Senator presses Pentagon to hand over records
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is coming under pressure to give Congress detailed information on the handling of sex crime cases in the armed forces following an Associated Press investigation that found a pattern of inconsistent judgments and light penalties for sexual assaults at U.S. bases in Japan.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who’s led efforts in Congress to address military sexual crimes, is pressing the Defense Department to turn over case information from four major U.S. bases: Fort Hood in Texas, Naval Air Station Norfolk in Virginia, the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in California, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Such records would shed more light on how military commanders make decisions about court martials and punishments in sexual assault cases and whether the inconsistent judgments seen in Japan are more widespread.
AP’s investigation, which was based on hundreds of internal military documents it first began requesting in 2009, found that what appeared to be strong cases were often reduced to lesser charges. Suspects were unlikely to serve time even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed. In two rape cases, commanders overruled recommendations to court-martial and dropped the charges instead.
Gillibrand, who leads the Senate Armed Services personnel panel, wrote Monday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking for “all reports and allegations of rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault, sex in the barracks, adultery and attempts, conspiracies or solicitations to commit these crimes,” for the last five years.
White House delays health law coverage mandate for some
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to limit election-year damage on health care, the Obama administration Monday granted business groups another delay in a much-criticized requirement that larger firms cover their workers or face fines.
In one of several concessions in a complex Treasury Department regulation, the administration said companies with 50 to 99 employees will have an additional year to comply with the coverage mandate, until January 1, 2016.
For businesses with 100 or more employees the requirement will still take effect in 2015. But other newly announced provisions, affecting technical issues such as the calculation of working hours, may help some of those firms.
Some major business organizations were quick to praise the administration’s compromise.
“These final regulations secured the gold medal for greatest assistance to retailers, and other businesses, and our employees,” said Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation.
Terror suspect possibly targeted for drone attack
WASHINGTON (AP) — The case of an American citizen and suspected member of al-Qaida who is allegedly planning attacks on U.S. targets overseas underscores the complexities of President Barack Obama’s new stricter targeting guidelines for the use of deadly drones.
The CIA drones watching him cannot strike because he’s a U.S. citizen. The Pentagon drones that could are barred from the country where he’s hiding, and the Justice Department has not yet finished building a case against him.
Four U.S. officials said the American suspected terrorist is in a country that refuses U.S. military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him. And Obama’s new policy says American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, creating a policy conundrum for the White House.
Two of the officials described the man as an al-Qaida facilitator who has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against U.S. citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.
The officials said the suspected terrorist is well-guarded and in a fairly remote location, so any unilateral attempt by U.S. troops to capture him would be risky and even more politically explosive than a U.S. missile strike.
Iraqi militants accidentally set off bomb at their camp
BAGHDAD (AP) — An instructor teaching his militant recruits how to make car bombs accidentally set off explosives in his demonstration Monday, killing 21 of them in a huge blast that alerted authorities to the existence of the rural training camp in an orchard north of Baghdad. Nearly two dozen people were arrested, including wounded insurgents trying to hobble away from the scene.
The fatal goof by the al-Qaida breakaway group that dominates the Sunni insurgency in Iraq happened on the same day that the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, a prominent Sunni whom the militants consider a traitor, escaped unhurt from a roadside bomb attack on his motorcade in the northern city of Mosul.
Nevertheless, the events underscored the determination of the insurgents to rebuild and regain the strength they enjoyed in Iraq at the height of the war until U.S.-backed Sunni tribesmen turned against them. The militants are currently battling for control of mainly Sunni areas of western Iraq in a key test of the Shiite-led government’s ability to maintain security more than two years after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
While the Iraqi army has been attacking insurgent training camps in the vast desert of western Anbar province near the Syrian border, it is unusual to find such a camp in the center of the country, just 60 miles north of the capital.
Pilots head to wrong airports more often than officials admit
WASHINGTON (AP) — At a time when a cellphone can guide you to your driveway, commercial pilots attempt to land at the wrong airport more often than most passengers realize or government officials admit, according to an Associated Press search of government safety data and news reports since the early 1990s.
On at least 150 flights, including a Southwest Airlines jet last month in Missouri and a jumbo cargo plane last fall in Kansas, U.S. commercial passenger and cargo planes have either landed at the wrong airport or started to land and realized their mistake in time.
A particular trouble spot is San Jose, Calif. The list of landing mistakes includes six reports of pilots preparing to land at Moffett Field, a joint civilian-military airport, when they meant to go to Mineta San Jose International Airport.
, about 10 miles to the southeast. The airports are south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley.
“This event occurs several times every winter in bad weather when we work on Runway 12,” a San Jose airport tower controller said in a November 2012 report describing how an airliner headed for Moffett after being cleared to land at San Jose. The plane was waved off in time.
