methodically as possible, as long as that information is credible and can be checked and make sure that it is accurate."

Hume asked Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, "If the decision were up to you, would you do that? And if so, would you decide to go to the United Nations, for example, first to seek some kind of international authorization to do it or would you just move in the way that Governor Thompson described?"

Said Brownback: "I would not go to the United Nations in the situation you've described. You've described a situation where American lives have been lost and we think more are pending to lose. And I think your real question you have to have here as the chief executive, as the leader of the country, what are you measuring here? Is your primary concern U.S. lives or is it how you're going to be perceived in the world? And my standard is U.S. lives, and I'm going to do everything within my power to protect U.S. lives, period."

Brownback added, "I will do it. I'll move aggressively forward on it. If we have to later ask and say, "Well, it shouldn't quite have been done this way or that way," that's the way it is. But the standard must be protection of U.S. lives. That's the job of president of the United States, and I would take it seriously, and I would do it."

Romney's response was, "Yeah, first of all, let's make sure that we understand that the key in electing the next president is to find somebody who will make sure that that scenario doesn't ever happen, and the key to that is prevention. We've all spent a lot of time talking about what happens after the bomb goes off. The real question is, how do you prevent the bomb from going off? And that's what I spent my time doing as a governor over the last four years, and serving on the Homeland Security Advisory Council. And that means intelligence and counterterrorism."

He continued. "Now we're going to -- you said the person's going to be in Guantanamo. I'm glad they're at Guantanamo. I don't want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons. I want them there. Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo. We ought to make sure that the terrorists -- (applause) -- and there's no question but that in a setting like that where you have a ticking bomb that the president of the United States -- not the CIA interrogator, the president of the United States -- has to make the call. And enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used -- not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes."

President Bush has said he would like to close Guantanamo, but claims he cannot find countries prepared to take prisoners scheduled for release or facilities to detain those who are not.

None of the contenders defined "enhanced interrogation techniques," but those in favor appeared to endorse waterboarding as one such technique.

Hume then addressed Giuliani, saying, "The former director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, (and) the current head of the CIA have both said that the most valuable intelligence tool they have had has been the information gained from what are called enhanced interrogation techniques to include, presumably, waterboarding. What is your view whether such techniques should be applied in a scenario like the one I described?"

There then followed this exchange:

GIULIANI: In the hypothetical that you gave me, which assumes that we know there's going to be another attack and these people know about it, I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of --

HUME: Waterboarding?

GIULIANI: -- and I would -- and I would -- well, I'd say every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that because I've seen what -- (interrupted by applause) -- I've seen what can happen when you make a mistake about this, and I don't want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or any place else.

The contenders all reiterated their support of the war in Iraq. Said McCain: "We must succeed, and we cannot fail, and I will be the last man standing if necessary."

Their agreement on this issue appeared to underscore South Carolina's importance in the party's nominating process. It is the third state in the nation to hold a primary, and it is also the state that destroyed McCain's run for the presidency in 2000. He lost to then-Governor Bush, after winning the New Hampshire primary.

Hume asked McCain if he thought techniques such as waterboarding qualified as torture.

McCain responded, "Yes, and the interesting thing about that aspect is that during the debate, when we had the detainee treatment act, there was a sharp division between those who had served in the military and those who hadn't. Virtually every senior officer, retired or active- duty, starting with Colin Powell,(Presidential Medal of Honor winner) General (John W.) Vessey and everyone else, agreed with my position that we should not torture people. One of the reasons is, is because if we do it, what happens to our military people when they're captured? And also, they realize there's more to war than the battlefield."

McCain went on: "So yes, literally every retired military person and active duty military person who has actually been in battle and served for extended times in the military -- supported my position, and I'm glad of it...It's about us as a nation. We have procedures for interrogation in the Army Field Manual. Those, I think, would be adequate in 999,999 of cases, and I think that if we agree to torture people, we will do ourselves great harm in the world."

Hume then directed a question at former Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore. "This kind of attack would pose immediate and obvious problems for the U.S. economy -- they've hit shopping centers. What kind of measures would you take, Governor Gilmore, to assure that the U.S. economy continued to grow in the face of an attack of this kind?"

Gilmore said, "I actually had to deal with this issue. I was the governor of the state of Virginia during the 9/11 attack. The Pentagon was in fact struck; it's in Arlington, Virginia. But before that time, I'd been asked by the United States government to chair the National Commission on Terrorism and Homeland Security. We issued two reports. Before the 9/11 attack, the third one was complete. We did two more after that. So I have the experience to deal with these issues, and I've done a lot of scenarios like this.

Apparently unsatisfied, Hume pressed, "Well what would you do?"

Gilmore responded, "Well, with respect to the United Nations, first of all let me say that I would go to the U.N., but it would be to state an opinion and to take advantage of our rights on an international law, not to go ask for permission. And then I would go in, after having explained exactly what we were doing to the world and asking for world support, but even without it, we would go in and act decisively against that. Meanwhile, with respect to homeland security, we've got to put a system in place that talks about a complete partnership and community of preparedness between federal, state and local people, private sector community leadership, and that particularly means information sharing between federal, state and local authorities, something we said as early as the year 1999. And if you do that, I believe from my experience as prosecutor and attorney general, that you can get this information -- and then find ways to protect the country even in a shopping center."

Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas addressed the subject of economic changes that might have to be made after a terrorist attack. He said, "One of the things that happened after 9/11, the president told us essentially that we all needed to get back on airplanes and fly, we all needed to go back to shopping centers and shop, we need to go ahead and travel. And I understand what he meant by that -- to put our economy back in motion. And I think that was a good thing to say, but it may have been interpreted by the American people as business as usual. The problem is, it'll never ever be business as usual when you attack innocent Americans on our soil. It can't be business as usual. We've got to make a different kind of business -- go after those who murdered -- and let's use the word "murder" -- murdered fellow American citizens, then let's make sure that we do more than simply protect our borders and bring justice to those who did it; but that we ask the American people to join together in a sacrifice, the same kind of sacrifice that we had when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, the same kind of sacrifice that we've been called upon as a nation repeatedly to do. That's what America would have to do.

Another dark horse, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, weighed in on the same question, saying, "Well, the lower the taxes the better, and I think cutting taxes would be beneficial. But we should find places where we could cut spending as well, because eventually a deficit can be very, very harmful to us. But you know, I think it's interesting talking about torture here in that it's become enhanced interrogation technique. It sounds like Newspeak. Nobody's for the torture, and I think that's important. But as far as taking care of a problem like this, the president has the authority to do that. If we're under imminent attack, the president can take that upon himself to do it. But just think. We gave the president authority to go into Afghanistan, and here we have Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. They have nuclear weapons, and we're giving them money. And we forgot about him, and now we're over in -- in Iraq in a war that's bogging us down, and we have forgotten against -- about dealing with the people that attacked us. And here you have a hypothetical attack that you're dealing with; we ought to be dealing with the one we have right now on our hands."

Earlier in the debate, Paul gave Giuliani what developed into a major opportunity when he appeared to suggest that the US invited the attacks of Sept. 11 by having originally invaded Iraq.

"May I comment on that?" asked a grim-faced Giuliani. "That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11."

Giuliani was greeted by cheers and applause.

While all the major GOP presidential prospects save McCain were eager to trumpet their support of aggressive interrogation techniques, most military and counter-terrorism authorities have taken a contrary view.

The most recent came on the same day as the South Carolina debate. In a Washington Post Op-ed, retired Marine Corps Commandant Charles C. Krulak and retired four-star Marine General Joseph P. Hoar, wrote:

"Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners in our custody.

"Fear is the justification offered for this policy by former CIA director George Tenet as he promotes his new book. Tenet oversaw the secret CIA interrogation
program in which torture techniques euphemistically called 'waterboarding', 'sensory deprivation', 'sleep deprivation' and 'stress positions' -- conduct we used to call war crimes -- were used. In defending these abuses, Tenet revealed: 'Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know'."

