AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Jan 01, 2010 6:13 AM

Judge tosses charges against Blackwater guards in Baghdad shooting case steeped in politics

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge cited repeated government missteps in dismissing all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a case that inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the case against the guards accused of the shooting in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.

The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the U.S. judicial system handled the case.

Urbina said the prosecutors ignored the advice of senior Justice Department officials and built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Urbina said that violated the guards' constitutional rights. He dismissed the government's explanations as "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility."

"We're obviously disappointed by the decision," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. "We're still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options."

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Iran's opposition leader defiant in face of threats, says he is ready to die for his people

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran's opposition leader on Friday pledged to remain defiant in the face of new threats _ including calls by hard-liners for his execution _ and said he was ready to sacrifice his life in defense of the people's right to protest peacefully against the government.

Mir Hossein Mousavi's remarks come after the worst unrest since the immediate aftermath of the disputed June presidential election. At least eight people died during anti-government protests on Sunday, including Mousavi's nephew.

In one of his strongest statements to date, Mousavi said he was "ready for martyrdom" _ the sacrifice of one's life for a higher cause _ and lashed out at the bloody crackdown the authorities are waging against the opposition.

He said the government was making more mistakes by resorting to violence and killings, and that it must accept the people's rights to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Iranian hard-liners have called for the execution of Mousavi and other opposition figures, while a previously unknown group claimed in an online posting that suicide squads were ready to assassinate opposition leaders should the judiciary fail to punish them within a week.

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CIA suicide bombing raises questions about agency's ability to protect its agents

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The brazen attack that killed seven CIA employees at a remote outpost in Afghanistan is likely to raise questions about whether the agency could do more to protect its operatives on dangerous assignments.

Lawmakers on Thursday issued their condolences and withheld any judgment. But officials said they expected an eventual inquiry as to whether the CIA should re-examine how it deploys individuals in hostile regions and the lengths operatives are allowed to go to get information.

"We owe these brave men and women, and their families who are forever impacted, our deepest appreciation and thanks," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who had met with the CIA team on a recent trip to Afghanistan.

Wednesday's bombing was a devastating blow to the tightknit spy community. Among the seven CIA employees killed was the chief of the CIA post, whom former officials identified as a mother of three. Six more agency personnel were wounded in what was considered the most lethal attack for the CIA since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and possibly even since the 1983 embassy bombing in Beirut.

The bombing occurred at a former military base on the edge of Khost city, the capital of Khost province, which borders Pakistan and is a Taliban stronghold.

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Obama reviewing reports from homeland security officials, eyes changes to intelligence systems

HONOLULU (AP) _ President Barack Obama is reviewing reports from homeland security officials as his administration tries to determine what U.S. policy and personnel failures preceded the attempted Detroit jetliner bombing.

Intelligence officials, meanwhile, prepared for what was shaping up to be uncomfortable hearings before Congress about miscommunication among anti-terror agencies and sweeping changes expected under Obama's watch.

Democrats joined a chorus led by Obama in declaring the government's intelligence procedures in need of repair. Among them, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said that when the government gets tipped to trouble as it did before a 23-year-old Nigerian man boarded the Northwest Airlines jet with explosives, "someone's hair should be on fire."

One senior administration official told reporters traveling with the vacationing president: "The failure to share that information is not going to be tolerated."

The official, like others involved in the reviews, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence discussions.

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Fox grants 'brief extension,' keeps signal going as dispute with Time Warner Cable continues

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Fox and Time Warner Cable extended their contract for a few hours, avoiding a threatened blackout of several stations from the cable provider while the two sides tried early Friday to resolve a disagreement over fees.

Time Warner Cable Inc. made the announcement as the clock rolled past midnight on the East Coast. In a brief statement at 5:30 a.m. EST, Scott Grogin, Fox senior vice president for communications, said "negotiations were continuing."

The extension for just a few hours made it appear likely that at the very least a further extension would be granted, allowing millions of cable subscribers access to Friday's Sugar Bowl between the Florida Gators and the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Cotton Bowl on Saturday, the NFL's final regular season contests on Sunday and "The Simpsons" and other Fox shows were also at risk.

Karen Amaya, a 30-year-old schoolteacher and Time Warner Cable subscriber in Van Nuys, Calif., said she was concerned about not being able to see "The Simpsons" on Sunday night, which her husband watches "religiously."

She said it was "kind of frustrating" not knowing what would happen, especially as both sides had heavily advertised the possible disruption.

