Wednesday November 7, 2012

Statements attributed to Bales pose hurdle for mental-health defense in Afghan massacre

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) -- The medic saw Staff Sgt. Robert Bales covered in blood and knew from the pattern of the staining it wasn’t his own. He asked where it came from and where he’d been.

Bales shrugged, the medic, Sgt. 1st Class James Stillwell, testified Tuesday.

"If I tell you, you guys will have to testify against me," Stillwell quoted him as saying.

The statement was one of many attributed to Bales that suggest he knew what he was doing the night he surrendered after a two-village killing spree in southern Afghanistan, prosecutors say.

The remarks, offered by fellow soldiers testifying for the government Monday and Tuesday, could pose a high hurdle for defense lawyers who have indicated that Bales’ mental health will be a big part of their case. The testimony is part of a preliminary hearing being held to help determine whether the case goes to a court martial.

Brother of Syrian parliament speaker assassinated; UN envoy says country in a catastrophe

BEIRUT (AP) -- Gunmen killed the brother of Syria’s parliament speaker in a hail of bullets as he drove to work in Damascus on Tuesday, the state news agency said, as the international envoy for Syria warned the country could become another Somalia.

Mohammed Osama Laham, the brother of Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham, became the latest victim of a wave of assassinations targeting Syrian officials, army officers and other prominent supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime. Four of the leader’s top security officials were killed in a rebel bombing on the state security headquarters in Damascus in July.

Laham was gunned down in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan, the SANA state news agency said. The killing came a day after some of the most intense fighting in Damascus in months as rebels wage a civil war to unseat Assad.

The government and activists said a series of explosions Tuesday evening rocked the northwestern edge of Damascus. At least 13 people were killed and 30 wounded, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. SANA said the three blasts occurred in the al-Wuroud district near the town of Qudsaya, causing significant destruction.

Activists said the bombs were placed in a main square near housing for the country’s elite troops from the Republican Guards, which is led by Assad’s brother Maher in charge of protecting the capital.

Intrigue swirls around downfall of Russian defense chief who took on military brass

MOSCOW (AP) -- Vladimir Putin fired his powerful defense chief over a corruption scandal Tuesday, but a heady mix of sex, power struggles and military vendettas dominated talk in Russia about what was really behind the downfall of the man who has overseen the nation’s most radical defense reform in decades.

The dismissal of Anatoly Serdyukov was a surprise because the burly politician was widely regarded as having the president’s blessing for a military modernization that has won the enmity of generals and arms makers with connections to members of Putin’s inner circle.

Adding intrigue was the fact that Serdyukov is married to the daughter one of Putin’s close allies, a former prime minister who wields enormous influence as chairman of state-run natural gas giant Gazprom. Media reports suggest that Serdyukov’s alleged philandering angered Viktor Zubkov and may have been a factor in the sacking.

But most experts see a behind-the-scenes power struggle at the root of Putin’s decision.

Serdyukov has masterminded a campaign to drastically cut the ranks of officers and overhaul an antiquated military structure to create a leaner, meaner force that might restore Russia’s faded military glory.