That view is shared by most members of the military who have intelligence experience. These include former secretary of state Colin Powell, who wrote a public letter to McCain opposing Bush's detention policies. "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," Powell observed. "To redefine common article 3 [of the Geneva convention] would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk."

Powell's letter came amid the 2005 battle between the Bush Administration and some members of the Senate to stop the president's bid to legalize torture and ad hoc military tribunals. That effort was thwarted, not by Democrats, but by four key Republican senators: McCain John Warner of Virginia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine.

Their success culminated in passage of the Detainee Treatment Act, which the president signed into law, but simultaneously nullified by issuing a "signing statement" saying, in effect, he would obey the law unless he thought national security was at stake.

The result of a so-called compromise between Bush and the four senators, the president had barely announced the deal before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made it clear that the administration would define torture any way it liked. He said on CNN that torture meant the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental harm, and repeated the word "severe" twice. He would not say whether that included "waterboarding."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


By William Fisher

Career Federal employees who report waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government agencies are routinely subjected to career-ending retaliation, humiliation, and legal costs – despite laws that are supposed to protect them, and repeated assurances from the White House, many government agencies, and congress that they maintain a policy of zero tolerance for retaliation.

These are some of the conclusions of public interest organizations that monitor the Federal bureaucracy. They say the incidence of retaliation has increased exponentially during the administration of President George W. Bush, and are calling on Congress to strengthen legal protections for whistleblowers.

As more than 40 public interest groups marked “Washington Whistleblowers Week” -- a week-long gathering of whistleblowers from throughout the country in Washington, D.C., to share their stories with Congress and the public – Joan Claybrook, president of advocacy group Public Citizen, said, “Whistleblowers are crucial to the health of democracy and need stronger protections from Congress against retaliation.”

Some of the victims of retaliation for whistleblowing are well known. Perhaps the most highly publicized is Sibel Edmonds. Ms. Edmonds began working for the FBI shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, translating top-secret documents pertaining to suspected terrorists. She was fired in the spring of 2002 after reporting concerns about sabotage, intimidation, corruption and incompetence to superiors. The Department of Justice Inspector General agreed with Edmunds’ charges.

But in October 2002, at the request of FBI Director Robert Mueller, then Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed a gag order on Edmonds, citing possible damage to diplomatic relations or national security. Edmonds sued the FBI, but the government invoked the so-called “state secrets privilege” – a previously rarely used legal maneuver that has been used numerous times during the Bush Administration. Edmunds appealed her case all the way to the Supreme Court. But the high court agreed with lower courts that trying her case would compromise “state secrets”. Edmunds organized an advocacy group, The National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, to lobby for greater protections for employees in agencies dealing with national security (

Other whistleblowers who have paid a high price for coming forward are less well known.

For example:

Bunnatine H. "Bunny" Greenhouse, the senior contracting officer for the Army Corps of Engineers, who objected - first, internally, then publicly - to a multi-billion dollar, no-bid contract with the Halliburton Company for work in Iraq. She was removed from the senior executive service, the top rank of civilian government employees, because of “poor performance reviews.” But Green says the performance review "was conducted by the very subjects" of her allegations. Greenhouse went public with her concerns over the volume of Iraq-related work given to Halliburton by the Army Corps of Engineers without competition. Previously, her complaints within the agency having been ignored, she started giving interviews to national publications, and testified before a Democrat-sponsored Capitol Hill event on contracting in Iraq.

Army Specialist Samuel Provance said he was demoted and humiliated after telling a general investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal that senior officers had covered up detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib. He said he tried to tell the general “things he didn’t want to hear”, adding, "Young soldiers were scapegoated while superiors misrepresented what had happened and tried to misdirect attention away from what was really going on". Provance lost his security clearance, was placed under a “gag order”, and is now stationed in Germany, where his responsibilities consist of "picking up trash and guard duty.”

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer was among the first to disclose the Pentagon's “Able Danger” data-mining program. He said he believes that the program identified Mohammed Atta before he became the lead hijacker in the 2001 terrorist attacks, though a Pentagon review found no evidence to support that conclusion. Shaffer’s security clearance was revoked.

Russell Tice, a former intelligence officer at the National Security Agency (NSA), charged that there were "illegalities and unconstitutional activity" in the agency’s so-called ‘special-access programs’ but was advised that he could not discuss them even with members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in closed session. He told the Committee the Defense Department’s harassment of him included spreading rumors that he suffers from bipolar disease.

Mike German resigned as an FBI agent after reporting that other agents and managers mishandled a major counterterrorism case in 2002 and falsified records. The Justice Department inspector general confirmed German's allegations, and that he was retaliated against – his security clearance was revoked.

Richard Levernier's job as a senior Department of Energy nuclear security specialist was to test how well prepared America's nuclear weapons sites were to defend against a terrorist attack. He testified that the tests he supervised showed a 50 percent failure rate. When he reported this to his superiors, he was demoted and his security clearance revoked. He says he was forced into early retirement.
During the Bush Administration, the suppression or manipulation of science for political or ideological reasons has become a frequent whistleblower complaint.

For example, earlier this month the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) ( told Congress that politics was trumping science at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), part of the Interior Department (DI). Their allegation came on the heels of a scathing report from the DI’s Interior Inspector General that chastised former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald for distorting FWS scientific documents to prevent the protection of several highly imperiled species. MacDonald resigned her post last week.

Francesca Grifo, director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program, is quick to point out that MacDonald's case is just one of many. The misuse of science at Interior has been reported on issues as diverse as mountaintop removal, cattle grazing, and the protection of trumpeter swans.

She called on Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to “send a clear message to all Interior political appointees that substituting opinions for fact is unacceptable."

Grifo testified that political interference in science “has become epidemic—not only at FWS, but at agencies throughout the federal government.”

While there have been a number of whistleblower complaints from career government scientists, many have been intimidated into silence, and others have quietly left the public sector.

Agencies that deal with the climate change issue have been under extraordinary scrutiny by public interest groups who charge that the findings of government scientists have been routinely suppressed or distorted by Bush Administration political appointees.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP), ( a public interest group, recently issued a report – “Redacting the Science of Climate Change” -- on the findings of a year-long investigation into political interference at federal climate science agencies.

GAP says the report “demonstrates how policies and practices have increasingly restricted the flow of scientific information emerging from publicly-funded climate change research. This has negatively affected the media’s ability to report objectively on scientific issues, public officials’ capacity to respond with appropriate policies, and full public understanding of environmental concerns."

Science relating to public health issues has also been under severe scrutiny. Emblematic of this problem was the resignation of Dr. Susan Wood, who quit her post as assistant commissioner of women's health at the Food and Drug Administration in protest against the FDA’s long delay in approving the so-called Plan B emergency contraception medication for over-the-counter sale despite the recommendations of agency scientists and outside review panels. Dr. Wood chose to resign after repeated unsuccessful attempts to make her objections heard within the FDA.

Dr. Wood charges that federal health agencies “seem increasingly unable to operate independently and that this lack of independence compromises their mission of promoting public health and welfare.” She added, “Whether it is the environment, energy policy, science education or public health, the American public expects our government to make the best decisions based on the best available evidence.”

“Having spent 15 years working for the federal government, nearly five of which
were at the FDA, I care deeply about what's happening in the federal agencies,
particularly our health agencies. Nearly 25 cents of every consumer dollar is
spent on products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. We count on the FDA for the safety and effectiveness of our medicines, vaccines and medical
devices, and for the safety of the blood and food supply. The American public
does not want to -- nor should it -- have to think twice about the quality and
reliability of information it is getting from the FDA. Its reputation as the
international gold standard for regulatory agencies, and as a body that sets the
bar very high when it comes to scientific evidence and integrity, is being put
at risk over adult access to contraception. Why would the administration risk
such a reputation over this?”

Many federal employees say they have often found the protections theoretically afforded to them within the Executive Branch of government to be inadequate. These protections are intended to include statements to their immediate supervisors, the Inspectors General that reside within virtually all government departments, and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent agency dedicated to ensuring that whistleblowers do not suffer retaliation.

