Friday's must-reads

Published July 9, 2004 1:33PM (EDT)

Bush's military records AWOL, for good
When the White House produced hundreds of pages of George W. Bush's military records last February, officials didn't mention then that they were incomplete -- but the New York Times reports today that "military records that could help establish President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently destroyed, according to the Pentagon."

Unfortunately, for anyone trying to piece together Bush's whereabouts during the three months in 1972 and 1973 when he was supposed to be serving in Alabama, the payroll records covering that time period were among those destroyed.

"The disclosure appeared to catch some experts, both pro-Bush and con, by surprise. Even the retired lieutenant colonel who studied Mr. Bush's records for the White House, Albert C. Lloyd of Austin, said it came as news to him. The loss was announced by the Defense Department's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review in letters to The New York Times and other news organizations that for nearly half a year have sought Mr. Bush's complete service file under the open-records law."

" ... Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director who has said that the released records confirmed the president's fulfillment of his National Guard commitment, did not return two calls for a response."

" ... For Mr. Bush, the 1969 period when he was training to be a pilot, is not in dispute. But in May 1972, he moved to Alabama to work on a political campaign and, he has said, to perform his Guard service there for a year. But other Guard officers have said they had no recollection of ever seeing him there. The most evidence the White House has been able to find are records showing Mr. Bush was paid for six days in October and November 1972, without saying where, and the record of a dental exam at a Montgomery, Ala., air base on Jan. 6, 1973. On June 22, The Associated Press filed suit in federal court in New York against the Pentagon and the Air Force to gain access to all the president's military records."

"The lost payroll records stored in Denver might have answered some questions about whether he fulfilled his legal commitment, critics who have written about the subject said in interviews."

Florida voting machines flawed
Florida is having problems with its touch-screen voting machines, The Miami Herald reports, but has not publicly acknowledged many of the flaws and doesn't have a plan in place to fix them.

"The situation has led to a fractious relationship between Miami-Dade, the state and the touch-screen machine maker, Electronic Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb. At one point, a state Division of Elections e-mail shows, Miami-Dade Assistant County Attorney Murray Greenberg threatened to sue the company -- and make it 'close up shop nationally' -- if more problems were discovered with the equipment that was certified as working two years ago."

"In a June 3 letter to ES&S, obtained by The Herald in a public records request, Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Constance Kaplan demanded answers to three problems with the iVotronic equipment that she said could take 'labor intensive and costly' actions to fix. She asked ES&S to resolve these issues 'expeditiously:'

-- The central database machines used to tabulate votes are incapable of holding all the audit data at once, requiring a ''labor intensive and costly'' solution that could complicate a recount in a close race. Audit data is used to back up the system.

-- The optical scanners used to read absentee ballots have problems when information is merged from the three machines the county uses.

-- And the county could potentially mix up votes if it were to try to use phone lines to transmit data from the polling places to the election center, which it doesn't plan to do."

DOD plan keeps detainees "off the books"
The Pentagon last month pledged annual reviews for all prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, yet officials "tentatively agreed during a high-level meeting last month to deny that process to some detainees and to keep their existence secret 'for intelligence reasons,'" the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Under the proposal, some prisoners would in effect be kept off public records and away from the scrutiny of lawyers and judges. The meeting on the Guantanamo reviews occurred months after U.S. officials came under harsh criticism by investigators and human rights observers for practices involving 'ghost' detainees in Iraq who were kept hidden from inspectors for intelligence purposes."

"It was unclear Thursday whether the Pentagon had followed through with the proposal, or how it would be affected by last month's Supreme Court ruling that granted detainees access to American courts. It also was not clear how many detainees the proposal would apply to. The Pentagon said there currently were 594 detainees at the camp, nicknamed 'Gitmo.' A Swedish detainee was released Thursday."

Rupert was the tipster
A New York Post employee tells the New York Times that the source of the bogus, embarrassing, byline-free cover story on Tuesday that proclaimed Kerry had chosen Dick Gephardt to be his running mate came from the Post's owner, Rupert Murdoch himself.

"The Post employee demanded anonymity, saying senior editors had warned that those who discussed the Gephardt gaffe with other news organizations would lose their jobs. Mr. Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of the News Corporation, called his tip in to the Post's news desk just after 10 on Monday night, between the first and second editions, the employee said."

"The employee said that Mike Hechtman, an editor on the city desk, then rewrote the paper's article on Mr. Kerry's choice, which originally said only that it would be announced Tuesday morning. The article was rewritten on a tight deadline to say unequivocally that the running mate would be Mr. Gephardt. The article carried no byline and cited no source, saying only, 'The Post has learned.'''

Aussie pols to Bush: "Butt out" of our election
Politicians in Rupert Murdoch's home country Australia want the Bush administration to "butt out" of their election, Reuters reports.

"Top U.S. officials, including President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have been pressuring Australia's opposition Labor party to drop a promise to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq if it won polls tipped for October. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, a close U.S. ally, wants the troops to stay until the 'job is done.' A poll showed he has the backing of two-thirds of Australians, but the row has created a sharp political divide."

"U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage stepped up criticism this week, telling Australian reporters in Washington that he believed center-left Labor was split on its policy to withdraw Australia's 850 troops in and around Iraq by Christmas. With Labor polling neck-and-neck with the eight-year-old Liberal/National government, former Labor prime minister Paul Keating and former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser condemned U.S. interference in Australian politics. 'The intervention, not only of Richard Armitage but his bosses, in our political scene, I think, are quite unforgivable,' Fraser, who was prime minister between 1975 and 1983, told Australian television late on Thursday."

"'He's (Armitage) doing it for a very specific purpose -- to try and achieve a specific outcome that the United States wants. If it had been in older times, American officials would have been told to butt out.'"

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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