US lays groundwork for possible military in Syria within the coming days
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for potential military action in Syria in the coming days, with intelligence agencies readying additional evidence about last week's alleged chemical weapons attack and high-ranking U.S. officials declaring there was "no doubt" that Bashar Assad's government was to blame.
Administration officials also said Assad's actions posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, providing President Barack Obama with a potential legal justification for launching a strike without authorization from the United Nations or Congress. However, officials did not detail how the U.S. was directly threatened by an attack contained within Syria's borders. Nor did they present concrete proof that Assad was responsible.
"Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The U.S. and international partners were unlikely to undertake military action before Thursday. That's when British Prime Minister David Cameron will convene an emergency meeting of Parliament, where lawmakers were expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for a British response.
Obama and Cameron spoke Tuesday, their second known conversation since the weekend. A Cameron spokesman said the two leaders agreed that a chemical attack had taken place, and that the Assad regime was responsible. Cameron "confirmed that the government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack," the spokesman said.
When to strike: Competing events, quest for support create awkward decision on Syria timing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Preparations for a highly anticipated strike on Syria could lead to an awkward decision on timing.
Few doubt that President Barack Obama is preparing for a U.S.-led military action to retaliate for what the U.S. and its allies say was a deadly chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian government. But there are few good options for when to attack.
Wednesday, for example, would make for an uncomfortable juxtaposition of themes. That's the day Obama will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of the nonviolent leader's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Thursday is also problematic. That's when British Prime Minister David Cameron is set to convene an emergency meeting of Parliament, where lawmakers are expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for Britain to respond to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
Days later, on Tuesday, Obama embarks on an overseas trip that will take him away from the White House for most of the week.
Documents: NYPD labels mosques terrorism enterprises to record sermons and spy on imams
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen "terrorism enterprise investigations" into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.
Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.
The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.
Yosemite fire impacts Nevadans more than 100 miles away; hazardous, unhealthy air warnings
GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) — The giant wildfire burning at the edge of Yosemite National Park has not only destroyed buildings and threatened water supplies, electricity and sequoias, it has also unleashed a smoky haze that has worsened air quality more than 100 miles away in Nevada.
The plume from the Rim Fire in California triggered emergency warnings in the Reno and Carson City area. Schoolchildren were kept inside for the second time in a week, people went to hospitals complaining of eye and throat irritation and officials urged people to avoid all physical activity outdoors.
"It's five hours away," said 22-year-old bartender Renee Dishman in disbelief after learning that the source of the haze was more than 150 miles away. "I can't run. I can't breathe. It makes me sneeze."
The Rim Fire, so far, has burned through 280 square miles, destroyed 23 structures and threatened water supplies, hydroelectric power and giant sequoias. On Tuesday night, authorities said the blaze was 20 percent contained.
In Nevada, the biggest impact of the Rim Fire was on the air. The air quality index briefly surpassed the rare "hazardous" level east of Lake Tahoe before improving slightly. It hovered around the next-most serious stage of "very unhealthy" for all populations in the Reno-Sparks area 30 miles north.
Afghans fearful of foreign withdrawal, despite assurance new home-grown force can protect them
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Hamida Gulistani was getting ready to leave home for her office when she heard the crack of gunfire. What she saw as she peered through the steel gates of her house deepened her fears about the future of her country.
Her driver lay dead. Her neighbor was shouting that Gulistani's house was under attack. And the Afghan army and police weren't responding to her phone calls. As an elected provincial councilor, and thus a prime target for the Taliban, she feared her time was up.
"I kept calling the police chief and other security forces, but by the time they arrived it was too late. The attackers took my car and drove away," said the 40-year-old human rights activist. She has since moved from her province of Ghazni to the relatively safer capital, Kabul.
Ghazni and neighboring Wardak province have become a hotbed of insurgent activity in the past year, mainly along the main highway which links Kabul to Kandahar in the south and runs through Gulistani's home town. Dozens of abductions and killings are reported weekly on the highway, and Afghans are beginning to worry that the nascent Afghan National Security Forces taking over the defense of Afghanistan won't be up to the job.
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, who runs the day-to-day coalition campaign in Afghanistan, says only a small stretch of the 1,900-kilometer (1,200-mile) road has been affected. Less than three months after the Afghan forces took over primary responsibility for national security from the U.S.-led coalition, Milley says he's sure they are capable of operating alone, carrying out large-scale operations around the country with little support from the U.S.-led coalition.
His life on the line, Fort Hood gunman ties hands of attorneys required to help him
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — With his life on the line, Maj. Nidal Hasan has done nothing to dissuade jurors from giving him a death sentence. When his standby lawyers pleaded in vain to argue on his behalf, he described them as "overzealous."
