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The price of modesty: $8,000 and some global ribbing

Washington Bureau Chieffritz
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By SARA FRITZ, Times Washington Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

The international press got a good laugh out of the Justice Department's decision last week to spend $8,000 on drapes to hide two seminude statues that appear behind Attorney General John Ashcroft in news conferences.

Installed during the 1930s in the Justice Department's Great Hall, the statues depict the male Majesty of Justice and the female Spirit of Justice. Majesty of Justice wears a loincloth; Spirit of Justice wears a toga that exposes one breast.

"Majesty is okay: He's just a nice red-blooded American guy, with his naughty parts covered by a handy loincloth. But Spirit is a strumpet," the Moscow Times wrote.

Ashcroft, a fundamentalist Christian, has been frequently photographed with the breast hovering in the background, a fact his staff apparently feels distracts from the gravity of his pronouncements on the terrorism investigation.

Or, at the Moscow Times put it: "Ashcroft has grown increasingly upset at seeing photos of his prim and proper self standing in front of that brazen hussy."

Added the Deutsche Presse-Agentur: "The mighty U.S. military may have liberated the women of Afghanistan from their burqas, but at least one woman in official Washington has been ordered covered from head to toe."

And a reporter for the Irish News wrote: "I would have thought that only one boob in a political address is pretty good going as far as U.S. politics is concerned."

INS to have office for children

It probably should be named for Elian Gonzalez. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has decided to create an office of juvenile affairs.

According to the INS, the office will advocate for children who fall under the jurisdiction of the agency. INS commissioner James Ziglar says it is part of an overhaul of the agency, which has often been portrayed as the most poorly organized department of government.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who wrote a bill to create an office similar to this one, described it as "an important first step" toward protecting unaccompanied alien children in the United States.

Ziglar said he would have the office running as quickly as possible.

Bush tangles with 'prisoners'

"Bush-speak" is alive and well, even though the president has improved his skills in front of cameras and audiences.

After a meeting with his national security team the other day to discuss the Taliban and al-Qaida detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bush sought to set the record straight about their legal status.

But he had a little trouble.

While Secretary of State Colin Powell wanted the detainees to be accorded prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions, Bush's response was no way, no how. "One, they will not be treated as prisoners of war. They're illegal combatants," the president said at a Rose Garden ceremony Monday, with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai to his side.

So far, so good. But he didn't stop there: "I'll listen to all the legalisms and announce my decision when I make it. But we're in total agreement on how to, on whether or not, on how these prisoners, or detainees, excuse me, ought to be treated."

A few questions later, Bush used the word "prisoners" again, not once but twice.

He wrapped up by saying, "the prisoners, detainees, will be well-treated."

Rights groups have charged that the United States has been treating the detainees inhumanely.

-- Times staff writers Mary Jacoby, Sara Fritz and Paul de la Garza contributed to this column.

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