On March 11, 191 people were killed and over 1,000
were injured when a series of bomb blasts hit four morning commuter trains
in Madrid. Evidence emerged that the bombings were carried out by Islamic
militants, possibly linked to al-Qaeda. Terrorists cited Spain's participation
in the Iraq war as the reason for the attacks, and in the Spanish national
election held days later the anti-war Socialists swept to power. Political
commentators argued that the terror attacks had played a significant role
in deciding the outcome of the election.
On April 28, photographs of American soldiers abusing prisoners at Baghdad's
Abu Ghraib prison surfaced in the media. The images sparked outrage throughout
the world, and prompted the Bush administration to launch an official
inquiry. As fresh allegations of abuse continued to emerge which
included reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners at other U.S.
Army detention centers around the world - three soldiers were sentenced
for their role in the Abu Ghraib incident. However, senior army personnel
escaped unscathed and there were no top-level resignations leading
some to question the legitimacy of the inquiry.
Two distinctly different films were arguably the most distinctive cultural
milestones of 2004. Michael Moore caused a storm with Fahrenheit 9/11,
which chronicled how the Bush Administration allegedly used the events
of September 11 to push its own agenda for the war in Iraq. Critics of
the film slammed Moore as a partisan hack, while others praised the filmmaker
for his investigative journalism. Fahrenheit 9/11, which was released
on June 25, grossed over $119 million at the box office and won the Palme
D'or at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the
Christ sparked equal controversy when it hit movie theaters on February
25. Despite enjoying both critical and commercial success, it was charged
by some Jewish groups as being anti-Semitic a criticism Gibson
The United States mourned the loss of former President Ronald Reagan,
who died on June 5 at the age of 93 following a ten-year battle with Alzheimer's
Disease. Once the Screen Actors Guild president, the actor-turned-politician
was elected governor of California in 1966. He accepted the Republican
presidential nomination in 1980, and was elected President of the United
States in 1981. He served two terms as President, surviving an assassination
attempt in 1981.
In the scientific world, controversy continued over whether the Federal
government should fund unrestricted research on stem cells. Supporters
of stem-cell research claim it could lead to the discovery of cures for
conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease, while
opponents insist that stem-cell research destroys fertilized embryos,
and thus destroys life. In 2004, Californians voted in favor of a $3 billion
bond measure to fund stem-cell research over the next 10 years. The issue
also gained national attention with the deaths of Superman actor Christopher
Reeve an ardent stem-cell research advocate - and Ronald Reagan,
who's son Ron outlined the benefits of stem-cell research at the Democratic
The 9/11 Commission released its final report on July 22, revealing that
the failure to prepare for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was
a result of "deep institutional failings," though it stopped
short of placing blame at the presidential level. The report - which went
on to sell over a million copies - also recommended the formation of a
new intelligence center and director, and in December Congress passed
a bill that addressed these recommendations, marking a sweeping overhaul
of U.S. intelligence.
On August 13, the Olympic Games returned to its birthplace in Athens,
Greece. Over 11,000 athletes from 202 countries competed in the summer
spectacular, and millions of people from across the globe were glued to
their television sets. But despite the popularity of the event, the issue
of performance-enhancing drugs once again reared its ugly head. As the
games drew to a close, it was revealed that 24 athletes had tested positive
for banned substances the highest number in Olympic Games history.
The state of Florida took quite a hit during the 2004 Atlantic hurricane
season, with four hurricanes hitting the Sunshine State during August
and September. The rampages of hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne
caused 99 deaths and an estimated $26 billion damage in Florida alone.
It was the first time in 118 years that a state was hit by four hurricanes
in a single season. Many more lost their lives in countries including
Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, Barbados and the surrounding Caribbean islands
as Mother Nature unleashed her fury over a six week period.
The first privately-built spacecraft launched into outer-space on June
21, 2004. Pilot Mike Melvill steered the SpaceShipOne rocket plane skyward,
soaring a tenth of a mile above Mojave, California to become the first
private-sector astronaut. The rocket plane's designer, Scaled Composites,
hoped this would be the first step towards opening space travel to private
companies and maybe, one day, to the average tourist. SpaceShipOne's success
earned it the $10m Ansari X-Prize a competition that was designed
to aid the development of private sector space travel.
