Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

Iraq Reporters who flock to the upholstered chairs of the Baghdad Convention Center awaiting the latest casualty stats now have another reason to stay indoors: courts-martial. Spc. Jeremy Sivits will be the first to face a military court on charges of abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Baghdad. The 24-year-old MP will receive a special court-martial May 19, which carries a maximum one-year prison sentence. Seven other soldiers face later court-martial dates for Abu Ghraib abuses under general proceedings that may carry stiffer sentences.

More criminal charges are all but certain as the probe widens from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill and as additional evidence of abuse surfaces-including new photos released by the Pentagon and a Red Cross report citing Abu Ghraib tactics as "tantamount to torture." Those charges are also likely to crawl up the chain of command, but President Bush made an unusual Pentagon appearance-joined by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers-to show solidarity with embattled defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Abu Ghraib scandal is a freebie for journalists and anti-Bush activists, but war in Iraq remains work for everyone else. Under Iraqi brigade protection, U.S. Marines moved into Fallujah-taking no hostile fire on the way-and met with officials to discuss rehabilitating the city. If the security holds, U.S. forces hope a similar Iraqi-U.S. duo will take other embattled areas, like Shiite-controlled Najaf. In the first 10 days of May, 31 U.S. soldiers died, versus 70 in the same time period in April. It's easy to upload digital images of perverted party animals, but photographing the painstaking, tedious work of hunting down insurgents (cover story, p. 32) is a dangerous assignment few journalists choose.

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Iraq II Not to be left out in coverage of abuse and torture, al-Qaeda-linked terrorists released a video on May 11 showing the brutal beheading of an American contractor. Nick Berg, a 26-year-old civilian from Philadelphia, had been missing since April 9. "So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins ... slaughtered in this way," said a male voice on the tape.

Pakistan Leaders of an Islamic seminary in Punjab province seized a university student when he stopped to drink from a tap outside their madrassah, then tortured him to death after learning he was Christian. Javed Anjum endured five days of abuse that included electrical shocks to his ears, a broken right arm and fingers, and ripped-out fingernails. His death on May 2 was the result of kidney failure from the injuries.

Health The makers of "Plan B," a so-called morning-after contraceptive, failed to win government approval to market the prescription-only pill over the counter, including to girls under 16. In a letter to the pharmaceutical firm Barr Laboratories, the FDA said there is no proof that under-16 girls could safely use the pills without a doctor's guidance. The government left open the door to prove the claim.

The FDA had told Barr about its concern in February, and the company proposed allowing OTC sales for those 16 and older but requiring anyone younger to have a doctor's prescription. Critics worry that counterproposal will become policy. "You can't be sure that the buyer will be the consumer," said Concerned Women for America's Wendy Wright, who in December testified before the FDA on Plan B's risks to adolescents. "An 18-year-old clerk can sell it to a 17-year-old boy who gives it to his 15-year-old girlfriend" (story, p. 20).

Russia A stadium bomb blast on May 9 killed the Moscow-backed president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, dousing hopes that Russia could resolve 10 years of conflict with the mostly Muslim separatist region.

The assassination came two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin's second-term inauguration. The Kremlin will find it tough to replace its powerful slain leader, a former rebel who turned pro-Russia in 1999, commanded the respect of most Chechens, and had personal access to rebels. Chechens won't tolerate a Russian as a replacement, while the Kremlin doesn't want anyone too independent.

Gay marriage In the last-minute struggle against court-imposed gay marriages in Massachusetts, local officials threw all the lawsuits and precedents imaginable at the Supreme Judicial Court in an effort to save the state from a cavalcade of gay marriages. Their success may determine how well other states might defend their laws against same-sex Massachusetts marriages. Gov. Mitt Romney said he hoped his state would not become the "Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."

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