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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:03 p.m., Monday, March 19, 2007

National & world news highlights

Associated Press


WASHINGTON — The Iraq war lumbered into its fifth year Monday with President Bush pleading for patience to let his revised battle plan work and Congress' new Democratic leaders retorting that no patience remains.

"The new strategy will need more time to take effect," Bush said in remarks televised from the White House to mark the four years since he ordered the invasion. He challenged Congress to send him a war funding bill "without strings and without delay."

He got a swift response from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The American people have lost confidence in President Bush's plan for a war without end in Iraq," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "That failed approach has been rejected by the voters in our nation and it will be rejected by the Congress."

Four years in, the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military. Predictions about the cost and length of the war have been far surpassed. The public overwhelmingly opposes the war, and Bush's approval rating stands near his all-time low. Trying to halt spiraling sectarian bloodshed, Bush has ordered nearly 30,000 more combat and support troops to Iraq, mostly to stabilize Baghdad.


WASHINGTON — A Yemeni portrayed as an al-Qaida operative and a member of a terrorist family confessed to plotting the bombings of the USS Cole and two U.S. embassies in Africa, killing hundreds, according to a Pentagon transcript of a Guantanamo Bay hearing.

The transcript released Monday was the fourth from the hearings the military is holding in private for 14 "high-value" terror suspects who were kept in secret CIA prisons before they were sent to the U.S. facility in Cuba last fall.

Last week, Waleed bin Attash said he helped plan the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200, according to the transcript. He also said he helped organize the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in which suicide bombers steered an explosives-laden boat into the guided-missile destroyer, killing 17 sailors.

"I participated in the buying or purchasing of the explosives," bin Attash said when asked what his role was in the attacks. "I put together the plan for the operation a year and a half prior to the operation, buying the boat and recruiting the members that did the operation."

Also alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's bodyguard at one time, bin Attash is in his late 20s and is a Yemeni who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, authorities have said. Said to be an al-Qaida operational chief, bin Attash is known as Tawfiq bin Attash or Tawfiq Attash Khallada or simply Khallad. He was captured in 2003.


BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government asked U.S. authorities for custody of Saddam Hussein's former deputy to hang him at dawn Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was Saddam's vice president when the regime was ousted, would be the fourth man executed in the killings of 148 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt against the former leader in the city of Dujail.

The executions have outraged Iraqi Sunnis and international human rights groups, which have appealed for Ramadan's life.

Ramadan was originally spared the gallows and sentenced to life in prison. But last week, an appeals court upheld a decision to impose capital punishment.

Officials in the prime minister's office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said Monday that U.S. authorities had not yet responded to the request for custody but were expected to agree as a matter of course. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.


WASHINGTON — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' hold on his job grew more uncertain Monday as the Senate debated removing his authority to unilaterally name U.S. attorneys and the White House said it merely hoped he would survive the tumult.

Asked if Gonzales had contained the political damage from the firing of eight federal prosecutors, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "I don't know."

Snow declined to predict how long Gonzales would stay in his job but reiterated President Bush's support of him.

"No one's prophetic enough to know what the next 21 months hold," Snow said. "We hope he stays."

The Justice Department also planned to turn over to Congress late Monday a couple of thousand pages of new documents related to the firings.


MCGRADY, N.C. — Warmer weather raised rescuers' hopes Monday as they searched for a third day for a 12-year-old Boy Scout who disappeared while camping with his troop in the rugged mountains of western North Carolina. Michael Auberry vanished in the heavily wooded terrain after lunch Saturday with the other Scouts and troop leaders. Searchers found his mess kit late Saturday within a mile of the camp site, but no other sign of him, authorities said.

Temperatures fell to the 20s before dawn Monday, but sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s prevailed during the day. Overnight temperatures were expected to be milder, with lows in the 40s, but there was a chance of rain Tuesday.

"The temperatures definitely play a factor. It has been very cold at night, but this young man was very well-dressed. He had a fleece jacket on and another jacket," National Park Service spokeswoman Tina White said. "We've had people who have been out a week or longer and survived."

About 70 people aided by dogs and a helicopter searched the area's logging roads and trails and scoured off-road regions. Searchers planned to stick to the trails at night to avoid losing anyone else.

Park rangers worked with the boy's family to learn about Michael's wilderness skills and how he might react to the situation, White said.


WASHINGTON — Nuthatches appear to have learned to understand a foreign language — chickadee. It's not unusual for one animal to react to the alarm call of another, but nuthatches seem to go beyond that — interpreting the type of alarm and what sort of predator poses a threat. When a chickadee sees a predator, it issues warning call — a soft "seet" for a flying hawk, owl or falcon, or a loud "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" for a perched predator.

The "chick-a-dee" call can have 10 to 15 "dees" at the end and varies in sound to encode information on the type of predator. It also calls in other small birds to mob the predator, Christopher Templeton of the University of Washington said in a telephone interview.

"In this case the nuthatch is able to discriminate the information in this call," said Templeton, a doctoral candidate.

The findings by Templeton and Erick Green, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Montana, are reported in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Templeton had been studying chickadees and noticed their varying response to different alarm calls so he recorded them and watched the responses.


CHICAGO — Duct tape's success at curing warts may have been overstated, according to a new study that raises doubts about the tape's effectiveness as a cheap, painless treatment. The tape supposedly works by irritating the skin and stimulating the body's immune system to attack the virus that causes warts. It earned a place in the medicine cabinet in 2002, when a small study showed it to be effective on children and young adults.

This time, a study among older adults found duct tape helped only 21 percent of the time and was no more better than moleskin, a cotton-tape bandage used to protect the skin.

But researchers used transparent duct tape. Only later did they learn that the transparent variety does not contain rubber, unlike the better-known, gray duct tape that appeared to be effective in the 2002 study.

"Whether or not the standard type of duct tape is effective is up in the air," said co-author Dr. Rachel Wenner of the University of Minnesota, who started the new study as a medical student. "Theoretically, the rubber adhesive could somehow stimulate the immune system or irritate the skin in a different manner."

Warts are harmless, stubborn bumps on the hands or feet, caused by a type of papillomavirus. The virus camps out in the skin's upper layers without calling the attention of the body's immune system. Another type of papillomavirus causes cervical cancer, but the strains that cause warts are not cancerous.