U.S. media release graphic photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib

Year
2004
Month Day
April 30

On April 30, 2004, the CBS program 60 Minutes reports on abuse of prisoners by American military forces at Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. The report, which featured graphic photographs showing U.S. military personnel torturing and abusing prisoners, shocked the American public and greatly tarnished the Bush Administration and its war in Iraq.

Amnesty International had surfaced many of the allegations in June of 2003, not long after the United States invaded Iraq and took over Abu Ghraib, which soon became the largest American prison in Iraq. As the 60 Minutes report and subsequent investigations proved, torture quickly became commonplace at Abu Ghraib. Photographs depicted American soldiers sexually assaulting detainees, threatening them with dogs, putting them on leashes and engaging in a number of other practices that clearly constituted torture and/or violations of the Geneva Convention. 

In at least one instance, the Army tortured a prisoner to death. President George W. Bush assured the public that the instances of torture were isolated, but as the scandal unfolded it became clear that, in the words of an International Committee of the Red Cross official, there was a “pattern and a broad system” of abuse throughout the Department of Defense. Torture techniques, which the CIA and military often referred to as “enhanced interrogation,” had in fact been developed at sites like the Guantanamo Bay detention center and were routinely employed in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and at other “black sites” around the world.

In June of 2004, it was revealed that the Bush Administration—specifically Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo—had not only been aware of widespread torture but had secretly developed a legal defense attempting to exempt the United States from the Geneva Convention. A 2006 court decision subsequently ruled that the Geneva Convention did apply to all aspects of the “War on Terror.” 

Eleven soldiers were eventually convicted by military courts of crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, while Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had been in charge there, was merely demoted. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized for the abuses, but Bush did not accept Rumsfeld’s offer to resign. Yoo went on to teach at Berkeley Law and is a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In the years after the revelations, legal scholars have repeatedly suggested that Bush, Rumsfeld and soldiers who carried out the abuses at Abu Ghraib could be prosecuted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. 

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Facebook launches


Year
2004
Month Day
February 04

On February 4, 2004, a Harvard sophomore named Mark Zuckerberg launches The Facebook, a social media website he had built in order to connect Harvard students with one another. By the next day, over a thousand people had registered, and that was only the beginning. Now known simply as Facebook, the site quickly ballooned into one of the most significant social media companies in history. Today, Facebook is one of the most valuable companies in the world, with over 2 billion monthly active users.

The origins of Facebook have been highly scrutinized (including in the critically acclaimed 2010 film The Social Network), but the exact source of the idea remains unclear. What is obvious is that Zuckerberg had twin gifts for coding and causing a stir, both of which served him well at Harvard. The previous year, he had become a campus celebrity by creating FaceMash, a website where students could vote on which of two randomly-selected Harvard women was more attractive, and quickly running afoul of both the administration and several women’s groups. FaceMash was short-lived but wildly popular, leading Zuckerberg to consider the value of creating a campus-wide social network.

Over the course of his sophomore year, Zuckerberg built what would become Facebook. When it launched on February 4, he and his roommates were glued to their screens, watching as an estimated 1,200-1,500 of their fellow students signed up for their site within its first 24 hours of existence. From there, Facebook expanded rapidly, moving to other Boston-area schools and the rest of the Ivy League that spring. By the end of the year, the site had 1 million users, angel investor Peter Thiel had invested $500,000, and Zuckerberg had left Harvard to run Facebook from its new headquarters in California.

From there, Facebook spread across the world, becoming not only an incredibly valuable company but also one of the most important institutions of the early 21st Century. The go-to social media site for a generation of internet users (and one which was readily adopted by older users as it transformed from exclusive to universal), Facebook was one of the major forces that brought the internet into the highly-participatory phase full of user-generated content sometimes referred to as “Web 2.0.” It has also remained controversial. In addition to accusations that it allows false news and fake accounts to proliferate, Facebook has drawn criticism both for selling its users’ data and for failing to adequately protect it. Nonetheless, Facebook continues to dominate the social media market, generating by far the most ad revenue and maintaining over half of the total market share.

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“Nipplegate” controversy at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show


Year
2004
Month Day
February 01

A singular event occurred during the halftime show of the Super Bowl on February 1, 2004. While performing a duet with Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake briefly exposed one of her breasts in what was later described as a “wardrobe malfunction.” The performance was airing live all around the world—an estimated 143.6 million people tuned in for all or some of the broadcast —and coincided with the rise of digital video recording and internet technology, as well as a national discussion about technology’s impact on children. As such, “Nipplegate” became one of the most-viewed, most-searched-for, and most-talked-about moments in the history of the internet.

