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Warrantless wiretapping legal, Mukasey writes

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s choice for attorney general told senators Friday the Constitution does not prevent the president from wiretapping suspected terrorists without a court order.

Michael Mukasey said the president cannot use his executive power to get around the Constitution and laws prohibiting torture. But wiretapping suspected terrorists without warrants is not precluded, he said.

“Foreign intelligence gathering is a field in which the executive branch is regulated but not pre-empted by Congress,” Mukasey wrote in response to questions by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Mukasey’s letter was made public by Leahy on Friday as part of a larger package of documents in which Judiciary Committee members asked the retired U.S. district court judge from New York to elaborate on two days of oral testimony last week.

Iraq war contracts under review

A team of specially trained investigators will hunker down in an Army office north of Detroit on Monday to begin poring over hundreds of Iraq war contracts in search for rigged awards. The team of 10 auditors, criminal investigators and acquisition experts is starting with a sampling of the roughly 6,000 contracts worth $2.8 billion issued by an Army office in Kuwait that service officials have identified as a hub of corruption.

Michigan: New isotopes created

Attempting to understand how heavy elements are formed inside stars and supernovas, Michigan scientists have created three unusually heavy isotopes of magnesium and aluminum, including one that has been sought for a decade and a second that current theory says should be impossible to produce, according to a report in the journal Nature. The isotopes existed for only fractions of a second in the aftermath of atomic collisions in the target area of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University, but studying them will help physicists better understand the “strong force” that holds the nucleus of atoms together.

Minnesota: New tack in Craig case

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig will argue before an appeals court that Minnesota’s disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional as it applies to his conviction in a bathroom sex sting, according to a new court filing. This is the first time Craig’s attorneys have raised that issue. However, an earlier friend-of-the-court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that Craig’s foot-tapping and hand gesture under a stall divider at the Minneapolis airport are protected by the First Amendment.

Missouri: Jury gives death penalty

A federal jury in Kansas City decided Friday that a woman convicted of killing an expectant mother and cutting the baby from her womb should receive the death penalty. Judge Gary Fenner will sentence Lisa Montgomery, but he had told jurors he was obligated to abide by their recommendation. Montgomery, 39, was convicted Monday of kidnapping and killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett on Dec. 16, 2004, in the victim’s home in Skidmore, Mo. She was arrested the next day in Melvern, Kan., where she was showing off the newborn as her own.

Florida: Mother acquitted

A woman who had her 13-year-old daughter’s genitalia pierced to make it uncomfortable for her to have sex was acquitted of aggravated child abuse on Thursday. The girl, now 16, had testified that her mother asked a friend in 2004 to shave the girl’s head to make her unattractive to boys and later held her down for the piercing. A jury deliberated for about three hours before deciding the mother’s actions didn’t involve punishment or malicious intent, or cause permanent damage or disfigurement.

Iraq: Cease-fire at risk

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr could end a ban on his militia’s activities because of rising anger over U.S. and Iraqi raids against his followers, an aide said Friday amid concerns about rising violence and clashes between rival factions in the mainly Shiite south. Also Friday, the U.S. military reported that an American soldier was killed and four were wounded in southern Baghdad on Thursday when their unit was hit with an explosive projectile device.

Austria: Farmer beatified

A devout and defiant Austrian farmer beheaded by the Nazis in 1943 for deserting Hitler’s army was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on Friday in the last major step before possible sainthood. Franz Jaegerstaetter, an avowed conscientious objector, was executed outside Berlin on Aug. 9, 1943, for treason after his request to be excused from regular army service for religious reasons was denied. The married father of four was posthumously exonerated in 1997 by a Berlin court.

Japan: Plan to fingerprint visitors

Japan hopes to thwart potential terrorists from entering the country by fingerprinting and photographing all foreigners age 16 or older on entry starting next month, an official said Friday. The system goes into effect Nov. 20, Immigration Bureau official Takumi Sato said. Immigration officials will run the images and data through a database of international terror and crime suspects and domestic crime records. People matching the data on file will be denied entry and deported.

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