General says forces ‘should have tried’ to help in Benghazi

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A retired U.S. general came under sharp criticism from a Republican committee chairman on Thursday after testifying that the Obama administration reacted weakly to the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, the star witness at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, testified that U.S. forces "should have tried" to get to the outpost in time to help save the lives of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He blamed the State Department for not making stronger requests for action.

A few hours later, the powerful chairman of the Armed Services panel, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., challenged the testimony of Lovell, who was in U.S. Africa Command’s headquarters in Germany monitoring the attack.

The general "did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken," McKeon said.

The disagreement muddied a Republican attempt to raise fresh questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, assault by armed militants. The GOP has accused the administration of downplaying a terrorist attack just weeks before the election.


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55 colleges face federal investigations over handling of sexual assault complaints

WASHINGTON (AP) -- From huge state universities to small colleges and the Ivy League, 55 schools across America are facing federal investigation for the way they handle sexual abuse allegations by their students.

For the first time, the Education Department revealed its list of colleges under investigation on Thursday -- though no details of the complaints -- as the Obama administration sought to bring more openness to the issue of sexual violence on and around the nation’s campuses.

The schools range from public universities, including Ohio State, the University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State, to private schools including Knox College in Illinois, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Ivy League schools including Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.

The government emphasized the list was about investigations of complaints, not judgments. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there was "absolutely zero presumption" of guilt.

Few details of individual cases are known, but some are. One, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, involves allegations of mishandling of a matter involving a football player. The investigation began after federal authorities received complaints related to the expulsion of Brendan Gibbons, a former placekicker.

Children of Belfast woman shot by IRA hope Sinn Fein chief charged with crime

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- For decades, Helen McKendry has demanded that Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams come clean about the Irish Republican Army’s abduction, slaying and secret burial of her mother in 1972, and his alleged role as the outlawed group’s Belfast leader who ordered the killing.

As detectives interrogated Adams for a second day over the unsolved slaying of the 37-year-old widowed mother of 10, who was falsely branded a British spy, the daughter who led a campaign for the truth says she’s praying for a murder charge.

"I’m hoping against hope that he doesn’t walk out free," McKendry told The Associated Press. "Everybody, the dogs in the street, knew he was the top IRA man in Belfast at that time."

McKendry, alongside her husband Seamus, launched an often-lonely protest campaign in 1995 against Adams’ denial of IRA involvement in the slaying of Jean McConville. On Thursday, the 56-year-old said she found it hard to believe he was finally in custody and facing police questions.

Under British anti-terror law, Adams, 65, must be charged or freed by Friday night, unless police seek a judicial extension to his interrogation.

Botched Oklahoma execution could renew ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ challenges

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate is certain to fire up the debate over what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment -- the phrase written into the U.S. Constitution and defined by the courts, piece by piece, over two centuries.

Convicted killer Clayton Lockett, 38, began writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow Tuesday evening after he had supposedly been rendered unconscious by the first of three drugs in the state’s new lethal injection combination.

The execution was halted, and Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 10 minutes later, authorities said.

While officials later blamed a collapsed vein -- not the drugs themselves -- the case is raising questions about the ability of states to administer lethal injections that meet the Eighth Amendment requirement that punishments be neither cruel nor unusual.

Death penalty opponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union called for a moratorium on capital punishment. And the White House said the procedure fell short of humane standards.

Putin wants troops out of Ukraine’s east, acting president renews military draft

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Ukraine should withdraw its military from the eastern and southern regions of the country, a statement that could bolster anti-government insurgents who are seizing buildings.

Hours later, Ukraine’s acting president ordered that the military draft be renewed, citing "threats of encroachment on the nation’s territorial integrity" and interference by Russia in its internal affairs.

Moscow has consistently denounced Ukrainian security forces’ largely ineffectual operation against the eastern insurgents and warned they should not commit violence against civilians.

In a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin said the removal of military units was the "main thing," but it was unclear if that could be construed as an outright demand.

Oleksandr Turchynov’s conscription order marked a turnaround for the country, which last year announced plans to end military conscription in favor of an all-volunteer force. His order did not specify where conscript-bolstered forces could be deployed. The renewal of military conscription affects only men 18 to 25 years old.

Iranian mother finds peace after sparing life of son’s killer moments before his hanging

ROYAN, Iran (AP) -- Her son’s killer stood on a chair on the gallows, his hands shackled, the noose around his neck. Hundreds crowded outside the jailhouse in a northern Iranian town to see if the mother, Samereh Alinejad, would exercise her right to kick the chair out from under him to let him hang.

