THE CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Tel Aviv Sunday and discussed a proposed international peace conference, which the Israeli leader later said would be convened soon.
A senior State Department official told reporters following the meeting, "The secretary talked to Sharon about the idea of a peace conference, noted that Sharon had proposed the idea and they talked about how it might be done as part of a way to move forward politically, but there is still more discussion necessary on both sides to see how we would do it and where it would be set."
However, there was no talk, according to this official, on whether Sharon would negotiate face to face with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Sharon has all but expelled Arafat, and has refused to enter political discussions with the Palestinian leader who remains holed up at his Ramallah compound, which is surrounded by Israeli tanks.
Participants in the proposed summit would be Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Palestinians and the United States, Ha'aretz reported Sunday.
Earlier Sunday, Powell met with Arafat for three hours at the Palestinian leader's besieged West Bank headquarters. The meeting had been postponed until Arafat delivered a statement in Arabic condemning "all terrorist actions which target civilians."
"We condemn all kinds of terrorism, whether it is state terrorism, or groups, or individuals, based on the principle of not using violence and terrorism against civilians or as a mean to achieve political goals." The statement also condemned activities carried out by Israeli forces against civilians and Palestinian refugees in Nablus, Jenin and the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem in the last two weeks.
Israeli reaction to Arafat's statement was at best guarded. For example, a senior diplomatic source told UPI that Arafat "will be judged by his deeds, not his words," noting "he has said such things in the past."
-- What do you think?
A convicted killer in Texas whose case has been the focus of the debate over the execution of the mentally retarded will face a jury again this month.
But a legal analyst said his best chance of escaping a death sentence may rest with another case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Johnny Paul Penry, 45, has the IQ of a 7-year-old, according to his lawyers, and his appeals have been the basis of historic high court decisions -- first supporting the execution of the mentally retarded and then ensuring that juries have a chance to consider the issue. In a decision Thursday, a jury in Conroe, Texas, determined that Penry was competent to face a jury for a third time to determine whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison for raping and killing a woman in 1979. The punishment trial is scheduled to begin April 29.
The jury's finding that Penry is competent to stand trial was not a surprise, according to Neil McCabe, a professor of criminal law at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, who said that issue usually relates more to mental illness. "The issue is whether he knows enough about what's going on and understands it so that he can cooperate with his lawyer in his defense," he said. "I understand he's pretty savvy about the system."
McCabe said Penry's best hope of avoiding the death penalty maybe with a Virginia case pending before the Supreme Court because the court will probably reverse its previous stand and ban the execution of the mentally retarded.
McCabe said the court doesn't usually listen to public opinion on constitutional issues but the Eighth Amendment's ban of "cruel and unusual punishment" is an exception because "it's a changing, developing standard and America changes."
Sentiment against the execution of the mentally retarded has been growing in recent years. Eighteen of the 38 states with a death penalty statute and the federal government have laws banning the practice. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a law banning the execution of the mentally retarded, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the measure, explaining that jurors should decide the question.
Penry -- who still believes in Santa Claus, according to his attorneys -- has never scored higher than the low 60s on nine IQ tests. An IQ of 70 or below is considered mentally retarded, according to most experts.
-- Is the execution of a convicted killer deemed mentally retarded "cruel and unusual" punishment? Why or why not?
SEND IN THE CLONES
President Bush is urging Congress to consider a ban on human cloning for both therapeutic and reproductive purposes.
"Advances in biomedical technology must never come at the expense of human conscience," he said last Wednesday during a speech at the White House in front of lawmakers, religious leaders, bioethicists, scientists and patients. "Therefore, we must prevent human cloning by stopping it before it starts."
The announcement followed a declaration last August that the government would only finance research on human embryo-derived stem cells that already exist in laboratories.
"He thought stem cells was a very difficult call, morally," one outside adviser to the White House told the New York Times. "And I think he was genuinely agonized about that. I think he thinks if he can't draw this line, no one is ever going to draw any lines."
Many scientists insist therapeutic cloning has great potential to treat spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other disorders. Cloned embryos derived from patients would be a perfect genetic match, possibly making them less likely to be rejected by the recipient. A general cloning ban "would have a chilling effect on all scientific research in the United States," according to a letter signed by 40 Nobel laureate scientists.
-- Should human cloning be permitted? Why or why not? What about for therapeutic purposes?
(Thanks to Jim Kling, UPI Science News)