Nation & World News

Nation Remembers 9/11 On 13th Anniversary Of Attacks

By Scott Neuman on September 11th, 2014 | Last updated: September 11, 2014 at 10:49 am

Update at 10:40 a.m. ET

On the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden gathered on the White House lawn to observe a moment of silence.

The solemn commemoration of the attacks that killed some 3,000 people came just hours after the president addressed the nation on a strategy to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State militants in Iraq — a stark reminder that the so-called “war on terror” appears to be far from over.

At a ceremony at the Pentagon, the president said “we carry on, because as Americans, we do not give in to fear. Ever.”

Other Sept. 11-related events scheduled for today include a gathering at New York’s ground zero for relatives of victims of the World Trade Center attacks with a reading of names of those killed. A similar ceremony is being held at Shanksville, Pa., in the field where hijacked United Flight 93 went down, killing all 40 passengers and crew aboard.

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Judge In Pistorius Trial Rules Out Murder

By Scott Neuman on September 11th, 2014 | Last updated: September 11, 2014 at 9:49 am

Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee Olympian accused in the shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, has been acquitted of the most serious charge of premeditated murder.

But South African Judge Thokozile Masipa has yet to announce her final verdict in the jury-less trial, although she has hinted that culpable homicide would be a “competent verdict.”

As tears streamed down Pistorius’ face, Masipa told the court in Pretoria that the athlete did not plan to kill Steenkamp on the night he fatally shot her through a closed bathroom door.

“Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door, let alone the deceased, as he thought she was in the bedroom,” Masipa said.

“Culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” she said without delivering her formal decision. Culpable homicide refers to negligent murder and is roughly the equivalent of manslaughter in the U.S. criminal justice system.

In the lead-up to announcing her verdict, Masipa said prosecutors had not made the case for a conviction on premeditated murder.

Pistorius is a hero to many in and outside South Africa, earning the nickname “Blade Runner” because of the high-tech carbon-fiber blades that helped propel him in the Olympics and Paralympics.

The drawn-out trial, with its mix of celebrity, wealth and murder, has drawn comparisons to the O.J. Simpson trial in the U.S. nearly two decades ago.

Pistorius’ defense team argued that the killing of Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 was a tragic accident and that the track star fired four shots through a bathroom door in his home believing he was targeting an unknown intruder.

But the prosecution questioned why an intruder would have locked himself in a bathroom, why Steenkamp would not have identified herself and why Pistorius would not have known his girlfriend’s whereabouts.

Attorneys for Pistorius also faced a challenge in convincing the judge to disregard the accounts of a married couple who were among the first witnesses for the prosecution. Michelle Burger and Charl Johnson lived near Pistorius in Pretoria and testified that they heard a woman screaming before shots were fired.

Another married couple living near Pistorius, however, testified that they heard a man screaming in a high-pitched voice.

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Opinion Pages Offer Support On Plan To Combat Islamic State

By Scott Neuman on September 11th, 2014 | Last updated: September 11, 2014 at 7:49 pm

President Obama’s prime-time speech outlining his plan to broaden a U.S.-led offensive against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria prompted generally cautious support from the editorial pages of major newspapers across the country this morning.

As we reported last night, Obama told the nation: “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

The United States “will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” he said.

Here’s a sampling of reaction in op-eds in major dailies today:

The New York Times (Peter Baker):

“It will be a significantly different kind of war — not like Iraq or Afghanistan, where many tens of thousands of American troops were still deployed when Mr. Obama took the oath nearly six years ago. And even though Mr. Obama compared it to the small-scale, sporadic strikes against isolated terrorists in places like Yemen and Somalia, it will not be exactly like those either.

“Instead, the widening battle with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will be the next chapter in a grueling, generational struggle that has kept the United States at war in one form or another since that day 13 years ago on Thursday when hijacked airplanes shattered America’s sense of its own security.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“Obama has used military force judiciously throughout his presidency, but there are times when the threat is so clear that nothing else suffices. This is one of those times.

“There is no way at this early stage to know how exactly the American response will unfold or how the threat will mutate in the coming months. The success of the campaign depends on the reliability of U.S. partners in the region.”

