Pentagon Disputes Bradley Manning Mistreatment Allegations

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell Wednesday disputed characterizations that Army Private Bradley Manning, charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, is receiving harsher treatment at the Marine brigade where he is being detained.

Morrell told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that Manning’s detention is consistent with what other maximum security detainees at the brigade in Quantico, Virginia, would receive.

Manning supporters have alleged that he is being held in solitary confinement at the facility and facing tighter restrictions than other prisoners.   “Assertions by liberal bloggers or network reporters or others that he is being mistreated, or somehow treated differently than others, in isolation, are just not accurate,” said Morrell.

 “'He is in a cell by himself, but that is like every single other pretrial detainee at the brig,” said Morrell. “It just so happens that the configuration of the brig is that every individual is confined to his or her own cell.”

He added that Manning “is being held in the same quarters section with other pretrial detainees. He's allowed to watch television. He's allowed to read newspapers. He's allowed one hour per day of exercise,” Morrell said.  Defense officials say Manning is allowed to exercise in an exercise room, but not in his cell -- a rule consistent with the detention practices for all maximum security detainees at the facility.

Morrell said Manning was placed under two days of suicide watch last week, a decision that was made at the brigade commander’s discretion.  The brigade received a new commander this week as part of a scheduled rotation not related to that decision.

Manning  is being detained under charges filed last summer that he leaked to WikiLeaks a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed several civilians.  But Manning is also suspected of having been behind the leak of thousands of U.S. military documents from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as hundreds of thousands of State Department cables.  Morrell said today that Manning is a “person of interest” in those leaks.

Manning had access to the documents while serving in Baghdad as an intelligence analyst.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jared Loughner Researched Lethal Injection Before Alleged Attack

Photo Courtesy - Pima County Sheriff's Department(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Before he allegedly went on the deadly shooting rampage in Tucson, Jared Loughner considered every aspect of the assault including the likely punishment, sources tell ABC News.

Loughner, 22, used his home computer to browse a website with information about the effects of lethal injection, according to sources familiar with the investigation. He appeared to want to know what death by injection felt like, the source said.

Lethal injection is the method of capital punishment imposed by the federal government.

Loughner also allegedly browsed the Internet for information about solitary confinement and, perhaps more disturbingly, an official said, he had been researching political assassins.

It all paints a dark picture of cold-blooded forethought, sources said, and an obsession with assassinating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head but survived the attack.

Six died and several others, including Giffords, were injured in the Tucson attack on Jan. 8. The congresswoman now is recovering in a Houston brain rehabilitation hospital.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DHS to Scrap Color-Code Terror Alerts by April

Photo Courtesy - DHS dot gov(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano will announce that the much-maligned color-code threat level, formally called the Homeland Security Advisory System, will be replaced with a more specific public alert system, according to officials briefed on the issue.

In July 2009, DHS Secretary Napolitano ordered a 60-day review of the system used to inform the public of the terror threat environment to see if it needed to be altered. The task force appointed by Napolitano was split on whether to keep the current advisory system in place. A report prepared by the Task Force noted, "Task Force membership believes the color-code system has suffered from a lack of credibility and clarity leading to an erosion of public confidence such that it should be abandoned."

The system has not been raised or lowered since 2006 and officials say they have been better able to tailor security procedures without making changes to the color-code system. While DHS officials declined to comment on the changes, which will be detailed Thursday by the Secretary in a speech at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, officials briefed on the issue say the new system will resemble terrorism alerts that are used by the United Kingdom.

The U.K. threat level system does not rely on colors but spans five levels from low -- meaning an attack is unlikely -- to critical -- indicating an attack is expected imminently. Currently the U.K. system is set at severe -- meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely.

"The old color coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared. Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed, or for how long to be on alert," said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS). "I applaud the Secretary for her decision to create a common sense approach to alerting the public when credible threats arise."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congresswoman Giffords to Begin Full-Course Rehab 

Photo Courtesy - POOL PHOTO by Greg Bryan, Arizona Daily Star (HOUSTON) -- Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann, a Houston rehabilitation center in Houston, for the next phase of her recovery.

“The congresswoman has done very well in her therapy sessions in the ICU,” said Dr. Gerard Francisco, chief medical officer of TIRR . “It will be good to have her at TIRR Memorial Hermann where we can devote more time to her rehabilitation and recovery.”

Dr. Francisco is one of the nation’s leading physicians in the field of brain injury and stroke rehabilitation. A frequent lecturer nationally and internationally, he is currently conducting research on the use of botulinum toxin and intrathecal baclofen for the treatment of spasticity, along with the use of robots to facilitate recovery after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Giffords started rehabilitation in the Memorial Hermann-TMC Neuro-trauma intensive care unit (ICU) on January 21, when she was flown from Arizona to Houston, and then brought by Life Flight helicopter to the hospital’s level one trauma center.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mothers: No Justice for Our Sons Slaughtered in Iraq

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Nearly seven years after images of four American civilians murdered and mutilated in Fallujah were broadcast around the world, their families say justice for the victims has been denied and has instead favored the controversial private security firm for which they worked as military security contractors, Blackwater.

