Pentagon reverses itself, calls deadly Kabul strike an error
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon retreated from its defense of a drone strike that killed multiple civilians in Afghanistan last month, announcing Friday that a review revealed that only civilians were killed in the attack, not an Islamic State extremist as first believed.
“The strike was a tragic mistake," Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference.
McKenzie apologized for the error and said the United States is considering making reparation payments to the family of the victims. He said the decision to strike a white Toyota Corolla sedan, after having tracked it for about eight hours, was made in an “earnest belief" — based on a standard of “reasonable certainty" — that it posed an imminent threat to American forces at Kabul airport. The car was believed to have been carrying explosives in its trunk, he said.
For days after the Aug. 29 strike, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, despite 10 civilians being killed, including seven children. News organizations later raised doubts about that version of events, reporting that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization and citing an absence of evidence to support the Pentagon's assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.
The airstrike was the last of a U.S. war that ended as it had begun in 2001 — with the Taliban in power in Kabul. The speed with which the Taliban overran the country took the U.S. government by surprise and forced it to send several thousand troops to the Kabul airport for a hurried evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others. The evacuation, which began Aug. 14, unfolded under a near-constant threat of attack by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate.
US panel backs COVID-19 boosters only for seniors, high-risk
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dealing the White House a stinging setback, a government advisory panel overwhelmingly rejected a plan Friday to give Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots across the board, and instead endorsed the extra vaccine dose only for those who are 65 or older or run a high risk of severe disease.
The twin votes represented a heavy blow to the Biden administration's sweeping effort, announced a month ago, to shore up nearly all Americans' protection amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
The nonbinding recommendation — from an influential committee of outside experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration — is not the last word. The FDA will consider the group’s advice and make its own decision, probably within days. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to weigh in next week.
In a surprising turn, the advisory panel rejected, 16-2, boosters for almost everyone. Members cited a lack of safety data on extra doses and also raised doubts about the value of mass boosters, rather than ones targeted to specific groups.
Then, in an 18-0 vote, it endorsed extra shots for people 65 and older and those at risk of serious disease. Panel members also agreed that health workers and others who run a high risk of being exposed to the virus on the job should get boosters, too.
France recalls ambassadors to US, Australia over sub deal
PARIS (AP) — America’s oldest ally, France, recalled its ambassador to the United States on Friday in an unprecedented show of anger that dwarfed decades of previous rifts.
The relationship conceived in 18th century revolutions appeared at a tipping point after the U.S., Australia and Britain shunned France in creating a new Indo-Pacific security arrangement.
It was the first time ever France has recalled its ambassador to the U.S., according to the French foreign ministry. Paris also recalled its envoy to Australia.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
He said Australia's decision to scrap a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
NY millionaire Robert Durst guilty of best friend’s murder
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — A Los Angeles jury convicted Robert Durst on Friday of murdering his best friend 20 years ago, a case that took on new life after the New York real estate heir participated in a documentary that connected him to the slaying that was linked to his wife’s 1982 disappearance.
Durst, 78, was not in court for the verdict from the jury that deliberated about seven hours over three days. He was in isolation at a jail because he was exposed to someone with coronavirus.
Durst, who faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole when sentenced Oct. 18, was convicted of the first-degree murder of Susan Berman. She was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000 as she was prepared to tell police how she helped cover up his wife’s killing.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was Durst’s longtime confidante who told friends she provided a phony alibi for him after his wife vanished.
Prosecutors painted a portrait of a rich narcissist who didn’t think the laws applied to him and ruthlessly disposed of people who stood in his way. They interlaced evidence of Berman’s killing with Kathie Durst’s suspected death and the 2001 killing of a tenant in a Texas flophouse where Robert Durst holed up while on the run from New York authorities.
Official: US to expel Haitians from border, fly to Haiti
DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — The Biden administration plans the widescale expulsion of Haitian migrants from a small Texas border city by putting them on on flights to Haiti starting Sunday, an official said Friday, representing a swift and dramatic response to thousands who suddenly crossed the border from Mexico and gathered under and around a bridge.
Details are yet to be finalized but will likely involve five to eight flights a day, according to the official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. San Antonio, the nearest major city, may be among the departure cities.
Another administration official speaking on condition of anonymity expected two flights a day at most and said all migrants would be tested for COVID-19.
U.S. authorities closed traffic to vehicles and pedestrians in both directions at the only border crossing in Del Rio, Texas, after chaos unfolded Friday and presented the administration with a new and immediate challenge as it tries to manage large numbers of asylum-seekers who have been reaching U.S. soil.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was closing the border crossing with Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, “to respond to urgent safety and security needs.” Travelers were being directed to Eagle Pass, Texas, 57 miles (91 kilometers) away.
