"How much longer?" read a banner along the president's route to the Pentagon for a speech March 19 marking the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq-four days before the U.S. combat death toll in Iraq crossed the 4,000 mark.
President Bush acknowledged in the speech that the war has divided the country: "Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it," he said. But he reiterated: "The answers are clear to me. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight that America can and must win."
At a community college in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg, Sen. Barack Obama noted that the war in Iraq had now lasted longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, though it has been fought on a scale far below those conflicts.
"Where are we for all of this sacrifice?" he said. "We are less safe and less able to shape events abroad. We are divided at home, and our alliances around the world have been strained."
Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared the same day at an American Legion post in Huntington, W.Va. She argued for a "cautious withdrawal" of troops that would begin within 60 days of her taking office. "Every one of you who has served knows withdrawing troops can be as dangerous as inserting them," she said.
McCain used the anniversary as an occasion to visit Baghdad, and he issued a statement saying that the United States and its allies in Iraq stood "on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism."
Chinese officials promised "normal operation" of the 2008 Olympic torch relay despite deadly riots in Tibet, where the torch is due to travel next month. The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece, on March 24 amid protests from activists pushing Tibetan independence. After a global tour traversing five continents, one leg of the torch relay is scheduled to attempt an ascent to the top of Mount Everest sometime in May. Afterward, that Olympic flame will be taken through Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, where anti-government protests in March left at least 18 civilians and a police officer dead. Exiled Tibetans say as many as 100 Tibetans died.
Love your enemy
How to combat an enemy who has nothing to lose? A web-based ministry called Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer (atfp.org) says it can help Christians follow biblical guidelines to love and pray for enemies-and that means the kind who strap on explosive belts and wander into crowded street markets. The website includes a catalog of at-large terrorists and guidelines for prayer. "They think they are serving God," said ATFP founder Thomas Bruce, but he believes "they are vulnerable to an authentic word from God and to Jesus' forgiving love." Bruce himself could use prayer: Shortly after launching the site he found out he will be deployed to Iraq as a reservist.
The U.S. Supreme Court on March 20 underscored a 1986 ruling that bars the use of race in jury selection. In a 7-2 decision, the court reversed the capital conviction of Allen Snyder, a black death-row inmate in Louisiana. Snyder had alleged that James Williams, the state prosecutor in his case, had excluded five African-American jurors because of their race. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the trial judge committed a "clear error" by accepting Williams' explanation for excluding a particular prospective juror, Jeffery Brooks, who is black. The prosecutor told the judge he felt Brooks would have scheduling problems that might lead him to try to rush a verdict. In the majority opinion, Alito noted that white jurors with scheduling issues did not face similar scrutiny. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia joined in a dissent, saying that trial judges, who are present as a case unfolds, are in a better position to weigh attorneys' motives in jury selection than are appeals court judges reviewing the facts years later.
In the wake of a Minneapolis Star Tribune story reporting the overt establishment of Islamic practice at a charter elementary school in the Twin Cities area, the local chapter of the ACLU has initiated an investigation.
The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) reportedly features carpeted areas for regular daily prayer, a halal menu in the cafeteria, and after-school classes on the Quran, among other religious observances. TIZA received $65,260 in government funds last year.
In a letter to principal Asan Zamad, the ACLU warned against violating the Establishment Clause: "At a minimum, the school must discontinue recruiting volunteers for Friday Prayers, and must not be involved in promoting or providing special treatment to groups providing religious instruction after school hours."
A California appeals court announced March 27 it is vacating a ruling that declared most forms of homeschooling unlawful in the state. The Rachel L decision will not go into effect, and the 2nd District Court of Appeals instead will rehear the case, with a new round of briefings due in late April and oral arguments and another decision to follow.
At least 13 people died in storms that swept across parts of Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Arkansas on March 19.
Flooding closed major roadways, including parts of Interstate 70 in Ohio, and officials warned that rivers would continue to crest: In Missouri at least five people died and more than 500 homes were evacuated.
At least five people died in a multiple-car accident, and several people drowned in flooding in Missouri and Ohio. Rescue workers saved a man clinging to a tree in the Ohio River after his truck was swept away. Knight Township Fire Chief Chris Wathen said the man showed signs of hypothermia, but would recover: "But I do think it was fair to say he was within minutes of losing his life."
Uganda and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army look ready to sign a final peace deal to end one of Africa's longest conflicts on April 5, about a week later than a Kampala deadline but defying predictions that the two sides would begin fighting again.
Progress has slowed because of the rebels' demand that the International Criminal Court (ICC) drop war crimes indictments against their leader Joseph Kony and two deputies-indicted for 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of crimes against humanity, which include murder, rape, and enslavement. Uganda, meanwhile, wants to try Kony and his deputies in its national courts.
Both sides signed documents outlining the final agreement and implementation timetable on March 25 in Sudan's southern town of Juba, where talks have been held. "We have completed all the negotiations successfully. We have moved from enemies to be brothers and sisters again," said Ugandan Interior Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
Man for all seasons
With the March 19 passing of the British actor Paul Scofield, the world lost one of its greatest performers. A 60-year star of stage and screen, the publicity-shy thespian became famous for letting his work stand on its own. Scofield's best-known vehicle was A Man for All Seasons, the 1966 film dramatizing Sir Thomas More's conscience-driven showdown with King Henry VIII over church authority. Scofield's low-key performance as the 16th-century martyr earned him a Best Actor Oscar and brought More and his faith to life for a generation awash in cinematic rebels without causes.
It wasn't the only time that Scofield placed his talent at the service of Christian drama. His portrayal of the suffering ghost in Franco Zeferelli's Hamlet (1990) spoke painful volumes. He also recorded T.S. Eliot's Christian poem cycle Four Quartets and starred in a BBC radio production of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.
Homes sweet homes
Sales of existing homes rose 2.9 percent in February, the first such increase in seven months and a rare bit of good news for a housing market stuck in the mud of foreclosure and falling values. The upward swing surprised analysts, who had predicted continuing declines. But within the positive shift is further evidence of long-term trouble: The median home price for those February sales fell 8.2 percent from a year earlier, the sharpest drop since economists began keeping records in 1968.
The upward tick in sales also stems from a 60 percent jump in foreclosures and double the number of bank seizures from a year ago, both of which have glutted the market with under-priced inventory. Such figures pressed the Fed to slash its short-term interest rate by three quarters of a point to 2.25 on March 18. The sixth cut since the end of last summer, it moved the rate 3 percentage points below where it stood in September.
In a close-to-home rebuff of the international justice system, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled March 25 that neither President Bush nor the International Court of Justice, a judicial arm of the UN with its seat at The Hague, has the authority to order a Texas court to reopen a death penalty case involving a foreign national. The justices held 6-3 that judgments of the World Court are not binding on U.S. courts and that Bush's 2005 executive order for courts in Texas to comply is not binding.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. rebuked executive and World Court power. "The president's authority to act, as with the exercise of any governmental power, 'must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.'"
The case centered on Jose E. Medellin, now 33, a Houston gang member who took part in the rape, torture, and slaying of two girls, ages 14 and 16, on June 24, 1993. In 2004 the World Court decreed that this and other cases should be overturned because authorities failed to notify Medellin of his right under the Vienna Convention to notify Mexican diplomats of his detention. Bush in response directed the Texas court to reverse itself.