Following years of legal back and forths in a lawsuit by the families against Blackwater, which they maintained sent their sons undermanned and ill-equipped on a convoy into one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq on March 31, 2004, a federal judge has thrown out the suit because arbitration fees weren't being paid by either side. The families vowed to keep fighting, saying they will appeal.

"Somehow this lawsuit got away from my son being slaughtered and became about who's willing to pay to play," said Katy Helvenston-Wettengel, whose son Scott Helvenston, 38, was one of the Blackwater employees shot dead, set on fire, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and then hung from a bridge. Insurgents filmed the horrific attack, becoming some of the most brutal images from the Iraq war. "There's nothing even remotely close to justice here," she said.

The families said they couldn't afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in arbitration fees and U.S. District Judge James C. Fox, in the eastern district of North Carolina, closed the case, ruling the families couldn't proceed with their claims in North Carolina state court. The contractors' employment agreements required disputes to be resolved through arbitration.

Helvenston and other families of the victims said Blackwater cut corners protecting the men, failing to provide maps or radio contact with the U.S. military and sending them out on a dangerous mission in unarmored Mitsubishi SUVs instead of heavily armored vehicles.

Under its contract for the mission, there were also supposed to be six men in the detail, three for each car. But video taken by the attackers shortly after the men were killed showed Blackwater sent only two men for each car, leaving the rear gunner lookout post empty.

Blackwater, which changed its name to "Xe" in an effort to rebrand itself after numerous scandals, maintained the men were ambushed on their convoy and said they knew what they were getting into in Iraq.

In a statement to ABC News, Xe said, "The company continues to remember and honor its fallen professionals and shares in their families' grief for all of those tragically lost or wounded while defending democracy in Iraq. The company has no comment on this pending legal matter except to say that the dismissed claims were precluded by law under the Defense Base Act's workers' compensation system, and that the company continues to provide survivors' benefits to the families under that system." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gabrielle Giffords' Nurse: 'She Smiles, She Knows' That She's Lucky

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Tuesday night's State of the Union turned poignant with a standing ovation for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the team of heroes that helped save her life.

"As we mark this occasion, we are also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and pray for the health of our colleague - and our friend - Gabby Giffords," President Obama said.

In the chamber was trauma nurse Tracy Culbert. She's been by Giffords' side since the day of the shooting. Seeing the empty chair that signified Giffords' absence made Culbert emotional.

"I have a personal connection with her and so it was very tearful for me. It shows how much they care for her and they're wanting her back and so that chair represents the fact that she's going to be back one day," Culbert said.

Culbert attended the State of the Union address at the request of members of Giffords' staff.

"To have this gift extended to me, I am so gracious, I can't even explain how grateful I am to Mark Kelly and the Giffords family. I'm very honored, very honored," Culbert said.

When Giffords was moved from Tucson's University Medical Center to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston last week, Culbert was right there, by her side.

The nurse said that even while in a hospital bed recovering from a brain injury, Giffords consoles and cares for those around her.

One day, Culbert was sitting by Giffords' side, holding her hand and talking to her. Culbert was wearing a necklace she wears often. The charm on the necklace is a thumbprint of her late father. Giffords reached up and took a hold of the necklace, motioning that she wanted to know the meaning of it.

"I started getting some tears in my eyes and she reached up to my shoulder and she was stroking my shoulder and tried to pull me forward like to hug me. And I told her, 'I'm going to cry Gabby, you're going to make me cry.' She was patting my back, like it's going to be ok," Culbert said.

Culbert said that the optimism and support of Giffords' family has made a difference in her remarkable recovery. She said that Giffords' mother, father and husband are by her side every day.

"I just see the look of her in her father's eyes, just he loves her so much," Culbert said. "I've explained to her that she's a very lucky woman to have all of the support that she's had, especially Mark [Kelly] and her parents. She smiles, she knows."

Doctors and nurses call Commander Mark Kelly, Giffords' astronaut husband, an eternal optimist.

Her husband provides much optimism. That is the one thing he is very good at. I played the pessimist a couple times with him and he didn't want to hear it. He convinced me that every day is a small step forward," Dr. Randall Friese said.

Friese treated Giffords when she first reached the hospital in Houston. He too attended last night's speech. Friese said that the news that Giffords has been upgraded to good condition is positive, but that she still has a tough journey ahead of her.

"She does have a long road ahead, a lot of hard work. Rehab is about determination, focus, and exhausting days, but again, she has been very strong," Friese said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ohio Mom Jailed for Sending Kids to Better School District

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(AKRON, Ohio) -- An Ohio mother's attempt to provide her daughters with a better education landed her behind bars.

Kelley Williams-Bolar was convicted of lying about her residency to get her daughters into a better school district.

"It's overwhelming.  I'm exhausted," she said.  "I did this for them, so there it is.  I did this for them."

Williams-Bolar decided four years ago to send her daughters to a highly ranked school in neighboring Copley-Fairlawn School District.  But it wasn't her Akron district of residence, so her children were ineligible to attend school there, even though her father lived within the district's boundaries.