Janjaweed, the government-backed Arab militia in Sudan, was accused of
an ethnic cleansing campaign against black Africans in Darfur. An estimated
70,000 civilians have been killed and approximately 1 million left homeless.
The UN Security Council threatened the Sudanese government with sanctions
if they did not disarm the militia and the US administration labeled the
Darfur situation as a "genocide," but as 2004 came to a close,
the international community had still failed to take any action.
Chechen militants took almost 1,000 schoolchildren hostage at an elementary
school in the Russian province of North Ossetia near Chechnya. The attackers
stormed the school, forcing their hostages into the gym which was rigged
with explosives. The three-day siege which started on September
1 - ended in chaos and bloodshed after a number of the explosives were
detonated and Russian special forces launched an assault on the gym. Over
300 people died, more than half of which were children.
Hamid Karzai was elected president of Afghanistan on October 9 2004 during
the country's first presidential elections. Millions of Afghans voted,
despite the threat of Taliban violence, and Karzai pledged to tackle the
booming opium drug trade in the war-torn country.
The Boston Red Sox ended the so-called "Curse of the Bambino"
in October by winning their first World Series in 86 years. After being
down to their final out versus their fierce rival the New York Yankees,
the Red Sox rallied from three games down to win the American League pennant
with four straight victories. The Red Sox carried their momentum into
the World Series and swept the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals
in four games to put an end to their championship title drought.
Ukrainians went to the polls on October 31 to elect a new President, but
nobody could have guessed what was to unfold. Amid accusations of fraud
and voter intimidation, incumbent Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner
in November, narrowly beating his opponent Viktor Yushchenko. But the
Ukrainian Parliament refused to accept the result and a ruling by the
Ukrainian Supreme Court paved the way for a rerun of the election. With
opinion bitterly divided across the country, the saga took a new twist
when it was revealed that Yushchenko had been poisoned with a deadly form
of dioxin. As accusations and counter-accusations flew, Yushchenko triumphed
in the December rerun prompting Yanukovych to announce he would
never concede defeat and would appeal the result.
Election fever gripped America in the second half of 2004, with President
George W. Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry campaigning hard across
the country. Labeled by some commentators as the most divisive election
for decades, the two men spelled out their differences of opinion on numerous
issues, including the war in Iraq, social security reform, tax cuts and
same-sex marriages. Early exit polls looked good for Kerry, but as the
night progressed it soon became clear that Bush had the momentum. As the
votes were counted the specter of 2000 was finally put to rest when Bush
was re-elected with a clear majority for a second term in The White House.
The death of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat
sparked mixed reactions from around the world. Arafat, who was 75, died
on November 11 at a French military hospital after suffering multiple
organ failure. While many Palestinians revered Arafat for his role in
the struggle for an independent Palestinian state, Israeli political leaders
saw him as an obstacle to achieving peace in the Middle East. Thousands
of Palestinians flocked to the West Bank to pay their last respects to
Arafat, as speculation mounted over who would emerge as his successor.
On December 26, a massive earthquake near the Indian Ocean island of Sumatra
sparked a wave of deadly tsunamis, causing one of the worst natural disasters
in living memory. Approximately 150,000 people died in countries across
Asia, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand being among the hardest
hit. Over 95,000 people were killed in Indonesia alone, and across the
region more than 5 million people were left homeless. Aid agencies struggled
to funnel vital aid to the region, as people attempted to comprehend the
enormity of the disaster. The earthquake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale
one of the largest quakes in recorded history.
A year after capturing Saddam Hussein, the U.S. and its allies continued
to fight Iraqi insurgents and violence against U.S. troops continued to
increase. Insurgents deployed a number of lethal tactics, including road-side
and suicide bombings, mortar rocket attacks, and the kidnapping and beheading
of civilian hostages. In June, an interim government was set-up under
the leadership of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, but this did little to quell
violence in Iraqi cities. On November 7, Operation Phantom Fury was launched,
as U.S. and Iraqi troops captured the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
On December 22, a radical Islamic group took credit for a deadly blast
at a U.S. military base in Mosul that killed 22 people and injured over
40. It was the deadliest single strike against Americans in Iraq. Elections
for a new government are scheduled for January 2005, but at year's end
questions remained over the feasibility of this timetable.