America's last combat brigade peacefully rolled out of Iraq in the middle of August. While most troops journeyed into Iraq seven years ago riding inside lightly armored Humvees, this last unit departed for Kuwait in heavily armored combat Strykers. With the exit, U.S. troops in Iraq dropped below the 50,000 mark, the lowest level since the war began. U.S. service members killed since 2003 stood at 4,420. While a handful of noncombat U.S. brigades and about 4,500 Special Forces troops will remain at least another year, the heavily hyped combat exit kick-started another debate: Is Iraq a safer place? It did not take long to find out that challenges remain: The day after the 2nd Infantry Division left, bombers and gunmen killed at least 55 Iraqis and wounded hundreds in nearly two dozen coordinated attacks across the country.
Gunmen surrounded a medical team in Afghanistan's remote Nuristan province on Aug. 5, shooting and killing 10 humanitarian workers, including six Americans, a Briton, a German, and two Afghans. It was one of the most brutal attacks on civilians in Afghanistan since war began there in 2001, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In November the White House announced that team leader Tom Little, 61, an optometrist from New York who had worked in Afghanistan since 1976 and helped to establish an eye hospital in Kabul, would posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded in the United States.
Voting for change
Church leaders in Kenya are living with their country's new constitution after working earlier this year to defeat it. They and pro-life leaders opposed the constitution because it liberalized Kenya's strict abortion law, allowing a "trained health professional" to authorize abortion "for emergency treatment" or if the life or health of the mother is in danger. Pro-life leaders in Congress accused USAID of inappropriately campaigning for the constitution, pointing to an audit that discovered USAID gave at least $23 million to grantees that pushed the constitution. The constitution passed peaceably by a two-thirds majority in August, and in October a regional committee for the National Council of Churches of Kenya called for amendments to the constitution. They cautioned that Kenya's prosperity depends on embracing "godliness and righteousness."
The Supreme Court welcomed for its fall term a new justice, Elena Kagan, previously the U.S. solicitor general, the attorney that argues on the government's behalf before the court. She replaced 90-year-old retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan sailed through her confirmation hearings, winning the support of five Republican senators, despite her lack of experience as a judge and her background as a political adviser in the Clinton White House.
On Aug. 17, a jury found former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich guilty on just one federal count after facing 24 federal charges of corruption and abuse of power. Blagojevich, who faced accusations that he auctioned off the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama for personal gain, was convicted of lying to the FBI only. The other counts drew a hung jury. The prosecution team has asked for a retrial, which a federal judge has delayed until April.
A salmonella outbreak prompted the recall of a half billion eggs and the passage of food safety legislation. Conditions at two Iowa egg companies caused an outbreak that led to the largest egg recall in U.S. history and over 1,800 illnesses in six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA failed to inspect the farms before the outbreak and was still trying to enforce its standards in October, when it cleared one company to resume egg shipments but told another company its "insanitary conditions" still failed to make the grade. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg used the outbreak as an opportunity to urge Congress to pass food safety legislation requiring more food inspections and allowing the FDA to recall contaminated food.
To fund or not to fund
Judges and scientists clashed this year over the funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. In May, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it was opening 13 new embryonic stem-cell lines eligible for federally funded research. But in August, a federal judge barred the NIH from funding the research, saying it violated a federal amendment that bans the funding of research that destroys human embryos. Stem-cell researchers quickly called the decision "criminal" and "devastating," but Judge Royce Lamberth said that allowing the funding would "flout the will of Congress."
But the money still flows for now, since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that funding could continue while the Department of Justice appeals Lamberth's decision. Francis S. Collins, director of NIH, defended embryonic stem-cell research before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, saying it's "one of the most promising research avenues of recent times."