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Recession Impacts Social Security, Medicare; U.S. Soldier Charged With Murder

May 12, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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In the day's top news headlines, new reports show the recession has cut into the Social Security and Medicare benefit programs, and a U.S. soldier accused of killing five comrades in Iraq was charged with murder.
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JIM LEHRER: The damage from a deep recession rippled across Social Security and Medicare today. Trustees for the programs reported they’ll run out of money sooner than expected.

The Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2037; that’s four years earlier than last year’s estimate. Medicare will be exhausted by 2017, two years faster than before.

Treasury Secretary Geithner said 5.7 million people have lost their jobs and stopped contributing to the trust funds. He said it underscores the need to reform the programs.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, Treasury Secretary: I think the challenge is to design a bipartisan process that allows people to come together and figure out what the best mix of options are going to be for the American people going forward.

And, again, that’s something the president’s committed to do. And we want to move on health care, get health care done. That’s going to be central. But when we have accomplished that, we’d like to begin to explore the basis for serious action on Social Security, as well.

JIM LEHRER: The report came as President Obama discussed health care with corporate leaders. They explained what they’ve done to cut costs but maintain high levels of care. We’ll talk about this, our lead story, with Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius later in the program tonight.

In other news today, the U.S. Army filed murder charges against a soldier accused of killing five other American soldiers in Iraq. Sergeant John Russell allegedly opened fire yesterday at a counseling clinic in Baghdad. He’d been referred there by his superiors apparently over concerns about his mental health. Russell was set to leave Iraq soon after serving three tours there.

In Afghanistan, teams of Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen launched a new assault in the city of Khost. At least 20 people were killed; three U.S. troops were wounded. The attack left government buildings smoking, and day-long gun battles broke out. Officials said Afghan and international troops finally overpowered the militants and freed 20 hostages.

Afghan officials also accused militants of staging another poison gas attack on a girls school. Eighty-four students fell ill and were admitted to a hospital for severe headaches and nausea. It was the third poisoning reported at an Afghan girls school in about two weeks.

Across the border, the Pakistani army again stepped up the pressure on a Taliban stronghold. Helicopters dropped commandos behind enemy lines in a remote part of the Swat Valley. The troops were deployed for search-and-destroy missions. Officials also reported the violence has now displaced 800,000 refugees.

An Ohio man, John Demjanjuk, was deported to Germany today after a 30-year legal fight. The retired autoworker is accused of helping to kill thousands of Jews in wartime Poland. We have a report from Robert Moore of Independent Television News.

ROBERT MOORE: John Demjanjuk arrived at this Munich prison under close medical care and with a giant question hanging over him: Is this the man, are these the hands of one of the cruelest guards ever to serve in the S.S.?

The 89-year-old will now be held on German soil to wait for what may be the last ever Nazi trial.

Until accused of being a sadistic death camp guard, he lived quietly in Ohio, having fled to America after World War II. For three decades, Demjanjuk has proclaimed his innocence, insisting, despite some photo evidence, that it’s a case of mistaken identity.

But German prosecutors say they have found fresh documentary proof from the old Nazi extermination camps linking him to the murder of 29,000 Jews.

He has already faced one major trial when, 20 years ago, he was sentenced to death by Israeli judges who said he was the infamous guard known to his victims as Ivan the Terrible. But he was later released amid concerns Demjanjuk and Ivan were actually different people.

One death camp survivor is Max Mannheimer. He lives here in Munich and believes that Demjanjuk’s trial must educate a new generation about the Holocaust.

MAX MANNHEIMER, Auschwitz Survivor: Perhaps he was only a driver who drove the people to the gas chamber. I don’t know.

ROBERT MOORE: But you want John Demjanjuk to tell the truth?

MAX MANNHEIMER: That’s so. Nothing else. He should admit that he was there.

ROBERT MOORE: If this ends up being the very last major Nazi war crimes trial, there is some symmetry in it happening here in Munich, the city that was at the very heart of Nazi power.

So after a decades-long legal saga, it is a German court that must decide who Demjanjuk really was, what he did, and what price he must now pay.

JIM LEHRER: Demjanjuk’s lawyers say he is unfit to stand trial. A judge is expected to take up that question and other legal issues within the next few weeks.

The Vatican defended Pope Benedict XVI today from criticism in Israel regarding the Holocaust. The German pope is now touring Middle Eastern countries.

Today he visited the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but Israeli officials and newspapers complained he never mentioned “Nazis” or “murder” in his speech yesterday at the National Holocaust Memorial.

He also made no mention of his own service in the Hitler Youth and the German army. A Vatican official said the pope has mentioned his background on previous occasions.

A federal jury in Miami has convicted five men of plotting to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago. They were also convicted of planning to bomb FBI offices in a scheme with al-Qaida. A sixth man was acquitted. The men had been tried twice before, but those cases ended in mistrials. None of the planned attacks ever took place.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 50 points to close at 8,469. The Nasdaq fell 15 points to close below 1,716.

Stock in General Motors traded near its lowest level since the Great Depression. The company faces a June 1st deadline to try to avoid bankruptcy.