Judge: Free man at Guantanamo

WASHINGTON - A federal judge yesterday ordered a Guantanamo detainee released after chastising prosecutors for contending that a Syrian man tortured, imprisoned, and abandoned by al-Qaeda and the Taliban could still be working with them.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon emphatically rejected the government's claims against Abd Al Rahim Abdul Rassak. The government had argued that even though he was tortured by al-Qaeda as a suspected Western spy and imprisoned by the Taliban for 11/2 years, he still had some kind of allegiance to his tormentors.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency was reviewing the ruling. Since his captivity at Guantanamo, Rassak has adopted a different last name, Janko. - AP

FBI name-check backlog is cut

DALLAS - FBI name checks on people seeking to work or live in the United States or become citizens are getting completed more quickly, slicing through a backlog that had left some petitions pending for more than a year, immigration officials said yesterday.

The FBI hired more workers, beefed up its training programs, and upgraded its technology to handle the average of six million to seven million applications it gets each year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said.

The delays came during the FBI's routine checks for possible criminal backgrounds and national security questions. But now, nearly all name-check requests are being answered within 30 days. The rest are finished within 90 days, the officials said. - AP

Not-guilty plea in Boston attacks

BOSTON - A former Boston medical student pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges he lured a masseuse he met through Craigslist to a Boston hotel, then bound her, beat her, and shot her to death with a gun that authorities say he later stashed in a hollowed-out medical textbook.

Philip Markoff, 23, firmly stated "not guilty" when asked his plea to the seven charges including first-degree murder and kidnapping.

He is charged in the April 14 slaying of Julissa Brisman, 26, of New York, and the April 10 armed robbery of Trisha Leffler, 29, a prostitute, at another hotel. He was ordered held without bail pending trial. - AP

Elsewhere:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has been hiking the Appalachian Trail, spokesman Joel Sawyer said, explaining the governor's absence for several days. Sanford strongly opposed $700 million in federal stimulus money for schools but lost a court battle to refuse the money. Sawyer said Sanford took a break and went hiking after the loss.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton canceled plans to attend international meetings in Italy and Greece this week as she recovers from surgery on her broken elbow.