President Obama signed an executive order in January ordering the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to be closed. By fall, he acknowledged it wasn't possible, as about 211 detainees remain on the island and the federal government remains gridlocked about their destinies. By year end only 29 detainees had been released or moved under Obama.
In another move designed to signal a departure from the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder decided in April to release the internal Justice Department memos that gave guidelines for "enhanced interrogation techniques," which permitted waterboarding. Holder offered this reassurance to interrogators and other federal employees at the time: "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department." But then in August Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the conduct of CIA interrogators, despite the protests of CIA Director Leon Panetta. Obama has said he wanted to "look forward" but hasn't weighed in on Holder's moves to unearth the past.
When 2009 began, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was best known as the Republican governor who wouldn't take federal stimulus funds, saying government spending wouldn't fix fiscal irresponsibility. "We need to be telling the truth," Sanford told WORLD in February. "There's going to be pain." By mid-year, Sanford's pain had morphed. The once-rising GOP star crashed in June with a tearful revelation at an agonizing press conference: "I've been unfaithful to my wife." The painful news followed a bewildering five days of Sanford's disappearance from the governor's mansion. After initially telling his staff he'd been hiking the Appalachian Trail, the governor admitted the truth: He'd been in Argentina with his mistress.
Sanford vowed to move on, but his wife of 20 years, Jenny, moved out with the couple's four sons. By the end of the year, Mrs. Sanford had filed for divorce. Sanford also faced political trouble: A state House committee investigated ethics charges against the governor but ultimately decided against impeachment. Meanwhile, Sanford's off-the cuff mention of a Christian accountability group called C Street had spawned a scandal all its own.
A brick townhouse two blocks from the U.S. Capitol is home to about half a dozen Christian congressmen when they are in Washington and hosts dinners and Bible studies. It was just another townhouse until South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford mentioned that he had received counsel there while he was having an affair. Two other lawmakers reportedly involved in affairs, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and former Rep. Chip Pickering, turned out to have lived there as well. Another resident, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., had become a sort of arbiter between Ensign and his mistress and her husband (a long-time staffer of Ensign). Alongside the withering attention the wayward lawmakers received, the organization that oversees the C Street house, the Fellowship, gained attention, too. In its 60-year history it has guarded privacy intensely as its members have built relationships with powerful leaders domestically and internationally. The C Street affairs have blown the privacy the organization has sought, and may result in the closing of the house ("Unmoved," Dec. 19, 2009).
When golfer Payne Stewart's jet crashed in a field in South Dakota 10 years ago in a freakish accident, with not only the recent U.S. Open champ but three golfing companions and a pilot onboard all known for their Christian faith, people everywhere asked, "Why does God allow the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer?" Among those on the front row to hear those questions addressed at Stewart's memorial service was rising star Tiger Woods.
Poised, like Payne, upon the crest of his own comeback, Woods, turning 34 at year's end, got caught in his own disaster saga, and one apparently of his own making. A year ago Woods was the highest-paid professional athlete, earning $110 million in 2008 in golf winnings and endorsements. In February he made what sportscasters called the most anticipated comeback in sports history following an eight-month hiatus to recover from a knee injury. But since November, after an apparent confrontation with his wife led to a car accident and injuries to Woods, the golfer has remained out of the public eye and off the course, issuing a brief statement that "this situation is my fault." His sponsors dropped Tiger TV commercials and on Dec. 9 Gatorade announced dropping its sponsorship of Woods. Others followed. As it became apparent that the billionaire golfer with a supermodel wife and two children had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs, he was less focus of the fairway than fodder for jokes and cell phone ringtones. On Dec. 11 he announced he was taking a leave of absence from golf.
One would think that if anyone were entitled to use the personal tax software TurboTax instead of an accountant, it would have been the head of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, Timothy Geithner. But news emerged in January, just as he was facing confirmation hearings to become the next Treasury secretary and thus oversee the IRS, that Geithner had failed to pay $34,000 in self-employment taxes while using the software. The Senate confirmed Geithner and he paid the taxes owed, but he turned out to be the first of four Obama nominees to have tax problems. Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services, was the next-he had failed to pay $128,000 in taxes, with another $12,000 in interest. Under increasing pressure, Daschle dropped out of the running in February. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis faced criticism at her confirmation hearing because her husband had failed to pay about $7,000 in taxes; and Nancy Killefer, nominee to be chief performance officer, bowed out before any hearings in the wake of news that she hadn't paid employment taxes on household help for a year and a half.