- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Key clues that helped find bin Laden didn’t come from harsh interrogations, investigators say

WASHINGTON (AP) - After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin laden in Pakistan in May 2011, top CIA officials secretly told lawmakers that information gleaned from brutal interrogations played a key role in what was one of the spy agency’s greatest successes.

Then-CIA Director Leon Panetta repeated that assertion in public, and it found its way into a critically acclaimed movie about the operation, “Zero Dark Thirty,” which depicts a detainee offering up the identity of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, after being tortured at a secret CIA interrogation site. As it turned out, bin Laden was living in al-Kuwaiti’s walled family compound, so tracking the courier was the key to finding the al-Qaida leader.

But the CIA’s story, like the Hollywood one, is just not true, the Senate report on CIA interrogations concludes in a 14,000-word section of the report’s public summary.

“A review of CIA records found that the initial intelligence obtained, as well as the information the CIA identified as the most critical or the most valuable on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” the Senate investigation found.

CIA officials disagree, and maintain that detainees subjected to coercive tactics provided crucial details.


With torture report’s release, Obama again confronts long legacy of Bush-era policies

WASHINGTON (AP) - For President Barack Obama, the long-delayed release of a scathing Senate report on harsh CIA interrogations underscores the degree to which the legacy of George W. Bush’s national security policies has shadowed the man elected to change or end them.

While Obama banned waterboarding and other tactics upon taking office, his administration struggled for years with how to publicly reveal the scope of the program. Even as Obama claims closure in the torture debate, big chunks of Bush’s national security apparatus remain in place, including the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sweeping government surveillance programs. Obama has also thrust the U.S. back into a military conflict in Iraq and faces questions about his ability to end the Afghanistan war by the time he leaves office.

“It’s been a lot harder to move certain things than they anticipated,” said Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a White House-aligned think tank. “There have been other areas in which they intentionally have not made much progress.”

To some former Bush administration officials, Obama’s mixed record in dismantling his predecessor’s national security apparatus has vindicated the necessity of the steps they took in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“When you say things in campaigns and then you actually get into office and you’re confronted by the breadth and scope of what the national security infrastructure is all about, it’s a totally different perspective,” said Michael Allen, who worked at the White House and State Department during the Bush administration.


South African judge rules prosecutors can appeal verdict in Oscar Pistorius case

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - South African prosecutors can appeal double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ acquittal on murder charges for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the ruling in a Pretoria court, saying she was satisfied that chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel had raised “questions of law” that should be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

“This might have a practical effect on the conviction,” Masipa said.

Nathi Mncube, the prosecution spokesman, said he hopes the appeal will be “expedited,” but acknowledged that the process can take a long time.

In arguing for an appeal, the prosecution said the judge - who in October found the Paralympic champion guilty of culpable homicide and gave him a five-year prison term - incorrectly interpreted a legal principle. Under that principle, a person should be found guilty of murder if he foresaw the possibility of a person dying because of his actions, and went ahead with those actions anyway.


Hundreds in Northern California protest against police killings; more protests planned

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Hundreds of protesters angered at the killing of unarmed black men by white police officers marched through downtown Berkeley streets, briefly blocking traffic on a state highway, and delaying metro and train services in the area as protests continued in Northern California.

Organizers of a protest planned for Wednesday morning in Oakland said they expect hundreds of white people to come out and help shut down a federal building.

“As white people, we are outraged by the constant and ongoing violations against black people’s lives from Ferguson to Oakland to San Francisco to Cleveland to Staten Island,” said Jason Wallach of Showing Up for Racial Justice, one of the organizations involved in the demonstration expected to be replicated in 27 cities.

In Berkeley, protesters stopped at City Hall late Tuesday, where a city councilman addressed the crowd and said he will ask for an investigation into police response to the protest on Saturday, when the latest wave of demonstrations began.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit downtown Berkeley and McArthur stations were closed as a precaution, and Amtrak train service was suspended between the Oakland Coliseum station stop and Richmond because of the protest. A Berkeley City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday night was canceled after threats to disrupt it, said Mayor Tom Bates.


Nut rage spat in first class cabin is the latest stumble for Korean Air family

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - When South Koreans heard that a Korean Air Lines executive delayed a flight because she was angry at being served macadamia nuts in a bag there was outrage but no surprise.

For many it was only the latest example of the high and mighty behavior they’d come to expect from the families who make up Korea’s dynastic business elite and dominate the economy.

In the headline hogging incident now dubbed “nut rage,” Cho Hyun-ah, the airline’s head of cabin service and daughter of its chairman, ordered a senior crew member off the plane, forcing it to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy airport in New York City.

Cho had quarreled with flight attendants in first class after one of them offered her bagged nuts instead of nuts served on a plate. Amid the storm of criticism, Cho resigned Tuesday as head of cabin service but remained an executive at the airline. That sparked another furor and Cho on Wednesday submitted a letter of resignation quitting all her roles.

Korean Air had defended her actions as a “natural” attempt to improve customer service. Yet for a public that has lost patience with impunity and double standards, it was an ugly display of entitlement. The local media labeled her “princess.”


Big $1.1 trillion spending bill faces first test Thursday in House; many unhappy with it

WASHINGTON (AP) - A huge, $1.1 trillion spending bill funding every corner of government faces its first test in the House, where conservatives are unhappy because it fails to challenge President Barack Obama’s immigration policy and many Democrats are displeased because it weakens the 2010 Dodd-Frank regulation of risky financial instruments.

