WORLD NEWS IN BRIEF: More firings likely at Secret Service, U.S. says diplomacy first in Syria

Thursday, April 19, 2012 | 1:20 p.m. CDT


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Lawmaker says more firings likely at U.S. Secret Service

WASHINGTON — A top lawmaker briefed on the investigation into a Secret Service prostitution scandal predicted more firings would follow the forced ouster of three agency employees.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you saw more dismissals and more being forced out sooner rather than later," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Thursday. King is being updated on the investigation by Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.

The Secret Service is moving quickly to quell the scandal that erupted late last week, when at least some of 11 agency employees implicated in the incident brought prostitutes back to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, where they were setting up security for a visit by President Barack Obama.

So far, three people involved have lost their jobs. The service said Wednesday that one supervisor was allowed to retire, and another will be fired for cause. A third employee, who was not a supervisor, has resigned.

Eight other Secret Service employees remain on administrative leave and have had their top-secret clearance revoked. The scandal also involved about 10 military service members and as many as 20 women.

King said agency investigators in Colombia still have not been able to talk to the women who were brought back to the hotel. The investigators do, however, have the names, addresses and pictures of the women, said King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service.

At least 10 military personnel who were staying at the same hotel are also being investigated for misconduct. The troops are suspected of violating curfews set by their commanders.

Sullivan, who this week has briefed lawmakers behind closed doors, said he has referred to the case to an independent government investigator.

— Alicia A. Caldwell/The Associated Press

Pentagon: Diplomacy comes first, but U.S. will be ready if needed for Syria

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is working on additional ways to try to halt the unending violence in Syria, but diplomacy remains the foremost option, Pentagon leaders told Congress on Thursday.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the steps the United States is taking to pressure the regime of President Bashar Assad, including sanctions, direct non-lethal support to the opposition such as communications equipment and emergency humanitarian assistance of $25 million. But the two made clear that unilateral military action is far from a solution.

In a bipartisan response, both Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif, the committee's chairman and the top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, Washington, cautioned against the Obama administration opting for military force to stop 13 months of bloodshed and violence that has devastated cities such as Homs, left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Panetta insisted that Assad's days are numbered despite his formidable hold on power. The former CIA director said U.S. intelligence has concluded that the regime faces a broad-based insurgency that is striking back.

Assad "will be taken down," Panetta said.

— Donna Cassata/The Associated Pres

Afghan president condemns U.S. troop photos with suicide bombers

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned photographs of U.S. soldiers posing with the bloodied remains of three suicide bombers as "disgusting" and said Thursday that only a quicker exit of international forces can prevent such missteps.

Karzai joined top American officials in denouncing that 2-year-old photos.

"It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others," Karzai said. "The only way to put an end to such painful experiences is through an accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces."

He also warned that "similar incidents of an odious nature" in the past sparked angry reactions from Afghans, including violent protests that left dozens dead, although there was no immediate sign of a popular backlash.

The photos were published in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times. One shows members of the 82nd Airborne Division posing in 2010 with Afghan police holding the severed legs of a suicide bomber. The same platoon a few months later was sent to investigate the remains of three insurgents reported to have accidentally blown themselves up — and soldiers again posed and mugged for a photo with the remains, the newspaper said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized and expressed concern the gruesome photos could incite fresh violence against Americans. The White House also called them "reprehensible."

— Amir Shah/The Associated Press

Murdochs to appear at UK ethics inquiry; three more journalists arrested

LONDON — Britain's media ethics inquiry said Thursday it will hear testimony from News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son James next week, as officers arrested three people in the investigation of corrupt ties between the British police and the press.

The Murdochs have been at the hub of the long-running phone hacking scandal, which has badly tarnished the reputation of the British press.

The Leveson Inquiry said Thursday that Rupert Murdoch will appear on Wednesday and possibly Thursday. His son, James — who resigned as executive chairman of News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper subsidiary in February — will appear on Tuesday, the inquiry said on its website.

Since the closing of the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid in July, Murdochs media empire — which also includes Sky News and the Sun newspaper — has been battered by further allegations of journalist misconduct.

The Murdochs have previously faced grilling before U.K. lawmakers into practices at their media holdings, and the younger Murdoch has twice had to backtrack on his testimony.

On Thursday, another journalist from The Sun tabloid was one of three people arrested as part of an investigation into corrupt links between the British police and the press, officials said. Police did not name the suspects but said a 36-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of corruption and conspiracy.

Britain's chief prosecutor said Wednesday that criminal charges are being considered against 11 people in four cases related to hacking investigations.

— Cassandra Vinograd/The Associated Press

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