DETROIT — The trial of a young African accused of trying to bring down an airliner with a bomb in his underwear is no whodunit. Prosecutors have his hospital-bed confession, dozens of witnesses, remnants of the explosive and an al-Qaida video featuring the 24-year-old explaining his suicide mission.
Nonetheless, the prosecution of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab carries high stakes. His failed attack was the first act of terrorism in the U.S. during the Obama administration, and it could have implications in the debate over whether terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian or military courts.
The case, which starts Tuesday with jury selection, also revealed the rise of a dangerous al-Qaida affiliate and the growing influence of a radical Islamic cleric who was killed by a CIA-U.S. military strike only last week.
Abdulmutallab, a well-educated Nigerian from an upper-class family who has pleaded not guilty, was directed by American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and said he wanted to become a martyr on Christmas 2009, when he boarded Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam, according to the government.
A conviction on multiple charges could bolster the argument that suspected terrorists should be prosecuted through civilian courts, not military proceedings. Full-throated bipartisan opposition forced the Obama administration to cancel a New York trial for professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although there have been no similar issues in Detroit.
“Convictions that are achieved in federal court using proper procedures will be upheld on appeal. That’s simply too powerful a tool for the president not to use,” said Vijay Padmanabhan, a former State Department lawyer who handled cases involving terror-related detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
White House sends trade agreements to Congress
WASHINGTON — The White House sent three long-delayed trade agreements to Congress on Monday, putting the deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama on a path toward final passage after years of political limbo.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said the deals would make it easier for U.S. companies to sell their products overseas, and he called on Congress to approve the agreements without delay.
“These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America,” he said.
The president has made the trade pacts a centerpiece of his economic agenda, saying that the agreements would boost U.S. exports by $13 billion annually.
On the substance of the trade pacts, Republican lawmakers have long agreed with Obama. But the two sides were locked in procedural fights for months, delaying implementation of the agreements.
The White House had held off sending Congress the final legislation until the Senate approved an assistance package to train workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The Senate eventually passed the Trade Adjustment Assistance package last month, in coordination with the White House.
Administration officials said the only obstacle that remained was assurances from the House that it too planned to take up the worker’s assistance program.
Cervical cancer virus fuels oral cancer type, too
WASHINGTON — A prolonged sore throat once was considered a cancer worry mainly for smokers and drinkers. Today there’s another risk: A sexually transmitted virus is fueling a rise in oral cancer.
The HPV virus is best known for causing cervical cancer. But it can cause cancer in the upper throat, too, and a new study says HPV-positive tumors now account for a majority of these cases of what is called oropharyngeal cancer.
If that trend continues, that type of oral cancer will become the nation’s main HPV-related cancer within the decade, surpassing cervical cancer, researchers from Ohio State University and the National Cancer Institute report Monday.
“There is an urgency to try to figure out how to prevent this,” says Dr. Amy Chen of the American Cancer Society and Emory University, who wasn’t part of the new research.
While women sometimes get oral cancer caused by the HPV, the risk is greatest and rising among men, researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. No one knows why, but it begs the question of whether the vaccine given to girls and young women to protect against cervical cancer also might protect against oral HPV.
HPV vaccination is approved for boys to prevent genital warts and anal cancer, additional problems caused by human papillomavirus. But protection against oral HPV hasn’t been studied in either gender, says Dr. Maura Gillison, a head-and-neck cancer specialist at Ohio State and senior author of the new research. That’s important, because it’s possible to have HPV in one part of the body but not the other, she says.
A spokeswoman for Merck & Co., maker of the HPV vaccine Gardasil, said the company has no plans for an oral cancer study.