EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2013

Around the World and Nation


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Presidential task force urges sweeping limits on government surveillance

WASHINGTON (AP) — A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping changes to government surveillance programs, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data in its own facilities. Court orders would be required before the information could be searched.

In a 300-page report released Wednesday, the five-member panel also proposed greater scrutiny of decisions to spy on friendly foreign leaders, a practice that has outraged U.S. allies around the world.

While the panel’s 46 recommendations broadly call for more oversight of the government’s vast spying network, few programs would be ended. There’s also no guarantee that the most stringent recommendations will be adopted by President Barack Obama, who authorized the panel but is not obligated to implement its findings.

The task force said it sought to balance the nation’s security with the public’s privacy rights and insisted the country would not be put at risk if more oversight was put in place. In fact, the report concludes that telephone information collected in bulk by the NSA and used in terror investigations “was not essential to preventing attacks.”

“We’re not saying the struggle against terrorism is over or that we can dismantle the mechanisms that we have put in place to safeguard the country,” said Richard Clarke, a task force member and former government counterterrorism official. “What we are saying is those mechanisms can be more transparent.”

Georgia woman has 1 winning ticket in $636M Mega Millions jackpot

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia woman who bought just one ticket and used family birthdays and lucky No. 7 to choose her numbers was one of two winners of the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot, the second largest in U.S. history.

Lottery officials in Georgia identified the winner as Ira Curry, of Stone Mountain, which is east of Atlanta. Curry will take a lump sum of about $120 million after taxes, Georgia Lottery chief executive Debbie Alford said.

“She has not decided how she’ll spend those winnings,” Alford said at a news conference that Curry did not attend.

The other winning ticket was sold at a gift shop in San Jose, Calif. The winner there has one year to come forward.

Curry was driving to work Wednesday when an announcer on the radio talked about the Mega Ball being 7. Curry knew that was her Mega Ball number, so she called her daughter to check the ticket.

Many Guantanamo detainees could be closer to home under bipartisan deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up to half the terror suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay could be closer to heading home under a bipartisan deal reached in Congress that gives President Barack Obama a rare victory in his fight to close the prison.

The deal would lift the most rigid restrictions Congress previously imposed on detainee transfers overseas and is part of a broad compromise defense bill awaiting final passage in the Senate this week. The House approved the measure last Thursday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the compromise could have a dramatic impact on the 160 detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“About half of the detainees would be detainees that could be transferred to their third-world countries from which they come,” Levin told reporters. “About half of the detainees would remain in Guantanamo because of the prohibition on transferring them to the United States for detention and for trial.”

The defense bill marks the first time since Obama came to office promising to close Guantanamo that Congress is moving to ease restrictions instead of strengthen them. And it could signal changing political views toward the prison for terrorism suspects now that the war in Afghanistan is winding down.

New trial set for Egypt’s ousted Islamist president

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian prosecutors on Wednesday announced a new trial of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and the top leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood, accusing them of conspiring with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and militant groups to carry out a wave of terrorism to destabilize the country.

The charges, which carry a potential death penalty, are the most sweeping and heaviest accusations yet in a series of trials against the Brotherhood. The new trial of Morsi, the three top Brotherhood leaders and 32 other defendants appeared aimed at decisively crippling the top echelons of the group that dominated Egypt’s political scene during Morsi’s one-year presidency.

The timing appeared aimed at further tarnishing the Brotherhood among the public ahead of a key January referendum on a new constitution, a substantial rewrite of the charter largely drafted by Islamists under Morsi. The new military-backed government is seeking a strong “yes” vote for the constitution to show the legitimacy of the political transition process put in place after the military removed Morsi on July 3. Brotherhood supporters oppose the new document and have vowed protests against it.

Since the coup, prompted by massive protests calling for Morsi’s removal, Egypt has been in continual unrest. Morsi supporters have been holding near daily protests demanding his reinstatement, met by a fierce security crackdown that has killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands of Brotherhood members. Meanwhile, a wave of retaliatory attacks by suspected Islamic militants have targeted Christians and security forces, and the Sinai Peninsula has been the center of a mounting militant insurgency.

Throughout, the new government has depicted the Brotherhood as a violent movement that threatened the nation and forced the military to remove it power. Previous, ongoing trials of Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have focused on accusations the group is implicated in violence.

Bipartisan deal aimed at ending budget showdowns clears Congress; Obama’s signature next

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation Wednesday scaling back across-the-board cuts on programs ranging from the Pentagon to the national park system, adding a late dusting of bipartisanship to a year more likely to be remembered for a partial government shutdown and near-perpetual gridlock.

Obama’s signature was assured on the measure, which lawmakers in both parties and at opposite ends of the Capitol said they hoped would curb budget brinkmanship and prevent more shutdowns in the near future.

“It’s a good first step away from the shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy,” he said of the measure in a statement issued after the vote. And yet, he quickly added, “there is much more work to do to ensure our economy works for every working American.”

The legislation passed the Democratic-controlled Senate on a vote of 64-36, six days after clearing the Republican-run House by a similarly bipartisan margin of 332-94.

The product of intensive year-end talks, the measure met the short-term political needs of Republicans, Democrats and the White House. As a result, there was no suspense about the outcome of the vote in the Senate — only about fallout in the 2014 elections and, more immediately, its impact on future congressional disputes over spending and the nation’s debt limit.

In unusually heavy air assault, Syrian government pounds rebel areas of Aleppo

BEIRUT (AP) — In a withering four-day air assault, the Syrian government pummeled opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo, leveling apartment buildings, flooding hospitals with casualties and killing nearly 200 people.

Rebels say the unusually intense airstrikes have prompted civilians to flee to the countryside and could portend a government ground offensive against the opposition-held half of the city, which has been divided for a year and half by grueling fighting.

The air campaign’s timing — five weeks ahead of an international peace conference — also suggests that Syrian President Bashar Assad could be trying to strengthen his position on the ground while exposing the opposition’s weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.

The stakes are high in the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a former commercial and industrial hub. For the government, wresting back control of the entire city would deal a devastating blow to the rebels’ morale and throw doubt on the opposition’s long-term hold on the vast territory in northern Syria that it has captured over the past two years.

Since it began on Sunday, the government air assault has hammered more than a dozen neighborhoods in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo. The campaign has killed at least 189 people and wounded 879, the aid organization Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Wednesday.

Witness says she tried to help woman before she was fatally shot on porch in suburban Detroit

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — A young, drunk woman fatally shot on a man’s porch in suburban Detroit was hurt, scared and confused a few hours earlier when she crashed her vehicle into a parked car, a witness testified Wednesday.

Carmen Beasley provided details about the hours preceding the death of Renisha McBride, 19, who was shot in the face by a 54-year-old homeowner in the dark, early morning of Nov. 2.

Dearborn Heights Judge David Turfe must determine if there’s enough evidence to send Theodore Wafer to trial on a second-degree murder charge. Defense attorneys claim he feared for his life, but prosecutors say the shooting was not justified. More testimony is scheduled for Thursday.

Beasley said she heard a “boom” outside her Detroit home about 1 a.m. and discovered that her car had been smashed. She called 911, went outside and found McBride, who had walked away but returned to the scene.

McBride was bleeding and pressing her hands to her head, Beasley testified.