Another provision drawing fire would allow pensions to be cut for current retirees covered by some economically-distressed multiemployer plans, part of a package agreed to unexpectedly Tuesday after secretive talks.

The 1,603-page measure was unveiled late Tuesday and will be scrutinized in advance of a House vote Thursday. But support from the top leaders in both the House and the Senate appears to cement its passage and prevent a government shutdown Thursday midnight, despite the presence of items in the legislation for lawmakers of all persuasions to dislike.

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the measure “will allow us to fulfill our constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown.”

The measure adheres to tight budget caps negotiated previously between the White House and Republicans, freezing agency budgets, on average. It also includes several provisions to fulfill Republican policy objectives, including significantly weakening new regulations that require banks to set up separate affiliates to deal in the more exotic and riskier forms of complex financial instruments called swaps. But some top Democrats, including Appropriations Committee member Nita Lowey of New York, supported the provision, and party leaders didn’t appear to try too hard to knock it out.


Congress relaxes whole grain standards for schools in big year-end spending bill

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress is taking some whole grains off the school lunch line.

A massive year-end spending bill released Tuesday doesn’t allow schools to opt out of healthier school meal standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama, as House Republicans had sought. But it would ease standards that require more whole grains in school foods.

The bill also would put off rules to lower sodium in school meals. Those rules were supposed kick in by 2017.

Some school nutrition directors have lobbied for a break from the standards, which have been phased in since 2012, saying the rules have proven to be costly and restrictive. Some kids don’t like the meals, either. House Republicans have said the rules are an overreach, and have fought to ease them.

As the debate escalated this summer, Michelle Obama said she would fight “to the bitter end” to make sure kids have good nutrition in schools. The White House did not have immediate comment on the language in the spending bill.


As unemployment keeps rising, French government to unveil new plan to encourage hiring

PARIS (AP) - Creating jobs in France is proving harder than expected.

The embattled Socialist-led government is making its second push this year to energize the labor market in Europe’s second-largest economy, after a top economic official called the previous plan “a failure.”

Although President Francois Hollande has made cutting unemployment the cornerstone of his tenure, the jobs market is in fact getting worse. Unemployment climbed to 10.4 percent in the third quarter from 10.1 percent in the previous three months despite a package of payroll tax cuts for businesses earlier this year that was meant to encourage hiring.

Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron will on Wednesday present a new bundle of policies - a “growth and activity” bill. It has sharply divided Hollande’s own Socialist Party but drawn praise from France’s powerful business lobby, Medef, which argues that previous efforts did not go far enough.

Macron is a former Rothschild investment banker who Hollande chose to replace Socialist firebrand Arnaud Montebourg last August. Four months into the job, Macron has been thrust onto the front lines of France’s effort to create jobs - and save Hollande’s.


Prince William, Kate wrap up NYC visit with tour of Sept. 11 museum, black-tie affair

NEW YORK (AP) - Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate, wrapped up their first visit to New York in a three-day whirlwind that included a black-tie reception, a meeting with the other king, LeBron James, and a solemn, rain-drenched visit to the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum.

At the museum Tuesday, their last day, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid their respects with a handwritten note and told its leaders they were struck by the enormity of the loss in the 2001 terror attacks.

“In sorrowful memory of those who died on 11th September and in admiration of the courage shown to rebuild. William and Catherine,” she wrote in a note the couple left with flowers on the memorial pools lined with the names of the nearly 3,000 victims.

As the royals toured the museum devoted to the attacks, they examined such artifacts as preserved trident columns from one of the fallen twin towers’ facades and viewed rows upon rows of victims’ portraits. Like other visitors, they left virtual signatures to be projected on a crucial underground wall that survived the attacks and held back the Hudson River, with Kate looking on with a smile as hers appeared. And they asked questions about the memorial pools’ design, about how victims’ families had responded to the museum, and about the attacks themselves, National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum President Joe Daniels said.

Curious museumgoers stood by to get a look at the royals - including the pregnant Kate’s hot-pink Mulberry coat, black tights, and black stiletto-heeled pumps, over a black dress from maternity designer Seraphine. Other fans braved heavy, cold rain outside.


Hounded by conservatives, Iran’s dogs find peace at country’s only licensed animal shelter

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Man’s best friend is seen as anything but in Iran, where city workers gun down strays and conservatives view pet dogs as a corrupting Western influence. But in a rare animal shelter in the countryside west of Tehran, hundreds of lucky pups have found mercy, and a growing number of Iranians are learning to love them.

Islamic tradition holds cats in high esteem, and in much of the Muslim world people leave food out for feral felines. Stray dogs, on the other hand, are often seen as a public nuisance - overgrown rats with wagging tails.

In Iran’s Islamic republic, dog ownership is seen as a pernicious Western import, and conservative lawmakers have called for it to be banned or at least heavily restricted, in line with other regulations governing Western music and fashion.

But outside Tehran, more than 500 dogs find care and affection at the Vafa Animal Shelter, which was established through an endowment in 2004 and is the country’s only licensed animal refuge.

“In our society, dogs are the most vulnerable animals,” said Ali Sani, the shelter’s manager. “The dogs that are brought here used to be in urban environments and were struggling with problems and needed help.”

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