The Los Angeles Times: “The president is right about the shared global interests in stopping the Islamic State. After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, though, the decision to re-engage militarily in the region is a fraught and complicated one. As he moves forward, he needs to be mindful of the dangers of mission creep and assiduous in pressing other countries to help in the effort. Finally, he should seek congressional endorsement for any sustained use of military force against this enemy.”

The Washington Post (E.J. Dionne): “The emergence of the Islamic State and its barbaric beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff have shaken public opinion again. It is, of course, possible that the public’s guardedly increased hawkishness is another short-term reaction to an enraging news event. But there is a strong case that, after all the gyrations in policy and popular attitudes, we are on the verge of a new politics of foreign policy based on a steadier, more sober and more realistic view of our country’s role in the world and of what it takes to keep the nation safe.”

And, The Boston Globe (Stephen Kinzer):

“President George W. Bush told Americans that the 9/11 attacks represented a threat so enormous that we had to plunge into foreign wars that cost tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. That is how some Americans want Obama to depict the ISIS threat. He refused to do that.

“Instead he spoke in measured phrases, recognizing the emergence of a new danger but not exaggerating it. Rather than warn of mortal peril, he said he was ‘more confident than ever about our country’s future.’”

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NFL: Ex-FBI Chief Will Investigate How League Handled Rice Evidence

By Eyder Peralta on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Update, 11 p.m.:

The NFL is bringing in former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate how the league handled evidence in the Ray Rice case, a reporter for the league’s website said Wednesday night.

The original story continues below:

The National Football League is denying a report that it received a video from police that shows former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer.

“We have no knowledge of this,” an NFL spokesman told The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. “We are not aware of anyone who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”

The NFL was reacting to a report from the Associated Press that quoted an unnamed law enforcement official saying he sent the video to an NFL executive three months ago.

The AP reports:

“The person played The Associated Press a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice expresses thanks and says: ‘You’re right. It’s terrible.’

“The law enforcement official, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, says he had no further communication with any NFL employee and can’t confirm anyone watched the video. The person said they were unauthorized to release the video but shared it unsolicited, because they wanted the NFL to have it before deciding on Rice’s punishment.”

In an interview with CBS Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “to my knowledge” no one in the NFL had seen the video before it was released by the gossip site TMZ.

The NFL gave Rice a two-game suspension after it saw one video showing Rice dragging Palmer out of the elevator. The TMZ video shows that Rice had punched and knocked out his now-wife inside the elevator a short time earlier.

It was after that second video surfaced that the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely.

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Obama Says U.S. Will ‘Take Out’ Islamic State ‘Wherever They Exist’

By Eyder Peralta on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 11:49 pm

In a prime-time speech on Wednesday, President Obama said the United States plans to “take out” the Islamic State “wherever they exist.”

“With a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Obama said. “Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

Signaling a broadening of the American offensive so far, Obama said that he would “not hesitate” to order strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.

Obama added that he already has the authorization he needs to conduct that offensive, but he welcomes “congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”

If you remember, the Islamic State came to international prominence over the summer, when it began a brazen and lightning-fast attack on Iraq. Since then, the Sunni militant group has overtaken several Iraqi cities and has taken responsibility for the beheading of two American journalists.

As the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL, moved farther into Iraq, the United States began an air campaign against the group.

President Obama made news late last month, when he admitted that the U.S. did not “have a strategy yet” on how to deal with the Islamic State. Today, Obama was unequivocal.

“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said. “This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Obama reiterated that unlike U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, this operation will not involve “American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

“This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground,” Obama said. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

On the eve of Sept. 11, it’s also important to note that Obama said the U.S. had not detected a specific plot against the United States homeland from the Islamic State. But the group, Obama said, represents a threat against the stability of the Middle East and “if left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States.”

We live blogged the speech as it happened. For a more details on the speech, keep reading.

Update at 9:15 p.m. ET. Welcome Our Responsibility To Lead:

Asking the U.S. public to support this effort, Obama appeals to American exceptionalism. He says:

“It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”

Update at 9:11 p.m. ET. Doesn’t Need Authorization:

Obama says he has the authorization he needs to conduct this offensive. But he said he welcomes “congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”

Update at 9:09 p.m. ET. A Broad Coalition:

Obama says that while the U.S. will lead this effort it will be accompanied by a “broad coalition of allies.”

“Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid,” Obama said.

