Gen. David Petraeus won unanimous Senate confirmation Thursday to succeed Leon Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The 58-year-old commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has said he will retire from the military before assuming his new post later this year.
Petraeus received strong support at his confirmation hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told the panel he would lead the nation's largest intelligence agency fully independent of his ties to the military.
Asked about enhanced interrogation techniques widely considered to be torture, Petraeus reiterated his past opposition to them, saying methods permitted in the military interrogation manual he helped oversee have proven effective.
However, Petraeus said enhanced techniques could be considered in a so-called "ticking bomb" scenario - such as questioning someone who planted a nuclear device in New York set to go off in 30 minutes.
"I do think there is a need at the very least to address the possibility," Petraeus said of such a scenario. He called for discussing and working out a process ahead of time that would enable authorization from top leadership in order to prevent lower-level officials from being forced to consider the matter while "reacting under extreme pressure."
Casey Anthony's defense rested its case Thursday without calling her to the stand in the capital murder trial.
Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. questioned her to make sure the decision not to testify was hers, to which she responded, "Yes sir."
Anthony's defense team is trying to discredit the prosecution theory that the Orlando woman rendered her daughter Caylee unconscious with chloroform, duct-taped her mouth and nose, and stored the child's body in her car trunk for a few days before dumping it in the woods.
Caylee was last seen June 16, 2008, although she was not reported missing until 31 days later, on July 15. The little girl's skeletal remains were found in December of the same year near the Anthony home, with duct tape still attached to the mouth portion.
In a bizarre moment caught on tape by a local TV camera and posted on Youtube, an apparent trial spectator, identified as Matthew Bartlett, was found to be in contempt of court after seemingly flipping the bird at prosecutor Jeff Ashton, in violation of a sign posted saying gestures would not be allowed.
"I'm truly sorry for doing this," Bartlett said. "This is something stupid. I'm not sure why I even did it. I just apologize."
He was sentenced to six days in jail and fined $400 plus $223 in court costs, giving him six months to pay the fine. Bartlett was handcuffed and taken to jail by Orange County deputies.
In a speech broadcast on state-run VTV Thursday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said doctors in Cuba detected and removed a cancerous tumor from his body.
It was Chavez's first speech on the network since doctors in Cuba performed emergency surgery on the Venezuelan leader nearly three weeks ago.
Chavez remains in Cuba and officials have not specified when he will return to Venezuela.
The Venezuelan president's typically frequent live television appearances have been absent from the country's airwaves since June 10, when officials said doctors performed surgery to treat a pelvic abscess.FULL STORY
While students in many parts of the world attend school for up to six days a week, students in Marion County, Florida, will receive three-day weekends - every week - starting in the fall of 2012, making it the first county in Florida to make the change.
The Marion County School Board in Florida voted this week in a 4-1 decision to approve a four-day school week for the county‚Äôs schools, according to Kevin Christian, the school district‚Äôs public relations officer.
The action comes after a massive $24 million cut to next year‚Äôs operating budget. Making the switch will save the district around $4.5 million, Marion County School Superintendent Jim Yancey said, according to Orlando television station 13 News.
Students will attend school either Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday, with an additional 75 minutes tacked on each day in the 2012-2013 school year, 13 News says. One day less a week will save on water and energy, along with transportation costs.
A downside, of course, is long, draining class days, with three-day weekends possibly providing too much time between lessons, causing regression in learning.
The Education Commission of the States says the most a school will save is 2.5% of overall budget savings by transitioning to four days a week.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states already have school districts with public schools offering four-day school weeks.
While Board members originally considered implementing the shorter week for the 2011-2012 school year, the district was able to save in other places instead, but expects another $8 million in budget cuts for the 2012-2013 budget.
Comment of the Day:
"Yep, when I want informed opinions on ending the marijuana prohibition, I turn to a right-wing, old white man from the party that started the prohibition and has a reputation for being unable to admit it was ever wrong about anything. Because, after all, they have their finger on the pulse of the nation. Cough."–Latch2010
Don't legalize marijuana, writes William J. Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education. Among other problems, he says, the present drug is far more potent than in the past and legalizing it will encourage more children to use it. If CNN.com readers were polled, however, legalization would pass easily.
jmunjr said the repeal of Prohibition created jobs and increased the tax base while reducing homicides, corruption and organized crime. "Please explain exactly how decriminalizing marijuana wouldn't result in exactly the same beneficial situations occurring?"
flatfoot14 said, "I recall how extremely difficult it was for me to get alcohol¬†- the only legal drug - while I was in high school, whereas marijuana was always just a phone call away. It would still be illegal for kids to do drugs."
