News Catch-Up: Stories Off the Radar

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Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand look back at four stories that have largely fallen off the "news radar": The grand jury investigation into the Bush administration's "outing" of CIA officer Valerie Plame; last month's parliamentary vote in Iraq; the probe into alleged secret CIA interrogation centers in Europe; and the latest on the world's first face transplant recipient, who reportedly has taken up smoking again.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The Iraq story is the lead today, but there are many other things going on, some of which used to lead the news just weeks ago, so we thought we'd update you on a few of those stories.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The allegations of secret CIA terrorist prisons in Eastern Europe; developments there. The Iraq election last month; what about the results? And remember a woman in France who got her face transplanted?

BRAND: And this: a huge story a few months ago. The grand jury investigation of the White House leak of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. On the ABC News politics' website, The Note, we saw this item. The grand jury looking into the CIA leak was meeting at 9am eastern time, but what's going on? And what about the role of Mr. Bush's top political agent, Karl Rove?

CHADWICK: So there are questions on this story, and here with answers, NPR White House correspondent, Don Gonyea. Don, where are we?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, let's start by looking ahead. Lewis Libby. He's the former chief-of-staff to the Vice President, former top aid to the President, the only person indicted so far in this case. He'll be in court February third. There is a court date scheduled. It's a status conference. Lawyers will report to the judge. We could get a trial date at that point.

CHADWICK: Now this grand jury that is meeting this week, this is a new grand jury under the prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald.

GONYEA: It is. The last one expired in October, about that time that Libby was indicted. There was a sense then that if Fitzgerald had lingering questions, things he wanted to bring to the grand jury, specifically about Karl Rove. It's an open investigation still regarding the question of whether Rove has done anything illegal in his contacts with reporters. But there was the sense that Fitzgerald could just borrow another grand jury that was already sitting on another case. But he, in November, empanelled his own new grand jury, which indicates that he has a lot of work still to do, a lot of questions that still remain unanswered, and that can't be good news to Karl Rove who remains in legal jeopardy here.

CHADWICK: Two years this investigation has already been underway. Any sense on your part or talk in Washington about a conclusion?

GONYEA: When the Libby indictment was announced, there was a sense that Fitzgerald just had a few things to clean up yet and that it would just be a matter of months before he finished it up, but again, with this new grand jury and lingering questions, we just really can't say. Mr. Fitzgerald is not leaking.

CHADWICK: NPR's Don GONYEA at the White House with an update on this investigation. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: It's a pleasure.

BRAND: And here's another story, not so much about an update but about the lack of one: no results yet in Iraq's parliamentary election.

CHADWICK: Those elections, they were a month ago, Madeleine, December 15th. Here's a clip of President Bush praising the Iraqis for braving violence and going to the polls.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The turnout in that country was 70 percent. Part of our strategy for defeating the enemy in Iraq is for there to be a viable political process, and when 70 percent of the people show up to vote, that's a good sign.

BRAND: Thousands of complaints about those elections have been filed, ranging from ballot-box stuffing to multiple voting to campaigning inside polling places. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has investigated those allegations. Today, an international team led by Canada concluded there were many instances of fraud, but it did not question the elections overall integrity.

ALEX CHADWICK, host: So, when will we know the outcome? The Electoral Commission says it may announce results as early as tomorrow. But we've heard that before.

BRAND: I was also interested in some new developments this week in the secret prison story.

CHADWICK: These are the allegations the CIA had secret prisons in Europe and other places, where high-level terror suspects were held and possibly tortured, reported by the Washington Post.

BRAND: That's right, and there are two parts to this story, one the allegations of extraordinary rendition, that detainees were taken to countries who torture suspects and were flown there through European air space. Second, there's the controversy about whether the CIA had secret prisons in places like Poland and Romania, to house those suspects. European leaders said they were outraged and would launch an investigation but we haven't heard much since. So, we called up Steven Castle in Brussels for the latest. He's reporting on the story for the British newspaper, The Independent.

STEVEN CASTLE, (Reporter, The Independent): Well, in fact there were two separate investigations, one has been conducted by the Council of Europe, which is Europe's main human rights watchdog, it represents 46 countries. And their investigator is going to produce his preliminary findings next Tuesday. A separate inquiry has just been launched by the European Parliament, and they are going to report in about four months' time.

BRAND: And, specifically what will they be investigating?

Mr. CASTLE: Well, there are two main issues. The first issue is whether or not there were specific covert prisons on European soil. The second is whether suspects were transported illegally, through European air space to face interrogation in any of these centers.

BRAND: Now, tell us a bit about a scandal that seems to be brewing in London over a secret memo that was leaked that indicated that Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, may have known about these extraordinary renditions.

Mr. CASTLE: This has prompted calls for more investigation and for a statement from Tony Blair to make exactly clear what he knew and when. I think this is an example of the fact that this issue simply, in most European countries, simply won't go away.

BRAND: Steven Castle in Brussels reporting for the British newspaper The Independent, thank you.

Mr. CASTLE: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And finally, updating the fate of the French woman who received a face transplant nearly two months ago.

BRAND: Her name is Isabelle Dinoire and when she was mauled by her own dog a surgical team gave her a new nose, chin and lips and this week, her doctors made a scientific presentation about her case.

CHADWICK: That's normal after groundbreaking surgery, but in this case Ms. Dinoir's doctors were also defending themselves, charges that they cut ethical corners and rushed the surgery.

BRAND: Then there was applause after the doctor's report. Also present was Dr. Joseph Murray, who won a Nobel Prize for the first organ transplant ever.

JOSEPH MURRAY (Nobel Prize Winning Physician): Never in our wildest dreams did we think 50 years ago that we would ever see organ transplantation become common or accepted so readily.

CHADWICK: So, Ms. Dinoir's doctors expect it will take six months for her to re-appropriate her face, that's the term that they used. But they did say at this conference, she's going out in public now, she can be seen. And her doctors say they are contemplating five more of these transplants.

BRAND: And Alex, one final detail we just couldn't ignore. Ms. Dinoire is using her new lips to take up smoking again.

CHADWICK: Ahhh, the French.

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