A bad connector grounded shuttle

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA yesterday traced fuel-gauge failures in the shuttle Atlantis' tank to a bad connector, and a top manager said he did not know how long it would take to replace the part or when Atlantis might fly.

The erratic fuel gauges, part of a critical safety system, forced launch delays this month. Until yesterday's tank test, NASA had been aiming for a Jan. 10 liftoff of Atlantis, which will carry up a European lab to the International Space Station.

"We're going to follow this trail where it leads us, and we're going to solve this problem, and then we'll go fly . . . whether it's Jan. 10 or Feb. 10 or March 10," shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said.

In orbit, meanwhile, spacewalking astronauts Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani helped pinpoint the source of a flawed mechanism in the station's power system.

- AP

Ruling on status of al-Qaeda driver

MIAMI - In an interim ruling made public yesterday, a military judge said Osama bin Laden's Yemeni driver, captured in Afghanistan, was entitled to consideration that he is a prisoner of war - a status that would collapse his war-crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a third time.

Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the judge, said in a decision dated Monday that he would next decide whether to declare Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 37, a POW. His lawyers say the Bush administration got it wrong when it declared him first an "enemy combatant," then later a presumed "unlawful enemy combatant."

A Pentagon spokesman said the prosecution had not decided whether to appeal the interim ruling. If Allred decides Hamdan is an "unlawful enemy combatant," his war-crimes trial can go forward, probably next summer.

By treaty, POWs have to face the same kind of trial as a U.S. soldier accused of war crimes.

- McClatchy Newspapers

Holiday cards OK for wounded GIs

WASHINGTON - Holiday cards addressed to "any wounded soldier" at a military hospital won't have to be returned unopened this year. The American Red Cross is collecting, reviewing and delivering holiday cards to recovering troops at military hospitals who are not specifically named on the envelope.

Since 2001, military hospitals' policy has been to return all pieces of mail not addressed to a particular individual, because of security concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks, said Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, spokesman for the Army Human Resources Command.

The greeting cards, with adequate postage and a return address, should be sent to: We Support You During Your Recovery!, c/o American Red Cross, P.O. Box 419, Savage, MD 20763-0419. No packages can be accepted, and the cards should be postmarked no later than Dec. 24.

- AP

Elsewhere:

New York City officials

plan to issue 1,500 permits for fruit and vegetable carts in the next two years targeted at low-income neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and poor nutrition, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday.

Three current and former Duke

lacrosse players, but not the ones indicted in a discredited rape case, sued the university, a disgraced prosecutor, and dozens of others yesterday, contending that the prosecution damaged them, too.

The federal government

has released $274 million to clean up abandoned coal-mine sites that pose a threat to the public and the environment. Wyoming is getting the largest chunk, $82 million.

A 44-year-old Florida man

died yesterday after riding a roller coaster at Walt Disney World that simulates a runaway train ride through the Himalayas, authorities said. Inspectors found that the ride, Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest, was working properly, but Disney kept it closed during further review.