National / World News

Posted: August 07, 2008

Bin Laden's driver convicted

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The conviction of Osama bin Laden's driver by a U.S. military court after a 10-day trial provides an indication of what to expect as dozens more Guantanamo prisoners go to court: shifting charges, secret testimony - and quick verdicts.

Salim Hamdan wept yesterday as the military jury declared the Yemeni guilty of aiding terrorism, which could bring a maximum life sentence. But in a split decision, the jury in America's first war-crimes trial in decades cleared Hamdan of two charges of conspiracy.

Deputy White House spokesman Tony Fratto applauded what he called "a fair trial" and said prosecutors will now proceed with other war crimes trials. Prosecutors will try about 80 Guantanamo detainees for war crimes, including 19 already charged.

But defense lawyers said their client's rights were denied by an unfair process, hastily patched together after the Supreme Court ruled that previous tribunal systems violated the law. But under the military commission, Hamdan did not have the rights normally accorded by U.S. civilian or military courts. The judge allowed secret testimony and hearsay evidence. Hamdan was not judged by a jury of his peers and received no Miranda warning about his rights.

Feds release anthrax case

WASHINGTON - The murder weapon was a flask.

Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the anthrax killer whose mailings took five lives and rattled the nation in 2001, prosecutors asserted yesterday, alleging he had in his lab a container of the lethal, highly purified spores involved and access to the distinctive envelopes used to mail them.

Making its points against Ivins, a brilliant yet deeply troubled man who committed suicide last week, the government released a stack of documents to support a damning though circumstantial case in the worst bioterror episode in U.S. history. The court documents were a combination of hard DNA evidence, suspicious behavior and, sometimes, outright speculation.

Ivins' attorney said the government was "taking a weird guy and convicting him of mass murder" without real evidence.

Ivins had submitted false anthrax samples to the FBI to throw investigators off his trail and was unable to provide "an adequate explanation for his late laboratory work hours" around the time of the attacks, according to the government documents.

West to expand Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON - Major world powers agreed yesterday to pursue new sanctions against Iran, even though the watered-down penalties already levied by the U.N. have only made Iran rush faster to perfect nuclear expertise.

The U.S. and other nations fear such expertise could one day lead to a bomb.

New sanctions are probably months away, and Tehran is running out the clock on the Bush administration in hopes of getting a better offer from a new U.S. president next year.

"We see this as a stalling tactic," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said of the short, vague reply Iran delivered early yesterday. The U.S. and a fragile partnership of countries that do business with Iran are trying to buy out the most sophisticated part of the oil giant's nuclear program, leaving Tehran able to produce energy but not bombs.

Iraq fails to pass election law

BAGHDAD - Iraqi lawmakers failed yesterday to agree on a provincial election law and adjourned for the month, casting doubt whether U.S.-backed balloting can be held this year in the country's 18 provinces.

Parliament did manage to sign off on a $21 billion supplemental budget, a move the Iraqis hope will ease U.S. congressional criticism that they aren't paying their fair share of Iraq's reconstruction at a time of economic hardship in the United States.

But the inability to approve the election bill dealt a setback to U.S. hopes for reconciliation among Iraq's rival communities despite the decline in violence.

The bill failed because Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen were unable to come to terms on a power-sharing deal for the multiethnic region around the city of Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's northern oil fields.

9 presumed dead after crash

SAN FRANCISCO - Eight firefighters and a pilot are presumed dead in the crash of a helicopter that had just picked up workers battling a blaze in a Northern California forest, officials said yesterday.

The helicopter had lifted off from a clearing in a remote, rugged region of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said Jennifer Rabuck, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

The aircraft was carrying 11 firefighters and two crew members when it went down Tuesday night , according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Four people were flown to hospitals with severe burns, including two in critical condition, according to the Forest Service.

The chopper was destroyed by fire after crashing "under unknown circumstances," said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. FAA and NTSB investigators were headed to the scene, about 215 miles northwest of Sacramento.

Firefighters who were waiting to be picked up helped rescue the injured after the helicopter crashed about 7:30 p.m. and caught fire, Rabuck said.

Coup ousts Mauritania prez

A group of senior military officers in Mauritania arrested the country's president and prime minister yesterday in a bloodless coup against the first freely elected government there in more than 20 years.

Coups punctuate the tumultuous history of Mauritania, a vast, parched nation at the western edge of the Sahara that straddles the largely Arab North Africa region and black West Africa and is a key Western ally in the fight against terrorism. Since Mauritania won its independence from France in 1960, there have been about a dozen attempts to overthrow sitting governments, many of them successful.

In this most recent ouster, soldiers swarmed the presidential palace yesterday morning, and the military's top four leaders seized power after the president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, fired them, according to government officials in Nouakchott, the capital. *

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