In nearly all the incidents, the pilots were cleared by controllers to fly based on what they could see rather than relying on automation. Many incidents occur at night, with pilots reporting they were attracted by the runway lights of the first airport they saw during descent. Some pilots said they disregarded navigation equipment that showed their planes slightly off course because the information didn’t match what they were seeing out their windows — a runway straight ahead.
Aid workers rush to evacuate residents as truce extended in battleground Syrian city
BEIRUT (AP) — Aid officials rushed to evacuate more women, children and elderly from rebel-held areas that have been blockaded by government troops for more than a year in Syria’s third-largest city, Homs, after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in the city was renewed for three more days Monday.
The truce, which began Friday, has been shaken by continued shelling and shooting that prevented some residents from escaping and limited the amount of food aid officials have been able to deliver into the besieged neighborhoods.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos sharply criticized the two sides, saying U.N. and Syrian Red Crescent workers were “deliberately targeted.”
The drama in Homs, where Amos said around 800 civilians have been evacuated so far, played out as activists on Monday reported new sectarian killings in Syria’s civil war.
Al-Qaida-inspired rebels killed more than two dozen civilians, including an entire family, when they overran a village populated by minority Alawites on Sunday, Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. They also killed around 20 local fighters in the village, he said.
Hoefl-Riesch of Germany wins 2nd consecutive Olympic gold in super-combined
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Different American, same result for Maria Hoefl-Riesch — another Olympic gold in the super-combined.
Just as she did four years ago at the Vancouver Games, Hoefl-Riesch found herself trailing an American after the downhill leg before using her slalom skills to vault into first place and successfully defend her Olympic title in the dual-run event.
The German finished less than a second ahead of both silver medalist Nicole Hosp of Austria and Julia Mancuso of the United States, who won the bronze. Mancuso won silver in the event in Vancouver.
Lindsey Vonn had the fastest downhill time in Vancouver, but when Vonn skied out on the slalom, Hoefl-Riesch roared back to claim gold. This time, Vonn is out with an injury, and Mancuso replaced her at the top the standings after the downhill.
Also on Day 4 of the Sochi Olympics, Charles Hamelin of Canada raced to the 1,500-meter short track speedskating gold, and Viktor Ahn earned the bronze to give Russia its first-ever short track medal; Michel Mulder of the Netherlands earned the 500-meter speedskating gold; Martin Fourcade won the 12.5-kilometer biathlon pursuit; and Alex Bilodeau won his second consecutive gold medal in men’s moguls.
Newly-released email shows top special operation officer’s effort to shield bin Laden photos
WASHINGTON (AP) — A newly-released email shows that 11 days after the killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, the U.S. military’s top special operations officer ordered subordinates to destroy any photographs of the al-Qaida founder’s corpse or turn them over to the CIA.
The email was obtained under a freedom of information request by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. The document, released Monday by the group, shows that Adm. William McRaven, who heads the U.S. Special Operations Command, told military officers on May 13, 2011 that photos of bin Laden’s remains should have been sent to the CIA or already destroyed. Bin Laden was killed by a special operations team in Pakistan on May 2, 2011.
McRaven’s order to purge the bin Laden material came 10 days after The Associated Press asked for the photos and other documents under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Typically, when a freedom of information request is filed to a government agency, the agency is obliged to preserve the material sought — even if the agency later denies the request.
On May 3, 2011, the AP asked Special Operations Command’s Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Division office for “copies of all e-mails sent from and to the U.S. government account or accounts” of McRaven referencing bin Laden. McRaven was then vice admiral.
A May 4, 2011 response from the command’s FOIA office to the AP acknowledged the bin Laden document request and said it had been assigned for processing. AP did not receive a copy of the McRaven email obtained by Judicial Watch.
Is it art? Comedy? ‘Dumb Starbucks’ in Los Angeles generates lines, social media buzz
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It’s a caffeine-charged Hollywood whodunit: Just whose bright idea was the “Dumb Starbucks” coffee shop that popped up and started serving free drinks from the corner of an otherwise uncelebrated strip mall.
On Monday morning, a line from the store wound alongside the parking lot and up the block, with some patrons stepping out to snap pictures in front of a green awning and mermaid logo that is familiar — except that the word “Dumb” is prominently featured.
They weren’t coming for gourmet fare: Their descriptions of the coffee ranged from “horrible” to “bitter,” and one parent said his daughter complained that the hot chocolate was like water.
Instead, they are just coming to say they came, and to score a white paper cup with a sticker bearing the curious logo.
“It was a pretty dumb idea to come out in the cold” and wait for nearly two hours to get a coffee, joked Anthony Solis, who lives in nearby Hollywood.