Friday June 28, 2013

Iraqi official: Baghdad would welcome more U.S. help; bombs hit cafes, 16 killed

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq is open to greater American military cooperation as U.S.commanders explore ways to boost security assistance to the country, a top Iraqi official said Thursday as a fresh wave of bombings claimed 16 lives.

The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has recommended that military American commanders look for ways to help improve the military capabilities of Iraq and Lebanon, which both face the risk of spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Dempsey said Wednesday that the assistance would not involve sending U.S.combat troops, but could involve the U.S. sending in training teams and accelerating sales of weapons and equipment.

The last American combat troops left Iraq in December 2011, ending a nearly nine-year war that cost nearly 4,500 American and more than 100,000 Iraqi lives.

About 100 military and civilian Department of Defense personnel remain in Iraq as an arm of the American Embassy to act as liaisons with the Iraqi government and facilitate arms sales. The U.S. has similar offices in other countries.

Marathon suspect downloaded bomb-making instructions, jihad literature

BOSTON (AP) -- Boston Marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev downloaded bomb-making instructions from an al-Qaida magazine, gathered online material on Islamic jihad and martyrdom, and later scrawled anti-American messages inside the boat where he lay wounded, a federal indictment charged Thursday.

The 30-count indictment contains the bombing charges, punishable by the death penalty, that were brought in April against the 19-year-old Tsarnaev, including use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death.

It also contains many new charges covering the slaying of an MIT police officer and the carjacking of a motorist during the getaway attempt that left Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, dead.

"Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s justice will be in the next world, but for his brother, accountability will begin right here in the district of Massachusetts," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose jurisdiction includes Boston, said at a news conference with federal prosecutors.

The indictment provides one of the most detailed public explanations to date of the brothers’ alleged motive -- Islamic extremism -- and the role the Internet may have played in influencing them.

Bush spy program continued under Obama gathered citizens’ Internet data until 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration gathered U.S. citizens’ Internet data until 2011, continuing a spying program started under President George W. Bush that revealed whom Americans exchanged emails with and the Internet Protocol address of their computer, documents disclosed Thursday show.

The National Security Agency ended the program that collected email logs and timing, but not content, in 2011 because it decided it didn’t effectively stop terrorist plots, according to the NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command. He said all data was purged in 2011.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Thursday released documents detailing the collection, though the program was also described earlier this month by The Washington Post.

The latest revelation follows previous leaks from ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is presumed hiding at a Moscow airport transit area, waiting to hear whether Ecuador, Iceland or another country might grant him asylum. He fled Hong Kong over the weekend and flew to Russia after being charged with violating American espionage laws.

The collection appears similar to the gathering of U.S. phone records, and seems to overlap with the Prism surveillance program of foreigners on U.S. Internet servers, both revealed by Snowden. U.S. officials have said the phone records can only be checked for numbers dialed by a terrorist suspect overseas. According to the documents published by The Guardian on Thursday, the Internet records show whom they exchanged emails with and the specific numeric address assigned to a computer connected to the Internet, known as the IP, or Internet Protocol, address.

Nelson Mandela improved overnight; condition is critical but stable

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Nelson Mandela’s health improved overnight and although his condition remains critical it is now stable, the South African government said Thursday. One of the former president’s daughters said he is still opening his eyes and reacting to the touch of his family even though his situation is precarious.

The report that the health of the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader had taken a turn for the better came amid a growing sense in South Africa that Mandela was approaching the end of his life. Well-wishers have delivered flowers and messages of support to the Pretoria hospital where he is being treated, and prayer sessions were held around the country on Thursday.

President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement that he received the encouraging update from the medical team that is treating Mandela. Zuma had canceled an international trip on Thursday, instead visiting Mandela for the second time in two days.

"I canceled my visit to Mozambique today so that I can see him and confer with the doctors," Zuma said in the statement. "He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night."

In April, Zuma gave an overly upbeat assessment about Mandela’s condition. At that time, state television broadcast footage of a visit by Zuma and other political leaders to Mandela’s home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.

