AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 6:16 PM

Pentagon worker on terrorism task force assessed Fort Hood shooting suspect months ago

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Defense Department investigator on a terrorism task force looked into Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal Hasan's background months ago, officials said Tuesday _ providing fresh evidence the military knew worrisome details about the Army psychiatrist before last week's deadly rampage.

Two officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case on the record said the Washington-based joint terrorism task force overseen by the FBI was notified of communications between Hasan and a radical imam overseas, and the information was turned over to a Defense Criminal Investigative Service employee assigned to the task force.

That worker wrote up an assessment of Hasan after reviewing the Army major's personnel file and the communications. The assessment concluded Hasan did not merit further investigation, in large part because his communications with the imam were centered on a research paper he was writing at the time, and the investigator had concluded Hasan was in fact working on such a paper, the officials said.

The disclosure came as questions swirled about whether opportunities were missed to head off the massacre _ 13 dead and 29 wounded _ and the FBI launched its own internal review of how it handled the early information about Hasan. Military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are all defending themselves against tough questions about what each of them knew about Hasan before he allegedly opened fire in a crowded room at the huge military base in Texas.

Within hours after the role of the defense investigator on the task force was disclosed, a senior defense official said "based on what we know now, neither the U.S. Army nor any other organization within the Department of Defense knew of Maj. Hasan's contacts with any Muslim extremists."

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Execution set tonight for DC sniper John Allen Muhammad after appeals done, no clemency

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia's governor refused to spare the life of John Allen Muhammad and cleared the way for his execution Tuesday night for the sniper attacks in 2002 that left 10 dead and spread such fear people were afraid to go shopping, cut grass or pump gas.

The three-week killing spree in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., was carried out with a teenage accomplice who is serving life in prison without parole. Muhammad, 48, was to die by injection at 9 p.m. after he exhausted his court appeals and Gov. Tim Kaine denied clemency.

Muhammad's attorneys had asked Kaine to commute his sentence to life in prison because they said he was severely mentally ill.

"I think crimes that are this horrible, you just can't understand them, you can't explain them," said Kaine, a Democrat known for carefully considering death penalty cases. "They completely dwarf your ability to look into the life of a person who would do something like this and understand why."

Muhammad was sentenced to death for killing Dean Harold Meyers at a gas station in northern Virginia. He and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, also were suspected of fatal shootings in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington state.

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Clinton urges Senate Democrats to pass health bill, saying imperfect bill better than no action

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former President Bill Clinton urged Senate Democrats on Tuesday to pass health care legislation by year's end, pointedly telling skittish lawmakers that an imperfect bill is preferable to another failure like the one he and the party endured in 1994.

"It's not important to be perfect here. It's important to act, to move, to start the ball rolling," the former president told reporters after the closed-door meeting, held on the cusp of Senate debate on intensely controversial legislation. The House cleared its version of the bill late Saturday night on a narrow, party-line vote of 220-215.

Clinton made an unusual visit to the party's weekly closed-door caucus meeting at the invitation of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has said he hopes the Senate can vote on a bill before the year is out.

Aides said Reid has yet to receive final information from the Congressional Budget Office on the costs and coverage implications of the still-secret legislation he submitted more than two weeks ago. As soon as he does, he intends to launch a historic debate on legislation to expand coverage to millions who lack it, crack down on insurance industry practices and curb the rise in health care spending nationally.

Several Democrats who attended the meeting with Clinton said the former president did not express an opinion on many of the controversial issues embedded in the health care debate. These range from calls for a government-run insurance option to the availability of abortion coverage in private and government insurance.

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US imam who communicated with Fort Hood suspect wanted in Yemen on terror suspicions

SAN'A, Yemen (AP) _ A radical American imam who communicated with the Fort Hood shooting suspect and called him a hero was once arrested in Yemen on suspicion of giving religious approval to militants to conduct kidnappings.

Yemeni authorities are now hunting for Anwar al-Awlaki to determine whether he has al-Qaida ties.

Al-Awlaki, who has used his personal Web site to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, disappeared in Yemen eight months ago, according to his father. Yemeni security officials say they believe he is hiding in a region of the mountainous nation that has become a refuge for Islamic militants.

After his arrest in 2006, investigators were unable to prove any links to al-Qaida, and he was released in late 2007, according to two Yemeni counterterrorism officials and an Interior Ministry official. They spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of killing 13 people in a rampage at the Fort Hood Army post in Texas. He communicated with al-Awlaki in e-mail exchanges 10 to 20 times over several months last year, according to a U.S investigative official in Washington and Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

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Officials: Obama's Afghan options include range of force deployment, trio of other options

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama is considering four options for realigning U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, his spokesman said Tuesday, while military officials said the choices involve several ways the president could employ additional U.S. forces next year.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will discuss the four scenarios with his national security team on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Fort Hood, Texas, Gibbs would not offer details about those options. He insisted that Obama has not made a decision about troop deployments.

