Bush: military would try terrorists

WASHINGTON

President Bush signed an order yesterday that would allow the government to try people accused of terrorism in front of a special military commission instead of in civilian court.

The order, signed by Bush before he left for Crawford, Texas, gives the administration another avenue to bring the Sept. 11 terrorists to justice, White House counsel Albert Gonzales told The Associated Press.

“This is a new tool to use against terrorism,” Gonzales said in a telephone interview. He said there were precedents in World War II and the Civil War.

The White House was to release the order late yesterday.

Gonzales, a former Texas Supreme Court judge who is the president”s top lawyer, said a military commission could have several advantages over a civilian court. It is easier to protect the sources and methods of investigators in military proceedings, for example, and a military trial can be held overseas.

Gonzales said there may be times when prosecutors feel a trial in America would be unsafe.

“There may not be a need for this and the president may make a determination that he does not want to use this tool, but he felt it appropriate that he have this tool available to him,” the lawyer said.

Officials search for additional tainted letter

WASHINGTON

Federal officials said yesterday they believe an anthrax-filled letter that has yet to be discovered sickened a State Department mail handler with the most serious form of the disease, a theory bolstered by the discovery of anthrax in eight places in the building where he worked.

The State Department said it would begin hunting through three weeks” worth of unopened mail, searching for a letter that could advance the anthrax investigation.

“We have to assume that, one, there is a contaminated letter of some kind in our system, and second of all, that we will eventually find it in one of these mail rooms or pouch bags,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

More than two weeks ago, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it was a virtual certainty that another letter was lurking, undiscovered. Yesterday, the State Department said it didn”t begin looking sooner because the mail facility was “a crime scene” and officials wanted to test it for anthrax first.

The FBI said it doubts a letter will be found even once they start looking.

No new cases of anthrax infection have been reported for more than two weeks.

Wildfire outbreak burns 150,000 acres

PIKEVILLE, Ky.

Across southern Appalachia, the air hangs heavy with the acrid smell of burning wood from the largest outbreak of wildfires in at least a decade.

The wafting smoke evident nearly 200 miles away in Louisville has cut visibility to near zero along some mountain highways. Car headlights and streetlights are staying on, some schools have closed, and people with breathing problems have been rushing to hospitals or staying indoors.

“I don”t go out there unless I have to,” said 84-year-old Elsie Carter, who can”t see the trees outside her Pikeville home because of the thick, gray haze. “It looks dangerous, and it is dangerous if people breathe it too long.”

Wildfires nearly all of them intentionally set have burned across more than 150,000 acres of woodlands in Kentucky”s Appalachian region so far this year.

Floods, mudslides kill 579 in Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria

Rescuers sifted through caked mud yesterday seeking survivors of flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 600 people in the Algerian capital. More rain was forecast.

The official death toll stood at 579. Some Algiers newspapers estimated deaths could climb as high as 1,000 when devastated areas are searched.

Mud clogged the narrow streets, where residents expressed fury at what they called the government”s lax response to a weekend mudslide triggered by heavy rains that devastated several working class neighborhoods.

“We are revolted by the complete absence of the authorities,” said Messaoud, a 52-year-old administrator who declined to give his last name. “The army didn”t even send helicopters to rescue people who sought refuge on the roofs.”

Court convicts 4 in 1986 disco bombing

BERLIN

A German court convicted four defendants yesterday in the 1986 bombing of a West Berlin discotheque and blamed the Libyan secret service for planning the attack which killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman.

“The La Belle attack was one of the most perfidious and dangerous crimes in German history,” Judge Peter Marhofer said in announcing the verdict.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the verdict as “positive news.”

“It”s a strong indication that however long it takes, whatever we have to do, we do and we will continue to bring terrorists to justice,” he said.

The April 5, 1986, explosion at the crowded La Belle disco killed Sgt. Kenneth T. Ford, 21, Nermin Hannay, a 29-year-old Turkish woman, and 25-year-old Sgt. James E. Goins.

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