Syrian opposition groups claim at least 100
killed in ‘poisonous gas’ attack near Damascus
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian anti-government activists accused the regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack that killed at least 100 people, including many children as they slept, during intense artillery and rocket barrages Wednesday on the eastern suburbs of Damascus that are part of a fierce government offensive in the area.
The attack coincided with the visit by a 20-member U.N. chemical weapons team to Syria to investigate three sites where attacks allegedly occurred during the past year. Their presence raises questions about why the regime -- which called the claims of the attack Wednesday "absolutely baseless" -- would use chemical agents at this time.
Shocking images emerged from the purported attack, showing pale, lifeless bodies of children lined up on floors of makeshift hospitals and others with oxygen masks on their faces as they were attended to by paramedics. One appeared to be a toddler clad in diapers. There was no visible blood or wounds on their skin.
The reported death toll Wednesday would make it the deadliest alleged chemical attack in Syria’s civil war. There were conflicting reports, however, as to what exactly transpired and the death toll ranged from a hundred to 1,300. Syria’s Information Minister called the activists’ claim a "disillusioned and fabricated one whose objective is to deviate and mislead" the U.N. mission.
France’s president demanded the United Nations be granted access to the site of Wednesday’s alleged attack, while Britain’s foreign secretary said if the claims are verified it would mark "a shocking escalation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria."
U.S., voicing anew its opposition to intervention, seeks info on reported Syrian chemical attack
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration searched for answers Wednesday about a reported chemical weapons attack in Syria that would mark the most flagrant violation yet of the U.S. "red line" for potential military action. But the possibility of intervention seemed ever smaller after America’s top general offered a starkly pessimistic assessment of options.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a letter this week to a congressman that the administration is opposed to even limited action in Syria because it believes rebels fighting the Assad government wouldn’t support American interests if they seized power.
Dempsey said the U.S. military is clearly capable of taking out Assad’s air force and shifting the balance of the war toward the armed opposition. But such an approach would plunge the U.S. into the war without offering any strategy for ending what has become a sectarian fight, he said.
On Wednesday, Syrian anti-Assad activists accused the government of carrying out a toxic gas attack in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, killing at least 100 people including children. The claims coincided with a visit by a U.N. chemical weapons team to three previous sites of alleged attacks. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government rejected the accusations, and U.S. officials said they were seeking details of what happened.
For the United States, the death toll and painful images again put a spotlight on President Barack Obama’s pledge almost exactly a year ago to respond forcefully to any chemical weapons use by the Assad government. Since then, the administration has said it has confirmed that Syrian forces have committed such attacks, and the U.S. has ordered a lethal aid package of small arms to be sent to some rebel groups, though it’s unclear what if any weapons have been delivered.
Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison, stiffest punishment
ever for a media leak
FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) -- Army Pfc. Bradley Manning stood at attention in his crisp dress uniform Wednesday and learned the price he will pay for spilling an unprecedented trove of government secrets: up to 35 years in prison, the stiffest punishment ever handed out in the U.S. for leaking to the media.
Flanked by his lawyers, Manning, 25, showed no reaction as military judge Col. Denise Lind announced the sentence without explanation in a proceeding that lasted just a few minutes.
A gasp could be heard among the spectators, and one woman buried her face in her hands. Then, as guards hurried Manning out of the courtroom, about a half-dozen supporters shouted from the back: "We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley!" and "You’re our hero!"
With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has been held, Manning could be out in as little as seven years, said his lawyer, David Coombs. The soldier was also demoted and will be dishonorably discharged.
The sentencing fired up the long-running debate over whether Manning was a whistleblower or a traitor for giving more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents, plus battlefield footage, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. By volume alone, it was the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history, bigger even than the Pentagon Papers a generation ago.
Egypt to put ex-president Mubarak under house arrest following release from prison
CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s prime minister ordered Wednesday that deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak be placed under house arrest after he’s released from prison following more than two years in detention.
