Wednesday January 9, 2013

FBI: Elaborate booby trap system found at James Holmes’ apartment included improvised napalm

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- An elaborate booby trap system allegedly set up to pull police away from the Colorado theater shooting included improvised napalm and thermite, which burns so hot that water can’t put out the blaze.

FBI bomb technician Garrett Gumbinner described the system Tuesday at a hearing in which prosecutors laid out their case against suspected gunman James Holmes.

He said three different ignition systems were found in Holmes’ apartment. There was a thermos full of glycerin leaning over a skillet full of another chemical. Flames and sparks are created when they mix, and a trip wire linked the thermos to the door.

Police said Holmes hoped loud music would lure someone to the apartment.

Prosecutors are trying to show in what is expected to be a weeklong hearing that the attack that killed 12 and wounded dozens July 20 was a premeditated act and that Holmes should stand trial.

Obama inauguration planners ask for record solicitations up to $1 million to fund festivities

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Planners of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration are making an unprecedented solicitation for high-dollar contributions to help pay for the celebration.

They’re asking for individual donations of up to $1 million to help fund the events surrounding the inaugural on Jan.


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21. Such donation packages, which come with special access, are a far cry from the policy of Obama’s first inauguration to accept contributions up to only $50,000 from individuals.

The pressure is high to pay for the festivities after donors already contributed to the most expensive campaign in U.S. history. More than 400 individuals and a handful of corporations have so far contributed $200 or more to the inaugural committee. But the committee won’t be listing how much they’ve given until weeks after the event, another about-face from 2009.

Venezuelan government says Chavez won’t attend scheduled swearing-in

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez won’t be able to attend his scheduled swearing-in this week, Venezuela’s government announced Tuesday, confirming suspicions that the leader’s illness will keep him in a Cuban hospital past the key date.

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello made the announcement during a legislative session while reading a letter from Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

Tensions between the government and opposition have been building in a constitutional dispute over whether the ailing president’s swearing-in can legally be postponed. The president underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba last month and hasn’t spoken publicly in a month.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said earlier Tuesday that the Supreme Court should rule in the disagreement between the opposition and Chavez’s government. He said the constitution is clear that the current presidential term ends on Jan. 10.

Other opposition leaders have argued that the inauguration cannot legally be put off and that the National Assembly president should take over as interim president if Chavez hasn’t returned from Cuba on inauguration day.

Judge reduces possible sentence for soldier accused of sending secret information to WikiLeaks

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) -- A military judge on Tuesday reduced the potential sentence for an Army private accused of sending reams of classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.

Col. Denise Lind made the ruling during a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade for Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Lind found that Manning suffered illegal pretrial punishment during nine months in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. She awarded a total of 112 days off any prison sentence Manning gets if he is convicted.

Manning was confined to a windowless cell 23 hours a day, sometimes with no clothing. Brig officials say it was to keep him from hurting himself or others.

The judge said that Manning’s confinement was "more rigorous than necessary." She added that the conditions "became excessive in relation to legitimate government interests."

GOP senator presses for answers on Libya raid, threatens delay of CIA nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s choice of John Brennan to be the next CIA director hit a snag Tuesday as a Republican senator threatened to delay the nomination until the Obama administration provides answers on the deadly assault in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose opposition helped scuttle U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s hopes of becoming secretary of state, said the Senate should not confirm any Obama nominee for the nation’s top spy post until the administration elaborates on the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

"My support for a delay in confirmation is not directed at Mr. Brennan, but is an unfortunate, yet necessary, action to get information from this administration," the South Carolina senator said in a statement. "I have tried -- repeatedly -- to get information on Benghazi, but my requests have been repeatedly ignored."

He added that the administration’s "stonewalling on Benghazi" must end.

Graham did not explicitly say he would put a "hold" on Brennan’s nomination, and his office declined further comment. However, his statement signaled that he would try to slow the nomination.

Tunisian suspect in attack on U.S. consulate in Libya freed for lack of evidence

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- Tunisian authorities released one of the only men in custody for alleged links to September’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi, the latest blow to an investigation that has limped along for months.

Armed groups assaulted the lightly guarded mission on Sept. 11 and killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but despite U.S. promises there has been little news of progress so far in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Ali Harzi, a 26-year-old Tunisian extradited from Turkey in October, was one of the only people actually detained over the attack, and at the time Tunisian authorities said they "strongly suspected" he was involved.

On Tuesday, however, his lawyer Anwar Oued-Ali said the presiding judge had "conditionally freed" Harzi the night before for lack of evidence. He must remain in the Tunis area to be available for any further questioning.

William Lawrence, the North Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group, said while it was very possible that Harzi might have been involved with extremist groups in Benghazi, it was impossible to tell without more efforts from the Libyans.

U.S. sees hand of Iran behind hostage photos, video of retired FBI agent missing 6 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two years after a hostage video and photographs of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson raised the possibility that the missing American was being held by terrorists, U.S. officials now see the government of Iran behind the images, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. The Iranian government has repeatedly denied knowing anything about his disappearance, and the disturbing video and photos that Levinson’s family received in late 2010 and early 2011 seemed to give credence to the idea.

The extraordinary photos -- showing Levinson’s hair wild and gray, his beard long and unkempt -- are being seen for the first time publicly after the family provided copies to the AP. The video has been previously released.

In response to Iran’s repeated denials, and amid secret conversations with Iran’s government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement in March 2011 that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia. The implication was that Levinson might be in the hands of terrorist group or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The statement was a goodwill gesture to Iran, one that the U.S. hoped would prod Tehran to help bring him home.

U.S. may leave no troops
in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Administration officials said publicly for the first time Tuesday that the U.S. might leave no American troops in Afghanistan after the end of combat in December 2014, an option that defies the view of Pentagon officials who say thousands of U.S. troops could be needed there to keep a lid on al-Qaida and to strengthen the Afghan army and police.

"The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of ‘X’ number of troops in Afghanistan," said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser. "We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for al-Qaida in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government."

The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 as recently as 2010.

Administration officials in recent days have said they are considering a range of options for a residual U.S. troop presence after 2014, from as few as 3,000 to as many as 15,000, with the number linked to a specific set of military-related missions.

Asked in a conference call with reporters whether zero was now an option, Rhodes said, "That would be an option we would consider."

His statement comes just three days before Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss ways of framing an enduring partnership beyond 2014. The two are at odds on numerous issues, including a U.S. demand that any American troops who would remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan laws. Karzai has resisted, while emphasizing his interest in getting large-scale U.S. support to maintain an effective security force after 2014.

Without explicitly mentioning immunity, Obama’s top White House military adviser on Afghanistan, Doug Lute, told reporters Tuesday that the Afghans will have to give the U.S. certain "authorities" if it wants U.S. troops to remain.

"As we know from our Iraq experience, if there are no authorities granted by the sovereign state, then there’s not room for a follow-on U.S. military mission," Lute said. He was referring to 2011 negotiations with Iraq that ended with no agreement to grant legal immunity to U.S. troops who would have stayed to help train Iraqi forces. As a result, no U.S. troops remain in Iraq.

Rhodes said Obama is focused on two main outcomes in Afghanistan: ensuring that the country does not revert to being the al-Qaida haven it was prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and getting the government to the point where it can stand on its own.

"That’s what guides us, and that’s what causes us to look for different potential troop numbers -- or not having potential troops in the country," Rhodes said.