One Count Against

DeLay Is Dropped

A Texas judge dismissed an indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on charges of conspiring with aides to violate state election law in 2002, while upholding felony charges stemming from alleged money laundering in connection with the Texas election that year.

The decision to affirm the money-laundering allegation was a blow to DeLay, whose attorneys had hoped the judge would dismiss all the indictments and allow him to regain the post of House majority leader, which he relinquished in September under rules barring such posts to lawmakers accused of felonies.

The ruling clears a key obstacle to DeLay's criminal trial in Texas, possibly beginning next month, although his aides noted that the judge still has not ruled on another DeLay claim that the Texas prosecutor who brought the charges had engaged in misconduct.

Senior District Judge Pat Priest, who took over the case after DeLay's attorneys objected to another judge on political grounds, did not rule on the issue of DeLay's culpability. In a slap at Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, who oversaw the inquiry, Priest said a grand jury erred in charging DeLay with conspiracy when that crime was not covered by the state election law at the time.

But Priest also said that a different indictment -- hastily secured by Earle from a different grand jury after he realized the conspiracy charge might be flawed -- was worth hearing at trial. That indictment alleged in essence that DeLay and his associates illegally injected corporate funds into the 2002 campaign by transferring $190,000 to Republican headquarters in Washington in the expectation that the same total amount would be returned to Texas Republican candidates.

-- R. Jeffrey Smith

and Jonathan Weisman

9/11 Commission Gives

Failing Grades to U.S.

The federal government received failing and mediocre grades from the former Sept. 11 commission, whose members said in a final report that the Bush administration and Congress have balked at enacting reforms that could save American lives and prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

The bipartisan 10-member panel issued a "report card" that included 5 F's, 12 D's and two "incompletes" in categories such as airline passenger screening and first responders' communication.

The group also said there has been little progress in forcing federal agencies to share intelligence and terrorism information, and it sharply criticized government efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction or establish clear standards for treatment of U.S. detainees.

Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill immediately seized on the report, accusing the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress of failing to adequately prepare for future terrorist strikes. Republicans and the White House countered that the government has adopted many of the proposed reforms and that administration policies have helped prevent additional catastrophic attacks in the United States.

-- Dan Eggen

Rice Clarifies U.S. Policy

On Detainee Treatment

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States has prohibited all its personnel from using cruel or inhuman techniques in prisoner interrogations, whether inside or outside U.S. borders. Previous public statements by the Bush administration have asserted that the ban did not apply abroad.

U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, extend as "a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The remarks were another effort during a week-long European trip to convince skeptics that the United States is committed to fair and decent treatment of terrorism suspects. At every stop of her trip, she faced reporters' questions about torture at a time of widespread outrage in Europe over reports that the CIA has operated secret prisons in European countries.

But administration aides turned aside suggestions that she was breaking new ground.

-- Glenn Kessler and Josh White

Florida Professor Acquitted

In Test Case for Patriot Act

A federal jury in Tampa acquitted former University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian of conspiring to aid a Palestinian group in killing Israelis through suicide bombings, dealing the U.S. government a setback in its efforts to use secretly gathered intelligence in criminal cases against terror suspects.

The trial was a crucial test of government power under the USA Patriot Act. The case was the first criminal terrorism prosecution to rely mainly on vast amounts of materials gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, whose standards for searches and surveillance are less restrictive than those set by criminal courts.

The jury deliberated 13 days before rejecting arguments that prosecutors laid out over five months that the former computer engineer and three co-defendants conspired with leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- which the United States has designated a terrorist group -- providing it money, strategy and advice. The accusations were based on 20,000 hours of phone conversations and hundreds of faxes secretly monitored beginning in 1993.

Al-Arian, 47, was found not guilty on eight of 17 counts, including conspiracy to maim or murder. Jurors deadlocked on the rest of the charges, including ones that he aided terrorists.

-- Spencer S. Hsu and Dan Eggen