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White House defends nominee to head TSA, says delay is based on politics

HONOLULU (AP) _ Acknowledging he has given inconsistent answers to Congress, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Transportation Security Administration wrote to lawmakers to explain a reprimand he received for running background checks on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend two decades ago.

Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent whose nomination has been delayed by Republicans for unrelated concerns, sent a letter to senators in November to correct what he called a distortion of his record. As Democrats push for his speedy confirmation, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he maintained faith in the nominee.

"I am distressed by the inconsistencies between my recollection and the contemporaneous documents, but I assure you that the mistake was inadvertent, and that I have at all times taken full responsibility for what I know to have been a grave error in judgment," he wrote in a letter to Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

"This incident was over 20 years ago, I was distraught and concerned about my young son, and never in my career since has there been any recurrence of this sort of conduct."

In an October affidavit for the Senate committee, he initially said he asked a San Diego police employee to run a background check on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend and was censured by his FBI superiors 20 years ago for what he said was an isolated instance.

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Times Square New Year's revelers mark end of bleak decade; woman's advice: 'Don't look back'

NEW YORK (AP) _ For all those reflecting glumly on the last 10 years of terror attacks, war and recession, Gail Guay has some advice: "Don't look back."

The 50-year-old Guay, from Raymond, N.H., was among the hundreds of thousands of revelers who rang in 2010 in a chilly Times Square as the famous Waterford crystal ball dropped at midnight Thursday, marking the end of a difficult decade that many wanted to leave behind.

But a sense of starting fresh remained elusive for many, who wondered what sort of legacy would begin on Jan. 1.

"Nothing seems to be going well," said John O'Donnell, of Hazleton, Pa. "People are losing their lives overseas. People are unemployed. It doesn't seem like it's about to end soon."

Las Vegas welcomed some 315,000 revelers with fireworks from casino rooftops, celebrity toasts at nightclubs and a traffic-free Las Vegas Strip.

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Limbaugh fans call show with get-well wishes as hospitalized talk-show host undergoes tests

HONOLULU (AP) _ As conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh underwent tests for chest pains in a Honolulu hospital, caller after caller to his show sounded their well-wishes.

Fans were asked to simply say "ditto" _ a traditional Limbaugh catchword _ to express their support Thursday so they could get on with questions and comments on social and government issues on the national talk show.

Limbaugh experienced chest pains Wednesday and was rushed from the Hawaii resort where he's vacationing to The Queen's Medical Center. A statement Thursday from the hospital said he was resting comfortably in "good spirits."

George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams, vacation relief for Limbaugh on the three-hour show, said the chest pains could be an indicator of a cardiac event, although the cause hasn't been determined.

"Obviously, out of respect for Rush's medical privacy ... we'll wait for him to provide detailed comment as to the cause," he said.

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Irish singer Van Morrison blames Web hacker for false claim of new baby

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Reclusive Irish singer Van Morrison said Thursday that a computer hacker planted a false report on his Web site claiming he had fathered a fourth child at the age of 64 with a new partner.

The false report was disseminated Monday by a Los Angeles-based publicist for Morrison, Phil Lobel. The publicist was quoted by an unidentified associate on Thursday as getting the report from the Morrison site.

The false report was picked up by several news agencies, including The Associated Press, as well as celebrity sites and British newspapers. The false report on the Morrison Web site claimed that a woman identified as Gigi had just borne a son with Morrison.

The singer issued a statement Thursday through an international public-relations agency stressing that the report was completely false and the malicious product of a hacker's attack on his official Web site, http://www.vanmorrison.com.

It appeared to be the latest in a rapidly growing string of hoaxes in the Internet age. Digital tricksters increasingly place phony footage, facts and press releases on Web sites and video-sharing sites to see how quickly the falsehoods will spread through traditional and new media alike.

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Thousands line Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena for 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ The countdown is on for one of the nation's biggest New Year's celebrations _ the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Thousands of people clutching sleeping bags, lawn chairs and party favors staked their claims to sidewalk space along Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard and other stretches of the route early Friday.

They spent the night under the light of a rare blue moon _ the second full moon in a month _ awaiting the start of the 121st parade, themed "A Cut Above the Rest." The grand marshal of the New Year's Day spectacle is Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a stricken jetliner on New York's Hudson River.

It was mostly peaceful along the parade route late Thursday, except for some minor skirmishes. A couple of fights resulted in two arrests, but no injuries, Lt. John Dewar said. One person was arrested on suspicion of fighting in public, the other on suspicion of being drunk in public. Both are misdemeanors.

When police allowed people to claim seats at noon Thursday, 66-year-old Dean Hanson and his wife Gwen took chairs off the top of their motorhome and secured primo front-row spots.