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Jan. 13, 2012 at 8:34 AM   |   Comments

Video fuels anti-U.S. sentiment

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A video showing U.S. Marines urinating on three dead Taliban fighters raised concerns in Washington that the images could upset fragile U.S.-Afghan relations.

The video, which went viral on the Internet this week, provoked widespread condemnation.

It could weaken U.S. efforts to maintain relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and negotiate with the Taliban, The New York Times reported Friday.

Senior U.S. military officials in Kabul and at the Pentagon confirmed the video was authentic. They identified the Marines as part of the Third Battalion, Second Marines. The unit completed a tour in Afghanistan before returning Camp Lejeune, N.C., last fall.

Pentagon officials said the video was made between March and September 2011 when the battalion was stationed in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold.

The Taliban and Karzai both said the images are evidence of U.S. brutality.

In Washington, U.S. officials condemned the video and tried to repair any damage caused to U.S.-Afghan relations. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Karzai to assure him a thorough investigation would be conducted.

Taliban leaders initially indicated Thursday the video wouldn't undercut talks, but later said in an official statement, "We strongly condemn the inhuman act of wild American soldiers, as ever, and consider this act in contradiction with all human and ethical norms."


Court-martial recommended for Pfc. Manning

FORT MEADE, Md., Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A U.S. military officer recommended that Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of leaking secret government documents to WikiLeaks, be bound over for court-martial.

Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, who presided over an evidentiary hearing at Fort Meade, Md., determined Thursday there were "reasonable grounds" to believe Manning committed the crimes he faces, including aiding the enemy, theft of public records and computer fraud, The New York Times reported.

Almanza's recommendation goes to a convening authority of military officers, who can either dismiss the charges or allow them to proceed to court-martial, The Washington Post said.

During the preliminary hearing last month, prosecutors offered evidence they said tied Manning to the security breach, including chat logs between him and Julian Assange, co-founder of the whistle-blowing Web site.

Manning could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

He is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, including State Department cables, field reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee assessments and a 2007 Army video of an Apache helicopter shooting at civilians.


Space station to dodge superfast debris

HOUSTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The International Space Station will need to dodge a small but superfast piece of orbiting communication debris Friday morning, the U.S. Space Command said.

The crew was to fire the Zvezda service module engines at 11:10 a.m. EST to avoid the 4-inch-diameter piece of a former communications satellite orbiting at very high speed in the space station's general direction, with "the potential of a collision," NASA said in a statement Thursday.

Without the maneuver, the object, once used for voice and data communication from hand-held satellite phones, would whiz by the station twice Friday, missing the 6-story high, 24-story long and 36-story wide station perhaps by less than a mile, NASA said.

Contact could puncture the space station.

The move will be 13th time since 1998 the low-Earth-orbit station has had to take evasive action to avoid debris, NASA said.

The maneuver will eliminate the need to boost the station's altitude next week for the launch and docking this month of a Russian unmanned Progress resupply cargo ship, NASA said.


Van der Sloot faces up to 30 years in Peru

LIMA, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A slain Peruvian woman's family vowed to be in court for the sentencing of her killer, Joran van der Sloot, a suspect in the case of missing U.S. teen Natalee Holloway.

Enrique Flores, brother of 21-year-old Stephany Flores -- strangled in a Lima hotel room five years to the day after Holloway of suburban Birmingham, Ala., disappeared during a high school graduation trip to Aruba -- said family members would be in court for van der Sloot's Friday sentencing.

The family members did not attend the court proceedings Wednesday, when van der Sloot, 24, of Arnhem, Netherlands, confessed to "qualified murder" and simple robbery in Flores' 2010 death.

"I am truly very sorry for what I have done. I feel very bad," he told the three presiding judges.

The qualified-murder plea, part of a legal petition under Peruvian law called an "anticipated conclusion of the process," lets van der Sloot qualify under sentencing guidelines for a reduced sentence of as much as 30 years. If he had denied the charges and gone through a legal process, he could have faced life imprisonment.

After van der Sloot entered his plea, his lawyer told the court his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his father's 2010 death and the treatment he received after Holloway's 2005 disappearance -- which he referred to as the "other occurrence that he did not commit," Fox News Channel reported.

Jefferson County, Ala., Probate Judge Alan King declared Holloway legally dead Thursday.

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