Update at 9:07 p.m. ET. We Will Hunt Down Terrorists:

Obama delivers a strong warning to terrorists saying: “This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Update at 9:05 p.m. ET. No Specific Plot Against U.S.:

“ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities,” Obama says. “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.”

Americans, he says, are concerned about the threats.

“Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve,” Obama said.

Update at 9:02 p.m. ET. Remain Vigilant:

Beginning his speech Obama says the U.S. has already had success in fighting terrorists.

“Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat,” Obama said. “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.”

One of those threats, Obama says, is the Islamic State, which “has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”

Update at 9 p.m. ET. Can Use 2001 Authorization:

During a background briefing previewing President Obama’s speech, a senior administration official said President Obama can use the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001 to conduct the strikes against the Islamic State.

That authorization was passed shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and authorized the president to “to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States.”

The administration official added that they believe there is national consensus around the need to deal with the Islamic State and that there is also Congressional support.

The administration official also left no doubt that the U.S. is willing to strike Islamic State targets inside Syria.

“The United States is prepared to take action on both sides of [the Iraq/Syria] border,” the official said.

Another senior administration official added that the approach advocated by President Obama today will stand in start contrast to that of other administration in the past.

Obama, the official said, is not talking about fighting the Islamic State using troops on the ground.

Instead, this mission will be marked by a “systematic campaign of air strikes” and working to support allies fighting the Islamic State on the ground.

Update at 7:52 p.m. ET. No Planned Attacks On U.S.:

NPR’s Scott Horsley says that on this eve of Sept. 11, the United States does not believe the Islamic State is currently plotting attacks against the homeland.

“But the group is a threat to stability in the Middle East and over time, it could be a threat to the West,” Scott said.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this speech is coming exactly one year after Obama delivered a prime-time speech in which he asked Congress to authorize the use of force against the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

Shortly after that speech, it became clear that Congress did not want to go along with that action and Obama backed down.

“That was a body blow for Obama’s prestige and one could argue that it really weakened the president’s hand for all the foreign policy challenges that followed over the last year,” Scott told All Things Considered.

The Obama administration has signaled that it will not ask Congress for authorizations to conduct air strikes in Syria.

Scott says what the Obama administration will ask Congress for is “authorization to train and equip moderate opposition forces in Syria.”

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Underneath Stonehenge, ‘A Map Of What Was There In The Past’

By Krishnadev Calamur on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 7:48 pm

There’s much more to Stonehenge, it turns out, than meets the eye (or, for that matter, Spinal Tap).

Researchers from Birmingham University used high-tech equipment to map 17 ritual monuments in the area. That’s in addition to the iconic circle of stones that has stood there for thousands of years.

Professor Vincent Gaffney, the project leader, tells NPR’s Robert Siegel that researchers found a large amount of new archaeological sites dating to the period of Stonehenge, as well as later and earlier periods. They were, he said, small “henge-like” monuments like Stonehenge, “but perhaps better interpreted as small chapels.”

And what stands underneath the World Heritage Site that attracts more than 1 million visitors annually is more numerous than what we can see.

“The results,” Gaffney said, “actually look like a map of what was there in the past.”

A statement from the Birmingham University said: “Work also revealed novel types of monument including massive prehistoric pits, some of which appear to form astronomic alignments, plus new information on hundreds of burial mounds, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman settlements and fields at a level of detail never previously seen.”

The project was a collaboration between the university and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology.

Archaeologists think that Stonehenge, about 80 miles southwest of London, was built between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. It is believed to be a temple, but who it was built by and who it was dedicated to is unclear. The new, underground discoveries are only likely to add to the mystery.

Of course, if you’re a Dr. Who fan you knew there was something underneath all along.

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Putin: Russia To Upgrade Nuclear Forces In Response To West

By Scott Neuman on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Vladmir Putin, whose annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine have drawn plenty of comparisons in the West to his Cold War predecessors, is not going to calm any nerves with his latest pronouncement: Russia has begun development of new nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a Kremlin meeting on weapons modernization plans, Russia’s president said the West had been “warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security” in light of U.S. missile defense plans.

“We have warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security,” Putin said.

He also signed a decree giving him direct control over Russia’s arms industry.

