USA

The Marine Corps announced Tuesday it had dropped all charges against a sergeant in relation to the 2005 deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha, Iraq. In exchange, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz will testify against seven other marines still facing charges – three of them for unpremeditated murder and four for failing to adequately report the deaths – and it's unclear whether his testimony will support their claims of innocence. Sgt. Dela Cruz had faced charges of unpremeditated murder in the death of five Iraqi civilians. The Haditha incident is the deadliest criminal case so far in the Iraq war.

Pentagon officials announced new measures for outpatient treatment of wounded soldiers and veterans in a hearing on Tuesday before a subcommittee at the House of Representatives. Promised changes include: more health screenings, an improved record-keeping system, and a simpler system for disabilities claims. Testifying at the hearing were Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense, and Major Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army's acting surgeon general.

The US government has temporarily barred lenders from accessing a federal database that contains sensitive financial information about college students. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings noted Tuesday that the department had noticed an increase in lenders, loan holders, and guarantee agencies retrieving information from the National Student Loan Data System – which is normally allowed to help them to make financial-aid decisions – and expressed concern that lenders were mining it for marketing information, in violation of federal rules.

A study published Wednesday says switching to ethanol-based autos could slightly increase air pollution and smog-related health problems in the US, particularly urban areas. The study, by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson, adds to an ongoing debate about the economic and environmental impacts of ethanol use. It appeared online in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The House of Representatives in Oregon passed a bill Tuesday to recognize same-sex couples as "domestic partnerships" and grant them the same rights as married couples. It also passed a bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The state senate and governor are expected to endorse the bills, which would make Oregon the seventh state to grant some form of spousal rights to same-sex couples.

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