Pope John Paul II is in what the Vatican describes as very grave condition and has been administered the last rites after suffering heart failure yesterday. The 84 year old Pope reportedly decided himself not to go to the hospital. According to the Vatican, he is still “conscious, lucid and tranquil. The Vatican said that the pontiff asked aides to read him the biblical passage describing the final stage of the Way of the Cross, the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion. This latest health crisis–only a day after doctors fitted him with a feeding tube–was set off on Thursday by a urinary tract infection. That infection, the Vatican said on Thursday, caused a high fever in the already frail and weakened pope, who has suffered for more than a decade from Parkinson’s disease. The last time he is known to have been administered last rites was on May 13, 1981, after he was shot by a would-be assassin in St. Peter’s Square, almost three years after he was chosen pope. We’ll have more on the pope later in the program.
Voters in Zimbabwe have gone to the polls in parliamentary elections in a vote being watched closely by the international community. The elections passed off peacefully, but the opposition and human rights groups said it was not free or fair. President Robert Mugabe dismissed these claims as “nonsense”. During the campaigning, Mugabe characterized his opponents of being stooges for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and claimed that Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is the result of intervention by Washington and former colonial power Britain. We’ll get reaction from Harare in just a few minutes.
Terri Schiavo died yesterday, thirteen days after her feeding tube was removed, in a case that sparked a national debate on the right to die and sparked one of the greatest conflicts in history among the three branches of government. Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents feuded to the bitter end. When she died she was reportedly cradled by her husband Michael Schiavo. His lawyer, George Felos, said she died a “calm, peaceful and gentle death” at about 9 a.m. No one from her side of the family was with her at the moment of her death. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, were not at the hospice, and her brother had been barred from the room at Michael Schiavo’s request moments before the end came. Schiavo’s death brought to a close what was easily the longest, most bitter–and most heavily litigated–right-to-die dispute in U.S. history.
The World Bank board has unanimously approved the nomination of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to be the next president of the 184-nation institution. The board that approved him consists of 24 members. Earlier this month, President Bush surprised the international community by recommending Wolfowitz for the job. Wolfowitz’s is known as a hard-line foreign policy hawk, a leading neo-con and was one of the main architects of the invasion of Iraq. The bank traditionally has had a US president and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, is headed by a European. Protesters gathered outside of the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC in opposition to Wolfowitz’s approval. He takes over June 1.
A US military plane with nine people on board has crashed in central Albania. There are believed to be no survivors. According to news reports, the aircraft was taking part in joint exercises with the Albanian military.
The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking him to open an investigation into possible perjury by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the theater commander at the outset of the Iraq invasion. The ACLU said that a memo sent by Gen Sanchez flatly contradicts sworn testimony given by him before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he denied authorizing highly coercive interrogation methods. The ACLU called for the appointment of an independent special counsel by the attorney general.” The ACLU obtained a physical copy of the memo under an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and released a hard copy on Tuesday. The memo is dated September 14, 2003 and was signed by Lt. Gen. Sanchez. It laid out specific interrogation techniques, modeled on those used against detainees at Guantanamo Bay for use by coalition forces in Iraq. These include sleep “management,” the inducement of fear at two levels of severity, loud music and sensory agitation, and the use of canine units to “exploit [the] Arab fear of dogs.” During sworn testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Sanchez flatly denied approving any such techniques in Iraq, and said that a news article reporting otherwise was false.
The Presidential Commission investigating the justification for the invasion of Iraq has said that U.S. intelligence on Iraq was “dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” At a time when Washington is accusing Iran of nuclear ambitions and pressuring North Korea on its nuclear programs, the report says, “Across the board, the intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world’s most dangerous actors.” A key chapter in the report — on U.S. intelligence on alleged nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea — was classified and not released publicly. But sources familiar with that section said it was among the most critical, finding U.S. intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program in particular to be inadequate. The report is very critical of former CIA Director George Tenet but avoids any criticism of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Here is Michael O”Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.
President Clinton’s former National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, has agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge and give up his security clearance for three years for removing classified material from a government archive. Berger has also agreed to pay a $10,000 fine as part of an agreement reached recently with the Justice Department after months of quiet negotiations. Berger was a senior policy adviser to Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. But he quit the campaign abruptly in July after accusations surfaced that he had inappropriately removed classified material from a secure reading room at the National Archives. When the issue surfaced last year, Berger insisted that he had removed the classified material inadvertently. But as part of a plea agreement, he is expected to admit that he intentionally removed copies of five classified documents, destroyed three and misled staff members at the National Archives when confronted about it.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced on Wednesday that his country would sell more than $1.3 billion worth of military equipment to Venezuela, risking harsh criticism from the US. Zapatero made the decision during a visit to Venezuela earlier this week, where he joined a summit of Latin American leaders, including the presidents of Colombia and Brazil, Alvaro Uribe and Inacio Lula da Silva.
Ted Koppel, who has anchored ABC News’”Nightline” since its inception a quarter-century ago, said Thursday he will leave the network when his contract expires at the end of the year. But, Koppel says, he is not retiring from the news business.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food has strongly condemned the invasion of Iraq and the global anti-terror drive, accusing the US-led coalition of using food deprivation as a military tactic and of sapping efforts to fight hunger in the world. Jean Ziegler also highlighted what he called “widespread concerns about the continued lack of access to clean drinking water” and allegations that the US blocked off water supplies from Fallujah during the siege earlier this year, which Ziegler said was a violation of the Geneva convention.