Weekly Review — January 14, 2003, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

Governor George Ryan of Illinois commuted the sentences of the state’s 156 death-row inmates and pardoned four men who were tortured by police into confessing to murders they did not commit. Ryan, whose last day in office was Monday, said that “the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capriciousâ??and therefore immoral.” A federal appeals court ruled that President George W. Bush may at his sole discretion strip Yasser Esam Hamdi, a United States citizen raised in Saudi Arabia and captured in Afghanistan, of his constitutional protections because of the need to fight the war on terrorism. Administration officials then asked a federal judge to deny Jose Padilla, the alleged “dirty bomber,” access to his lawyer because the presence of a lawyer “would threaten permanently to undermine the military’s efforts to develop a relationship of trust and dependency that is essential to effective interrogation.” Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations arms-inspections team, acknowledged that no “smoking gun” had been found to prove that Iraq was engaged in the manufacture of illegal chemical or biological weapons but complained that the documents provided by Iraq were incomplete. Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is responsible for nuclear inspections of Iraq, dismissed a crucial bit of President Bush’s evidence for an Iraqi nuclear weapons program by concluding that aluminum tubes Iraq tried to import recently were to be used in making rockets rather than gas centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium. North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and threatened to resume ballistic-missile tests. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, ordered 62,000 more American troops to the Persian Gulf. American forces, officials said, will probably be ready to attack by mid- to late February. A New York man died from a stab wound he received 20 years ago.

A United Nations report entitled “Likely Humanitarian Scenarios” estimated that an American invasion of Iraq will result in some 500,000 casualties and about 900,000 refugees, who will require food and shelter; up to 3 million Iraqis could require “therapeutic feeding.” The U.S. military admitted that it has spammed thousands of Iraqis with email messages urging them to defy Saddam Hussein. Iraqi dissidents met with President Bush, who told them he favors a quick transition to democracy in Iraq after a short military occupation; Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, made a point of saying that the president still hasn’t decided whether or not to invade Iraq. Bush Administration sources said they had largely completed their plans for administering Iraq after the war and securing the Iraqi oil fields; Colin Powell recently stated that the goal is to “protect those fields and make sure that they are used for the benefit of the people of Iraq.” The United States denied using food as a weapon against North Korea but continued to withhold approval of grain shipments. One unnamed American official said that the administration was pursuing “steady, steely diplomacy” against North Korea, which declared that new economic sanctions would be treated as a “declaration of war.” Iran’s Guardian Council rejected for the third time a bill banning the torture of prisoners. Pete Townsend of The Who admitted that he once used his credit card to access a child pornography site “purely to see what was there” but denied being a pedophile, and claimed he was doing research for his autobiography. A new report found that the Vatican’s crime rate is among the highest in the world, with 608 criminal offenses last year in a state with just over 500 residents. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced a global boycott of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was slipping in the polls after being accused of corruption and lying to the police in the matter of an illegal $1.5 million loan. Sharon called a press conference, which was televised, and attacked the Labor party, whereupon the broadcast was cancelled by a supreme court justice who determined that Sharon was violating a law banning election propaganda on television in the month before an election. The wife of the president of the European Central Bank compared the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Rwanda said it was planning to release as many as 40,000 people who have been in prison for years for their role in the genocide of 1994. In Nigeria, an Islamic court ordered that a man who cut off his wife’s leg because he believed she was cheating on him must have his own leg cut off without anesthesia. Australian researchers revealed that an enzyme found in the saliva of vampire bats can help stroke victims. Angry people in Malawi stoned a government official for his alleged role in harboring vampires, who many Malawians believe are collecting blood for international aid agencies. The F.B.I. called off its manhunt for five Middle Eastern men who were supposedly smuggled into the United States for unknown sinister purposes and admitted that the story was a big lie made up by a snitch eager to ingratiate himself with the agency. President Bush revealed his new economic plan, the centerpiece of which is the repeal of most taxes on corporate dividends. The plan, which would not affect people whose stocks are in tax-sheltered retirement plans such as IRAs or 401Ks, would primarily benefit the very wealthy. “You hear a lot of talk in Washington,” Bush said in response to critics, “that this benefits so-and-so or this benefits this, the kind of the class warfare of politics.” Reporters noticed that the Bush Administration has quietly eliminated a Labor Department program that produced a monthly report on mass layoffs. Astronomers discovered evidence that a giant ring of about a billion stars encircles the Milky Way galaxy. Yasir Arafat was walking in circles around his desk in Ramallah. A 108-foot statue of Lord Krishna collapsed near New Delhi. Venezuela was suffering from a critical shortage of beer.

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