Continental Motives?

On his whirlwind tour of Africa last week, President George W. Bush pledged $15 billion to fight AIDS, denounced the American slave trade as "one of the greatest crimes in history," toured a wildlife park, met with African leaders and publicly weighed sending troops to help suffering Liberians. In the words of one GOP official, the trip was intended to "catch people's attention," reminding them that the war in Iraq hasn't diminished Bush's desire to be seen as a compassionate conservative. With next year's elections approaching, Bush aides were especially eager to use the trip to improve his standing with African-American voters, who have a "perception problem with the Republican Party," says one official. (One major sore point is the president's own stand against affirmative action.) Some close Bush aides had contemplated a major race speech earlier, but political operatives feared Democrats would accuse the president of pandering. Africa seemed the perfect backdrop. Bush was scheduled to visit the continent in January 2002, but war preparations got in the way. Aides say Bush insisted on going during his first term to demonstrate his concern for the region. (Bush aides have reminded reporters that Bill Clinton waited until late in his second term to make the journey.)

The White House made no secret of its desire to put forth an image of diversity on the trip. Two of Bush's most powerful advisers, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, were prominently at his side, greeting heads of state--and were the only two officials to join Bush on his tour of the Goree Island House of Slaves. But the secretary of State didn't share in all the boss's perks. The White House advance team spent almost a week constructing a special platform for Bush's Goree Island speech, positioning the podium so cameras would capture the House of Slaves in the background. As he stood in the sweltering sun listening to the president's address, the customarily crisp Powell turned damp and rumpled. A few feet away, Bush stayed cool. At the president's feet, hidden behind the podium, an air conditioner was going full blast.


Private Tales

Fresh details are throwing new light onto what happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch when her convoy made a wrong turn and was ambushed during the Iraq war. The U.S. Army has released a report stating that her unit's captain made a "single navigational error." But the report avoids the details of the plight of Private Lynch, suggesting that she was injured after her Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed. U.S. military intelligence officers believe Lynch's injuries were inflicted after she surrendered. Sources say she was standing when she surrendered, and had minor injuries at most. That was confirmed by Mehdi Kafaji, the Iraqi surgeon in charge of her treatment at the hospital in An Nasiriya. Her injuries appeared to have been inflicted by a severe beating.

Lynch's dramatic rescue by American commandos on April 1 was criticized by hospital officials as unnecessary grandstanding, since the Iraqi intelligence agents guarding her had all fled two days earlier. Indeed, there was no armed resistance to her rescue. But two military intelligence officers involved in planning her rescue told NEWSWEEK they'd learned from "multiple sources" that Iraqi officials were pressuring doctors to amputate her leg so she could more easily be transported to Baghdad.

IRAN: Pop Goes the Protest

Hardliners in the Iranian government unleashed riot police and the Basij, a voluntary Islamic militia, last week to break up protests commemorating a 1999 student uprising. But they also employed more subtle tactics. In the weeks preceding the July 9 anniversary, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance doled out hard-to-get performance passes to a series of local music acts. And Arian, the hottest pop group in the country, was given permission to perform two concerts every night of last week. Apparently, the hard-line clerics thought pop would ease their people's rage against the machine.

The irony of clerics' allowing funky bass solos to distract potential protesters wasn't lost on many Iranians. A reformist daily printed a cartoon showing a homeless man being dragged away by two burly pro-hard-line thugs. One thug barks into a cell phone, "Sir, we've found another star. He's a little rough around the edges but he can sing well," while the homeless man shouts, "I don't want to give a pop concert! Why are you forcing me?" Many of Tehran's residents simply put politics aside and flocked to the shows. But things didn't go as smoothly as planned. At one sold-out Arian show, dozens of teens jumped out of their seats and began dancing to a popular song. Government minders scrambled to control the crowd until the band cut the music. Apparently, Iranian hard-liners may be ready to allow public singing, but the boogieing will just have to stay at home.


The Right To Return

Do staunch allies have the right to try each other's citizens in secret courts? More than 200 British M.P.s think not. Last week they signed a motion calling for the repatriation of two Britons now facing trial--and possible death sentences--by a U.S. military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.

That puts Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bind. Reluctant to strain relations with Washington, Blair has in the past pressed only for assurances that 35-year-old Mozzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, 23, should receive fair treatment at any hearing. But last week Blair shifted ground. A Downing Street spokesman said London was discussing "various options" with the Americans, including repatriation. Small wonder. "The public pressure on Blair has become intolerable," says Stephen Jacobi of the lobby group Fair Trials Abroad. "These [trials] appear to be a studied insult from his closest ally." However, Washington will find a repatriation request tricky to accept. The British government can offer no guarantees that the two men would ever face trial once back home. That would need the approval of the independent Crown Prosecution Service, which might rule that the evidence against the men was inadmissible, particularly as they --were refused access to lawyers while in American hands.

Just because Britain is speaking out against the Guantanamo detentions, that doesn't mean it's squeaky-clean itself. Amnesty International has recently been calling attention to the cases of 15 foreign detainees being held without charge as suspected threats to national security under Britain's own antiterror legislation, introduced after 9-11. "This isn't as bad as Guantanamo Bay, but since it's Britain it's much more insidious," says Livio Gilli, an Amnesty expert on Britain. After all, since Britain's detention legislation passed properly through Parliament, it simply looks as though the government is abiding by the law.


