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Report: Systemic failures led to Benghazi attacks

A bipartisan Senate report on the attacks on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, paints a picture of systemic failure of security for U.S. diplomats overseas that led to the deaths of the ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

The intelligence community didn’t send enough warnings, the State Department didn’t take the warnings it did get seriously enough, and the military was caught flat- footed when called on to rescue those in need, according to a long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday.

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, information technology specialist Sean Smith and CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the attacks that took place Sept. 11-12, 2012. The report goes so far as to say the attacks could have been prevented if the State Department had accepted security on offer from the military or had closed the Benghazi facility until it could have been better secured.

The report for the first time points specifically to Stevens for twice refusing the U.S. military’s offer to keep a special operations team there that was providing extra security in the weeks before the attacks. On the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks, armed militants stormed the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, setting the building on fire, and later attacked the CIA annex where the Americans had taken shelter.

The Obama administration first described the attacks as a spontaneous mob protest of an anti-Islamic, American-made video, like the one at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier that day. Administration officials corrected their description days after the attacks, but by then the incident had become a hot political issue that has continued to dog the administration.

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Vatican comes under sharp criticism for sex abuse

After decades of accusations that its culture of secrecy contributed to priest sex abuse, the Vatican was forced for the first time Thursday to defend its record in public and at length. In a stuffy U.N. conference room before an obscure human rights committee, the Holy See was interrogated for eight hours about the scale of abuse and what it was doing to prevent it.

The Vatican was compelled to appear before the committee as a signatory to the U.N. Convention for the Rights of the Child, which requires governments to take all adequate measures to protect children from harm and ensure their interests are placed above all else. The Holy See was one of the first states to ratify the treaty in 1990, eager to contribute the church’s experience in caring for children in Catholic schools, hospitals, orphanages and refugee centers.

It submitted a first implementation report in 1994, but didn’t provide progress assessments for nearly two decades, until 2012. Thursday’s exchanges were sharp at times.

“How can we address this whole systematic policy of silencing of victims?” asked committee member Benyam Mezmur, an Ethiopian academic. “There are two principles that I see are being undermined in a number of instances, namely transparency and accountability.” 

The Vatican insisted it had little jurisdiction to sanction pedophile priests. However, victims groups called the defense hollow, given how Vatican officials instructed bishops for decades to not turn abusive priests in to police, but to keep the cases in-house and confidential.

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Wildfire burns homes, forces evacuations in California

Nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated and two homes burned in a wildfire that started early Thursday when three people tossed paper into a campfire in the dangerously dry and windy foothills of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said. Embers from the fire fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds quickly spread into neighborhoods below where residents were awakened in the pre-dawn darkness and ordered to leave.

The three suspects, all men in their 20s, were arrested on charges of recklessly starting the fire that spread smoke across the Los Angeles basin and cast an eerie cloud all the way to the coast. One resident suffered minor burns in the neighborhood abutting Angeles National Forest, just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby.

Hundreds of homes were saved because of firefighters’ preparations, he said. At least 2.5 square miles of dry brush were charred in the wilderness area about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Police said the three suspects were detained near Colby Trail, where the fire was believed to have started.

At least one was homeless, Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said. Police identified the suspects as Robert Aguirre, 21, of Los Angeles; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Clifford Eugene Henry, Jr., 22, of Glendora.

Because of the conditions the national forest was under “very high” fire danger restrictions, posted on numerous signs, which bar campfires anywhere except in camp fire rings in designated campgrounds. U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman L’Tanga Watson said there are no designated campgrounds where the fire began.

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