JLM73 said, "I did a lot of drugs when I was in college, but the most dangerous and potentially damaging drug I've ever taken is alcohol."
The NBA said Thursday it will recommend a lockout after the professional basketball league and players failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement is set to expire at midnight tonight.
"What we told the union at the conclusion of today‚Äôs session was that we would recommend to our labor relations committee in a call later today that we lockout at the conclusion of this deal, which is at midnight tonight,‚ÄĚ league Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday at a press conference.
"Needless to say, we‚Äôre disappointed that this is where we find ourselves," Silver said.
In the collective bargaining agreement that is set to expire, players received 57% of basketball-related income.¬†The NBA owners want to restructure the revenue-sharing agreement, which includes player salaries.
Union Executive Director¬†Billy Hunter¬†¬†has offered 54.3% ¬†on the basis of projected growth over 10 years. But the league is losing money and the owners have basically offered a deal based on projected losses, Commissioner David Stern said.
During his tenure he has seen the average player salary go from $250,000 to $5 million, Stern said, ‚Äúand I never felt that I had to apologize for the players‚ÄĚ because the money was being generated by the system but now ¬†"it‚Äôs time for there to be a return on the investment that‚Äôs being made."
Stern solemnly told of the side effects a league shutdown would cause to workers in NBA cities.
"It is with some sadness that we‚Äôre going to recommend this to the committee because a lockout has a very large impact on lot of people, many of whom are not associated with either side and there are a whole raft of people who make their living on our industry.‚ÄĚ
Stern said there will be some changes to the way NBA teams will be expected to operate with a lockout in place.
"A lockout has its impact," he said. "Our arenas will be closed to the players. Our practice facilities will be closed. There will be an entire set of rules out there. And to the extent that there are payments due and owing for the coming season, those will not be made. Payments that are due and owing for the past season will be made. That‚Äôs where we go."
The last time the league had a lockout was in 1998, which wiped out the first two months of the season.
A league also had a lockout in 1995 before the season started.
On Thursday, Stern said he expected the sides to try to set up a meeting some time next week, but he wasn't optimistic.
"There will be collateral damage as we go through the summer,‚ÄĚ he said.FULL STORY
The stars at night are still big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas, but you might have to search a bit to spot skyrockets among them this Fourth of July weekend.
Many cities and towns have canceled their Independence Day fireworks shows as the state endures a devastating drought. Authorities have prohibited open burning in 236 (or 93%) of the state's 254 counties.
"There's always risk involved, even though it may be minimal risk," said Alan B. Benson, fire chief in The Woodlands Township, located in the Piney Woods about 30 miles north of Houston. "But in this case, we really can't afford a mishap and take a chance on our forest. We're kind of a green community, so we really value that resource."
He decided Monday to cancel the suburb's show for the first time since 1975.
"The level of risk this year is simply not acceptable," Benson said. "We had about three days with approximately 30% chance of rain. Well, it didn't rain, and it's not going to. We believe it was a good decision."
Austin also canceled its display for the first time in 35 years. San Marcos decided to cancel its display Monday, leaving Kyle as the only central Texas city going ahead with fireworks, CNN affiliate KVUE reported.
Many communities have gone even further and banned private fireworks as part of their burn bans. In The Woodlands, violating the ban could mean a $1,000 fine or up to 180 days in jail.
Fireworks seller Chester Davis told the American-Statesman newspaper in Austin that he stands to lose 30% of his business.
He said flashes and explosions are an essential part of celebrating our independence.
"It's what I believe America is all about," he told the Statesman. "It's apple pie, it's Chevrolet, and it's Fourth of July fireworks."
In the past seven days, the Texas Forest Service reports it has responded to 49 fires covering 19,216 acres.
Since fire season started on November 15, the Texas Forest Service and area fire departments have responded to 12,985 fires that have burned 3,268,011 acres, the agency reported.
