Obama's Syria-strike plan clears Senate panel; he suggests he could go ahead without Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's request for speedy congressional backing of a military strike in Syria advanced Wednesday toward a showdown Senate vote, while the commander in chief left open the possibility he would order retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack even if Congress withheld its approval.
Legislation backing the use of force against President Bashar Assad's government cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote after it was stiffened at the last minute to include a pledge of support for "decisive changes to the present military balance of power" in Syria's civil war. It also would rule out U.S. combat operations on the ground.
The measure is expected to reach the Senate floor next week, although the timing for a vote is uncertain. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky conservative with strong tea party ties, has threatened a filibuster.
The House also is reviewing Obama's request, but its timetable is even less certain and the measure could face a rockier time there.
The administration blames Assad for a chemical weapons attack that took place on Aug. 21 and says more than 1,400 civilians died, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.
US spies had intercepted key intelligence, but didn't connect dots before Syrian WMD Strike
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the Syrian regime readying a massive chemical weapons attack in the days ahead of the strike, only piecing together what had happened after the fact, U.S. officials say.
One of the key pieces of intelligence that Secretary of State John Kerry later used to link the attack to the Syrian government -- intercepts of communications telling Syrian military units to prepare for the strikes -- was in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies but had not yet been "processed," according to senior U.S. officials.
That explains why the White House did not warn either the regime or the rebels who might be targeted as it had done when detecting previous preparations for chemical strikes.
"We know that for three days before the attack the Syrian regime's chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations," Kerry said as he presented the evidence in a State Department speech last week. "We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons."
But the Obama administration only uncovered the evidence after Syrians started posting reports of the strike from the scene of the attack, leading U.S. spies and analysts to focus on satellite and other evidence showing a Syrian chemical weapons unit was preparing chemical munitions before the strike, according to two current U.S. officials and two former senior intelligence officials.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. SENATE PANEL VOTES TO AUTHORIZE FORCE IN SYRIA
The measure is expected to reach the Senate floor next week as President Obama suggests he could order retaliation without Congress.
As US strike looms, al-Qaida-linked rebels attack regime-held Christian village
BEIRUT (AP) -- Al-Qaida-linked rebels launched an assault Wednesday on a regime-held Christian village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus -- part of a brutal battle of attrition each side believes it can win despite more than two years of deadlock.
As the world focused on possible U.S. military action against Syria, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel in the village of Maaloula and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The attack came hours before a Senate panel voted to give President Barack Obama authority to use military force against Syria -- the first time lawmakers have voted to allow military action since the October 2002 votes authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
The measure, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote, was altered at the last minute to support "decisive changes to the present military balance of power" in Syria's civil war, though it ruled out U.S. combat operations on the ground. It was expected to reach the full Senate floor next week.
The Syria conflict, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it's not clear if U.S. military strikes over the regime's alleged chemical weapons use would change that. Obama has said he seeks limited pinpoint action to deter future chemical attacks, not regime change.
APNewsBreak: Obama considers suspending hundreds of millions in US aid to Egypt
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's top national security aides have recommended that the U.S. suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt in response to the Egyptian military's ouster of the country's first democratically elected leader, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Such a step would be a dramatic shift for an administration that has declined to label Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's July 3 ouster a coup and has argued that it is in U.S. national security interests to keep the aid flowing. It would also likely have profound implications for decades of close U.S.-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The officials say the recommendation has been with Obama for at least a week but they don't expect him to make a decision until after the full Congress votes on his request for authorization for military strikes on Syria, which is not expected before Monday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
The U.S. provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year in aid, $1.3 billion of which is military assistance. The rest is economic assistance. Some of it goes to the government and some to other groups. Only the money that goes to the government would be suspended. Obama will have to decide how much aid will be suspended, but the officials said the recommendation calls for a significant amount to be withheld. The money could be restored once a democratically elected government is returned.
While leaving the exact amount to be suspended up to the president, the principals have recommended that it include all foreign military financing to Egypt's army except for money that supports security in the increasingly volatile Sinai Peninsula and along Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, the officials said.