Jackson and Timberlake, along with Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock, performed a lavishly-produced medley of songs. Halftime shows were traditionally conservative affairs, featuring marching bands and family-friendly music, but this changed in the 1990s. Jackson’s brother, the iconic pop star Michael Jackson, had played the halftime show in 1993, proving to the NFL and television executives that high-powered pop performances could dramatically increase ratings and ad revenue.

During the final song, “Rock Your Body,” Timberlake and Jackson danced suggestively. They claimed that the show was supposed to culminate in Timberlake ripping off Jackson’s bodice to reveal her red lace bra as he sang the final line, which included the lyric, “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.” Instead, the bra fell away with the rest of the bustier, and the prophecy of the lyrics was fulfilled.

Jackson immediately moved to cover herself up, and CBS immediately cut away; her breast was exposed on television for less than a second. Many speculated, and continue to assert, that either Timberlake, Timberlake and Jackson acting together, or the event’s producers themselves had exposed her breast on purpose as a publicity stunt.

The Federal Communications Commission received 540,000 complaints about the incident, 65,000 of which came from a single organization, the Parents Television Council. Coming as it did at a time when the right-wing “family values” movement was still a major presence in American culture, and amid a growing paranoia that the internet and mass media were exposing children to inappropriate content, “Nipplegate” caused a sensation that lasted months. Viacom, CBS’ parent company, received the maximum fine the FCC could issue for such offenses, and paid $3.5 million to settle indecency complaints about the broadcast.

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Superman Christopher Reeve dies at age 52

Year
2004
Month Day
October 10

On October 10, 2004, the actor Christopher Reeve, who became famous for his starring role in four Superman films, dies from heart failure at the age of 52 at a hospital near his home in Westchester County, New York. Reeve, who was paralyzed in a 1995 horse-riding accident, was a leading advocate for spinal cord research.

Christopher Reeve was born on September 25, 1952, in New York City, and graduated from Cornell University and the Juilliard School. He made his Broadway debut in 1976 in A Matter of Gravity, starring Katharine Hepburn. The 6’4” actor shot to fame in 1978 when he was selected over some 200 other actors for the lead in Superman. Although he would play the action hero in three more films, Reeve was determined to “escape the cape” and avoid being typecast. As a result, he took on a variety of stage and screen roles. His film credits included Somewhere in Time (1980), Deathtrap (1983), The Remains of the Day (1993) and Village of the Damned (1995).

On May 27, 1995, Reeve, a strong athlete and avid horseman, was left paralyzed from the neck down after being thrown from his horse and breaking his neck during an equestrian competition in Virginia. The actor then became a crusader for people with spinal cord injuries and also lobbied for government funding of embryonic stem-cell research. During a speech at the 1996 Academy Awards, Reeve urged the Hollywood community to make more movies about social issues. In addition to his fundraising and advocacy work, Reeve wrote two books about his life experiences and continued his acting career. In 1997, he made his directorial debut with HBO’s In the Gloaming, which was nominated for five Emmy Awards, and in 1999, he starred in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear Window, The Brooke Ellison Story, a movie based on a true story about the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard University.

In 2000, Reeve, who maintained an intensive physical therapy regime since the time of his accident, was able to move his index finger. He stated publicly that he was determined to walk again. In Reeve’s New York Times obituary, one of the doctors who treated him said: “Before [Reeve] there was really no hope. If you had a spinal cord injury like his there was not much that could be done, but he’s changed all that, he’s demonstrated that there is hope and that there are things that can be done.”

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The Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” safely lands on the Red Planet


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Year
2004
Month Day
January 03

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit lands on the Red Planet on January 3, 2004. 21 days later, its twin, Opportunity, also arrived safely. In one of the longest and most successful missions in NASA history, Spirit would survey Martian geography for the next seven years, while Opportunity remained active until June of 2018.

The rovers’ primary mission was expected to last 90 sols, the term used for Martian days. In March, scientists announced that they had made a momentous discovery: a survey of Martian rocks strongly suggested that water had once flowed there, and analysis of Opportunity‘s landing site indicated that it had once been the bed of a salty sea. Later in 2004, Opportunity also discovered the first meteorite to be found on Mars.

