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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

Trial of the century

Nearly seven years after the crime and with months left in the Bush presidency, the Pentagon formally brought charges against six Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with murder and war crimes for the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The Feb. 11 indictment includes 169 counts against the men "alleged to be responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks" in 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people, according to Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser to the tribunal system.

Officials will seek the death penalty in the unprecedented military tribunal case, but they will be hampered by critics who say evidence is tainted because key suspects were subjected to interrogation tactics that amount to torture (rather than "coercion," which is allowed under the Military Commissions Act). The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on whether Guantanamo detainees can challenge their confinement in civilian courts. The tribunal will also be hampered by timing: Verdicts are unlikely before President Bush leaves office and the trial itself may not be under way by then-and the next president could abolish the tribunal altogether.

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But officials say they'll seek the death penalty and hope to try all six together, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the attacks; Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom officials have labeled the 20th hijacker; and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew and lieutenant of Mohammed.

Economic stimulus and you

Not all taxpayers are created equal in the eyes of Congress. The economic stimulus effort signed into law Feb. 13 will mean different things to different Americans. The most basic feature of the plan is to send $600 rebate checks to individual taxpayers and $1,200 checks to married taxpaying couples, plus $300 per child. But that is only for individual taxpayers who made up to $75,000 last year and married taxpaying couples who made up to $150,000. Individuals who made between $75,000 and $87,000, and married couples who made between $150,000 and $174,000, will receive only partial rebates. Those who owe no income tax for 2007 but made at least $3,000 will receive $300 checks, or $600 for married couples. The IRS will base the amount people receive on their 2007 tax returns, to be filed by April 2008, so low-income Americans who pay no taxes will have to file a return to receive a check.

A soldier's sacrifice

Sixty-three years after Japanese soldiers in World War II killed celebrated correspondent Ernie Pyle, a photo of his body-never before published-surfaced this month. The man who put a face to the war's suffering died near Okinawa just six days after FDR's death, and the never-before-seen shot is "a striking and painful image, but Ernie Pyle wanted people to see and understand the sacrifices that soldiers had to make, so it's fitting," said Pyle biographer James E. Tobin.

Almost over

Sen. Barack Obama took his campaign mantra-"Yes, we can"-to a key set of Democratic primaries in the Beltway on Feb. 12, scoring big wins in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., and stunning Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign. Clinton scrambled to regroup, turning her attention to March 4, when the candidates will face another round of crucial primaries in Ohio and Texas.

Even as the delegate count remained close, Democratic strategist James Carville offered a blunt assessment of the importance of March 4 for Clinton: "Make no mistake, if she loses either Texas or Ohio, this thing is done."

Republican candidate Mike Huckabee did well in the Beltway too, but not well enough to stop Sen. John McCain from becoming the party's presumptive nominee after Gov. Mitt Romney stepped away from the race Feb. 7. Huckabee looked content to keep proving his strength among conservative voters and highlighting the great challenge for McCain: To win the White House, McCain first must win the base of his own party.

Not over yet

The nation's housing market continued to stall during the fourth quarter of 2007, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. Home prices fell in 77 out of 150 metropolitan areas, and the U.S. median sale price dropped to $206,200 from $219,000 the year before. Every region saw price declines; the West at 8.7 percent had the largest decline while the Midwest at 3.2 percent had the smallest.

Cruel rule

He may have murdered his girlfriend's 3-year-old son and left the boy's body parts in his girlfriend's freezer and dog bowl, but Raymond Mata Jr. will not be electrocuted for his 1999 crime. On Feb. 8 the Nebraska Supreme Court, in a 6-1 ruling on Mata's case, said death by electric chair is unconstitutional because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The decision ended Nebraska's distinction as the only state with electrocution as its sole means of execution and left state courts with no way to carry out death sentences.

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