USA

In a surprise deal with prosecutors that spared him from life in prison, John Walker Lindh, the American who fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to two of 10 charges against him. The deal was announced on the first day of what was supposed to be a week of hearings on whether some of Lindh's statements to investigators should be thrown out of trial. Lindh pleaded guilty to charges of aiding the Taliban and carrying explosives. Under the terms of the deal, he would serve two 10-year prison sentences and cooperate fully with US authorities in the investigation of Al Qaeda.

US Rep. James Traficant told a House ethics panel considering whether he should be expelled from Congress that he is innocent fraud, bribery, and tax evasion despite his conviction by a jury in April. The Ohio Democrat, known for his loud clothes and animated speeches, is defending himself before the eight-member panel against charges he abused his office through violations paralleling the criminal charges. Yesterday, he asked the panel to hear evidence not allowed in federal court. Traficant's sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

Vice President Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, is being vigorously investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Chairman Harvey Pitt said. Pitt added that it is up to President Bush to decide whether to release documents related to the decade-old SEC investigation of his sale of stock in his former oil company, Harken Energy. Democrats are calling on Bush to do so, but spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated that the White House does not intend to ask the SEC to release the documents.

Officials at WorldCom Inc. shifted accounts around as early as 2000, well before the $3.8 billion in accounting irregularities that led the government to file civil charges against the company, documents turned over to a House investigative panel show. Last week, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) of Louisiana, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said new information indicated WorldCom founder and former chief executive Bernard Ebbers was aware of the improper bookkeeping disclosed last month. Ebbers's attorney has said his client had no knowledge of the transactions.

Breaking ranks with other American firms, Coca-Cola Co. will begin treating stock-option grants as employee compensation, a key accounting change that advocates say offers a fairer assessment of a company's performance. Coming amid a clamor for greater transparency in accounting, the gesture could prompt other companies to follow suit. The Atlanta-based soft-drink giant said that beginning in the fourth quarter, stock options will be expensed over the period in which they mature.

Workers and victims' families gathered yesterday at a Staten Island landfill to mark the end of a 10-month search for human remains from the collapsed World Trade Center. "We will not forget the 2,800 people who died," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also praised the recovery workers for helping "to give us some closure." The landfill became the final stop for debris from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

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