The rovers continued to explore Mars for several years, with Spirit becoming a “stationary research platform” after getting stuck in sand. Spirit eventually fell out of contact with NASA, which declared its mission over in 2011. Opportunity, however, continued exploring. In 2014, it broke the record for longest distance driven by an off-Earth wheeled vehicle, and the next year NASA celebrated as Opportunity finished a “marathon,” having traversed over 26.2 miles. In February 2019, NASA announced the end of the MER mission after Opportunity ceased responding to their communications. The rover had broken several other records, including the highest elevation reached on Mars, and sent back 224,642 images. Having far surpassed its original goals and contributed greatly to human understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, the MER mission had a major impact on mankind’s knowledge of our solar system.

READ MORE: The Amazing Handmade Tech That Powered Apollo 11’s Moon Voyage

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Best-selling Millennium trilogy author Stieg Larsson dies at 50

Year
2004
Month Day
November 09

On November 9, 2004, Swedish writer Stieg Larsson dies suddenly of a heart attack at age 50, only months after turning in the manuscripts for three crime thrillers—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl who Played with Fire” and “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”—which would later become international best-sellers. Known collectively as the Millennium trilogy, the novels feature the characters Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a young pierced and tattooed computer hacker with a troubled past. Larsson, who never lived to see his books’ success, died without a will, setting off a protracted legal battle for the rights to his work.

Larsson was born on August 15, 1954, in the town of Skelleftehamm, in northern Sweden. His parents soon relocated to Stockholm in search of better job opportunities, leaving their son to be raised by his maternal grandparents. Larsson eventually joined his parents and younger brother in Sweden’s capital city in the early 1960s. He went on to work as a graphic designer for a Swedish news agency, and later became an investigative journalist who focused on exposing right-wing extremist groups.

In 2002, while vacationing with Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime live-in companion, Larsson began writing what would become the first book in the Millennium series. Over the next two years, he completed three manuscripts for a Swedish publisher. There has been speculation that Gabrielsson, an architect whom Larsson met at an anti-Vietnam rally in Sweden in 1972, helped him with the books; however, the exact nature of her collaboration is unknown. Within months after delivering the manuscripts, Larsson, a heavy smoker and junk food fanatic, died of a massive heart attack after a broken elevator forced him to climb the stairs to his office.

In August 2005, the first Millennium novel was published in Sweden under the title “Man Som Hatar Kvinnor,” or “Men Who Hate Women.” The English-language version of the book would go by the title “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In May 2006, “Flickan Som Lekte Med Elden” or “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” was published in Sweden, followed one year later by “Luftslottet Som Sprangdes” or “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” The books were best-sellers in their author’s homeland before going on to become a publishing phenomenon and sell millions of copies around the world. Several Swedish and English movie versions of the books have been made.

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Chechen separatists storm Russian school

Year
2004
Month Day
September 01

On September 1, 2004, an armed gang of Chechen separatist rebels enters a school in southern Russia and takes more than 1,000 people hostage. The rebels demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from the disputed nearby region of Chechnya. September 1 was the first day of a new school year for millions of students across Russia, a day of celebration in schools that both parents and students traditionally attend. Nearly 340 people, about half of them children, died in the ensuing three-day ordeal.

The rebels stormed the school at 9:30 a.m., just after a ceremony celebrating the new school year had ended. They initially held more than 1,000 hostages, though some were released later that day. The hostages were crowded into the school’s gym, where they were surrounded by mines and bombs to prevent them from escaping. The rebels placed children along the room’s windows to discourage Russian authorities from storming the building and randomly shot off their guns to intimidate the hostages. Temperatures quickly rose in the overcrowded gym, forcing the hostages to strip nearly naked to stay cool. The captors refused to allow food or drink into the school; some hostages were forced to drink their own urine to keep from dehydrating in the hot building.

Finally, on the morning of September 3, the rebels allowed Russian emergency workers in to retrieve the bodies of those who had been killed in their initial assault on the school. Soon after, two bombs in the gym were accidentally detonated, one of which caused the gym’s roof to collapse. In the subsequent chaos, some hostages escaped. When the rebels began to shoot children, Russian special forces stormed the school. Over the course of the next few hours, the Russian troops secured the building, killing all but one of the 32 attackers. Rescue workers found hundreds of bodies in the debris of the burned-out former school gym. More than 700 others were wounded.