Benson is holding out hope that significant rain will arrive in The Woodlands soon.
"We are contemplating having a blowout at the end of summer," he said. "Do it on Labor Day."
The oohs and aahs of the Independence Day holiday will be more subdued this year in Texas, where months of severe drought have led to restrictions on fireworks across much of the state.
Not only are dozens of counties imposing restrictions on small-bore pyrotechnics like firecrackers and bottle rockets, but cities like San Antonio, Austin, Amarillo and Lubbock have canceled municipal Fourth of July displays because of the tinderbox conditions.
"Temperatures are in the triple digits, and we're not seeing any relief," Chris Angerer, the deputy chief of operations for the Lubbock fire department, said Thursday. Wildfires have already reached into the city limits and destroyed three homes, and months without significant rain have left grasslands brown and dry, looking "like the dead of winter."
Canceling the fireworks shows is "causing a little bit of a stir," said fire engineer Deborah Foster, a San Antonio fire spokeswoman. "But it's for the protection of the people of San Antonio. One errant spark and we could have a major grass fire."
Wildfires have scorched nearly 3.3 million acres of Texas since November, setting ablaze an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Authorities have banned outdoor fires in 235 of the state's 254 counties, a figure the Texas Forest Service called record-setting.FULL STORY
An attorney for James "Whitey" Bulger has petitioned a U.S. District judge to combine two pending racketeering charges against the reputed mobster, rather than allow prosecutors to drop the less severe charge against him, according to court documents acquired Thursday.
The move, prosecutors say, is meant to complicate the case against Bulger for racketeering and 19 murder charges he faces.
U.S. District judge Judge Mark Wolf is expected to decide whether the two indictments should be merged at the first of two hearings at Thursday afternoon in Boston.FULL STORY
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is calling for fresh volunteers in a months-long war with rebels attempting to end his 42-year rule - and women of all ages are answering, CNN has learned.
Women from in and around Gadhafi's stronghold of Tripoli have been traveling south to a training facility in Bani Walid to practice with weapons, a common sight in a country where young girls receive military training in schools. As NATO's airstrikes crossed the 100-day mark and rebels continue to fight to oust Gadhafi, he is tapping everything and everyone in his arsenal to hold on to power, reports CNN's David McKenzie.
At the training facility in Bani Walid, women are training to "defend Moammar and the country," said Sgt. Faraj Ramadan, a woman who is training other women to properly handle weapons. "They train to use it, assemble it and take it apart, and to shoot," she told CNN recently. "They were trained and got excellent scores." Read the full story
The news of women apparently coming to Gadhafi's defense comes the same week that the International Criminal Court said it is trying to build a case against Gadhafi for rape as a crime against humanity. Earlier this week, the court issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi and two of relatives for war crimes. A Libyan woman Eman al Obeidy burst into a hotel in Tripoli popular with foreign reporters in April screaming that she had been gang-raped by Gadhafi's militiamen. Al Obeidy's claims were captured by reporters and broadcast around the world. Her story is among several reported by human rights organizations working in and near Libya.
Gadhafi's government has said it has armed more than 1 million civilians with weapons to fight for him. CNN cannot verify this claim.
[Updated October 20, 2011] In January, protesters in Tunisia forced out longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt that triggered unrest across North Africa and the Middle East.
In some countries, demonstrators have forced their governments to enact reforms. In others, brute force has met the protests.
CNN.com‚Äôs interactive map highlights differences among the countries, offering an overview of the region and the major changes that have taken place since beginning of the year.
A lightning strike in rural western Uganda has killed a schoolteacher and at least 20 students, numerous outlets are reporting.
The strike happened at the Runyanya primary school, and almost 100 more people were injured, The Christian Science Monitor says. The newspaper points out that while the strike could seem to be a freak occurrence, there has been an uptick in lightning strikes in the region. The Monitor cites the state-run daily New Vision, which reports that at least 40 people nationwide have died from lightning strikes recently. The Huffington Post reports that lightning kills 15 people a week in Uganda.
Unseasonably heavy rainfall, resulting from an abnormal increase in moist air blowing across the Congo basin from the Atlantic, may have something to with the lightning, experts say.