But the OSC, led by Bush political appointee Scott Bloch, has itself come under heavy fire from public interest groups, not only for failing to protect whistleblowers from a variety of Federal agencies, but practicing retaliation against its own employees. Since 2005, Bloch has been under investigation by the Inspector General of the White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM), at the behest of the President’s Office of Management and Budget. OPM’s investigation centers on charges that Bloch retaliated against whistleblowers who complained they were being transferred out of Washington for political reasons because they disagreed with Bloch’s policies. That investigation is reportedly reaching its final stages.

The Administration’s investigation of Bloch comes as a result of a complaint filed by his own staff members and whistleblower groups alleging a host of misconduct charges against Bloch.

Bloch insists that the ‘forced removals’ were part of a reorganization that sent 12 career OSC employees to new assignments in other cities “to improve performance, not punish any employees.”

The OPM Inspector General’s investigation is the third probe into Bloch’s operation after less than two years in office. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a US Senate subcommittee both have ongoing investigations into mass dismissal of hundreds of whistleblower cases, crony hires, and Bloch’s targeting of gay employees for removal while refusing to investigate cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The allegation was made by in 2005 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), (, which said figures released by Bloch reveal that in the previous year OSC dismissed or otherwise disposed of 600 whistleblower disclosures where civil servants have reported waste, fraud, threats to public safety and violations of law, and “made 470 claims of retaliation disappear”.

PEER’S Jeff Ruch says, “The 600 disclosure cases that Bloch has admitted were dismissed are all instances where civil servants came forward to report waste, fraud and abuse, yet OSC decided that there was no need to investigate.”

He added, “Dismissing all 600 cases and deciding that not one deserved investigation (because, in the words of the OSC spokesperson they were all ("minor matters or issues previously investigated") stretches credulity.”

“Bloch has yet to announce a single case where he has ordered an investigation into the employee’s charges”, PEER charges. The organization says, “in not one of these cases did Bloch’s office affirmatively represent a whistleblower to obtain relief before the civil service court system”, called the Merit Systems Protection Board.

PEER says, “In order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, OSC would simply dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify why their cases had merit.”

Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected by the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). But a series of court rulings since 1994 has weakened the safeguards Congress intended in making it extremely difficult for whistleblowers to protect themselves when they speak out to protect the public.

Public Citizen’s Claybrook is calling for support of bills currently in Congress that would remedy the situation by strengthening whistleblower protections. On March 14, the US House of Representatives passed, 331 to 94, essential reforms to the WPA, H.R. 985, the "Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act." The bill extends protections to federal employees who work in national security, including those at the FBI and intelligence agencies, as well as to federally-funded contractors. It also protects all federal employees who disclose wrongdoing in the performance of official duties.

The bill provides federal employees and contractors with a right to jury trials in federal court to challenge reprisals. A similar bill is under consideration in the Senate, S. 274, the "Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act."

If the House bill were to become law, it would negate a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling that limited the rights of employee-whistleblowers. In 2006, Public Citizen argued Garcetti v. Ceballos in the Supreme Court on behalf of a Los Angeles County prosecutor, Richard Ceballos, who was retaliated against after telling his supervisors of his belief that police falsified an affidavit to obtain a search warrant. The Court ruled that the disclosure was made in the course of his official job duties, holding that he was entitled to no protection, not even his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"Conscientious civil servants deserve strong statutory protections - not bureaucratic intimidation," said Claybrook. "Federal employees should not have to sacrifice their careers and livelihoods to do the right thing by disclosing information to protect public health, reduce fiscal abuse or secure the nation."

Whistleblowers have a number of champions in Congress. In the Senate, the most outspoken is Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now ranking member of the Finance Committee. Grassley has advocated on behalf of individual whistleblowers for more than 20 years and co-authored laws to empower and protect whistleblowers, including the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, the 1986 whistleblower amendments to the False Claims Act, and the 2002 whistleblower amendment to the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform legislation. Along with Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, he has also called for the extension of whistleblower protections to staff at the World Bank, after receiving accounts of retaliation against whistleblowers.

In the House, arguably the most vocal champion of whistleblowers is Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, who is the author of the recently-passed Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

Says Waxman, “A key component of accountability is whistleblower protection. Federal employees are on the inside. They see when taxpayer dollars are wasted. They are often the first to see the signals of corrupt or incompetent management. Yet without adequate protections, they cannot step forward to blow the whistle.”

Waxman adds, “There are many federal government workers who deserve whistleblower protection, but perhaps none more than national security officials. These are federal government employees who have undergone extensive background investigations, obtained security clearances, and handled classified information on a routine basis. Our own government has concluded that they can be trusted to work on the most sensitive law enforcement and intelligence projects. Yet these officials receive no protection when come forward to identify abuses that are undermining our national security.”

Saturday, May 12, 2007


By William Fisher

This week, a Florida jury is set to hear opening arguments in a trial that has come to be known as “Padilla Lite” – because it lacks the most serious charges made the government when it spectacularly announced the arrest of Jose Padilla for conspiring with al Qaeda operatives to plant radiological ''dirty bombs'' and to blow up apartment buildings in major US cities.

In June 2002, then Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupted a visit to Moscow to hold a widely publicized press conference to announce the arrest at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport of the US citizen, who was soon designated by President George W. Bush as an enemy combatant.

The Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican, who lived in the Ft. Lauderdale area, had converted to Islam a few years earlier. He was arrested by the FBI in May 2002 after returning from Pakistan. Padilla, then 31, spent the next three years locked up in military custody in a South Carolina naval brig without charges or access to lawyers. In late 2005, he was abruptly transferred to a civilian jail on the eve of a Supreme Court habeas corpus hearing that would have compelled the government to present evidence to justify his continued detention.

A former juvenile offender, Padilla converted to Islam as part of an effort to straighten out his life, say family members and friends. His mosque in Fort Lauderdale sponsored his travel, he is said to have told friends, relatives and FBI agents who interviewed him in 2002.

Following his transfer from the navy brig, Padilla, along with two co-defendants, computer programmer Adham Amin Hassoun and Detroit school administrator Kifah Wael Jayyousi, were indicted for conspiring to ''murder, kidnap and maim'' people overseas and to provide ''material support'' for terrorist activity.

Gone were the “dirty bomb” allegations against Padilla, potentially incriminating testimony from al Qaeda members detained at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Padilla's originally alleged meeting with a top
al Qaeda commander. The jury will also not be hearing anything Padilla may have told his captors during his three-year incarceration nor of his treatment during that period. Federal rules of evidence exclude material obtained before a suspect is formally charged; Padilla was not charged until he became part of the civilian justice system.

Testimony of this kind is not part of the indictment against Padilla because its admission would have opened the door for defense attorneys to challenge the credibility of prosecution witnesses, possible torture tactics, and disclosure of national security secrets.

The evidence the government will present to a dozen Miami-Dade County jurors will be in support of allegations the defendants were part of a US-based mission to carry out ''violent jihad'' overseas, including the ''Mujahideen Data Form'' Padilla is alleged to have submitted in preparation for training with al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The government’s case is based largely on hundreds of wiretapped phone conversations between Padilla and his co-defendants. Seven of these taped phone calls contain recordings of Padilla’s voice.

Each of the defendants faces life in prison if convicted. To obtain a guilty verdict, prosecutors will have to convince the jury that each defendant participated in at least one act to further the conspiracy of providing material support for Islamic extremists overseas. Padilla's alleged recruitment by his co-defendants, and his alleged al Qaeda application, might be sufficient to obtain a conviction. The three defendants have pleaded not guilty.

However, the initial “dirty bomb” charge has not vanished completely. It was lodged against one of Padilla’s alleged accomplices, an Ethiopian-born Guantanamo detainee, who is not part of the Miami trial and who has not yet been scheduled for trial by a military tribunal at GITMO.

And the original “dirty bomb” allegation against Padilla is a key reason jury selection took more than a month and became so contentious. Many prospective jurors said they had heard of Padilla and some connection with the purported al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb." Others had strong opinions about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism that they said would make it difficult or impossible for them to be fair.

