USA

Attorney General Ashcroft scheduled an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee early next month to justify the Justice Department's counter-terrorism campaign. Some lawmakers have said that recent initiatives by the department to fight terrorism go too far in usurping civil liberties. President Bush's recent order allowing secret military tribunals to try noncitizens has drawn fire from both Democrats and some Republicans as has eavesdropping on conversations between defense lawyers and terrorist suspects.

The oil and gas industry went on especially high alert after a warning by the FBI that Osama bin Laden may have ordered retaliatory strikes against their North American facilities in event of his capture or death, industry sources said. The warning, issued last week, singled out no specific target but did refer to natural gas infrastructure such as pipelines. Thousands of miles of pipeline, most of it buried, cross the US and Canada.

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge by the steelworkers' union to the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The union claimed the pact should be declared unconstitutionally void because it was not approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. The government argued that NAFTA's enactment did not require Senate ratification. A federal judge in Alabama, where the lawsuit was filed, concluded the president had the authority to negotiate and conclude NAFTA.

The state of Utah lost a Supreme Court appeal in its fight to wrest a congressional seat from North Carolina, which was determined by the 2000 Census to have 856 more residents. The justices, without comment, rejected Utah's request to decide whether it's constitutional to include some Americans living abroad in the national head count, while excluding others. Utah claimed it was cheated out of a congressional seat because the Census did not count 11,000 residents serving as Mormon missionaries overseas.

Some political and religious leaders decried the cloning of the first human embryo, on grounds that it would lead ultimately to the cloning of human beings. The White House urged lawmakers to ban the practice as it applies to humans, calling on the Senate to act on legislation passed by the House earlier this year that would effectively ban the sort of procedure used by Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass.. Adding its voice to the furor, the Vatican condemned the development, saying the researchers had tampered with a human life and not just simple cells. (Story, page 1; editorial, page 10.)

Two American aid workers held captive for three months by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for allegedly preaching Christianity, were welcomed to the White House by President Bush. Heather Mercer (above, c., greeting her parents on arriving at Washington's Dulles airport) and Dayna Curry were freed from a makeshift jail earlier this month and airlifted to safety by US military personnel.

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