UPDATE: Defense officials say US warship on the move as Obama plays down prospect of Syria intervention
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has been playing down the prospect of speedy U.S. intervention in Syria, but defense officials are preparing options in response to this week's claims of a large-scale chemical weapons attack near Damascus by Syrian government forces.
In an interview with CNN, Obama stressed the difficulty of ordering military action against President Bashar Assad's government without a strong international coalition and a legal mandate from the United Nations.
Speaking to reporters on a flight to Asia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. is coordinating with the international community to determine "what exactly did happen" in the reported chemical weapon attack and suggested the Pentagon is moving naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for possible strikes.
While Hagel declined to discuss any specific force movements, U.S. defense officials say the Navy has moved a fourth warship into the region. U.S. Navy ships are capable of a variety of military action, including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, as they did against Libya in 2011 as part of an international action that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government.
FORT HOOD SHOOTING
Army psychiatrist convicted in deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting, now eligible for death penalty
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors say they will call at least 19 witnesses during the sentencing phase of Maj. Nidal Hassan's trial. It is not clear if Hasan, who is acting as his own attorney, will call any witnesses.
A military jury on Friday convicted the Army psychiatrist in the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, making him eligible for the death penalty. Thirteen people were killed in the attack and more than 30 wounded.
There was never any doubt Hasan was the gunman. He acknowledged that to the jury and said he acted to protect Muslim insurgents abroad from American aggression.
Hasan did not react to Friday's verdict, looking straight at jurors as they announced their findings.
After the hearing, relatives of the dead and wounded fought back tears. Some smiled and patted each other's shoulders as they left court.
The sentencing phase of the trial begins Monday.
Jury: Life in prison for Afghanistan massacre
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AP) — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.
That was the most severe punishment possible after the soldier pleaded guilty to massacring 16 Afghan civilians last year in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The military jury deliberated for less than two hours.
Bales took the witness stand Thursday and apologized for the pre-dawn attack in March 2012, describing it as an act of cowardice.
Afghan villagers who traveled nearly 7,000 miles to testify against Bales say they're far from satisfied with his sentence. Hajji Mohammad Wazir, who lost 11 family members, says they wanted Bales executed.
Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., was serving his fourth combat deployment when he left his outpost at Camp Belambay, in Kandahar province, in the middle of the night to attack two villages.
OREGON CAR-BOMB PLOT
Somali-American man convicted in 2010 Portland, Ore., Christmas bomb plot apologizes
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A young Somali-American man convicted of plotting to bomb a 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland Oregon's town square has written an apology letter in advance of his sentencing and says he renounces his former beliefs.
In a letter from jail, filed by his lawyers in federal court, Mohamed Mohamud offers to speak to young Muslims "to help keep them away from the path of extremism." And he told U.S. District Judge Garr King he turned to books to help him "walk a better path." His reading list ranges from "The Grapes of Wrath" and President Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" to "A Zombie Apocalypse."
A government sentencing memo filed Friday suggests a sentence of life imprisonment. Mohamud's defense team suggests 10 years. Sentencing has been set for Sept. 6, but the date may be changed.
The Oregonian and KGW-TV carried reports on the court filings.
UPDATE: More evacuations urged as Calif. wildfire spreads into Yosemite; SF utility emergency
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — As a massive wildfire burning into Yosemite National Park grew to nearly 200 square miles, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the city of San Francisco 150 miles away because of the threat to the city's utilities.
The governor had already declared an emergency for the area around the fire but Friday night extended it to San Francisco, saying the blaze posed a threat to the city's power lines and stations in the fire area.
The city gets 85 percent of its water from the Yosemite-area Hetch Hetchy reservoir and that has yet to be affected.
But San Francisco has been forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations in the area, and further disruptions or damage could have an effect on the power supply.
Authorities are urging more evacuations in communities around Yosemite where thousands have already been forced out by the flames.
The week-long blaze is only 2 percent contained. The U.S. Forest Service says the fire is threatening about 4,500 homes. It already has destroyed four homes and 12 outbuildings. More than 2,000 firefighters are on the lines and one has been injured.
The fire has hit the park at the height of summer season. It has closed some backcountry hiking but is not threatening the Yosemite Valley region, one of California's most popular tourist destinations.