Texas governor says filibuster star’s own life story should make her oppose abortion

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) -- Gov. Rick Perry hit back Thursday at the star of a Democratic filibuster that killed tough new Texas abortion restrictions, saying state Sen. Wendy Davis’ rise from a tough upbringing should have taught her the value of each human life.

Davis, a former teenage mom who graduated from Harvard Law School, responded that Perry’s comments were "without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds."

Before the white-hot battle over abortion in the second-largest state turned personal, the Fort Worth Democrat staged a marathon filibuster Tuesday that helped defeat an omnibus bill further limiting abortion in a state where it’s already difficult to undergo them. But Perry called lawmakers back for a second special session next week to try and finish the job.

"Who are we to say that children born in the worst of circumstances can’t lead successful lives?" Perry said in a speech to nearly 1,000 delegates at the National Right to Life Conference in suburban Dallas. "Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances."

Davis, now 50, started working at age 14 to help support a household of her single mother and three siblings. By 19, she was already married and divorced with a child of her own, but she eventually graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and won her Senate seat in an upset.

Friend says she believes Trayvon Martin’s encounter with George Zimmerman was racially charged

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- George Zimmerman’s defense attorney insisted during several testy exchanges with a important prosecution witness Thursday that Trayvon Martin injected race into a confrontation with the neighborhood watch volunteer and insinuated the young woman was not believable because of inconsistencies in her story.

However, 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel stood firm in her testimony about the night Zimmerman shot the unarmed black 17-year-old after a fight that Jeantel said she overheard while on the phone with Martin. Jeantel has said Martin told her he was being followed by a "creepy-ass cracker" -- implying Martin was being followed by a white man because of his race.

Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic. Race has permeated nationwide discussions of the case since the February 2012 shooting, which prompted nationwide protests and claims from critics that police took too long to arrest Zimmerman.

The neighborhood watch volunteer has pleaded not guilty and says he acted in self-defense.

Defense attorney Don West also zeroed in on slight differences among three different accounts of what happened before Martin’s killing, in an apparent effort to discredit her. Jeantel has described what she heard over the phone in a deposition; a letter to Martin’s mother; and an interview with the Martin family attorney. Among the differences highlighted by West:

James Gandolfini: A big star and everyman is eulogized in a service drawing fans and celebs

NEW YORK (AP) -- The funeral of James Gandolfini took place in one of the largest churches in the world and didn’t stint on ceremony.

Still, the estimated 1,500 mourners who gathered Thursday in New York’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine seemed part of an intimate affair. They came to pay their respects to a plain but complex man whose sudden death eight days before had left all of them feeling a loss.

During the service, Gandolfini was remembered by the creator of "The Sopranos" as an actor who had brought a key element to mob boss Tony Soprano: Tony’s inner child-like quality.

For a man who, in so many ways, was an unrepentant brute, that underlying purity was what gave viewers permission to love him.

"You brought ALL of that to it," said David Chase in remarks he delivered as if an open letter to his fallen friend and "Sopranos" star.

Superstorm victim’s body lay hidden for more than 5 months in trailer on vacant NYC lot

NEW YORK (AP) -- In the chaotic days after Superstorm Sandy, an army of aid workers streamed onto the flood-ravaged Rockaway Peninsula looking for anyone who needed help. Health workers and National Guard troops went door to door. City inspectors checked thousands of dwellings for damage. Seaside neighborhoods teemed with utility crews, Red Cross trucks and crews clearing debris.

Yet, even as the months dragged by, nobody thought to look inside the tiny construction trailer rusting away in a junk-filled lot at the corner of Beach 40th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

If they had, they would have found the body of Keith Lancaster, a quiet handyman who appeared to have been using the trailer as a home the night Sandy sent 5 feet of water churning through the neighborhood.

It took until April 5 before an acquaintance finally went to check on the 62-year-old’s whereabouts and found his partially skeletonized remains. His body lay near a calendar that hadn’t been turned since October and prescription pill bottles last refilled in the fall.

New York City’s medical examiner announced this week that Lancaster had drowned, making him the 44th person ruled to have died in New York City because of the storm.