The seven men and five women jury -- five blacks, four whites and three Hispanics -- was chosen from an original jury pool of 300. Prosecutors charged that the defense was trying to exclude white and Hispanic men, who are considered more likely to convict. The defense accused the government of trying to exclude blacks, because studies have shown they frequently view criminal prosecutions with greater skepticism. The main jury includes no Muslims; the alternate juror of Egyptian descent said she was born to a Muslim family but did not practice Islam.

The indictment -- a summary of evidence gathered mostly from phone wiretaps of what the government characterizes as “coded” conversations involving Hassoun and other suspected conspirators -- paints a picture of an alleged North American cell involved in Muslim charities, an Islamic newsletter and jihad recruitment. But it cites no specific acts of violence by Padilla or other recruits.

The presiding federal judge, Marcia Cooke, has warned the prosecution team to limit references to Usama bin Laden, declaring that the Padilla case has no connection to him or his masterminding of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She also cautioned prospective jurors that the Miami indictment has nothing to do with the ''dirty bomber'' charge.

She has also excluded from evidence a seven-page summary prepared by the government, which it says is based on classified statements by Padilla and other alleged al Qaeda detainees. The summary says Padilla admitted attending the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in March 2000, when he met an al Qaeda recruiter and became interested in going to Afghanistan. It also says he admitted that ''he attended the al Qaeda-affiliated al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan in September-October 2000 under the name Abdullah al Espani.''

There, Padilla is said to have admitted receiving training in weaponry, explosives and communications. The government summary says that, about a year later, Padilla acknowledged meeting with senior al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah for the first time at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. During a second meeting, Padilla is alleged to have said he and an accomplice, an Ethiopian later identified as Binyam Ahmed Muhammad, “presented to Abu Zubaydah plans for an operation in which they would travel to the United States to detonate a nuclear bomb they learned to make on the Internet.''

The summary says Zubaydah ''was skeptical of the idea,'' but still sent him and his partner to Pakistan to present it to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, al Qaeda's
operations chief. It claims that Padilla and his partner met with Mohammed in March 2002 in Karachi, where Padilla presented the dirty bomb plan.

Padilla said the al Qaeda commander thought ''the idea was a little too
complicated.'' He suggested that Padilla blow up apartment buildings in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Florida, according to the government’s summary.

It alleges that ''Padilla now admits that he accepted the mission,'' and a month later, left Pakistan for Egypt, and later flew to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where the FBI arrested him. Authorities say he was carrying $10,526 he allegedly received from al Qaeda for his apartment-bombing mission, according to the summary.

However, jurors will hear none of this because the indictment does not accuse Padilla or his co-defendants with any of these alleged crimes.

Given the original sensational allegations and the worldwide publicity they attracted, some legal experts think the Padilla trial is bound to be something of an anti-climax.

According to University of Miami law Professor Stephen Vladeck, who had filed a Supreme Court brief challenging Padilla's detention. “For what was supposed to be this grand, central case in the government's war on terror, this is going out with much more of a whimper than a bang.''

Robert Chesney, a specialist in national security law at Wake Forest University,
termed the prosecution pragmatic, analogous to “going after Al Capone on
tax evasion.”

But a spokesperson for Human Rights First, a legal advocacy group, says this will never be an ordinary, pragmatic prosecution. “If Jose Padilla were from Day 1 just charged and tried, then maybe,” she said. “But this is a case that comes after three and a half years of the most gross deprivation of human rights that we’ve seen in this country for a long time.”

She also noted that the government has reserved the option, should its case fail, of returning Mr. Padilla to military custody. This “casts a shadow” over the current prosecution, she says.

Friday, May 11, 2007


By William Fisher

The nomination of a long-time manufacturers’ lobbyist to head the nation’s consumer safety watchdog agency is not only igniting fierce opposition from public interest groups, but is sparking a reexamination of the Bush Administration’s five-year history of appointing senior officials many regard as “cronies” who were inefficient, inexperienced and, in some cases, forced to resign under pressure or convicted of crimes.

According to a report released by Public Citizen, Michael Baroody, President Bush’s nominee to chair the Consumer Products Safety Commission, was the top lobbyist for the country’s most powerful industry trade association when the group supported weakening guidelines for reporting information about dangerous products.

The report charged that the “requirements that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and its allies sought to weaken had been responsible for more than 80 percent of the fines issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) over the past decade. NAM’s members and its coalition partners were responsible for paying more than half of those fines.”

The CPSC is tasked with protecting the public – and especially children – from serious injury or death and monitors more than 15,000 types of consumer products. Reports about product hazards are mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Act, one of the key laws governing the CPSC’s role in protecting consumer safety.

Public Citizen says that with Baroody serving as its executive director for lobbying efforts, NAM supported a move to weaken agency protocols that dictate when companies – including NAM members – must immediately report information about potentially hazardous product defects. The changes NAM successfully pressed for could affect the agency’s ability to issue timely decisions to recall dangerous products.

“As head of the CPSC, Baroody would be in charge of administering the weakened disclosure guidance his industry association sought, presenting a serious and unavoidable conflict of interest,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Under his authority, consumer and public safety would be at risk, while the companies he represented for years would save millions in future fines.”

Public Citizen’s analysis shows that weakening the rules had enormous financial benefits for NAM and its manufacturer members at the expense of consumer safety. Alleged violations of reporting guidelines were responsible for about $32.9 million of $39.6 million in civil fines collected by the CPSC since 1997. NAM members and affiliates accounted for more than half of those payments, totaling $18 million. Five of those companies alone paid a combined $10 million for allegedly violating reporting guidelines.

“While Baroody was at its helm, NAM had a record of unrelenting hostility to the safety of consumers, including small children,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Baroody should not be confirmed to lead a safety agency that has such a vital role in protecting American families.”

The Baroody nomination has rekindled charges of serious ethics breaches, conflicts of interest, inefficiency, cronyism, and a number of criminal convictions among Bush political appointees since the election of 2000.

The public is by now familiar with the more high profile cases. The departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The conviction of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, for lying to a federal grand jury in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative's identity. The conviction of David Safavian, head of all government procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, for lying to ethics officials and Senate investigators about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The resignation of neoconservative leader Richard Perle, one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, who stepped down as Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board amid conflict-of-interest charges. The firing of Michael Brown, the FEMA director whose performance before, during and after Hurricane Katrina became a national scandal. And, most recently, the resignation of Monica Goodling, the Bush administration official believed to have played a pivotal role in the current contretemps over sacked prosecutors, after she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify to Congress.

Less well-known to the public is the catalog of indictments or guilty pleas by lower-level Executive Branch political appointees. Here are some of them, originally compiled by Nick Turse of TPM Muckraker (, and added to by readers.

Steven Griles, Deputy Secretary at the Interior Department, who resigned and subsequently pled guilty to lying about his ties to convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Dusty Foggo, CIA Executive Director, who was indicted following accusations of corruption in connection to the Duke Cunningham scandal.

Claude Allen, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, who pled guilty to shoplifting from Target stores.

Larry Franklin, a DOD intelligence officer, who pled guilty to passing secrets to Israel.

Roger Stillwell, a desk officer at the Interior Department, who pled guilty to failing to report Redskins tickets and free dinners from Jack Abramoff.

Frank Figueroa, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security, and former head of anti-sex-crime Operation Predator, who pled no contest to exposing himself to 16-year-old girl in Florida mall.

Darleen Druyun, a senior contracting official for the Air Force, who pled guilty and was sentenced to nine months in prison for her role in the Boeing tanker lease scandal.

John Korsmo, chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board, who pled guilty to lying to the Senate and an inspector general about his role in a fundraiser for a friend's congressional campaign.

P. Trey Sunderland III, Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health, who admitted to a criminal conflict of interest charge for failing to report $300,000 received from Pfizer, Inc., a pharmaceutical company.