"Lightning by its nature and evolution is a very unpredictable event," Michael Nkalubo, the country's commissioner for meteorology, told local journalists at a briefing, according to the Monitor. "It can strike in the most unexpected places and do the most unexpected damage."
Greece's Parliament has approved a key law needed to implement a five-year austerity package that was approved by lawmakers a day earlier.
Lawmakers voted 155-136 in favor of the measure, with five voting "present" in the 300-seat house.
The package had been demanded by international lenders - and its passage should clear the way for an emergency loan to Athens.
But Greece has seen weeks of sometimes violent public protests against the austerity plan, which follows a series of cuts agreed to last year.FULL STORY
This week's deadly suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that is popular with Westerners has been linked to a terrorist group called Haqqani.
Based in Pakistan's tribal region, Haqqani (which the U.S. government has dubbed the Haqqani network) is a militant group closely allied with the Taliban and linked to al Qaeda. For several years, it has reportedly targeted American and international forces across the Afghanistan border and the region. American officials say they consider the network one of the greatest threats in Afghanistan.
Members of Haqqani are bound together by tribal or clan relationships, according to the military blog the Long War Journal, which has a long explanation of the roots of the group and the Haqqani family, which is believed to be at the helm of the group.
Jane's Defense and Security Analysis says that in 2008, Siraj Haqqani was believed to be the leader of the network. At that time, he phoned The News, a Pakistani newspaper, and claimed he had masterminded a suicide bombing in the District Centre of Sabari, in southeast Afghanistan's Khost province, with an IED in March. Two U.S. soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were killed in the attack, according to U.S. sources, Jane's says. Siraj Haqqani told the paper that a gunman had fired on guards manning the entrance to the base, allowing a suicide bomber to drive his car inside.
Also in 2008, Afghan officials blamed the Haqqani network for a January assault on Kabul's Serena Hotel. In that attack, three gunmen with explosives "bluffed, shot and blasted their way through the hotel's security measures, terrifying Afghanistan's small international community in the process," according to Jane's.
This week, terrorists entered the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul by avoiding the main entrance, instead attacking a smaller entrance on another side of the building. The attackers killed two Afghan police officers manning the entrance, according to Falak Merzahi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. The terrorists then stormed the hotel, and six of them detonated explosives. Three of the attackers were shot and killed on the roof of the hotel, Afghan officials told CNN. Although a NATO helicopter carrying International Security Assistance Force snipers flew to the scene and fired at the attackers, Merzahi said it was Afghan army soldiers who killed the three gunmen on the roof.
The attack at the Inter-Continental has led many to question whether Afghan security forces can take control in the country.
In February 2010, the son of a Haqqani leader was killed in a suspected American drone strike in Pakistan, Pakistani intelligence sources said. Muhammad Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of the four people killed in a militant compound in the country's tribal region in North Waziristan. A Taliban source also confirmed the death.
Lech Walesa, the former union leader, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Polish president, was released from a hospital after three weeks of treatment for pneumonia, Polish news media report.
Television reports showed Walesa, 67, exiting the hospital Wednesday in his hometown of Gdansk, Trend News Agency reported.
Walesa in the early 1980s led Gdansk shipyard workers in labor actions that evolved into the peaceful Solidarity movement that led to the fall of Poland's Communist government in 1989.
Walesa, who went on to become president of Poland from 1990 to 1995, received a cardiac pacemaker in the United States in 2008, thenews.pl reported.
In his last full day on the job, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. President Obama gave Gates the medal during a tribute in front of the Pentagon.
"I'm deeply honored and moved by your presentation of this award," Gates said. "It was a big surprise. But we should have known. ... You're pretty good at this covert ops stuff."
Gates' career has spanned four decades of public service, throughout the administrations of eight presidents. He is being succeeded by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Considered the ultimate Washington insider, Gates, himself a former CIA chief, replaced Donald Rumsfeld in 2006. Gates served as secretary of defense in the administrations of both George W. Bush and Obama.
On Thursday, Gates described the transition between the Bush and Obama teams as "a first of its kind" during a war in over 40 years.
Obama called Gates "one of the nation's finest public servants," noting Gates' "profound sense of duty" that led him to continue serving in the Obama administration despite his desire to return to civilian life.
Obama said Gates "challenged conventional wisdom" to reduce wasteful military spending and save "hundreds of billions."
