White House altered, deleted press releases on 'coalition of the willing'


John Byrne
Published: Friday December 5, 2008

The White House altered documents regarding the nations involved in the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" that aided the US invasion of Iraq.

A University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign political science professor says he found that the White House had modified elements of its website dealing with the coalition and in some cases deleted key documents in the public record.

At the onset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the White House released a list of the nations participating in the coalition, an important part of Bush Administration PR efforts, as the war was not UN-endorsed. Over a period of years, however, the original releases were modified to account for the diminishing number of nations.

Two releases were deleted from the White House website entirely, the professor says.

"I think that it raises the question of whether or not we can trust the government to maintain public records of things that were said or done that later prove embarrassing," Illinois political science professor Scott Althaus said.

"It could be what we found is limited," Althaus added. "But if it is not, it certainly opens the finding up to larger questions."

According to the university's student newspaper, a proofreader doublechecking a paper Althaus co-authored on the edited releases found that one of the URLs included in his paper now led to a blank page. "Related lists of coalition countries also appeared to contradict one another," the paper added.

The Cline Center for Democracy asserted that the "pattern" of "revision and removal" suggest that the White House has edited documents dealing with the period between 2003 and 2005.

"Instead of the White House Web site maintaining an updated list while preserving copies of the old ones or issuing revised lists in addition to the original posts, the White House removed original documents, altered them and replaced them with backdated modifications that only appear to be originals," wrote Illinois University reporter Kelly Gibbs on Friday. The findings showed "that several documents had been revised and listed different numbers and names of coalition countries."

"In many ways it is puzzling why so much effort was put into revising and deleting these documents," Althaus told Gibbs. "This is mainly because the changes were pretty small potatoes."

Althaus says he's been surprised by the reaction to his revelations on political blogs, cautioning that he isn't inherently saying that the modifications were part of a Bush political propaganda effort.

"Our findings out in the blogosphere are generally interpreted in a political lens, which was not our intention at all," Althaus said. "Our intention was to alert scholars and journalists who rely on government documents to let them know the facts have been tampered with."