Nation & World Briefs 06-18-14


WASHINGTON -- The capture of an alleged leader of the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, gave U.S. officials a rare moment of good news. Now, they are preparing to try the captured Libyan in the U.S. court system and pledging to double down on catching others responsible for the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in the attacks.

U.S. officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was being held on the USS New York, a Navy amphibious transport dock ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the Libyan's whereabouts publicly by name.

Abu Khattala, who was captured Sunday on the outskirts of Benghazi by U.S. special forces, was headed to the United States to face what President Barack Obama called "the full weight of the American justice system."

The Benghazi attacks, and the Obama administration's conduct in the aftermath, have long been a source of festering political discord. And some Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to voice skepticism about the administration's plans to try Abu Khattala like a civilian.

They urged the administration to get as much intelligence out of him as possible before anyone reads him his rights to remain silent, supplies him with a lawyer and prepares him for trial in a U.S. courtroom.

In fact, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said interrogation of the Libyan already was underway and "we hope to find out some positive things."

Focus shifts away from airstrikes: President Barack Obama is not expected to approve imminent airstrikes in Iraq, in part because there are few clear targets that could blunt a fast-moving Sunni insurgency, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Officials said Obama had made no final decisions and didn't rule out the possibility that airstrikes ultimately could be used, particularly if a strong target becomes available. But officials said the strikes were not the current focus of the administration's ongoing discussions about how to respond to the crumbling security situation in Iraq. The president planned to brief top congressional leaders on the matter at the White House today.

Vilsack to make case on farm trade: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has come to Europe to make the U.S. case on disputed issues in farm trade, as the Obama administration and European Union negotiate a new trade and investment agreement. Agriculture is a perennial hot-button topic in trans-Atlantic relations, and Vilsack said Tuesday it's hard to imagine any deal being approved by the U.S. or EU if it doesn't include an agricultural component. Grounds for disagreement are numerous. After talks with Vilsack on Tuesday, EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said he was convinced that Europeans and Americans need "a better understanding of our realities" if negotiations for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are to succeed.

Georgia, Missouri carry out executions: A Georgia inmate convicted of rape and murder was executed Tuesday night in the nation's first capital punishment since a botched execution in April raised new concerns about lethal injection. Marcus Wellons, 59, received a lethal injection late Tuesday at a prison in Jackson after last-minute appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court were denied. A corrections official said he was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. The execution seemed to go smoothly with no noticeable complications. Wellons' execution came about an hour before that of inmate John Winfield in Bonne Terre, Mo. The execution of John Ruthell Henry, who was convicted of killing his estranged wife and her son, is scheduled for tonight in Florida.

VA doled out $10M in bonuses: Workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System -- where investigators said veterans' health was jeopardized when employees covered up long wait times for patients -- received about $10 million in bonuses, newly released records show. Documents from the VA indicate that 2,100 employees got bonuses over the course of a three-year period, the Arizona Republic reported ( Tuesday. The records, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the bonuses kept increasing. The VA paid $2.5 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012 and $3.9 million last year. The merit-based bonuses were doled out to nearly 650 employees each of those years. The employees included doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaning staff.

In contentious fight: California Rep. Kevin McCarthy's apparent grip on the race to become the new House majority leader has set off a contentious battle to replace him as the third-ranking Republican, testing ideological and geographic loyalties as the party's most conservative faction seeks a foothold in the congressional leadership. As they returned to the Capitol on Tuesday evening, rank-and-file House Republicans faced an intense lobbying campaign ahead of Thursday's secret ballot. Three candidates are seeking the job of majority whip: Illinois' Peter Roskam, currently the chief deputy whip; Steve Scalise of Louisiana; and Indiana's Marlin Stutzman.

Nuns sue strip club: A group of nuns is suing to shut down a strip club next to their convent in Stone Park, Ill., that the sisters say keeps them awake at night. The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo Scalabrinians say in the suit that Club Allure has ruined their peace with blinking neon lights and loud thumping music. The nuns said they have witnessed drunken fights and found condoms littering the area.

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