The secondary school was located in Beslan, North Ossetia, near Chechnya in the war-torn North Caucasus region of Russia. The people of North Ossetia are predominately Christian and have strong ties to Russia. Chechens, on the other hand, are mainly Muslim. Chechen separatists have demanded their freedom from Russia since soon after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and have increasingly turned to terrorist tactics to further their cause. Chechnya is important to the Russian economy because of several oil and gas pipelines that run through Chechen territory. It is estimated that at least 200,000 people have been killed in the ongoing Chechen-Russian conflict.

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First legal same-sex marriage performed in Massachusetts

Year
2004
Month Day
May 17

Marcia Kadish, 56, and Tanya McCloskey, 52, of Malden, Massachusetts, marry at Cambridge City Hall in Massachusetts, becoming the first legally married same-sex partners in the United States. Over the course of the day, 77 other same-sex couples tied the knot across the state, and hundreds more applied for marriage licenses. The day was characterized by much celebration and only a few of the expected protests materialized.

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, ruling that the state could not deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. The decision cited the state constitution’s ban on the creation of second-class citizens. The court then gave the state 180 days in which to change the law. Efforts by some legislators to introduce an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage, but recognizing civil unions, were defeated.

Same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states on June 26, 2015, after the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

READ MORE: The Supreme Court Rulings That Have Shaped Gay Rights in America

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Terrorists bomb trains in Madrid


Year
2004
Month Day
March 11

On March 11, 2004, 193 people are killed and nearly 2,000 are injured when 10 bombs explode on four trains in three Madrid-area train stations during a busy morning rush hour. The bombs were later found to have been detonated by mobile phones. The attacks, the deadliest against civilians on European soil since the 1988 Lockerbie airplane bombing, were initially suspected to be the work of the Basque separatist militant group ETA. This was soon proved incorrect as evidence mounted against an extreme Islamist militant group loosely tied to, but thought to be working in the name of, al-Qaida.

Investigators believe that all of the blasts were caused by improvised explosive devices that were packed in backpacks and brought aboard the trains. The terrorists seem to have targeted Madrid’s Atocha Station, at or near which seven of the bombs were detonated. The other bombs were detonated aboard trains near the El Poso del Tio Raimundo and Santa Eugenia stations, most likely because of delays in the trains’ journeys on their way to Atocha. Three other bombs did not detonate as planned and were later found intact.

Many in Spain and around the world saw the attacks as retaliation for Spain’s participation in the war in Iraq, where about 1,400 Spanish soldiers were stationed at the time. The attacks took place two days before a major Spanish election, in which anti-war Socialists swept to power. The new government, led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, removed Spanish troops from Iraq, with the last leaving the country in May 2004.

A second bombing, of a track of the high-speed AVE train, was attempted on April 2, but was unsuccessful. The next day, Spanish police linked the occupants of an apartment in Leganes, south of Madrid, to the attacks. In the ensuing raid, seven suspects killed themselves and one Spanish special forces agent by setting off bombs in the apartment to avoid capture by the authorities. One other bomber is believed to have been killed in the train bombings and 29 were arrested. After a five-month-long trial in 2007, 21 people were convicted, although five of them, including Rabei Osman, the alleged ringleader, were later acquitted.

In memory of the victims of the March 11 bombings, a memorial forest of olive and cypress trees was planted at the El Retiro park in Madrid, near the Atocha railway station.

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Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan dies

Year
2004
Month Day
June 05

On June 5, 2004, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, dies, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Reagan, who was also a well-known actor and served as governor of California, was a popular president known for restoring American confidence after the problems of the 1970s and helping to defeat communism.

Born on February 6, 1911, Reagan, who was nicknamed Dutch as a youngster, was born and raised in several small towns in Illinois. Despite a disadvantaged upbringing—his father abused alcohol and had trouble holding jobs—Reagan was a popular and outgoing student. He served as president of his high school’s student council and stood out at football, basketball, and track, as well as acting in several plays. During the summer, he worked as a lifeguard, reportedly saving 77 people over six years.

After high school, Reagan enrolled at Eureka College, a small, Christian, liberal-arts school in Eureka, Illinois, from which he received a scholarship. There, he continued to show athletic prowess, playing football and swimming, as well as honing his skills in his two future pursuits: acting and politics. Reagan—then a Democrat—served as Eureka’s student-body president and acted in the college’s theater productions.

In 1932, Reagan graduated from Eureka with a degree in sociology and economics and found a job as a radio sports announcer. He worked in radio for five years, before going for a screen test in Los Angeles while in California to cover the Chicago Cubs’ spring-training camp. Warner Brothers offered the future president a seven-year contract, but asked him to use his given name Ronald instead of Dutch in the movies.