Still others have resigned in the face of pending charges or after investigations had been completed. These include:

Carl Truscott, Director of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau, who resigned after a report by the Justice Department's Inspector General found he wasted tens of thousands of dollars on luxuries, wasted millions on whimsical management decisions and violated ethics rules by ordering employees to help his nephew with a high school video project.

Joseph Schmitz, the Defense Department’s Inspector General, who resigned amid charges he personally intervened to protect top political appointees.

Susan Ralston, a White House assistant, who resigned amidst revelations she had accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from lobbyist Abramoff without compensating him, counter to White House ethics rules.

Kenneth Tomlinson, Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, who resigned after the release of an inspector general’s report concluding he had broken laws in spending CPB money to hire politically connected consultants to search for "bias" without consulting the board. At BBG, a separate investigation found he was running a "horse racing operation" out of his office, and continuing to hire politically-wired individuals to do "consulting" work for him.

George Deutsch, a NASA press aide, who resigned amid allegations he prevented the agency's top climate scientist from speaking publicly about global warming.

James Roche, Secretary of the Air Force, who resigned in the wake of the Boeing tanker lease scandal, after it was revealed he had pushed for Boeing to win a $23 billion contract.

Marvin Sambur, the top contracting executive at the Air Force – Darleen Druyun's boss -- who resigned in the wake of the Boeing scandal, though further investigations cleared him of wrongdoing.

Philip Cooney, Chief of Staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a former oil industry lawyer with no scientific expertise, who resigned after it was revealed he had watered down reports on global warming.

Thomas Scully, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who resigned following an investigation by the HHS Inspector General found he had pressured the agency's actuary to underestimate the full cost of the Medicare reform bill by approximately $100 billion until after Congress passed the bill into law.

Michelle Larson Korsmo, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Department of Labor, who resigned about two weeks before news broke that she and her husband were the targets of a criminal probe.

David Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks at the Interior Department, who resigned after shooting a buffalo and accepting its remains as an illegal gratuity.

Sean Tunis, Chief Medical Officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who left after the State of Maryland suspended his medical license because he faked documentation relating to his medical education.

Julie MacDonald, the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who resigned after an Inspector General investigation concluded that she used her position to squelch protection of endangered species.

Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who resigned as Inspector General of the Health and Human Services Department after Congress began investigating her decision to delay an audit of Florida's pension fund at the request of Gov. Jeb Bush's office.

Robert E. Coughlin II, Deputy Chief of Staff for the DOJ’s criminal division, who resigned after coming under scrutiny in the Department’s expanding investigation of convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Lester Crawford, who resigned as a commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration and pleaded guilty to charges of "conflict of interest and false reporting of information about stocks he owned in food, beverage and medical device companies he was in charge of regulating.”

Army Secretary Francis Harvey, the Army's top civilian official, who resigned in the wake of the ongoing controversy about poor outpatient care of injured soldiers at Walter Reid Army Medical Center.

The nominations of a number of other Bush loyalists were withdrawn because of scandal or political opposition. For example:

Harriet Myers, a longtime Bush friend, who the president nominated to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, but later was forced to withdraw because of opposition from the religious right.

Bernard Kerik, nominated on the recommendation of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to head the Department of Homeland Security, who withdrew his nomination amidst a host of corruption allegations.

Timothy Flanigan, nominated to be Deputy Attorney General, who withdrew his nomination after revelations that he had worked closely with lobbyist Jack Abramoff when he was General Counsel for Corporate and International Law at Tyco, an Abramoff client.

Linda Chavez, nominated to become Secretary of Labor, who withdrew her nomination because of revelations that an illegal immigrant lived in her home and worked for her.

A number of other Bush nominees made it through the Senate confirmation process but remain under scrutiny by Congress because of lack of experience or ideologically-driven views.

One such is Ellen Sauerbrey, now head of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the office that coordinates the American response to migration problems caused by war and natural disasters and works with international groups on population and reproductive-health issues.

Sauerbrey’s resume includes no experience in any of these areas. She ran Bush's 2000 presidential campaign in Maryland, and twice ran for governor of that state.

Another is Julie Myers, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whose nomination was criticized by several ICE supervisors and agents who said she was "unqualified" because she never held a law-enforcement management position. Myers leads the largest investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government, with more than 15,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $5 billion. Her uncle is retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, formerly chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A third is J. Dorrance Smith, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Smith, a former ABC News producer and the former media adviser to Coalition Provisional Authority Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, was confirmed by the Senate months after President Bush used a recess appointment to install him in the job. Objections were raised about a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested that US television networks engaged in “collaboration” with terrorists by airing Arab news reports on al Qaeda.

Many of the Bush Administration’s younger appointees were recruited from right-wing Christian universities, such as Patrick Henry College, whose mission is “to prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding.” Others have come from Liberty University, the Christian liberal arts university founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

Liberty’s law school is the alma mater of Monica Goodling, the DOJ’s White House liaison officer, who recently resigned rather than testify to Congress about her role in the firing of US attorneys. A long line of Patrick Henry graduates have found their way to internships and permanent positions in the Bush Administration, including some in the office of Karl Rove, the president’s chief political advisor.

Paul Bonicelli, a former Patrick Henry dean, is now the number two official supervising democracy-promotion programs at the US Agency for International Development.

But not all Bush appointees have been happy campers. A number have resigned. For example, John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who quit his post after only seven months on the job, and David Kuo, his deputy, who left saying that “there was minimal senior White House commitment to the faith-based agenda" and that there never really was great concern over what he called "the ‘poor people stuff’."

DiIulio told Esquire Magazine, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." He also decried "a virtual absence as yet of any policy accomplishments that might, to a fair-minded nonpartisan, count as the flesh on the bones of so-called compassionate conservatism."

The invasion of Iraq also triggered the resignations of a number of officials who disagreed with the Bush Administration’s war policies. Among them were career Foreign Service Officers like John Brown, now a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, and Mary A. (Ann) Wright, who now writes about US foreign policy and lectures at universities.

But the current controversy related to the forced resignations of nine US attorneys promises to add fuel to the fire caused by what many Administration-watchers describe as the most inept, ideological and politically-driven presidencies in recent US history.

Virtually every American administration has had its share of scandal. The presidencies of Warren G. Harding and Ulysses S. Grant were destroyed by the appointment of corrupt or unqualified officials.

Woodrow Wilson got rid of his attorney general, James McReynolds, by appointing him to the Supreme Court; McReynolds was a reactionary who hated his fellow Justices, Louis Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo, for being Jewish, and is remembered as one of the worst Justices in it's history.

Dwight D. Eisenhower had to fire his top aide, Sherman Adams, for accepting a Vicuna coat from a government contractor.

One of John F. Kennedy’s assistant secretaries in the commerce Department was fired for violating the Hatch Act by soliciting campaign contributions from government employees.

Jimmy Carter appointed Bert Lance as head of his Office of Management and Budget, but Lance was forced to resign six months later amid allegations of mismanagement and corruption when Lance was Chairman of the Board of Calhoun National Bank of Calhoun, Georgia.

Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, who was a serial liar on conditions in Vietnam.

Ronald Reagan had Col. Oliver North, Adm. John Pointdexter and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the lead roles of Iran-Contra.
Richard Nixon appointed the arrogant sycophants whose amoral hubris resulted in Watergate.

And Bill Clinton appointed many Arkansas cronies, including Webster Hubbell as his Deputy Attorney General, only to have him assert his Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress, but later plead guilty to several felony charges relating to illegal billing in the Whitewater affair.

But critics of the Bush Administration assert that its “appointments deficit” extends wider and deeper than that of any other modern presidency. They contend that, of the 3,000-plus political jobs a president can offer, an exponentially larger proportion of Bush appointees lack the specialized experience they require, are managerially inept and ideologically-driven, have contempt for career civil servants, and regularly sacrifice good governance ethics for personal gain or to curry favor among Bush supporters, especially the Religious Right.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


By William Fisher

Public interest groups and anonymous whistleblowers are charging that Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has irreconcilable conflicts of interest in his much-trumpeted investigations of Karl Rove’s missing emails and the firing of a US Attorney, and are calling on the top White House lawyer to force Bloch to recuse himself.