Gibbs said that anybody who says Obama has made a decision "doesn't have in all honesty the slightest idea what they're talking about. The president's yet to make a decision" about troop levels or other aspects of the revised U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama traveled to Killeen, Texas, Tuesday, where the president spoke at a memorial service for those killed in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision is pending, said the military services are developing presentations to explain how various force levels could be used in Afghanistan and how various deployment schedules could work, given recent promises to give soldiers more rest time at home.

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Navies of North, South Korea exchange fire near disputed border ahead of Obama visit

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The navies of North and South Korea clashed at sea Tuesday for the first time in seven years in what some analysts said was a provocation by the communist nation a week before President Barack Obama's visit to Seoul.

The North Korean ship retreated in flames, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan said, and the South's YTN television reported that one North Korean officer was killed and three other sailors were wounded.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said it could not confirm the report of the North Korean casualties. There were no South Korean casualties, the military said.

Chung told lawmakers that North Korean ships violated the South's waters, although he said it was probably not intentional. He said the North Koreans may have been clamping down on Chinese fishing vessels operating in the area.

South Korean analysts, however, said North Korea was sending a clear message ahead of Obama's two-day visit starting Nov. 18.

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E.T phone Rome: Vatican calls in experts for conference on possible alien life

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ E.T. phone Rome.

Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.

"The questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration," said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.

Funes, a Jesuit priest, presented the results Tuesday of a five-day conference that gathered astronomers, physicists, biologists and other experts to discuss the budding field of astrobiology _ the study of the origin of life and its existence elsewhere in the cosmos.

Funes said the possibility of alien life raises "many philosophical and theological implications" but added that the gathering was mainly focused on the scientific perspective and how different disciplines can be used to explore the issue.

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Job openings stuck near record-lows as companies hesitate to hire despite recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Job openings are at rock-bottom levels, according to government and private surveys released Tuesday, a trend that could keep the unemployment rate high even as layoffs slow.

Small businesses in particular are reluctant to add workers as they struggle to obtain credit. Many are pushing their current employees to produce more. Economists say small businesses account for about 60 percent of new jobs.

Still, there are some pockets of hiring as demand for information technology and sales professionals grows, according to government reports and job search Web sites. And there are signs that companies are adding more human resources personnel, which could signal more hiring down the road.

"We've seen a real spike in the hiring of contract recruiters," said Phil Haynes, managing director of AllianceQ, an employers' association that includes companies such as Starbucks Corp., Bank of America Corp. and Intuit Inc. "The recruiters come before the jobs."

But overall, it's a tough time to be out of work. There are about 6.1 unemployed workers, on average, competing for each job opening, a Labor Department report shows. That's down slightly from 6.2 last month, the most since the department began tracking job openings nine years ago.

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News producer accused of Letterman scheme asks NYC court to drop extortion plot charge

NEW YORK (AP) _ A TV news producer accused of blackmailing David Letterman in exchange for keeping quiet about his sexual affairs was only trying to sell the late-night comic a screenplay, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.

Robert J. "Joe" Halderman's lawyer asked a judge to toss the attempted first-degree grand larceny case, saying the producer did nothing illegal in slipping Letterman documents alluding to the "Late Show" host's dalliances and taking a $2 million check from Letterman's lawyer.

"There was no extortion. There was a screenplay for sale," the lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said outside court. "There was a commercial transaction. Nothing more."

But a lawyer for Letterman said the exchange was a shakedown, not a sale.

"It's classic blackmail, no matter how Mr. Halderman's lawyer wants to dress it up," Daniel J. Horwitz said outside court.

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Yankees SS Jeter and 1B Teixeira win Gold Gloves; Hunter, Suzuki both earn 9th straight

NEW YORK (AP) _ Derek Jeter sure is stuffing his trophy case this year.

The steady Yankees shortstop won his fourth Gold Glove on Tuesday, joining New York first baseman Mark Teixeira among the American League players rewarded for fantastic fielding.

"I've always taken a great deal of pride in my defense, and being honored with a Gold Glove is an accomplishment I will never overlook," Jeter said in a statement.

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Torii Hunter and Seattle right fielder Ichiro Suzuki both won for the ninth straight season. First-time winners included Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria, Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones and Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle.

Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer and Detroit second baseman Placido Polanco each earned their second award.

Rawlings has presented Gold Gloves annually since 1957. Managers and coaches vote on players in their own leagues before the regular season ends, but they may not select members of their own teams.