'Coward's way out': Suicide of Cleveland man who held 3 women captive brings little sympathy
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Residents in the tough Cleveland neighborhood where three women were secretly imprisoned for a decade reacted with scorn and grim satisfaction Wednesday after Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell barely a month into a life sentence.
Even the prosecutor joined in.
"This man couldn't take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.
Castro, 53, was found hanging from a bedsheet Tuesday night at the state prison in Orient, corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The coroner's office said it was suicide.
Feds to stop enforcing law blocking marriage benefits for same-sex spouses of veterans
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration said Wednesday it will stop enforcing a law that blocks benefits to partners of military veterans in same-sex marriages.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder said that a provision in federal law on benefits to veterans and their families defines "spouse" to mean a person of the opposite sex. He says that definition leaves out legally married same-sex couples, and runs afoul of a June Supreme Court ruling.
The court declared unconstitutional a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act restricting the words marriage and spouse to apply only to heterosexual unions. Holder says that like the Defense of Marriage Act, the provision in the veterans benefits law has the effect of placing lawfully married same-sex couples in a second-tier marriage.
"Decisions by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare," Holder told Congress. "Nevertheless, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement."
He said the Supreme Court's conclusion that DOMA imposes a stigma on everyone in same-sex marriages "would seem to apply equally" to the veterans benefits law. Holder noted that after the Supreme Court's decision, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives withdrew from a pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the veterans benefits provisions.
NH hospital says patient likely died of rare brain disease, remote chance others were exposed
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Public health officials believe one person in New Hampshire has died of a rare, degenerative brain disease, and say there's a remote chance up to 13 others in multiple states were exposed to the fatal illness through surgical equipment.
Dr. Joseph Pepe, president of Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, said officials are 95 percent certain that a patient who had brain surgery in May and died in August had sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
The disease progresses rapidly once symptoms appear and is always fatal, usually within a few months. But the symptoms can take decades to show up. They include behavior changes, memory loss, impaired coordination and other neurological problems.
Nearly 90 percent of cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease happen spontaneously, when an agent causes proteins in the brain to fold incorrectly. And because those abnormal proteins can survive standard sterilization practices, there is a small risk of exposure for those who had surgery after the patient who died, Pepe said.
"The risk of exposure is extremely low, but it's not zero," he said.
Video shows NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner in heated argument with bakery customer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Ex-congressman and struggling mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner said Wednesday a video showing him in a shouting match with a bakery customer is just an example of him putting a heckler in his place.
The 2-minute video shows Weiner, surrounded by reporters and campaign supporters in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, going back inside the bakery after someone yells, "Scumbag!"
A clearly annoyed Weiner, his mouth full of honey cake, turns around and yells at the man.
"Yeah?" Weiner says. "It takes one to know one, jackass."
Weiner, who quit Congress in 2011 after a sexting scandal, and the man then confront each other inside the bakery as onlookers take photos.
Nearly 70 years after Dick Tracy wore a wrist radio, Samsung introduces watch that makes calls
BERLIN (AP) -- Nearly 70 years after Dick Tracy began wearing a two-way wrist radio in the funny pages, the technology that once seemed impossibly futuristic will be widely available by Christmas.
Samsung on Wednesday introduced a digital watch for the holiday season that will let users check messages with a glance at their wrists and have conversations secret agent-style.
So-called smartwatches have been around for several years. But so far, they have failed to attract much consumer interest. That may change with the Samsung Galaxy Gear, which offers the company a chance to pull off the same as feat Apple did with the iPad -- popularize a type of device that has lingered mostly unnoticed on store shelves.
The Gear must be linked wirelessly with a smartphone to perform its full range of functions. It acts as an extension to the phone by discreetly alerting users to incoming messages and calls on its screen, which measures 1.63 inches diagonally.
"With Gear, you're able to make calls and receive calls without ever taking your phone out of your pocket," Pranav Mistry, a member of Samsung's design team, told reporters at the launch in Berlin ahead of the annual IFA consumer electronics show here.