Rehnquist Says He Will Stay
As Long as His Health Permits
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist denied that he intends to step down from the Supreme Court in the near future, as he sought to halt a spiral of speculation about his possible retirement.
In a statement late Thursday, Rehnquist, who is 80 and has thyroid cancer, said flatly: "I'm not about to announce my retirement."
"I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," Rehnquist said. "I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."
Although hedged in the sense that the chief justice denied only an "imminent" retirement, Rehnquist's statement ends much of the uncertainty facing President Bush, who has been weighing a choice for a successor to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She unexpectedly announced her retirement July 1.
-- Charles Lane
Iraq Jail Tactics Were Used
First at Guantanamo Bay
Interrogators at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, forced a stubborn detainee to wear women's underwear on his head, confronted him with snarling military working dogs and attached a leash to his chains, according to a newly released military investigation that shows the tactics were employed there months before military police used them on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The techniques, approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use in interrogating Mohamed Qahtani -- the alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- were used at Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking down the detainee.
Military investigators, who briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday on the probe, called the tactics "creative" and "aggressive" but said they did not cross the line into torture.
The report's findings are the strongest indication yet that the abusive practices seen in photographs at Abu Ghraib were not the invention of a small group of thrill-seeking military police officers at the prison. The report shows that they were used on Qahtani several months before the United States invaded Iraq.
The investigation also supports the idea that soldiers believed that placing hoods on detainees, forcing them to appear nude in front of women and sexually humiliating them were approved interrogation techniques for use on detainees.
Three top military lawyers told the Senate committee on Thursday that they lodged complaints against the Justice Department's legal definition of torture and about how it would be applied to interrogations of enemy prisoners captured by U.S. forces, the first time they have publicly acknowledged that they objected to the government policy as it was being developed in early 2003.
-- Josh White
NASA Calls Off Launch
Because of Faulty Sensor
Flight controllers scrubbed the launch of space shuttle Discovery less than two hours before its much-anticipated liftoff Wednesday because of a malfunctioning sensor monitoring the flow of liquid hydrogen in the external fuel tank.
The scrub frustrated NASA and a legion of well-wishers, and raised questions about the space agency's ostensibly exhaustive efforts to upgrade the shuttle's performance and safety features in the 2 1/2 years since the Columbia tragedy.
Engineers had encountered similar problems with "engine cut-off sensors" in another fuel tank during a test in April, but they decided to fly Wednesday with an "unexplained anomaly" even though they had failed to pinpoint the cause.
-- Guy Gugliotta
Surge in Tax Revenue
Shrinks Budget Deficit
The federal budget deficit will slip to $333 billion this fiscal year, from $412 billion in 2004, as a surge of unanticipated tax receipts pushes the red ink significantly below levels projected just five months ago, White House officials said.
The midyear budget forecast also shows that President Bush is on track to reach his goal of halving the deficit a year before his deadline of 2009. By 2008, the White House forecasts that the deficit will fall to $162 billion, or 1.1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In dollar terms, the 2005 deficit of $333 billion would still be the third highest on record. That figure relies on the expenditure of about $173 billion in surplus Social Security taxes that must be repaid when baby boomers enter their retirement years.
-- Jonathan Weisman
Data Show Growing Trend
In Hospital-Acquired Infections
Nearly 12,000 Pennsylvanians contracted infections during a hospital stay in 2004, costing an extra $2 billion in care and at least 1,500 preventable deaths, according to figures that officials say represent a conservative measure of one of the deadliest problems in modern medicine.
As the first state to collect data on hospital-acquired infections, Pennsylvania has put hard numbers on a phenomenon that until now has only been estimated. Even so, the true infection rate and cost is probably much higher, the report's authors said, because of underreporting by many hospitals. The tally could be as high as 115,000 infections, based on billing claims the hospitals submitted to insurers, the report said.
As health care spending has skyrocketed, employers, which often pay the bills, have begun pressing hospitals to work to reduce a variety of mistakes to improve care and reduce costs.
The mortality rate was highest -- 32 percent -- for patients who developed pneumonia while using a ventilator. The most common were urinary tract infections transmitted to patients using a catheter. The average cost to treat a Pennsylvania hospital patient who developed an infection was $29,000, compared with $8,300 for those who did not, the report found.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has estimated that as many as 2 million infections are acquired in hospitals each year, resulting in 90,000 deaths, said Denise Cardo, director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.
-- Ceci Connolly
Insurer Reaches Settlement
With Physicians in Lawsuit
WellPoint Inc., the nation's largest health insurer with nearly 29 million members, announced a $198 million settlement with physicians and medical societies designed to reduce the number of disputes over what care is medically necessary and alleged unfair reductions in payments to doctors.
The agreement will mean a modest back payment to about 700,000 doctors and, more important, significant changes in how the managed care company pays medical claims in the future. Physicians hailed the settlement as one of the first real victories in their decades-long struggle with managed care companies over who decides what tests, therapies and surgeries a patient receives.
Industry analysts predicted WellPoint will increase premiums to cover some of the cost, valued at more than $450 million over several years, including lawyers' fees, payments to doctors and the cost of new billing systems.
Filed Monday in Federal District Court in Miami, the agreement is the fifth to emerge from a massive class-action suit, consolidated in 2000, targeting 10 large managed care providers.
By settling, WellPoint -- along with Aetna, Cigna, Prudential and Health Net in previous agreements -- avoided a protracted, expensive court fight.
-- Ceci Connolly