New judge in Ft. Hood attack

FORT HOOD, Texas - The Army's highest legal branch has appointed a new judge to preside over the case of the Fort Hood shooting suspect.

Army Col. Tara Osborn was named Tuesday to head the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan. He faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 shootings that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen on the Texas Army post.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on Monday ousted the previous judge, Col. Gregory Gross, saying he appeared biased against Hasan. The court tossed out Gross' order to have Hasan's beard forcibly shaved before his court-martial, though it said that was a matter for others to decide. - AP

Guilty plea in N.Y. terror case

NEW YORK - An Algerian immigrant charged with plotting to blow up New York City synagogues pleaded guilty Tuesday in a rare state-level terror case.

Ahmed Ferhani was one of two men arrested in a 2011 weapons-buying sting. State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said he planned to sentence Ferhani to 10 years in prison, four years fewer than prosecutors had wanted. Sentencing was set for Jan. 30.

Ferhani envisioned posing as a Jew so he could infiltrate a synagogue and leave a bomb inside, prosecutors said in court documents. At a meeting to arrange the gun buy, Ferhani said he needed the weapons "for the cause," according to a court complaint.

His lawyers initially portrayed him as a mentally unstable man entrapped by police. - AP

Senate OKs defense bill

WASHINGTON - The Senate has voted for a $631 billion defense bill that calls for accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The vote was 98-0.

The legislation, which sticks closely to President Obama's proposed spending total, would provide a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.

The administration has threatened a veto, citing limits on Obama's authority to handle terror suspects. The Senate must reconcile its bill with a House version that would spend $4 billion more than Obama wants. - AP

Elsewhere:

Former President George H.W. Bush is improving but remains in a Houston hospital with a bronchitis-related cough. Bush, 88, has been in the hospital since the day after Thanksgiving.

Eased out with an $8 million payout provided by an influential Republican fund-raiser, former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey says he has left the tea party group FreedomWorks because of an internal split over the group's direction. He would not discuss specific differences.