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U.S. frees detained teenagers

The United States on Thursday sent back to Afghanistan three teenage boys whose detention at the U.S. prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had sparked an international outcry.

The boys were described as being in generally good health, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman. All had seen doctors, dentists and mental health experts during their Guantanamo stay, and one was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pentagon officials declined to name the boys or their nationalities, but Amanda Williamson of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Washington said an ICRC team saw them off from Guantanamo and another met them in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The U.S. military had kept the boys segregated from other terror suspected terrorists at Guantanamo and had made the squat cement-block building where they were kept a showcase stop for visiting reporters to illustrate the prison's humane treatment.

But their detention drew special complaints from human rights groups already critical of the continued detention of the approximately 650 prisoners at Guantanamo. The boys' release drew praise.

Sept. 11 families ask

for delay in inquiry

WASHINGTON _ Relatives of Sept. 11 victims asked Thursday that the deadline for investigating the attacks to produce a final report be extended to next January to limit the influence of election-year politics.

The commission is scheduled to finish its work on May 27. But panel members this week asked Congress for a two-month extension, citing a need for full analysis of documents. The relatives' organization, Voices of Sept. 11, said even more time is necessary.

"An extension of two months places this commission in the middle of politics," the group said. "To do so is an insult to the dead."

Patriot Act receives

a staunch defense

WASHINGTON _ The Bush administration intensified its defense of the antiterrorism Patriot Act on Thursday, threatening to veto legislation in Congress that would scale back key provisions.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a letter to Senate leaders, said the changes proposed in the Security and Freedom Ensured Act would "undermine our ongoing campaign to detect and prevent catastrophic attacks."

Ashcroft told reporters that President Bush would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

The threat came a week after Bush, in his State of the Union address, urged Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act before it expires in 2005. A few months earlier, Ashcroft embarked on a 32-city speaking tour in a bid to answer critics who contend the law threatens civil liberties.

Bush proposes doubling

bioterrorism sensors

WASHINGTON _ President Bush will ask Congress for $274-million to strengthen surveillance for bioterrorism.

Part of the money, $65-million, would double the number of environmental sensors now deployed in 31 cities in hopes of detecting certain pathogens if they were released into the air. That's in addition to $53-million in base funding for the program.

Also, the Homeland Security Department will study ways to automate the network, known as BioWatch. Currently, the sensors must be manually examined.

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