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Pearl trial halted as attorneys protest

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002

The trial of Muslim militants charged in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl was halted for the day Thursday while defense attorneys protested an upcoming referendum to extend the Pakistani president's stay in office.

The strike led to the arrest of 50 lawyers who joined a rally to declare the April 30 vote to keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power for another five years unconstitutional, said Iftikhar Javed, president of the Karachi Bar Council.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999 and since the Sept. 11 attacks has become an important ally for the United States. The referendum would secure his position ahead of October elections for a new parliament, which is supposed to select a president and prime minister.

Meanwhile, chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said he petitioned the provincial high court to appoint a different judge to the Pearl trial on grounds that the current judge was unable to keep the defendants under control.

British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and the three other defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. They face the death penalty.

Ex-CIA director: drug 'em

Former CIA Director William Webster said Thursday he would support using drugs to get information on possible national security threats from al-Qaida and Taliban suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but would not endorse the use of torture.

Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International, said using truth drugs could violate international treaties and the Convention Against Torture that the United States has signed. Hodgett said there's also no assurance that truth drugs would provide useful information.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark said he found using truth serum on the detainees "highly objectionable," and warned that using drugs would result in foreign countries' acting similarly toward captured U.S. soldiers.

"We've spent the last 60 years building up international law according to what Harry Truman said, that right makes might, not might makes right," Clark said.

In other news ...

ANTITERROR REPORT: In its first report to Congress required by the sweeping antiterrorism law passed six months ago, the Justice Department said this week it has not invoked its new powers to certify or detain noncitizens as terrorists.

The report, one of the few required by the 326-page USA Patriot Act, prompted a sharp response Thursday from congressional critics and civil liberties advocates who have protested Attorney General John Ashcroft's domestic war on terrorism.

CLAIMS BEAR TRUTH, MAYBE: American officials said on Thursday that they had verified the accuracy of some of the information provided by a captured senior leader of al-Qaida, and expressed cautious optimism that he would eventually divulge more detailed information about the terrorist network and the whereabouts of its surviving leaders.

The suspect, Abu Zubaydah, is the most senior figure captured since Sept. 11.

Officials say they fear that some of Zubaydah's claims are disinformation, possibly an attempt to create panic among the American public or to divert American officials away from investigations that might foil future attacks.

PLANNING FOR ALL-FED: The Transportation Security Administration selected three companies Thursday to develop plans for the federal takeover of airline passenger screening.

Fluor Enterprises Inc., Hensel Phelps Construction Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. will receive a total of $8.9-million for the plan. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a former Lockheed Martin vice president, did not take part in the decision.

Each company will design plans for replacing the private employees at checkpoints with an all-federal work force at the nation's 429 commercial airports.

MILITANTS IN IRAQ: Islamic militants, including fighters who have trained in Osama bin Laden's camps, have carved out a small safe haven in northern Iraq, where they are apparently arming and have carried out attacks, Kurdish officials said Thursday.

MOUSSAOUI TURNS BARRISTER: Zacarias Moussaoui, the man indicted as a Sept. 11 accomplice, tried to speak with prosecutors about the death penalty and classified information but they refused, the government said Thursday.

Prosecutors said they were informed of the request Tuesday by a jail official, an indication that Moussaoui -- who wants to represent himself in the case -- is trying to do so.

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