But after seven years of dreaming of revenge -- up to the last moment she held the killer’s life in her hands -- Alinejad pardoned Bilal Gheisari. That act has made her a hero in her hometown, Royan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, where banners in the streets commend her family’s mercy. Two weeks after the dramatic scene at the gallows, well-wishers still pass by her home to praise her and her husband

Alinejad told The Associated Press during a visit to her home that retribution had been her only thought ever since her 17-year-old son Abdollah was killed seven years ago in a street brawl when Gheisari’s knife sliced through his neck.

"My world collapsed the day I heard about my son’s death," she said, dressed in a black with a black scarf covering her hair. "If I pardoned Bilal and saved him from death, how would I be able to live anymore?"

The thought of Gheisari’s family’s happiness at his eventually walking out of jail a free man ate her up inside. "I told my husband if he were spared death, I would die," she said.

Explosion kills at least 9 people in Nigeria’s capital city

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- An apparent car bomb exploded on a busy road in Nigeria’s capital Thursday night and a hospital worker said at least nine people died.

The bomb exploded near a checkpoint, near the site of an April 14 bombing that killed at least 75 people, officials and witnesses said.

A hospital worker said he counted at least nine bodies ferried by ambulance to Asokoro General Hospital. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to give information to reporters.

Civil Defense Corps spokesman Eman Ekeh said rescuers have rushed to the scene on May Day, a public holiday in the West African nation that is hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa next week in Abuja.

Ekeh said there were casualties, but he had no idea of how many.

Fiery train wreck in Virginia brings demands for tighter regulation of crude oil shipments

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) -- The latest in a string of fiery oil-train wrecks brought renewed demands Thursday that the Obama administration quickly tighten regulations governing the burgeoning practice of transporting highly combustible crude by rail.

With production booming in the Bakken oil field along the U.S. northern tier and in Canada, some experts say stronger rules to head off a catastrophe are long overdue.

In the latest crash, a CSX train carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota derailed Wednesday in downtown Lynchburg, sending three tanker cars into the James River and shooting flames and black smoke into the air. No one was injured, but the wreck prompted an evacuation and worried local residents and officials.

There have been eight other significant accidents in the U.S. and Canada in the past year involving trains hauling crude, and some of them caused considerable damage and deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Bakken crude ignites more easily than other types.

The NTSB and members of Congress have been urging the Transportation Department to work swiftly on new standards that would make tanker cars more rugged.

Neighbors grow weary of ‘militia’ remaining with Nevada cattle rancher in federal land dispute

BUNKERVILLE, Nev. (AP) -- American flags flap in the wind on the two-lane state highway to Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Along the roadside, self-described militia members in camouflage who came to defend him from the federal government lounge and smoke, loaded pistols on their hips.

Ten miles from these desert encampments, the telephone is ringing more than usual at the police department in Mesquite, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Travelers from around the country are calling, wondering if it’s safe to pass on Interstate 15, where Bundy and his supporters, some armed with military-style weapons, faced down federal officials in an April 12 standoff over his cattle grazing on federal land.

Police Chief Troy Tanner tells callers it’s safe. But local authorities and Bundy’s neighbors are growing weary of the attention and the unresolved dispute. Since the standoff, Bundy went from being proclaimed a patriot by some for his resistance to a racist for comments he made about blacks being better off under slavery.

"Most of our neighbors have about the same opinions we have. They don’t like it," said John Booth, a resident of nearby Bunkerville who drove this week with his wife, Peggie, past the State Route 170 encampments. "But they’re not really going to say anything about it."

Dead youth’s cellphone video shows students joking, worrying as South Korean ferry sinks

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Soon after the ferry began to tilt, there was nervous laughter, jokes about the Titanic and talk of selfies and Facebook posts from the doomed high school students huddled below deck.

But the lighthearted atmosphere soon turned serious as the listing worsened. Fear began building, and one student asked, "Am I really going to die?"

The shaky video (http://apne.ws/R7iRbXhttp://apne.ws/R7iRbX ) -- at times poignant and heartbreaking as the teens said last words to their loved ones -- was found on the cellphone belonging to 17-year-old Park Su-hyeon when his body was recovered after the disaster on the morning of April 16 off South Korea.

The boy’s father, Park Jong-dae, provided it Thursday to The Associated Press, saying he wanted to show the world the conditions aboard the Sewol as it sank. He earlier released it to select South Korean media. Information such as video can be recovered from micro SD cards in cellphones even if the device is submerged.

More than 300 people are dead or missing in the disaster, which has plunged South Korea into mourning and touched off anger and shame. About 220 bodies, mostly from inside the submerged vessel, have been recovered. More than 80 percent of the victims were students from a high school in Ansan, south of Seoul, on their way to the tourist island of Jeju for a school trip.