In a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, an attorney representing Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and the unnamed whistleblowers, wrote:

“Multiple conflicts of interest will result if Mr. Bloch continues to lead an investigation of high level officials in the White House while he himself is being investigated, essentially at the direction of the White House.”

Lawyer Debra S. Katz wrote Fielding that, “On the hand, the pending charges against Mr. Mr. Bloch supply him with an incentive to whitewash violations of the law in the hopes of currying favor. On the other hand, were he to make findings of violations, his findings would be viewed as an act of retribution and/or coercion to prevent the President from taking appropriate action against him, which he would surely portray as retaliation. If Mr. Bloch’s investigation of White House officials is still underway when (the Office of Personnel Management) completes its own investigation of Mr. Bloch…the White House will be put in the position of having to make a decision about Mr. Bloch’s continued tenure, while it is itself being investigated by Mr. Bloch.”

Since 2005, Bloch has been under investigation by the Inspector General of the White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM), at the behest of the President’s Office of Management and Budget. OPM’s investigation centers on charges that Bloch retaliated against whistleblowers who complained they were being transferred out of Washington for political reasons because they disagreed with Bloch’s policies. That investigation is reportedly reaching its final stages.

As that process plodded forward, Bloch announced his plans to investigate the White House by combining several unrelated high-profile investigations, including the firing of US Attorneys, missing Karl Rove emails and political briefings of General Services Administration managers, in violation of the Hatch Act.

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) told Truthout, "Scott Bloch gives opportunism a bad name."

PEER is among a number of public interest groups calling for the abolition of Bloch’s office, which is up for congressional reauthorization this year.

Bloch’s proposed investigation has prompted protests both inside and outside the OSC. These have been based on issues including:

· The OSC likely does not have jurisdiction over a complaint filed by recently fired US Attorney David Iglesias (a complaint solicited by Bloch) alleging discrimination on the basis of his service in the Navy Reserve.

· Presidential appointees who have been confirmed by the Senate are not entitled to claim statutory protection against decisions regarding their continued tenure.

· There are separation of powers questions about applying statutes to block a presidential prerogative to remove his own appointees.

· OSC has only a qualified subpoena power and lacks the authority to enforce its subpoenas in court. If a party simply refuses to comply, OSC must obtain the consent of the General Counsel of the Merits Systems Protection Board, headed by a Bush-appointee, who would then be charged with bringing an enforcement action.

· The legal basis for an OSC investigation into emails from White House staff sent on Republican National Committee accounts, as well as OSC’s power to order surrender of the missing missives, is unclear.

“It makes no sense for Scott Bloch to investigate the White House while the White House investigates Bloch,” stated PEER’s Ruch, noting that Bloch has told allies that the White House has twice asked him to resign. Bloch, who is in the midst of a fixed five-year term, can only be removed for cause.

"Bloch should recuse himself from this case and hand the matter over to an outside entity, such as the relevant Inspectors General or Congress,” Ruch said.

He added, ““Scott Bloch brings the investigative acumen of an Inspector Clouseau to a very complicated and delicate matter.”

“It is not that Bloch has lacked the opportunities to conduct complex investigations since every virtually whistleblower in town goes to the OSC, but Bloch has ignored them all. It is only when a probe serves his political agenda that he latches onto it as if it were the last helicopter leaving Saigon, ” says POGO Director of Investigations Beth Daley said, “What we have here is a mutual investigation society. This is the bureaucratic equivalent of a mouse trying to swallow an elephant. The OSC has no standing to conduct the investigation and Scott Bloch cannot possibly investigate the White House while it is investigating him.”

The Administration’s investigation of Bloch comes as a result of a complaint filed by his own staff members and whistleblower groups alleging a host of misconduct charges against Bloch. One part of that complaint concerns Bloch’s improper interference with the handling of Hatch Act cases, the statute that Bloch is now invoking as the basis for looking at White House political briefings.

Bloch’s proposed investigation follows allegations that the Justice Department fired eight US Attorneys for political reasons, that White House officials including Bush political advisor Karl Rove violated the Presidential Records Act by using an email account of the Republican National Committee and failing to archive these communications, and that Bush appointees delivered politically-charged briefings to employees of the General Services Administration (GSA), thus violating the Hatch Act.

Bloch contends that one of the fired US Attorneys, David Iglesias, suffered discriminatory treatment because of his 45-day absence for military service.

The US Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Its basic authorities come from three federal statutes, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Hatch Act.

Its mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing. It is intended to provide a secure channel for federal workers -- except those in the FBI and intelligence agencies -- to disclose information about various workplace improprieties, including a violation of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement and waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial danger to public health or safety.

OSC has about 110 employees, about 40 percent of them licensed attorneys. Like public defenders, OSC’s attorneys are paid by the government to act in the interests of federal employees who seek their protection.

President Bush nominated Bloch for his five-year term in 2003. He was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate. From 2001-2003, Bloch served as Associate Director and then Deputy Director and Counsel to the Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Justice. Before joining the Bush Administration, he was a partner in a Lawrence, Kansas, law firm.

The complaint against Bloch alleges he discriminated against OSC employees by imposing illegal gag orders, cronyism, and retaliation in forcing employee relocations and the resignations of one-fifth of OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff.

Bloch insists that the ‘forced removals’ were part of a reorganization that sent 12 career OSC employees to new assignments in other cities “to improve performance, not punish any employees.”

The OPM Inspector General’s investigation is the third probe into Bloch’s operation after less than two years in office. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a US Senate subcommittee both have ongoing investigations into mass dismissal of hundreds of whistleblower cases, crony hires, and Bloch’s targeting of gay employees for removal while refusing to investigate cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The allegation was made by in 2005 by PEER, which said figures released by Bloch reveal that in the previous year OSC dismissed or otherwise disposed of 600 whistleblower disclosures where civil servants have reported waste, fraud, threats to public safety and violations of law, and “made 470 claims of retaliation disappear”.

Ruch says, “The 600 disclosure cases that Bloch has admitted were dismissed are all instances where civil servants came forward to report waste, fraud and abuse, yet OSC decided that there was no need to investigate.”

He added, “Dismissing all 600 cases and deciding that not one deserved investigation (because, in the words of the OSC spokesperson they were all ("minor matters or issues previously investigated") stretches credulity.”

“Bloch has yet to announce a single case where he has ordered an investigation into the employee’s charges”, PEER charges. The organization says, “in not one of these cases did Bloch’s office affirmatively represent a whistleblower to obtain relief before the civil service court system”, called the Merit Systems Protection Board.

PEER says, “In order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, OSC would simply dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify why their cases had merit.”

And Melanie Sloan, executive director of another public interest organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said of Bloch, “Having transformed OSC into a virtual black hole for legitimate complaints of retaliation, Bloch is decidedly not the right person to tackle the issues of misconduct and illegality that surround top White House officials. There is a serious question as to whether Bloch will just provide cover for an administration that has been covering for him.”

Friday, May 04, 2007


By William Fisher

The departure of one of the few Bush Administration appointees with “some ‘native’ familiarity” with the Middle East – coupled with release of a new survey revealing growing doubts among Americans about their country’s reputation in the rest of the world – is triggering yet another round of criticism of US public diplomacy efforts.

Dina Habib Powell, the highest-ranking Arab-American in the Bush Administration, is resigning from her post at the State Department to join Goldman Sachs Group, a leading Wall Street investment house.

As assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and deputy to Undersecretary of State Karen P. Hughes, Powell played a major role in the administration's efforts to improve America’s reputation in the face of the wave of anti-Americanism in the Arab triggered by the US invasion of Iraq. Her parents emigrated from Egypt and settled in Texas when Powell was four years old and could not speak English.

At the same time, a just-released survey commissioned by Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), reported that “substantial majorities of Americans express concern about our nation's declining global reputation and believe it is more important than ever for Americans to repair relationships and build new bridges with the rest of the world.”

The survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted for BDA by Zogby International last month found that 76 percent are concerned about America's global reputation, 74 percent believe the US is viewed negatively by people in other countries, and 66 percent of voters say U.S. relations with the rest of the world are on the wrong track.

Against this background, Truthout interviewed University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy Senior Fellow John Brown, the former State Department official who compiles the daily “Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review.” ( In 2003, Brown resigned after more than 20 years as a Foreign Service Officer as a protest against the invasion of Iraq.

Here are some of his views on the state of US public diplomacy.

TRUTHOUT: You have written about Karen Hughes and what she calls her “diplomacy of deeds,” ( “Her focus on deeds suggests that she is not, at heart, interested in the US establishing a dialogue with the world, perhaps the most important function of America’s public diplomacy, which is meant to complement and enrich its traditional diplomacy. If she is not interested in a dialogue with the world, what happened to her ideas about “listening tours?”

BROWN: The listening tours, like so many “new initiatives”, seem to have vanished from Ms. Hughes’ priorities. Perhaps she has the illusion of thinking that she is now sufficiently familiar with the Middle East, certainly an area that cannot be understood by a quickie “listening tour,” but by years of study and travel (not to speak of language study). Interestingly, the one person on Hughes’ staff with some “native” familiarity with the area -- Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dina Powell, who was born in Egypt -- has decided to leave the State Department to work on Wall Street.

No matter how much she travels overseas, Ms. Hughes’s true focus all along has been US domestic politics. As her breathless autobiography, “Ten Minutes from Normal”, suggests, she sees life as a perpetual political campaign. Indeed, her so-called “diplomacy of deeds” -- which ostensibly is meant to win foreigners over by charitable acts such as handing out sewing machines, which Ms Hughes, the spin-stress par excellence, did when she was in the Philippines -- is at heart an effort to reassure Americans of how good, kind and compassionate we are toward the rest of the world under the Bush administration.

What Karen is really telling us -- through the US media coverage she makes sure her “deeds” obtain – is that, no matter what bad things these awful terrorists (the outside world) say about us, we are God’s chosen people because of our generosity. And don’t forget to support Bush and vote Republican.

As Ms. Hughes herself wrote, in her usual saccharine style, in The Washington Times (December 20, 2006): “At this time of year, when people are called on to care for the hungry, sick and abandoned, Americans should know we are giving the gift of hope to thousands of people whose names we will never know. And I will continue to advocate we do even more, because the diplomacy of deeds serves our own national interests and the people of every nation.”

TRUTHOUT: Given the increasingly negative attitudes toward US foreign policy, as revealed by repeated opinion surveys, is there anything positive that any PD czarina could do to positively influence world opinion? If so what?

BROWN: Speaking of deeds, what the Bush administration should do to influence world public opinion positively is to change drastically its foreign policy. GITMO should be closed. Real efforts to end the war in Iraq diplomatically should be undertaken. The ill-conceived anti-missile missile project in Eastern Europe should be dropped. Far more Iraqi refugees should be admitted to the United States. The term “war on terror” should be abandoned. The list goes on and on.

Most of the world does not “hate” America as a country or civilization. People overseas view us with mixed feelings. They admire some aspects of the United States, and others are not as attractive to them. I would suggest that at the top of what foreigners dislike (if not, in many cases, despise) about the US is the Bush administration and its disastrous foreign policy, which even Americans now realize has done enormous damage to international understanding. George W. Bush is a confirmation of foreigners’ worst feelings about the United States and its role in the world.

TRUTHOUT: What can you tell our readers about how our embassy people around the world view Ms. Hushes and our PD efforts?

BROWN: As you know, I left the Foreign Service in March 2003 in opposition to Mr. Bush’s war plans against Iraq, so I may not be the best source on how our embassy staff around the world currently views Ms. Hughes. I am, however, still in contact with diplomats who practice and have practiced public diplomacy, and what I can say is that many are greatly disturbed not only by Bush’s foreign policy, but by the scarcity of resources available for public diplomacy.

Hughes may talk on and on about how important public diplomacy is, but her “diplomacy of deeds” does not seem to extend to getting adequate funding to carry out essential public diplomacy programs ranging from educational exchanges to radio broadcasts.

Let me also note that Ms. Hughes was a member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) ( led the campaign to convince the American people to go to war with Iraq. It would be interesting to know more about Hughes’ role in this secretive propaganda operation. She owes it to the American people -- and the world -- to disclose the truth about this. (

In a related development came the results of the survey commissioned by Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), an organization of multinational American companies working to improve the standing of America in the world by engaging the private sector in public diplomacy efforts.

"When you have results at the 70 percent or 75 percent level, that's about as close to a universal consensus as you're going to get," said Keith Reinhard, BDA’s founder and chairman.

"Americans are saying that our relationship with the rest of the world is broken but they see a way out." Six in ten of those surveyed say it is "more important than ever for Americans to reach out and build new bridges to people from other countries and cultures" -- as opposed to three in ten who say Americans must "build fences around our country to keep out illegal immigrants, terrorists and
foreigners in general."

The survey found that “An overwhelming majority of voters (69 percent) identified three changes that will have a major impact on the current situation: changing the way the US government conducts public diplomacy; placing more emphasis on social studies and world history courses in American schools; and changing U.S. foreign policy.”

Other actions favored by majorities: expanding international exchange programs, encouraging Americans to learn foreign languages, and getting US corporations involved in public diplomacy.

The poll was conducted for BDA by Zogby International. Most of its findings appear to present a mirror image of the attitudes of foreigners toward the US.

Dina Powell, 33, joined the State Department from the White House, where she directed the presidential personnel office. Before assuming her post at State
two years ago, she advised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on staffing her team at Foggy Bottom.

According to The Washington Post, Powell is expected to become a managing director of Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s leading investment banking organizations. She will become director of global corporate engagement, a newly created position, and will oversee the firm's charitable activities and serve as Goldman's principal liaison to philanthropic and nongovernmental organizations.

"I'm really sorry to lose her. She is fantastic," Rice told The Post. "She had so many ideas. There are people who have ideas but can't execute them. She really executed them."

Rice lauded Powell's creation of public-private partnerships, which brought corporations together with the government to assist other countries, such as in Lebanon. The US-Lebanon partnership, formed after the Israeli-Hezbollah war last summer that stirred anger against the US, is led by a group of corporate executives who traveled to Lebanon with Powell to promote initiatives to create jobs and rebuild homes.

Despite the tense relationship between the US and Iran, Powell is also credited with resurrecting people-to-people exchanges with the Islamic Republic, bringing Iranian medical doctors to the United States and sending a US wrestling team to Iran.

The Post reported that in her White House role, Powell made recommendations on hiring and was one of four individuals -- the others were President Bush, Vice President Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove – who knew whether a candidate was being accepted for one of the 4,000 jobs filled by the White House.

Rice told The Post that Powell "won't be replaceable" but Hughes is looking at potential candidates. "There is a lot now in place," she said. "For the next 18 months it is now a matter of institutionalizing it."

John Brown was a senior member of the Foreign Service who served in the State Department for more than 20 years, primarily in Eastern Europe and Russia. On March 10, 2003, he submitted his letter of resignation to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying, “I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq.”

Brown’s letter said, “The president has failed to explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time; to lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties; to specify the economic costs of the war for ordinary Americans; to clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror; (and) to take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration.

He wrote, “Throughout the globe the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force. The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century.”

Brown’s Public Diplomacy daily roundup is available free on request to

Thursday, May 03, 2007


By William Fisher

A Justice Department proposal to limit lawyers’ access to the nearly 400 detainees at Guantanamo Bay is drawing sharp criticism from much of the legal community in the US.

In a court filing, the DOJ claimed that the lawyers’ use of mail to communicate with their clients had “enabled detainees’ counsel to cause unrest on the base by informing detainees about terrorist attacks.” The mail system has been “misused” to inform detainees about military operations in Iraq, activities of terrorist leaders, efforts to fight terrorism, a Hezbollah attack on Israel, and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, the department said in the filing.

