Saturday May 25, 2013

Obama’s new drone guidelines still leave critics with unanswered questions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama left plenty of ambiguity in new policy guidelines that he says will restrict how and when the U.S. can launch targeted drone strikes, leaving himself significant power over how and when the weapons can be deployed.

National security experts say it’s imperative to leave some room in the guidelines, given the evolving fight against terrorism. But civil rights advocates argue too little has been revealed about the program to ensure its legality, even as the president takes steps to remove some of the secrecy.

"Obama said that there would be more limits on targeted killings, a step in the right direction," said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. "But a mere promise that the US will work within established guidelines that remain secret provides little confidence that the US is complying with international law."

An unclassified version of the newly established drone guidelines was made public Thursday in conjunction with Obama’s wide-ranging address on U.S. counterterrorism policies. Congress’ Intelligence committees and the Capitol Hill leadership have been briefed on the more detailed, classified policies, but because those documents are secret, there’s no way of knowing how much more clarity they provide.

The president has already been using some of the guidelines to determine when to launch drone strikes, administration officials said. Codifying the strictest standards, they argue, will ultimately reduce the number of approved attacks.

Soldier’s slaying prompts UK security review

LONDON (AP) -- Both of the suspects accused of butchering a British soldier during broad daylight on a London street had long been on the radar of Britain’s domestic spy agency, though investigators say it would have been nearly impossible to predict that the men were on the verge of a brutal killing.

Still, counter-terrorism officials said they are reviewing what -- if any -- lessons can be gleaned from the information they had leading up to the slaying Wednesday.

Authorities in the U.S. have similarly pledged to review their procedures in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, with the Boston police commissioner saying that cities should consider deploying more undercover officers and installing more surveillance cameras.

The British review comes amid an outpouring of grief over Wednesday’s slaughter of 25-year-old Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Rigby, who had a two-year-old son, had served in Afghanistan. Detectives say they do not believe the attackers knew him or that he was specifically targeted, but they are still investigating.

"We are looking at decisions that were made and reviewing whether anything different could have been done," said a British counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the investigation. "But you can’t put everyone under surveillance who comes on to the radar."

Horror in the rearview mirror: Trucker amazed by tragedy behind him after load hits I-5 bridge

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) -- The trucker was hauling a load of drilling equipment when his load bumped against the steel framework over an Interstate 5 bridge. He looked in his rearview mirror and watched in horror as the span collapsed into the water behind him. Two vehicles fell into the icy Skagit River.

Amazingly, nobody was killed. The three people who fell into the water escaped with only minor injuries.

Officials are trying to find out whether the spectacular collapse of a bridge on one of the West’s most important roadways was a fluke -- or a sign of a bigger problem with thousands of bridges across the U.S.

Authorities focused first on trying to find a temporary span for the Skagit, although it won’t come in time for the tens of thousands of Memorial Day vacationers who would travel between Canada and Seattle.

"You cannot overstate the importance of this corridor to Washington state," Gov. Jay Inslee said. Traffic on I-5 and surrounding roads was backed up for miles, a situation the governor said would continue indefinitely.

Russia says Syrian government agrees to peace talks, but skepticism persists on both sides

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria’s government has agreed to attend a U.S.-Russian-brokered peace conference, according to Moscow. While this development might seem at first glance to be a step toward ending the civil war, strong skepticism persists on both sides.

Doubting that Damascus is serious and may be stalling while government forces make battlefield gains, the Syrian opposition has demanded guarantees that President Bashar Assad’s departure top the agenda; Russia questioned whether the fragmented opposition is capable of negotiating with one voice.

The war has killed more than 70,000 people, and both sides are firmly entrenched in their positions and appear unwilling to compromise to stop the carnage and chaos engulfing the country.

"We are not willing to enter a tunnel with no guarantees of a light at the end of that tunnel," said Muhieddine Lathkani, a London-based Syrian opposition figure. "There’s still a lot of fogginess surrounding the talks and we are waiting for some answers," he said in a telephone interview.

Much about the conference remains up in the air, including the date, the agenda, the timetable and the participants. Officials have said it should be held in June.

After vote to accept gay youth, Boy Scouts are sure to face more pressure from left and right

The Boy Scouts of America will get no reprieve from controversy after a contentious vote to accept openly gay boys as Scouts.

Dismayed conservatives are already looking at alternative youth groups as they predict a mass exodus from the BSA. Gay-rights supporters vowed Friday to maintain pressure on the Scouts to end the still-in-place ban on gay adults serving as leaders.

"They’re not on our good list yet," said Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. He said the HRC, in its annual rankings of corporate policies on workplace fairness, would deduct points from companies that donate to the Boy Scouts until the ban on gay adults is lifted.

In California, gay-rights leaders said they would continue urging passage of a bill pending in the Legislature that would make the BSA ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks because of the remaining ban.

The Boy Scouts’ chief executive, Wayne Brock, pleaded for the Scouting community to reunite after the divisive debate that led to Thursday’s vote by the BSA’s National Council. The proposal to lift the ban on openly gay youth -- while keeping the ban on gay adults -- was supported by about 60 percent of the council’s 1,400 voting members.

2 arrested on suspicion of endangering aircraft after jets intercept UK-bound Pakistan plane

LONDON (AP) -- Britain scrambled fighter jets Friday to intercept a commercial airliner carrying more than 300 people from Pakistan, diverting it to an isolated runway at an airport on the outskirts of London and arresting two British passengers who allegedly threatened to destroy the plane.

A British security official said the situation involving the Pakistan International Airlines flight did not appear terror-related, though police were still investigating, but the incident further rattled the U.K. just days after a soldier was killed on a London street in a suspected terror attack.

The security official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation.

A Pakistani official briefed by British police and PIA security on the investigation said the two suspects, speaking Urdu, allegedly threatened to "destroy the plane" after an argument with crew. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case on the record.

Flight P709 was traveling from Lahore, Pakistan, to Manchester Airport when it was diverted by the fighter jets to Stansted Airport. The U.K. Ministry of Defense confirmed that Typhoon jets were launched to investigate an incident involving a civilian aircraft but gave no further details.