"Today we see the lifesaving difference he made," Obama said.FULL STORY
Is that a giant squid? You bet it is. We go under the sea for today's Gotta Watch and capture some of the intriguing things the ocean has to offer. Check out new breeds of life, a feeding frenzy sure to give you chills and a squid that would make a ton of ink.
Two of the four people indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are senior members of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, multiple sources in the region told CNN on Thursday.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued the indictments and a U.N. source familiar with the body said the people include alleged perpetrators on the ground. The sources said they include Mustafa Badreddine and Hasan Oneisa.
Badreddine is the brother-in-law of Imad Monghneiye, a former Hezbollah commander who was assassinated in Syria in 2008. Badreddine¬† is reported to be a member of Hezbollah's advisory council. The other names on the list are Salim Ayyah and Asad Sabra.
Two additional lists of indictments are expected later this summer and are expected to include the organizers and planners of the attack, the U.N. source said.
Suspected connections to Hariri's death which link the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Syrian government have raised tensions in the country, stoking fears of sectarian conflict erupting in the ethnically and religiously diverse nation. Syria was mired in a civil war from 1975 to 1990.
Hezbollah has had longstanding animosity toward the tribunal based on the expectation that some of its members would be indicted as conspirators in Hariri's assassination.
Hezbollah is a political faction in Lebanon and provides social services to Shiites. However, it has long been regarded as a terrorist organization and an ally to Iran by the United States.
The movement, which fought a war on Lebanese soil with Israel five years ago, claims the tribunal is a plot involving the United States, Israel and France. Ibrahim Mousawi, a Hezbollah media relations officer, said it had no immediate reaction to the indictments.
Rafik Hariri and 22 others were killed on February 14, 2005, when a bomb went off as his motorcade passed by. Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri's son and a former Lebanese prime minister, said on Thursday the indictments were issued after years "of patience and waiting and a constant national struggle."FULL STORY
Lloyds Banking Group plc, the largest retail bank in the United Kingdom, plans to eliminate 15,000 jobs and reduce its international footprint by half, the company announced Thursday.
Under new CEO Ant√≥nio Horta-Os√≥rio, Lloyds is launching a plan to focus on its UK business, reduce middle management and simplify operations by the end of 2014, according to a strategic review issued Thursday.
"We will create a more agile (organization) through further delayering our management structure, (centralizing) control functions, and creating a simpler legal structure," the document reads.¬† "Our focus will be on reduction in middle management, bringing our top team closer to the customers and front-line staff."
Lloyds says it serves 30 million customers through its 14 brands, including Lloyds TSB, Halifax Bank, Bank of Scotland, Cheltenham & Gloucester, and St. James's Place Bank.
Shares in the company were up 8% Thursday on the London Stock Exchange.
Kabul hotel attack - A man suspected of helping to organize this week's deadly hotel attack in Kabul was killed Thursday in an airstrike in southern Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force said. The Taliban claimed credit for the carnage at the Hotel Inter-Continental, a place which has long been popular with politicians, foreign journalists and Westerners.¬† The alleged terrorist is Ismail Jan, the deputy to the senior commander of Haqqani, a group linked to the Taliban. Jan was killed along with several other fighters, ISAF said.
American troops killed in Iraq - Three U.S. service members¬†were killed Wednesday¬†in southern Iraq, the U.S. military said. The military is not giving information about how they were killed. Their deaths happened around the same time Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released his final goodbye to the military.
Wisconsin teacher layoffs -¬†The Milwaukee Public Schools¬†are laying off more than 300 teachers. Their last day is Friday. The move is blamed on $84 million in state budget cuts and the system's efforts to control costs. ¬†The layoffs could be repeated throughout the country as states slash funds for education, social services and local governments.
Tropical Storm Arlene - The first named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season¬†made landfall on Mexico's eastern coast around 5 a.m. ET Thursday. It's moving at 9 mph with sustained winds of about 65 mph, slightly under hurricane status. ¬†Forecasters warned of possible flash floods and mudslides.¬†¬†On Wednesday, the storm¬†caused heavy rains hundreds of miles away in Florida. News media there reported the drenching was a welcome respite from¬†a¬†long¬†drought which has dropped water levels in the Everglades.