Families recount trauma at sentencing for school shooter
DENVER (AP) — A judge on Friday sentenced a former student to life in prison without parole for a 2019 shooting inside a suburban Denver high school that killed one teenager and injured eight others, telling the defendant he had shown no remorse and had failed to help a devastated community understand his actions.
Devon Erickson, now 20, was convicted in June of 46 charges, including first-degree murder in the death of Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old senior hailed as a hero for trying to stop the attack on a classroom at STEM School Highlands Ranch, south of Denver.
Prosecutors said Erickson partnered with fellow student Alec McKinney in the May 7, 2019, shooting. McKinney told investigators that he planned the attack for weeks and intended to target classmates who repeatedly mocked him because he was transgender, according to court documents. Since Erickson was 18 at the time of the attack, he faced a mandatory life sentence.
After a lengthy and emotional hearing in which survivors shared their pain, trauma and disruptions to their lives, Judge Theresa Michelle Slade added hundreds of years of prison time to Erickson's life sentence for multiple charges of attempted murder and other counts.
Wearing handcuffs, a red-and-white-striped prison suit and a blue mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, Erickson displayed virtually no emotion except for blowing his nose into his mask after sentencing. But just after his parents, sister and grandfather told him they loved him in their testimony, his voice broke when the judge asked if he wanted to speak. He declined.
California wildfires burn into groves of giant sequoia trees
THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — California wildfires have burned into at least four groves of gigantic ancient sequoias in national parks and forests, though cooler weather on Friday helped crews trying to keep the flames away from a famous cluster containing the world’s largest tree.
The fires lapped into the groves with trees that can be up to 200 feet (61 meters) tall and 2,000 years old, including Oriole Lake Grove in Sequoia National Park and Peyrone North and South groves in the neighboring Sequoia National Forest.
The fire also had reached the forest's Long Meadow Grove, where then-President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation two decades ago establishing a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote, hard-to-reach areas.
“These groves are just as impressive and just as ecologically important to the forest. They just aren’t as well-known,” Tim Borden, sequoia restoration and stewardship manager for the Save the Redwoods League, told the Bay Area News Group. “My heart sinks when I think about it.”
Flames were still about a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the famed Giant Forest, where some 2,000 massive sequoias grow on a plateau high in the mountains of the national park.
Use of OxyContin profits to fight opioids formally approved
A judge formally approved a plan Friday to turn OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma into a new company no longer owned by members of the Sackler family and with its profits going to fight the opioid epidemic.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain officially confirmed the reorganization Friday, more than two weeks after he announced he would do so pending two largely technical changes to the plan presented by the company and hashed out with lawyers representing those with claims against the company.
His confirmation took more than six hours to read in court earlier this month, and the written version is 159 pages long, full of reasoning that appeals courts can consider later. Several states among other parties have already appealed the decision.
The deal resolves some 3,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and others who claimed the company's marketing of prescription opioids helped spark and continue an overdose epidemic linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. in the last two decades.
The plan will use company profits and $4.5 billion in cash and charitable assets from members of the Sackler family to pay some individual victims amounts expected to range from $3,500 to $48,000, and help fund opioid treatment and prevention programs across the U.S.
EXPLAINER: What are 'Crisis Standards of Care?'
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — As the spread of the delta variant continues unabated in much of the U.S., public health leaders have approved health care rationing in Idaho and parts of Alaska and Montana.
At least five more states — Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas — are nearing capacity with more than 90% of their intensive care unit beds full, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The move to ration healthcare comes amid a spike in the number of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization. Crisis standards of care allow health care providers to give scarce resources, like ventilators, to the patients most likely to survive.
But determining who gets what is no easy feat.
WHAT ARE ‘CRISIS STANDARDS OF CARE?’
Pelé in 'semi-intensive' care, daughter says he's doing well
SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian soccer great Pelé “took a little step back” in his recovery from surgery to remove a tumor from his colon but he is “recovering well” at a Sao Paulo hospital, his daughter Kely Nascimento said Friday.
However, the Albert Einstein hospital said the 80-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento had returned to intensive care after “a brief breathing instability” Thursday night. Pelé was currently stable in “semi-intensive” care, the hospital said, and he “continues recovering.” It did not give further details.
Kely Nascimento posted a picture Friday with her father on Instagram which she said she had just taken in his room at the Albert Einstein hospital.
“He is recovering well and within normal range. Promise!” Kely Nascimento said. “The normal recovery scenario for a man of his age after an operation like this is sometimes two steps forward and one step back. Yesterday he was tired and took a little step back.”
“Today he took two forwards!" she added, without giving more details.