Nation Digest


March 23, 2006

Army dog handler gets 6-month prison sentence

FORT MEADE -- An Army dog handler was sentenced yesterday to six months behind bars for using his snarling canine to torment prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The military jury handed down the sentence a day after convicting Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 24, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He could have gotten 8 1/2 years in prison.

Smith was sentenced on five charges, including maltreatment of prisoners, conspiring with another dog handler in a contest to try to frighten detainees at the Iraqi prison into soiling themselves, and directing his dog to lick peanut butter off other soldiers' bodies.

Smith was also demoted to private and will receive a bad-conduct discharge after getting out of prison. He will forfeit $2,250 in pay.

Prosecutors said he let his unmuzzled black Belgian shepherd bark and lunge at cowering Iraqis for his own amusement. The defense argued that Smith believed he was following orders to soften up prisoners for interrogation.

Smith appeared unrepentant when he addressed the jury Tuesday but said he wished he had gotten his orders in writing.

Nine other soldiers have been convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Associated Press

Vigil to preserve New Orleans church

NEW ORLEANS -- A nonviolent sit-in at historic St. Augustine Church entered its third day yesterday, with relief workers from across the country occupying the church rectory and demanding that the Archdiocese of New Orleans reopen the parish and reinstate the church's longtime priest. Parishioners continued their 24-hour vigil outside the church, with food and music. The archdiocese announced last month, as part of its post-Katrina restructuring, that it would merge the parish with another, though the building would remain open for Sunday Mass. Archdiocese leaders cited declining parish membership and its decades-long subsidy of St. Augustine, which they said is no longer possible.

Anthrax patient dances for recovery

SAYRE, Pa. --A dancer and drum maker who became infected with anthrax danced for reporters yesterday in a hospital auditorium, showing off his remarkable recovery from a rare and usually fatal form of the disease. Vado Diomande, a 44-year-old New York City resident, collapsed more than a month ago during a dance performance in Pennsylvania. Health officials believe he inhaled anthrax spores from the African animal hides he uses to make drums. Diomande lost 45 to 50 pounds, was put on a ventilator and had operations to drain fluid around his lungs. He is expected to be released from the hospital soon, but still has abnormal lung function and must take antibiotics for several more weeks.

Handrail problem halts space walks

SPACE CENTER, Houston --Officials have halted U.S. space walks until they can test handrails that line the U.S. part of the International Space Station and are used to anchor the space walkers. Space station managers said yesterday that they discovered some odd bubbling on the interior of some handrails that are still on the ground. It isn't known whether any such handrails were on the station, but that's a chance officials weren't willing to take, said Kirk Shireman, deputy station program manager.

Wounded Iraq vet runs for Congress

CHICAGO --Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs in a grenade attack in Iraq, narrowly won the Democratic nomination for Congress in a primary race yesterday for the House seat held by Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde, who is retiring after 32 years. She is the best-known of the Iraq war veterans who want to go to Capitol Hill this year. About 10 veterans of the current fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are candidates for Congress, all but one of them Democrats. The Fighting Democrats, as they are being called, contend their battlefield experience will allow them to criticize the war without being written off as naive and weak on defense.

Jury hits difficulties in Ill. governor trial

CHICAGO --Jurors in the racketeering and fraud trial of former Gov. George Ryan were having trouble reaching a verdict because of "personal difficulties," the judge said yesterday. The development threatens a five-month trial stemming from a years-long investigation. U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer told attorneys and reporters that she had received two notes in the past several days on problems among jurors, who were in their seventh day of deliberations yesterday. Ryan, 72, and his co-defendant, businessman Larry Warner, 67, are charged in a 22-count federal indictment with racketeering, mail fraud and other offenses.

Bouncer charged in student's death

NEW YORK --A bouncer with a criminal record has been charged with murder in the death of a graduate student who was raped, strangled and dumped last month in a desolate section of Brooklyn, a law enforcement official said yesterday. An announcement of a murder indictment against Darryl Littlejohn, 41, is expected today, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the indictment was still sealed.

From wire reports

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