Pentagon official apologizes for Quran burning

Posted Feb. 24, 2012, at 7:13 p.m.

STERLING, Va. — A senior Pentagon official apologized Friday to Washington-area Muslims for the burning of Qurans at a military base in Afghanistan.

Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, said the military is investigating what occurred and that all 140,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan are being retrained in the handling of religious materials.

Lavoy apologized multiple times during a brief speech during prayer services at the ADAMS Center in Sterling, one of the largest mosques in the country.

“I come here today to apologize on behalf of the Department of Defense for the incident that took place in Afghanistan this week,” Lavoy told worshippers, saying the burnings were done “unknowingly and improperly.”

Lavoy’s remarks at the suburban Washington mosque follow protests across Afghanistan over the burning of several Qurans at a U.S. military base. Military officials say at least 20 people have died in the protests, including two U.S. soldiers.

President Barack Obama has apologized for the burning, which authorities say was a mistake, and Gen. John Allen apologized in Afghanistan earlier this week. But the protests continue.

Plans to drug test welfare recipients get momentum

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Nearly two dozen states are considering plans this session that would make drug testing mandatory for welfare recipients, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Wyoming lawmakers advanced such a proposal this week.

Driving the measures is a perception that people on public assistance are misusing the funds and that cutting off their benefits would save money for tight state budgets — even as statistics have largely proved both notions untrue.

“The idea, from Joe Taxpayer is, ‘I don’t mind helping you out, but you need to show that you’re looking for work, or better yet that you’re employed, and that you’re drug and alcohol free,”’ said Wyoming Republican House Speaker Ed Buchanan on Friday.

Supporters are pushing the measures despite warnings from opponents that courts have struck down similar programs, ruling that the plans amount to an unconstitutional to search of people who have done nothing more than seek help.

NY requires full vets’ death benefit payouts

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York regulators on Friday told insurance companies they must pay out fully when members of the military are killed in action as the standard practice, rather than automatically establishing a kind of checking account that provides interest to the companies.

State Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky said New York is the first state to require the measure. He said families can often get a better return on interest if they invest the bulk payment, rather than draw down from “retained assets accounts” that are now commonly set up by insurance companies. Under the accounts, the families receive some of the return on interest and the company gets the rest.

In 2010, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported the widespread legal practice involving $128 billion in families’ assets. Then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed insurers to collect information on the accounts and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer sought to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to end the practice.

UN atomic agency: Iran rapidly expands nuke work

VIENNA — Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the last few months, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday, in a confidential report that feeds concerns about how quickly the Islamic republic could produce an atomic bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report also said Iran failed to give a convincing explanation about a quantity of missing uranium metal. Diplomats say the amount unaccounted for is large enough to be used for experiments in arming a nuclear missile.

Iran insists it is not interested in nuclear weapons and says its activities are meant either to generate energy or to be used for research.

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