The announcement came hours after a court ordered Mubarak be released for the first time since he was first detained in April 2011, a move threatening to further stoke tension in a deeply divided Egypt. Many feared Mubarak’s release would amplify Islamist allegations that last month’s military coup was a step toward restoring the old regime.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a statement that he ordered Mubarak be put under house arrest as part of the emergency measures put in place this month. The decision appeared designed to ease some of the criticism over Mubarak being freed from prison and ensure he appears in court next week for a separate trial.
Prison officials said Mubarak may be released as early as Thursday. It is not clear where Mubarak will be held under house arrest, whether in one of his residences or in a hospital considering his frail health. Since his ouster, Mubarak’s supporters have released conflicting details about his health, including that the 85 year old suffered a stroke, a heart attack and at times went into a coma. His critics called these an attempt to gain public sympathy and court leniency.
His wife, Suzanne, has been living in Cairo and keeping a low-profile, occasionally visiting Mubarak and their two sons in prison. But security officials said Mubarak was more likely to be moved to a military hospital because of his ailing health.
Soldier accused in 2009 Fort Hood shootings rests case without calling witnesses, testifying
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- The soldier on trial for the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood refused to put up a fight on Wednesday, resting his case without calling a single witness or testifying in his own defense.
Maj. Nidal Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted for the attack that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at the Texas military base. But when given the chance to rebut prosecutors’ lengthy case -- which included nearly 90 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence -- the Army psychiatrist declined.
About five minutes after court began Wednesday, a day after prosecutors rested their case, the judge asked Hasan how he wanted to proceed. He answered: "The defense rests."
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, then asked Hasan: "You have the absolute right to remain silent. You do not have to say anything. You have the right to testify if you choose. Understand?"
Hasan said he did. When the judge asked if this was his personal decision, he answered: "It is."
Facebook wants to get more of the world’s population online through Internet partnership
NEW YORK (AP) -- Food, water and the Internet?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to get all of the world’s 7 billion people online through a partnership with some of the largest mobile technology companies. He says the Web is an essential part of life, and everyone deserves to be connected, whether they live in Norway, Nicaragua or Namibia.
"The Internet not only connects us to our friends, families and communities, but it is also the foundation of the global knowledge economy," Zuckerberg wrote in a paper posted to his Facebook page late Tuesday. The title asks "Is Connectivity A Human Right?"
Of course, connecting more people to the Internet is the kind of philanthropy that would create more potential Facebook users, which would also help boost the company’s bottom line.
"There’s nothing wrong with that," said Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson, author of "New New Media."
Newly released Nixon tapes capture calls with Reagan, Bush Sr. about Watergate
YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) -- In the hours after President Richard Nixon delivered his first major national address about Watergate, two future presidents called him to express their private support, according to audio recordings released Wednesday.
The April 30, 1973, calls with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were captured on a secret recording system that Nixon used to tape 3,700 hours of conversations between February 1971 and July 1973.
The final chronological installment of those tapes -- 340 hours -- were made public by the National Archives and Records Administration, along with more than 140,000 pages of text documents. Seven hundred hours remain sealed for national security and privacy reasons.
Reagan, governor of California at the time, called late in the evening of April 30 to support Nixon after the 37th president delivered a landmark speech about the Watergate scandal, which was rapidly ensnaring him.
Two top White House staffers and close Nixon confidants, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, had resigned earlier in the day, as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst as the scandal picked up speed. White House counsel John W. Dean III was also fired that day.
911 dispatchers were told Georgia gunman was off his medication
LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) -- Emergency dispatchers were told that the suspect in a shooting and standoff at a suburban Atlanta school was off his medication and he thought he should have gone to a mental hospital instead of a school.
Michael Brandon Hill relayed messages to DeKalb County emergency dispatchers through a bookkeeper at McNair Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga. after shooting at police Tuesday afternoon.
In a 911 tape that was released Wednesday, school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff spoke for the 20-year-old Hill. She told dispatchers that Hill said he had nothing to live for and wanted police to call the DeKalb County probation office.
Hill was arrested in March for making terroristic threats in Henry County and was sentenced to probation.
Police said Hill was carrying nearly 500 rounds and no one was injured.