Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Summer Books 2004," July 3, 2004

Torture The Bush Administration on June 22 released a stack of classified documents detailing a secret, two-year debate over the proper handling of captured al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. President Bush insisted he had never authorized torture, but the 100-plus pages of memos revealed that top advisers had argued for a broad range of interrogation techniques that they admitted might be construed as "cruel, inhuman, or degrading." The White House hoped the documents would quell the torture controversy, but that seemed unlikely to happen. While one set of guidelines-adopted after more than a year of debate-permitted only relatively mild interrogation techniques, the rules applied only to prisoners held at the U.S. military base in Cuba. As critics demanded past and current guidelines at other prisons such as Abu Ghraib, former detainees stepped forward with horror stories of their own. A Saudi national just released after 10 months in Abu Ghraib told reporters he'd watched a fellow inmate suffer "immense torture. The Americans stripped him of his clothes in winter time, sprayed him with water, then threw him to the ground and took turns at beating him until he was unconscious." There was no corroboration of that account, but Democrats on Capitol Hill vowed further investigations of the widening scandal. Full story Religion The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) shifted briefly into damage-control mode last week after a series of news reports mischaracterized a political-action manifesto on which the group had been working for three years. The document, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civil Action," is designed both to encourage NAE's members toward public engagement, and to guide them in their efforts. But a pair of June 20 news items by the Associated Press and CBS News reported just the opposite: that NAE was calling on Christians to "step back from politics." Full story Social issues With Senate debate on the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) finally set for July 12, the public debate over the issue is showing signs of wear. A Barna poll released in June showed Americans evenly split on whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. More than a third of those polled said they'd never even heard of the FMA. That may explain, in part, why the issue isn't causing as much citizen furor on Capitol Hill as conservatives had expected in the wake of the gay-marriage controversies that roiled in Massachusetts, San Francisco, and copycat cities in recent months. Meanwhile, Senate conservatives pushing the FMA would need an estimated 15 more "yes" votes to pass the measure before the end of the legislative session, now just six weeks away. Full story Culture Racy television and radio programming may soon become a lot more expensive-at least for those airing it. The Senate last week voted 99-1 to fine broadcasters up to $3 million per day for airing indecent material. The legislation increases tenfold the current maximum penalty for a single indecent incident, from $27,500 to $275,000, with fines increasing with each incident until the $3 million limit is reached. A similar House measure sets fines at $500,000. A conference committee will hammer out the differences between the two bills. "We're going to have to take action because the broadcasters won't police themselves," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), the bill's sponsor. Politics Although Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, under threat of impeachment, announced his resignation on June 21, he's not out of the woods yet. The once-popular Republican still faces a federal corruption probe involving millions of dollars in state funds. His resignation choked off a political career that spanned three decades. Full story Space SpaceShipOne rose only 400 feet above the earth's atmosphere and its flight lasted just 90 minutes, but its voyage last week could usher in a revolution in space travel. The mission's backers hope that, as the first privately funded space flight, SpaceShipOne's successful trip will lead to civilian space tourism. The three-seat craft has enough room to carry paying customers, and it will likely return to space within two weeks in order to prove reusability and reliability. Governments now no longer have a monopoly on space travel, said George Whitesides, executive director of the National Space Society: "The door to space is finally open to the rest of us." AIDS President Bush announced that Vietnam will be the 15th country to receive aid under his $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The original plan targeted 14 countries-12 in Africa and two in the Caribbean-but Congress mandated another in January. For months rumors swirled that India would take the 15th slot, but administration officials said they chose Vietnam because it's on the cusp of an epidemic. Cases are predicted to rise from 130,000 today to 1 million by 2010. North Korea U.S. negotiators at six-party talks in Beijing in late June prepared to offer North Korea new incentives for dismantling its nuclear weapons programs. The seven-page proposal would give Kim Jong Il a "preparatory" three months first to seal and close his nuclear facilities. South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia would then start shipping heavy fuel to the North for energy purposes, and the United States would make a provisional offer not to invade or topple Mr. Kim. Talks about lifting U.S. economic sanctions in place for decades, and normalizing relations, would follow. In return, the North would have to allow nuclear inspectors full access to its plutonium and enrichment sites to keep talks and fuel shipments going.

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