Hasan presented no witnesses or evidence during sentencing after being convicted last week of gunning down 13 people in a rampage at this Texas military post.
He has one final chance Wednesday to give a closing argument before his case goes to a panel of military officers that can give him death or life in prison without parole. But so far, the Army psychiatrist's absent defense has only stoked suspicion that his ultimate goal is martyrdom, in the form of a death sentence that would allow him to fulfill what prosecutors have described as a "jihad duty" under his Islamic faith.
Whatever his ultimate motives, Hasan can tie his standby lawyers' hands if he wants.
Legal experts say he has a nearly unshakable right under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to represent himself. The military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, has repeatedly warned him about the danger of being his own attorney, and the three lawyers assigned to help him have tried to step in at least twice.
Tied to the shore, Fukushima fishermen face demise of livelihood as new crisis strikes
YOTSUKURA, Japan (AP) — Fumio Suzuki, a third-generation fisherman, sets out into the Pacific Ocean every seven weeks. Not to catch fish that he can sell but to catch fish that can be tested for radiation.
For the last 2 ½ years, fishermen from the port of Yotsukura near the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant have been mostly stuck on land with little to do. There is no commercial fishing along most of the Fukushima coast. In a nation highly sensitive to food safety, there is no market for the fish caught near the stricken plant because the meltdowns it suffered contaminated the ocean water and marine life with radiation.
A sliver of hope emerged after recent sampling results showed a decline in radioactivity in some fish species. But a new crisis spawned by fresh leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant last week may have dashed those prospects.
Fishermen like 47-year-old Suzuki now wonder whether they ever will be able to resume fishing, a mainstay for many small rural communities like Yotsukura, 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of the Fukushima plant. His son has already moved on, looking for work in construction.
"The operators (of the plant) are reacting too late every time in whatever they do," said Suzuki, who works with his 79-year-old father Choji after inheriting the family business from him.
Obama embodies fulfilled dreams from March on Washington, personifies continued struggles
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama won't need to mention race — a subject he doesn't talk a lot about in public — when he stands at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the March on Washington.
His presence at the commemorative ceremony Wednesday will embody the fulfilled dreams of the hundreds of thousands who rallied there 50 years ago for racial equality — and will personify the continued struggle for that elusive goal.
When he became president, Obama blasted through a heavy barrier that many before him had only pushed against. But his presidency has been marred by racist backlash and his administration has found itself refighting battles already thought won, such as ensuring equal access to the polls.
Obama is expected to speak just after an organized ringing of bells by churches and others at 3 p.m. EDT, the time when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his spellbinding "I Have a Dream" speech. Obama will be joined by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton at the memorial's steps. Other luminaries include Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
A march, led by a replica of a transit bus that civil rights leader Rosa Parks rode when she refused to give up her seat to a white man in 1955, and an interfaith service also were planned for Wednesday morning. A march held Saturday drew tens of thousands to the Lincoln Memorial.
Few visit Machu Picchu's 'sister city,' but Peru plans tramway to end site's isolation
LIMA, Peru (AP) — The ruined city known as the "cradle of gold" was once a mountaintop refuge of Incan royalty, with elegant halls and plazas much like those of fabled Macchu Picchu just 30 miles (50 kilometers away). Yet only a handful of tourists visit each day, those willing to make a two-day hike to reach its majestic solitude.
That is about to change: The national government has approved what will be Peru's first aerial tramway. Bridging the deep canyon of the Apurimac River, it will make Choquequirao reachable in just 15 minutes from the nearest highway.
The 3-mile (5-kilometer) long cable car is designed to whiz 400 people an hour in each direction a half mile (nearly a kilometer) above the river. The president of the Apurimac state government, Elias Segovia, anticipates the $45 million tramway will bring about 3,000 tourists a day after it opens in late 2015.
"This is going to generate tourist services. It will generate great investment" in hotels, restaurants and other amenities, he says.
The idea is to shift some of the tourist burden from Machu Picchu, where authorities have a limit of 2,500 daily visitors and where reservations are now required for people who wish to hike the famed Inca Trail to the ruins.
Police in China say woman tricked 6-year-old into going into field, then gouged out his eyes
BEIJING (AP) — A woman tricked a 6-year-old boy into going into a field in northern China, and then gouged out his eyes, police said Wednesday.
The boy's brutal ordeal happened Saturday in a rural area of Linfen city in Shanxi province, the city's police bureau said in a statement. State media said the boy was recovering in a hospital, but had lost his sight permanently.
A police officer who only gave his surname, Liu, said he couldn't speculate on a motive because the investigation was continuing.
"We are sparing no efforts trying to solve this case," Liu added.
Liu said the boy's eyeballs were found at the scene, and that the corneas hadn't been removed.