Sunday, February 19, 2012

Published:

Supreme Court tackling case about when false boasts about military exploits become a crime

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Xavier Alvarez was in good company when he stood up at a public meeting and called himself a wounded war veteran who had received the top military award, the Medal of Honor.

Alvarez was lying about his medal, his wounds and his military service, but he wasn't the first man to invent war exploits.

He was, however, one of the first people prosecuted under a 2006 federal law aimed at curbing false claims of military valor.

Concerns that the law improperly limits speech and turns people into criminals for things they say, rather than do, are at the heart of the Supreme Court's review of his case and the Stolen Valor Act.

Veterans groups have come to the aid of the Obama administration, which calls the law a narrowly crafted effort to protect the system of military awards that was established during the Revolutionary War by Gen. George Washington. The high court will hear the case Wednesday, which is Washington's 280th birthday.

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AP Exclusive: Indonesia terror suspect's saga suggests SE Asia terror ties to al-Qaida fraying

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- A top Indonesian terror suspect captured in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was later killed insists he was unaware of the al-Qaida leader's presence there, according to the video of his interrogation obtained by The Associated Press.

Alleged master bomb maker Umar Patek also described his frustration in re-establishing militant ties in his quest to go to Afghanistan and fight American soldiers. After flying on his own to Pakistan, he waited there for months before a years-old militant contact finally came for him.

His remarks, if true, would further bolster evidence that Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist movement, responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, is now largely cut off from its long-standing al-Qaida sponsorship, thanks in part to a relentless crackdown that has largely decimated their ranks.

Patek, whose trial resumes Monday in Jakarta for his alleged role in the Bali bombings that killed more than 200, was one of the last few remaining ranking Jemaah Islamiyah militants still on the run when Pakistani intelligence agents arrested him a year ago in the northwestern town of Abbottabad.

Although Jemaah Islamiyah is past its prime it is not vanquished, said Sidney Jones, a noted terrorism analyst from the International Crisis Group.

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GOP contenders soon to face 13-state test after brief campaign lull; 518 delegates at stake

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A resurgent Rick Santorum hopes to spring his next big surprise in Michigan. Newt Gingrich looks for a campaign revival in the Bible Belt. Mitt Romney has his home state of Massachusetts, and the luxury of picking his spots elsewhere, if not everywhere, as the race for the Republican presidential nomination roars back to life.

After a brief midwinter lull, the Republican field faces a cross-country series of nine primaries and four caucuses between Feb. 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6. At stake are 518 delegates, more than three times the number awarded so far in the unpredictable competition to pick a GOP opponent for President Barack Obama.

A debate on Feb. 22 in Arizona, the first in three weeks and possibly the last of the GOP campaign, adds to the uncertainty.

The political considerations are daunting as Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul weigh the cost of competing in one state against the hope of winning in a second or perhaps merely running well but gaining delegates in a third.

"Not all states are of equal importance," said Steve Schmidt, who helped the GOP's 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, navigate the campaign calendar as a senior adviser.

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Whitney Houston's voice soars above movie, music stars at NJ hometown funeral

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- After all the testimonials from relatives and friends, the songs from legends and pop stars, the preaching and even laughter, the raw emotion of Whitney Houston's funeral came down to just one moment: The sound of her own voice.

As the strains of her biggest record, "I Will Always Love You," filled the New Hope Baptist Church at the end of the nearly four-hour service Saturday and her silver-and-gold casket was lifted in the air, the weight of the moment was too much for her mother to bear.

Gospel singer Cissy Houston wailed, "My baby! My baby!" as she was held up by two women and led out of the church behind her daughter's body.

A few steps behind her was the pop icon's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, also crying uncontrollably as she was comforted by Houston's close friend, singer Ray J.

It was the most searing scene on a day with mixed moods as family, friends and a list of celebrities -- sometimes one and the same -- came to the humble New Hope Baptist Church, where Whitney Houston first wowed a congregation, to remember one of music's legends, but also a New Jersey hometown girl.

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Ali smiles on Vegas stage as Wonder, Diddy and others sing to celebrate 70th for boxing icon

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A casino owner paid more than a million dollars for boxing gloves Muhammad Ali used to defend his title. Samuel L. Jackson dedicated a rendition of "Stand By Me" to the boxer. And President Barack Obama told the icon in a birthday tribute that he inspired the world.

By the end of the night, all Ali needed to do to capture the hearts of 2,000 revelers in Las Vegas Saturday was go onstage and smile.

Ali sat next to Stevie Wonder, who played keyboards and sang his version of "Happy Birthday," while stars including Sean "Diddy" Combs, Kelly Rowland, LL Cool J, Quincy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard and boxing promoter Bob Arum followed along.

Combs pinched Ali's cheeks and whispered in his ear, then closed out the nearly 5-hour gala by professing his deep admiration for the fighter.

Ali's eyes widened. He pointed at Combs, then back at his own head, twirling his index finger as if to tell Combs he's crazy.

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Syria: Prosecutor of restive northwestern province assassinated alongside judge

BEIRUT (AP) -- Gunmen assassinated a senior prosecutor and a judge in a restive province in northwest Syria on Sunday, the country's state news agency said, while activists reported that security forces shelled rebel-held areas in the besieged city of Homs.