SAN DIEGO MAYOR
California attorney general opens criminal investigation of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The California attorney general has opened a criminal investigation of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who agreed to resign after lurid sexual harassment allegations eroded his support less than nine months on the job.
Attorney general spokesman Nicholas Pacilio confirmed Friday that a criminal investigation is underway but declined to elaborate. He spoke moments after Filner told the City Council he would leave office next week.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department is fielding complaints of sexual misconduct by the mayor and delivering its findings to the attorney general's office.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has recused herself. She lost to Filner in last year's election.
Filner was both regretful and defiant during a City Council meeting today. He apologized to his accusers but insisted he was innocent and said he was the victim of a "lynch mob."
UPDATE: Atty: Sandusky's son among 7 who settle with PSU
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — An attorney says seven young men he represents have finalized deals with Penn State over claims of abuse by the school's former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky.
Lawyer Matt Casey said Friday his clients include Sandusky's adopted son, Matt Sandusky, and three victims who testified last summer against Jerry Sandusky at his criminal trial.
Casey said a fifth client, known as "Victim 2" in court records, also reached a settlement. "Victim 2" was the boy seen by graduate assistant Mike McQueary being attacked by Sandusky in a shower.
Casey didn't disclose the settlement terms, and the university has not announced the deals.
The first settlement among the dozens of lawsuits filed was announced nearly a week ago.
Sandusky is in prison on child sex abuse convictions
LITTLE ROCK-BRIDGES CLOSED
UPDATE: Ark. bridges reopened after barges get loose
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Authorities have reopened all three downtown Little Rock bridges after determining that two barges that escaped from a tugboat only hit an earthen berm protecting the largest of the spans.
Bill Marlow, a bridge inspector for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, says the barges came loose Friday night as the tugboat approached the first of the spans. He says they drifted under the first two bridges before glancing off the berm at the base of the Interstate 30 bridge and heading downstream.
The barges made it past the Clinton Presidential Library about a quarter-mile from the Interstate 30 bridge before the tugboat operator caught up and pushed them to the riverbank.
The barges got loose at around 8:30 p.m., well after the evening rush.
There were no reported injuries.
UPDATE: Former Australian leader condemns US gun culture
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A former Australian government leader has blamed the gun culture in the United States for the shooting death of an Australian baseball player in Oklahoma and condemned America's lax firearm controls as a corruptive influence around the world.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer was speaking on Saturday on the eve of a tribute baseball game being played in shooting victim Chris Lane's hometown of Melbourne.
Lane was shot in the back and killed last week while jogging in Duncan, an Oklahoma community where the three teenagers accused in his killing live.
Fischer says the failure of the U.S. Congress to mandate background checks for sales at gun shows and to curb the availability of guns fed the illegal firearm trade in Australia and elsewhere.
Mexican federal prosecutors file appeal against drug lord's release
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Mexico have filed an appeal with the country's Supreme Court against a lower court's decision to free a drug lord.
The Attorney General's Office says it has asked the country's highest court to review a federal court's decision to release Rafael Caro Quintero because the court's arguments are "absurd and illogical."
Caro Quintero was 28 years into a 40-year sentence for helping orchestrate the 1985 killing of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. He has disappeared from the public eye since his release two weeks ago.
A three-judge federal appeals court overturned his sentence in Camarena's case on procedural grounds, saying he should have been tried in a state court instead of federal court.
Federal prosecutors said in a statement Friday the panel's arguments were illogical.
CHILD SHOOTS CAREGIVER
La. Police: Boy fatally shot 90-year-old relative
SLAUGHTER, La. (AP) — Authorities in Louisiana say an 8-year-old boy intentionally shot and killed a 90-year-old woman who was his caregiver after watching a video game with violent themes.
East Feliciana Parish sheriff's deputies said the juvenile was playing the video game "Grand Theft Auto IV" — a realistic game that's been associated with encouraging violence and awards points to players for killing people — just minutes before the fatal shooting.
Authorities are calling the shooting a homicide.
Sgt. Kevin Garig told The Advocate that the identities of both the shooter and the victim are being withheld.
Garig said the woman died after suffering at least one gunshot wound to the head. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Louisiana law prohibits authorities from charging the child with a crime because of his age.
Created: Sat, 24 Aug 2013 01:14:41 EST
Updated: Sat, 24 Aug 2013 01:14:41 EST