White House e-mails missing for a week after Saddam's capture
The full picture of what happened inside the White House in the days after Saddam Hussein's capture may be lost forever because of improper record keeping by the Bush administration that has caused millions of e-mails to be lost.
E-mails are missing from the White House Office for a one-week span in December 2003 beginning the day after US troops captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq, according to a report detailing events on some of the 473 days in which up to 10 million internal Bush administration e-mails are believed to have gone missing.
The report was released over the weekend by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is suing to force the White House to detail how it archives e-mails to determine if it is in line with federal law.
There are e-mails missing from White House archives beginning Dec. 15, 2003 and continuing until Dec. 22, according to CREW's report. At the time, Saddam Hussein's capture dominated the nation's newspapers and was sure to be subject of much internal discussion, but historians and the public may never know what was zipping between White House Blackberries that day.
President Bush was publicly warning that the road ahead in Iraq would remain "difficult and ... require further sacrifice," and news reports then indicated continued violence following Saddam's capture.
At the same time the United States also was trying to decide how to handle the deposed dictator's prosecution, ultimately deciding to leave it to the fledgling Iraqi government.
The critical week in December 2003 is a drop in a fairly large pond of potentially missing data from the White House, and the Washington Post reports Tuesday that there is no comprehensive system for archiving administration e-mails. The Bush administration apparently abandoned use of a system used by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, after complaints about improper record keeping in his White House in the late 90s.
The White House, for its part, insists that no e-mails are missing, although its current stance seems to be a departure from its previous acknowledgements that at least some e-mails were lost. Last week, a spokesman said the White House "could not authenticate" results of an earlier internal document that showed 473 days on which e-mails were missing.
"We have no evidence and we have no way of showing that any e-mail at all are missing," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Whatever the case, the archiving system seems lacking in contrast to the Clinton system, which automatically preserved e-mails that could have historical or evidentiary value, Tom Blanton, who heads the National Security Archive, told the Post.
"But that has disappeared," he said, "and as far as I know there's no apparent system."