SANA news agency said gunmen opened fire in the morning on a car carrying Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and judge Mohammed Ziadeh. The agency said the two were killed instantly along with their driver.

Syrian rebels control parts of Idlib province, which borders Turkey. It has been one of the regions hardest hit by a government crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.

The uprising began with mostly peaceful protests but has transformed into an armed insurgency against Assad in many areas, raising fears the country is spiraling toward civil war. In January, the U.N. estimated that more than 5,400 had been killed since March.

SANA said the prosecutor's assassination came a day after gunmen shot dead Jamal al-Bish, member of the city council of the nearby northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest. It said he was killed outside the city, a center of support for President Bashar Assad that has been relatively quiet since the uprising began.

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A nation's guilt: Australia reopens 32-year-old mystery of whether a dingo killed a baby

SYDNEY (AP) -- The growl came first, low and throaty, piercing the darkness that had fallen across the remote Australian desert. A baby's cry followed, then abruptly went silent. Inside the tent, the infant girl had vanished. Outside, her mother was screaming: "The dingo's got my baby!"

With those panicked words, the mystery of Azaria Chamberlain's disappearance in the Australian Outback in 1980 became the most notorious, divisive and baffling legal drama in the country's history. Had a wild dog really taken the baby? Or had Azaria's mother, Lindy, slit her daughter's throat and buried her in the desert?

Thirty-two years later, Australian officials hope to finally, definitively, determine how Azaria died when the Northern Territory coroner opens a fourth inquest on Friday (Feb. 24). Lindy Chamberlain, who was convicted of murdering her daughter and later cleared, is still waiting for authorities to close the case that made her the most hated person in Australia.

To the rest of the world, the case is largely known for its place in pop culture: countless books, an opera, the Meryl Streep movie "A Cry in the Dark," and the sitcom Seinfeld's spoof of Lindy's cry, "Maybe the dingo ate your baby!"

But to Australians, the case is about much more than the guilt or innocence of one woman. It is about the guilt or innocence of a nation -- a nation that prides itself on the concept of a "fair go," an equal chance, for all. Did Lindy Chamberlain get a fair go? Or had Australians misjudged this woman? With doubts growing about just how fair and tolerant they truly were, many wondered if they had misjudged themselves.

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NYPD monitored students at colleges across Northeast; sent agent on rafting trip, noted prayer

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits, including the Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, The Associated Press has learned.

Police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles away in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.

Detectives trawled Muslim student websites every day and, although professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing, their names were recorded in reports prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Asked about the monitoring, police spokesman Paul Browne provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States and abroad who had once been members of Muslim student associations, which the NYPD referred to as MSAs. Jesse Morton, who this month pleaded guilty to posting online threats against the creators of "South Park," had once tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University on Long Island, Browne said.

"As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs," Browne said in an email. He said police monitored student websites and collected publicly available information, but did so only between 2006 and 2007.

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John Glenn reunites with Mercury workers who helped launch him 50 years ago this Monday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- John Glenn joined the proud, surviving veterans of NASA's Project Mercury on Saturday in celebrating the 50th anniversary of his historic orbital flight.

The first American to orbit the Earth thanked the approximately 125 retired Mercury workers, now in their 70s and 80s, who gathered with their spouses at Kennedy Space Center to swap stories, pose for pictures and take a bow.

"There are a lot more bald heads and gray heads in that group than others, but those are the people who did lay the foundation," the 90-year-old Glenn said at an evening ceremony attended by NASA officials, politicians, astronauts and hundreds of others.

"We may be up on the point of that thing and get a lot of the attention, and we had ticker-tape parades and all that sort of thing. But the people who made it work ... you're the ones who deserve the accolade. So give yourselves a great big ovation," Glenn said, leading the crowd in applause.

Glenn and fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter, 86, spent nearly an hour before the ceremony being photographed with the retirees, posing for individual pictures in front of a black curtain with a model of a Mercury-Atlas rocket. Glenn and Carpenter are the lone survivors of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts.

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Kyle Busch uses late pass on Tony Stewart to win wild Budweiser Shootout at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The pack is back. And so is the Big One.

Kyle Busch edged Tony Stewart in a thrilling finish to the first race of 2012, using a sling-shot pass Saturday night on the last lap of the exhibition Budweiser Shootout to beat the defending NASCAR champion to the checkered flag.

It gave Busch a victory in a wild race that included two incredible saves by the eventual winner to stay in contention in the 75-lap sprint around Daytona International Speedway.

"I don't know how many times I spun out, but I didn't spin out, you know?" smiled Busch, who gave Toyota its first Shootout victory.

The event was a preview of next weekend's season-opening Daytona 500, and showed that NASCAR has successfully broken up the two-car tandem racing that dominated restrictor-plate racing last year. Fans were overwhelmingly opposed to that style of racing -- NASCAR said earlier this month surveys showed over 80 percent of those polled hated the tandem -- and the sanctioning body worked hard through the offseason to develop a rules package that would separate the cars.