‘Don’t ask’ suffers setback in ruling over fired nurse

A federal judge ruled Friday that a decorated flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay should be given her job back as soon as possible in the latest legal setback to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton came as a tense debate has been playing out over the policy. Senate Republicans blocked an effort to lift the ban this week, but two federal judges have ruled against the policy in recent weeks.

Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and sued to get her job back.

A judge in 2006 rejected Witt’s claims that the Air Force violated her rights when it fired her. An appeals court panel overruled him two years later, leaving it to Leighton to determine whether her firing met that standard.

Witt, of Spokane, joined the Air Force in 1987 and was suspended in 2004 just short of retirement after her commanders learned she was in a relationship with a civilian woman. She was a flight nurse with an aeromedical evacuation squadron responsible for transporting and caring for injured soldiers.

Her attorneys, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, insisted that Witt was well respected and liked by her colleagues, that her sexuality never caused problems in the unit, and that her firing actually hurt military goals such as morale, unit cohesion and troop readiness.

Lawyers for the Air Force said such evidence was irrelevant.


FBI terrorism searches target several anti-war activists

The FBI said it searched eight addresses in Minneapolis and Chicago as part of a terrorism investigation Friday. Warrants suggest agents sought connections between local anti-war activists and terrorist groups in Colombia and the Middle East.

FBI spokesman Steve Warfield told The Associated Press agents served six warrants in Minneapolis and two in Chicago.

“These were search warrants only,” Warfield said. “We’re not anticipating any arrests at this time. They’re seeking evidence relating to activities concerning the material support of terrorism.”

The homes of longtime Minneapolis anti-war activists Mick Kelly, Jess Sundin and Meredith Aby were among those searched, they said. All three were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago: Aby on Oct. 5, Sundin on Oct. 12 and Kelly on Oct. 19.

“The FBI is harassing anti-war organizers and leaders, folks who opposed U.S. intervention in the Middle East and Latin America,” Kelly said before agents confiscated his cell phone.

Sundin said she believes the searches are connected with the Minnesota Anti-War Committee’s opposition to U.S. military aid to Colombia and Israel, as well as its opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s kind of outrageous that citizens of the United States could be targeted like this,” Sundin said.

In Chicago, the home of activists Joe Iosbaker and his wife, Stephanie Weiner, was searched.

The couple has done nothing wrong, said their attorney, Melinda Power. Power said the FBI was “after people who are active in social justice.”

Warfield said he couldn’t comment on whose homes were searched or give details on why because it’s an ongoing investigation. “There’s no imminent threat to the community,” he said.


Fertilizer spill closes roads, forces residents to evacuate

A tanker truck spilled about 20,000 pounds of fertilizer near Interstate 35 in northwest Missouri on Friday, forcing police to shut down part of the highway and evacuate nearby homes and businesses.

Traffic was backed up in both directions for miles by midday near the busy intersection of I-35 and U.S. 36 in Cameron.

Police said the tanker carrying 40,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate pulled into a parking lot across the road from a truck stop around 9:45 a.m. and got stuck in mud. Cameron Police Sgt. Marty Gray said the tanker got hooked on something as the driver tried to move the truck, causing about 20,000 pounds of fertilizer to spill onto the ground.

In addition to its use as a fertilizer, the Environmental Protection Agency said ammonium nitrate also is used with additives as a blasting agent and can explode when combined with the right amount of heat.

Gray said the intersection was closed as a precaution, noting that ammonium nitrate is the same compound Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

“We’re looking at a truck that can carry 40,000 pounds, and 20,000-plus is on the ground,” Gray said. “Four thousand took out Oklahoma City.”


Robbers strap bomb to teller, escape with cash from bank

Bank robbers pulled off a dramatic heist Friday, strapping a bomb to a teller and ordering him to steal as much money as he could grab from the vault — all while his father was being held hostage.

It began when the three masked, gun-toting thieves burst into the teller’s apartment shortly after midnight.

The men held the teller and his father hostage in the suburban Kendall apartment for seven hours, waiting for morning when the teller usually helped open his Bank of America branch near the University of Miami campus, according to the FBI and local police. One suspect stayed with the father, while the other two and the teller left for the bank in the teller’s red 1998 Ford Mustang.

Strapped to the teller’s body was a device the robbers said was a bomb.

Once at the bank around 8 a.m., the thieves sent the teller inside.

“They said, ‘We have a triggering device. Get as much money as you can and bring it out to us,’” Coral Gables Police Chief Richard Naue told reporters. After the teller took an undisclosed amount of cash, the robbers took off in his car and a manager called police.

That triggered a huge response of heavily armed police and shut down traffic on a segment of U.S. 1, a major Miami thoroughfare, leading as well to lockdowns at several nearby schools. Authorities initially feared there may have been hostages inside the bank.

Shortly before noon, after police bomb robots had been sent inside, the possible bomb was removed and the shirtless teller was led out of the bank. Neither the teller nor his father was injured.

The robbers never entered the bank, apparently relying on the teller’s fear of a possible explosion and the potential danger to his father to ensure he would do their bidding inside.

“It is an unusual event to have explosives strapped to a victim,” said Dena Choucair, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office.

She said there were bomb-making materials in the device, though she would not reveal what they were.


Accused dairy farmer pleads guilty to beating cows

An Ohio dairy farm worker accused of beating cows while unwittingly being filmed has pleaded guilty to six counts of animal cruelty.

A court clerk says 25-five-year-old Billy Joe Gregg Jr. was sentenced Friday in Marysville on the misdemeanors to eight months in jail. That was cut to four months because of time already served.

Gregg must also have no contact with animals for three years.

He was fired in May by Conklin Dairy Farms Inc. after the group Mercy for Animals released video it said showed Gregg and others abusing cows with crowbars and pitchforks.

The group released a statement Friday calling Gregg’s sentence “a slap on the wrist” and “an outrage.”


Toxics cleanup after gas line blast expected to take weeks

Officials say it will take three-to-four weeks to finish removing contaminated soil and other potentially toxic debris from the rubble-strewn lots of homes destroyed by a gas pipeline explosion in Northern California.

San Mateo County officials say they’ve received permission from the property owners to clean the lots of 29 of the 37 homes destroyed by the fireball that erupted from the ruptured gas transmission line in San Bruno on Sept. 9.

Crews are removing three-to-four inches of soil from each lot, which will be tested for toxic substances like asbestos and dangerous metals.

Dean Peterson, director of San Mateo County’s environmental health services division, says he hopes the work will give the survivors and their families peace of mind that they can rebuild in a safe environment.


Bank robber nabbed after making Facebook confession

The FBI says it has made an arrest in an Oregon bank robbery after the suspect posted a claim of responsibility on Facebook.

Spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele says Ryan Homsley was arrested Friday. She says investigators filed a complaint Wednesday in federal court, charging Homsley with Tuesday’s robbery at a Key Bank branch in suburban Tualatin.

Steele says Homsley has been a hospital patient since Thursday and would be scheduled for a court appearance upon his release.

A posting on Homsley’s Facebook page said “im doing this to pay for my medical expenses. … live for today!” His brother has said Homsley has a serious drug problem and is a diabetic.

He was dubbed the “Where’s Waldo” bandit, based on his appearance in surveillance photos.