As part of a weapons modernization program for 2016-2025, Moscow should focus on building a “guaranteed nuclear deterrent,” Putin said. That includes, according to The Associated Press, “re-arming strategic and long-range aviation, creating an aerospace defense system and developing high-precision conventional weapons.”

At the same time, Putin suggested that it’s the United States that wants “unleash” an arms race.

We, of course, are not going to be involved in this race,the Russian president was quoted by RT as telling with senior defense industry officials.

Putin also accused the West of staging the crisis in Ukraine to “resuscitate” NATO.

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Britain’s Cameron Pleads With Scots To Stay In U.K.

By Scott Neuman on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he’d be “heartbroken” if Scotland voted to separate from the United Kingdom in an upcoming referendum, calling on independence-minded Scots to look at the future consequences of separation.

“I would be heartbroken … if this family of nations is torn apart,” Cameron told an invited audience at the Edinburgh headquarters of the Scottish Widows insurance firm.

Cameron said he had often been asked if his Conservative Party would stand a better chance in elections without Scotland, which, according to the BBC, currently has only one Tory MP.

“My answer to that is, I care far more about my country than I do about my party,” Cameron said. “I care hugely about this extraordinary country, this United Kingdom that we’ve built together.

“If we pull together, we can keep on building a better future for our children. We can make sure our destiny matches our history, because there really will be no second chances. If the U.K. breaks apart, it breaks apart forever,” the prime minister said.

The Associated Press writes:

“Cameron’s personal plea aimed to keep the 307-year-old union between England and Scotland intact and prevent himself from going down in history as the U.K. prime minister who lost Scotland. He is likely to face calls from his Conservative Party to step down if Scots vote to secede.

“In a rare display of cross-party unanimity, Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat chief Nick Clegg all pulled out of a weekly House of Commons question session in London to make a late campaign dash to Scotland as polls suggest the two sides are neck-and-neck ahead of the Sept. 18 independence referendum.”

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Government To Drop Background Check Firm USIS

By Scott Neuman on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Update at 10:30 a.m. ET.

The Office of Personnel Management is severing its ties with a private contractor that provides many of the security background checks for the U.S. government after the company was hit by a cyberattack last month that compromised the files of thousands of federal workers.

The OPM said late Tuesday that “following a careful and comprehensive review,” it had decided not to renew its contracts with Falls Church, Va.-based USIS.

USIS was targeted in August by a cyberattack that compromised the files of 25,000 Homeland Security workers. The FBI is investigating. The firm has called the hack a “state-sponsored attack.”

USIS was responsible for vetting Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter who killed 12 people, although OPM later said the background check on Alexis had been “complete and in compliance” with standards. USIS also checked Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked classified information on U.S. electronic surveillance.

Last year, USIS came under criminal investigation for allegedly repeatedly misleading the government about the thoroughness of its background checks. In addition, the Department of Justice has accused the company of fraud for submitting 650,000 incomplete background investigations.

In a statement issued following the OPM announcement, USIS said it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision, “particularly given the excellent work our 3,000 employees have delivered on these contracts.”

“While we disagree with the decision and are reviewing it, we intend to fulfill our obligations to ensure an orderly transition,” the statement read. “The company continues to provide high quality service to its many other valued government customers.”

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Ukrainian President Offers Limited Autonomy For Rebellious Region

By Scott Neuman on September 10th, 2014 | Last updated: September 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko is offering greater autonomy to parts of the country’s rebellious east in a bid to quell a months-long conflict with pro-Russia separatists, but he reiterated that there would be no concessions on sovereignty.

Amid a shaky cease-fire with rebels and what Kiev has said is an incursion of Russian troops, Poroshenko said he would introduce a bill as early as next week offering special status to “some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which are currently controlled by separatists,” Reuters says.

During a televised Cabinet meeting, the Ukrainian president said the temporary truce “envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels.

“Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity,” he added.

The BBC reports: “One rebel leader in Donetsk dismissed his comments and said they intended to break away and become independent.”

Poroshenko said that since the cease-fire went into effect on Friday, 70 percent of the Russian troops in eastern Ukraine had been withdrawn, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that much of $70 million in aid pledged by the U.S. to Kiev, including rations, radios, first-aid kits, night-vision goggles and body armor “is still in the pipeline” and has yet to reach the front lines of the conflict.

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