The DOJ is seeking to narrow the definition of “legal mail” and set a three-visit limit on face-to-face meetings once a detainee agrees at an initial meeting to let a lawyer represent him.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is expected to hear arguments on the proposal on May 15.

"Creating a legal black hole where rights are denied is as un-American as it is illegal," said Anthony Romero, of the American Civil Liberties Union.

And Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA told Truthout, “The right to a fair trial is one of the universally applicable principles recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory. The U.S. took a huge step away from this standard with the Military Commissions Act of 2006. And now the proposal to limit attorneys' access to their clients at Guantanamo Bay will further hinder detainees' right to full equality under the law.”

“How a person is treated when accused of a crime provides a concrete demonstration of how far a state respects human rights. Amnesty International strongly urges the Congress and the Bush administration take immediate steps to restore our traditional American values of justice, rule of law, and human dignity. Otherwise the ‘war on terror’ is merely a war on rights,” she said.

Lawyers are predicting more suicides and despair at Guantanamo if the Justice Department prevails. They point out that lawyers are virtually the only contact inmates have with the outside world. If their visits are limited, detainee
desperation will deepen and more will try to kill themselves, they say.

On June 10, 2006, two Saudi detainees and one Yemeni hanged themselves with sheets, the first and only suicides since the 2002 opening of the detention center that now holds about 380 inmates.

Clive Stafford Smith, an attorney for several Guantanamo detainees, said
curtailing lawyer visits would likely lead more prisoners to attempt suicide.
"The level of depression is soaring, I am afraid," he said.

He added that many detainees are kept in isolation in small cells with no natural light. With no prison sentence having been pronounced — except for one Australian detainee — the detainees do not know when they will get out, if ever. Many have been there for more than five years.

Attorney Stephen Oleskey, who represents six Algerians, said more suicides are
"a real risk" if the court restricts lawyer-client contacts.

"I've seen firsthand the mental conditions of my clients deteriorate in isolation," Oleskey said. "And I think the impact of further restrictions would be dramatic."

Many human rights and legal authorities view the DOJ move to restrict attorney access as an attempt to seal the facility from critics. "If we cannot come in, the only news getting out of here will be the government's carefully crafted version," said one of them.

They say it is the attorneys who provide the world with information about hunger strikes, solitary confinement and other details about the detainees. Journalists can visit but are barred by the military from interviewing detainees. The Red Cross, which occasionally visits, keeps its findings confidential.

But military commanders at Guantanamo and the Justice Department have always viewed the lawyers with suspicion. Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Associated Press the military has been giving broad lawyer access to many detainees — even though they are accused of having al-Qaida or Taliban links and the United States is still at war.

Barry M. Kamin, president of the New York City Bar, called the assertions
"astonishing and disingenuous" in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto

The president of the group asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to abandon the Justice Department proposal to limit lawyers’ access.

In his letter to Mr. Gonzales, the bar association’s president said, “This is an astonishing and disingenuous assertion.”

“Blaming counsel for the hunger strikes and other unrest is a continuation of a
disreputable and unwarranted smear campaign against counsel,” the letter said.

The 137-year-old New York City Bar, with more than 23,000 members, is one of the oldest and largest lawyers’ organizations in the country. It says the Bush administration is trying to evade responsibility for problems at the Guantánamo Bay prison by falsely blaming defense lawyers.

The American Bar Association has also criticized the DOJ move to place "arbitrary restrictions concerning the number of times and the ways that lawyers may confer with their clients in Guantanamo." ABA President Karen J. Mathis said such practices at Guantanamo or in a court "would threaten competent representation without at all advancing national security."

Meanwhile, a number of US senators have vowed to restore to foreign terrorism suspects the right to challenge their imprisonment. They say Congress made an historic blunder by stripping them of that right last year. Hundreds of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members held at Guantanamo could be affected.

Last year's Congress, with a Republican majority, passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which sets specific rules for US military tribunals. It included a ban on non-citizens labeled "enemy combatants" from using "habeas corpus" petitions to challenge the legality of their detention in court, asserting that military panels at Guantanamo were a substitute for court review.

The new law was hurriedly passed in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision striking down the Bush Administration’s position because it lacked legislative authority from Congress.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, warned, "This new law means that any of these people can be detained forever without any ability to challenge their detention in federal court, or anywhere else, simply on the government's say-so that they are awaiting determination as to whether they are enemy combatants," he said.

"This is wrong. It is unconstitutional. It is un-American," Leahy said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would share jurisdiction on changing the law.

A Defense Department lawyer and some committee Republicans said the law should be allowed to work and be examined by US courts before Congress acts again.

Thus far, there have been no trials and only two prisoners charged under the MCA. An Australian detainee, David Hicks, pled guilty to a charge of aiding and abetting terrorists and was given a seven-year sentence with all but nine months suspended. A prisoner for almost five years, Hicks will serve his sentence in Australia, and is barred from talking to the media for a year.

Another group of what the Bush Administration characterizes as “high value” detainees has been sent to Guantanamo from secret prisons, whose existence President Bush admitted for the first time in announcing the transfers. It is believed these “black site” facilities were run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and located in former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe as well as some in the Middle East.

But whether any of these defendants will come to trial remains an open question because at least some of the evidence against them may have been obtained using “cruel and inhumane” treatment, which is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions.

Sen. Leahy, along with the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has introduced legislation to restore habeas corpus right to detainees. With the help of Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, "I hope we can fix this serious and corrosive problem by this summer," Leahy said.

Levin, a Michigan Democrat, agreed. "We have an obligation to act now to establish a process that we can defend."

Similar legislation has also been introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and candidate for his party’s nomination for the presidency in the 2008 election.

The writ of habeas corpus – a Latin phrase meaning "you have the body" - has been a centerpiece of Anglo-American jurisprudence since it was first developed over 300 years ago in Britain. It gives defendants the right to have their imprisonment reviewed by a court.

In a related development, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, has introduced legislation to close the military prison at Guantánamo.

Guantánamo Bay has become a lightning rod for international condemnation," Feinstein said. "Rather than make the United States safer, the image projected by this facility puts us at greater risk," she said.

Feinstein's bill would require the DOD to close the Guantánamo Bay prison 100 days after the bill's enactment. Feinstein laid out several options as to where the detainees would go.

They could be transferred to civilian or military prisons in the US and charged before civilian courts or military tribunals, or they could be handed over to international tribunals authorized to try them.

Detainees cleared for release would be sent either to their home countries or, if those countries have a history of prisoner torture, to third-party countries that e agree to take them.

Feinstein said she opposes releasing any terrorists, but adds that the US would be better served holding them elsewhere.

"Conducting trials elsewhere, either in the US or before internationally recognized tribunals, will give these proceedings a credibility that they would not likely have if they were conducted at Guantánamo Bay," Feinstein said.

In 2002, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to Guantanamo prisoners as "the worst of the worst." In June 2005, he said, "If you think of the people down there, these are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield. They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, (Osama bin Laden's) bodyguards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th 9/11 hijacker."

Other Bush Administration officials have been equally certain. For example, now retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "They were so vicious, if given the chance they would gnaw through the hydraulic lines of a C-17 while they were being flown to Cuba."

Nevertheless, of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the Pentagon reports that the military has now released all but approximately 385. Some were released to their home countries and imprisoned or freed. Others have been accepted by third countries.

But reliable evidence shows that, of the original number, many were not captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan, but kidnapped off the streets of Europe and various locations in the Middle East, and many others were "sold" to US authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan for bounties. It has also become clear that others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Last year, the United Nations called on the US to close Guantánamo, opposing the Bush administration's claims that suspected terrorists were not entitled to treatment prescribed by the Geneva Conventions or the habeas corpus right to challenge the legality of their detentions.

More recently, President Bush has also said he would like to close Guantanamo if alternative arrangements can be made for the prisoners. The government says it is working hard to find countries willing to accept released prisoners, but is finding most of them either reluctant or unacceptable.