READ MORE: How Gorbachev and Reagan’s Friendship Helped Thaw the Cold War

Although he never became an A-list star, Reagan spent 20 years in Hollywood and appeared in more than 50 films and several television programs. His oft-used nickname as president, The Gipper, came from his turn playing Notre Dame football star George The Gipper Gipp in the 1940 film Knute Rockne: All American. In 1940, Reagan married actress Jane Wyman. The couple had two children: Maureen, in 1941, and Michael, whom they adopted in 1945. Reagan and Wyman divorced in 1949.

Although Reagan did not serve combat duty in World War II because of his poor eyesight, he began active duty in 1942 and made training films for the military until his discharge in 1945. Politically, it was during the 1940s that Reagan gradually became more conservative and also became involved in the country’s burgeoning anti-communist movement. In 1947, he testified to the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), naming elements in Hollywood that he felt were allied with communist causes. Later that year, he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), a position he held from 1947 to 1952 and again from 1959 to 1960.

Through the course of his work with SAG, Reagan met Nancy Davis, an actress who looked to Reagan for help when she was incorrectly labeled a communist sympathizer. As he had done for others, Reagan assisted her in clearing her name. The couple also began a lifelong romance and was married in 1952. Their two children, Patricia and Ronald, were born in 1953 and 1959, respectively.

After registering as a Republican in 1962 and campaigning for Barry Goldwater in his failed 1964 presidential campaign, Reagan decided to run for governor of California in 1966. He won handily, despite his lack of experience. His plan for California foreshadowed the one he ultimately brought with him to the national stage: lower taxes, cuts in spending, and an end to big government. Despite the student protests and forced tax hikes that occurred during his first term, he ran again and was easily re-elected in 1970. Just 18 months later, he announced his unsuccessful candidacy for president at the Republican National Convention. In 1975, he left office in California and ran again for the Republican presidential nomination, losing in a close race to Gerald Ford.

In 1980, Reagan ran yet again and won the nomination easily, choosing George H.W. Bush as his running mate. Running on a platform of a return to American values, smaller government, a stronger military, and tax cuts, Reagan appealed to an American public frustrated with inflation and foreign policy problems, like the Iranian hostage crisis. He won, and at age 69, became the oldest man to be elected to the office. A talented and practiced public speaker, Reagan’s personal charm, warm manner, and optimistic message endeared him to many Americans. He was re-elected by a landslide in 1984.

Just 69 days after taking office, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley after giving a speech at a hotel about one mile from the White House. After surgery to remove the bullet, which had lodged near his heart, he recovered quickly, which added to his image as a strong leader. Throughout his two terms in office, Reagan pursued his trademark economic program, Reaganomics—a supply-side economics theory that involved drastic cuts to both taxes and spending. At the time, and increasingly in the intervening years since his presidency, Reagan drew criticism for ruthlessly slashing social programs while building up a huge deficit with massive military expenditures. He is also criticized for his partiality to business interests, removing many regulations on big business that he felt were impeding growth, as well as authorizing the firing of striking air-traffic controllers in 1981.

It was his campaign to end the Cold War, though, that defined the Reagan presidency for many Americans. His plan was to use an unprecedented military buildup to negotiate arms-reduction treaties from a position of strength. During a visit to Germany, he famously urged then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down that wall. By 1991, the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Soviet Union Reagan had once referred to as an evil empire was no more. While many credit Reagan for this historic turn of events, and it is certain he played a significant role, others point to internal problems in the Soviet Union for its ultimate demise.

READ MORE: President Reagan challenges Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall”

Reagan’s foreign policy included military interventions in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya, which had mixed results. He is also known for backing anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua and authorizing a secret CIA military operation there in the early 1980s. This led to the Iran-Contra scandal, in which it was found that illegal arms sales to Iran were used to fund the administration’s support of Nicaragua’s Contra rebels. No evidence was ever found to suggest that Reagan himself or Vice President Bush broke the law. Despite the scandal, George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan to the presidency in 1988.

Known as the Great Communicator, Reagan left the Oval Office as one of the most popular presidents in history, retiring to his much-loved California ranch, Rancho del Cielo. His announcement in 1994 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease was greeted with great sadness by many across the country. He wrote, in an open letter to the American people, I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

He lived out the rest of his days on the ranch, with his wife Nancy, who remained devoted to him to the end, by his side. He was buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

READ MORE: Ronald Reagan: His Life and Legacy 

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