The school district accused Williams-Bolar of lying about her address, falsifying records and, when confronted, having her father file false court papers to get around the system.  Williams-Bolar said she did it to keep her children safe and that she lived part-time with her dad.

"When my home got broken into, I felt it was my duty to do something else," Williams-Bolar said.

While her children are no longer attending schools in the Copley-Fairlawn District, school officials said she was cheating because her daughters received a quality education without paying taxes to fund it.

The district hired a private investigator, who shot video showing Williams-Bolar driving her children into the district.  The school officials asked her to pay $30,000 in back tuition.  Williams-Bolar refused and was indicted and convicted of falsifying her residency records.

She was sentenced last week to 10 days in county jail and put on three years of probation.  She will also be required to perform community service, the Beacon Journal reported.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Condition Upgraded from Serious to Good

Mark Kelly watches President Obama deliver his State of the Union address, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, in the hospital room of his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Photo Courtesy - Office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords(HOUSTON) -- Doctors for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords upgraded her condition from serious to good late Tuesday night and said she is ready to be transferred to a brain rehabilitation hospital as early as Wednesday morning pending a medical review, ABC News has learned.

The fluid accumulation in her brain that concerned doctors over the weekend has already begun to subside.

An tentative news conference has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, where Rep. Giffords' medical team will give an update on her progress, according to a news release from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, the hospital where Giffords is currently recovering.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday night's State of the Union address, members of both political parties were wearing black and white ribbons in a show of solidarity with Giffords and the people of Tucson.  In a special gesture, her friends in Congress left one seat unfilled.

In Houston, Giffords' husband, NASA Commander Mark Kelly, watched Tuesday night's State of the Union Address from his wife's bedside at the hospital.  While he keeps watch over her care, the clock is ticking on a critical decision.  Kelly has said he will decide within two weeks whether he will command the space shuttle Endeavor's final mission in April.

Over the weekend, doctors inserted a small drain in Giffords' skull to remove the brain fluid that had delayed her transfer out of ICU.  Experts say it is not uncommon for someone suffering a traumatic brain injury to have such fluid accumulation, caused when the brain bleeds or swells.

Giffords' doctors have expressed confidence that she has passed the most critical period for complications and say that the fluid is not keeping Giffords from receiving three hours of physical therapy a day.

Giffords was brought by a specially equipped private plane from Tucson to Houston's Hobby Airport last Friday, and immediately was transported to the Texas Medical Center's intensive care unit by medical helicopter.  She will eventually be treated at nearby TIRR Memorial Hermann. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Courts Deny Stay of Execution for Lethal Injection Drug Probe

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Tuesday night, the full Court released an order denying a last minute stay of the execution of Emanuel Hammond, a Georgia man accused of the murder of teacher Julie Love in 1988. Just two hours prior, Justice Thomas temporarily granted a delay in the execution -- "pending further order" -- of the Court. But later, the Court released  an order saying that Thomas had referred the matter to the full Court, and the full Court decided to deny Hammond's request to delay his execution.

Hammond's lawyers had argued that they wanted more time to investigate Georgia's supply of a lethal injection drug. The lawyers said that because the drug -- sodium thiopental -- is in short supply in the U.S., states are relying on shady sources to get the drug. Hammond's lawyers claim Georgia ordered the drug from Dream Pharma -- a London company based in a driving school and say they are unsure whether the drug is expired or even labeled properly.

The only U.S. manufacturer, Hospira, has announced it's halting production. Nearly all of the 39 states that permit lethal injection use sodium thiopental.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


House Considers Mandating Internet Data Retention For Crime Solving

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Criminal investigations are “being frustrated” because Internet providers are not required by law to retain information on what their customers are doing online, the Department of Justice testified before a House hearing Tuesday.

“The gap between providers retention practices and the needs of law enforcement can be extremely harmful to investigations that are critical to protecting the public from predators,” Justice Department Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein told a House Justice Committee hearing on “data retention as a tool for investigating internet child pornography and other Internet crimes.”

“The lack of adequate, uniform and consistent data retention policies threatens our ability to use the legal tools Congress has provided to law enforcement to protect public safety,” he said.

While some Internet providers voluntarily retain user data for months or years, others do not retain data at all. Under current law, officers can issue subpoenas, court orders and search warrants to require an Internet service provider to hand over user data. The problem, Weinstein testified, is that “those authorities are only useful if the data is still in existence at the time the government seeks to obtain it.”

Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, agreed. “When law enforcement officers do develop leads that might ultimately result in saving a child or apprehending a pornographer, their efforts should not be frustrated because vital records were destroyed simply because there was no requirement to retain them. Every piece of discarded information could be the footprint of a child predator,” he said.

Other committee members and the Internet Service Provider Association expressed concern, however, that retaining Internet data could infringe on users’ privacy. 

“A data retention mandate would raise a number of serious privacy and free speech concerns… Congress should be very hesitant to require service providers to create databases to track the Internet activities of 230 million innocent Americans,” said John Morris, General Counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Florida Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reiterated “this is not about watching or tracking people’s behavior online…it’s about helping law enforcement connect the dots.”

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