Mickey Muscles

When it comes to muscular dystrophy, an incurable degenerative disease in humans, success stories are few and far between. But mice are a different breed altogether. According to a study published in last week's Science, Giulio Cossu and his colleagues at Milan's Stem Cell Research Institute have found that stem cells called meso-angioblasts have the ability to repair degenerated muscle fibers. These cells are able to take on the distinct characteristics of the tissues they enter. Once injected from an outside source, the mesoangioblasts act like firemen, using the body's quickest route--the bloodstream--to seek out inflamed dystrophic tissues and "cure" the muscular fibers from within.

Despite the findings, it is still too early to celebrate a cure. Cossu says that it will be several years before this cell therapy will be ready for clinical trials, and warns that humans--unlike the genetically identical mice used in the experiment--may reject the injected cells, just as they often do transplanted organs. "The history of muscular dystrophy has been a continuous series of hopes and disillusions for patients," says Cossu. "This is a step--possibly an important step--but not the therapy." Fair enough, but given that no human has ever survived muscular dystrophy, any step is worth at least a hesitant hooray.


Studying The Screen

Memo to all moms: before giving your teenager a hard time for wasting his time playing videogames, consider the economy. While many sectors are foundering, the $21 billion videogame-software industry is booming, adding game developers at a rate of 2,500 per year in the United States alone. Nearly 200 colleges the world over now offer coursework in videogame development, and in South Korea, developers are considered so vital to the economy that they are exempted from the country's mandatory military service.

David Najjab, director of the new videogame program at Southern Methodist University, argues that the college courses will revolutionize gaming in the same way 1960s film schools made moviemaking a more sophisticated art form. Students enrolled in SMU's new 18-month program will take classes in level editing, life draw-ing and physics for three-dimensional games. Najjab predicts this education will help videogames become what the novel and the moving picture were to earlier eras. But just because top gaming grads often earn up to $70,000 straight out of school doesn't mean that hours spent running down old ladies in Grand Theft Auto is necessarily the best form of eduation. Rusty Rueff, head of human resources at Electronic Arts, says that aspiring developers need to have a firm grip on linear algebra and geometry, as well as an eye for design. Maybe Mom was right after all.


Building A Bridge

Tired of seeing Muslims on American TV portrayed as terrorists or cabdrivers, Buffalo, New York-based banker Muzzammil Hassan decided to do something about it. His solution: an English-language cable-TV station for North America's 8 million Muslims. Bridges TV--which Hassan hopes to launch next summer in the U. S. and Canada--is aimed primarily at young adult viewers, who, Hassan says, don't relate to U.S. TV or to imports like Al-Jazeera. He hopes to attract them with a combination of movies, sitcoms and, yes, religious programming.

Hassan already has about 2,000 subscribers and hopes to get 8,000 more by the time the channel launches. "There is a desire within the community for Muslims to express themselves and find themselves," he says. "[Bridges TV] will give them a national platform."

FILM: Zombies Go Digital

A virus that infects carriers with murderous rage has been unleashed on Britain. In a matter of weeks, all that's left is a tiny population of sickies and a few fight-to-the-death normal folk. That's when our hero, a bike messenger named Jim (newcomer Cillian Murphy), awakens from a coma to find London a very different place from what he remembers. Released in Britain in November 2002, the thriller "28 Days Later" is now prompting audiences around the world to run to the nearest theater. (Be warned: you might be running out by the five-minute mark. The movie is that scary.)

"28 Days Later," directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") from a script by Alex Garland (Boyle's "The Beach"), is a modern-day zombie flick, with an adoring debt to George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." The chief hurdle was the zombie itself, a lumbering horror-film archetype that has lost its punch over the years. To play his "infecteds," Boyle hired ex-athletes who could bring speed and power to the part. For budgetary reasons, he shot in digital video--a choice that paid off visually as well. "When DV cameras record fast motion, they kind of snatch at it," he explains. "It creates a tone of anxiety."

Given the recent and very real SARS epidemic, "28 Days Later" may seem eerily prescient. But for Boyle and Garland, the movie reflects a vague anxiety they've lived with for years in England, thanks to mad-cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. "Our aim was to make a paranoid film," says Garland. "Something about a very dangerous exterior threat that turns out to be an interior threat. You think it's coming through the window, but in fact it's already in your room."

Brad Pitt

What's the point of Brad Pitt's being in a film without baring his bod? The heartthrob is currently reading the voice for the title role of "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas," a DreamWorks animated movie. NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin probed Pitt about this life choice--and some past ones as well:

You, a cartoon voice?

I've got these little nieces and nephews. It made me want to do something for them.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a hottie cartoon character. When you were younger, did you think any cartoon girls were hot?

Ooh, good question. I'm going to have to think about that one. Go on to the next question.

You left college without graduating. Were your parents mad?v No. I think they would have liked to have gotten the diploma they paid for. Other than that, they're all right with it.

I know this is a really weird question, but do you ever look in the mirror in the morning and think, "Hey, I'm pretty good looking"?

[Laughs] Oh, shut the f-- up. Are you kidding me? Oh, my God. I'm vain about once every two or three months.


No, I just feel like it's all put together all right.

How about Wonder Woman? Did you think she was hot?

Nah, overdone.

OK, who then?

I was a Jonny Quest fanatic. I thought he was pretty bad-a--. Oh, favorite cartoon chick. I'm going to have to go with Catherine Zeta-Jones.