Appeals court sides with Trump in transgender military case

WASHINGTON | A federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration Friday in a case about the Pentagon’s effort to restrict military service by transgender people, but the ruling won’t change who can serve or enlist at this point.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that a lower court judge was wrong to block the Pentagon from implementing plans to restrict the service of transgender individuals. The unsigned ruling will not allow the Pentagon to implement its policy, however, because other judges have entered orders blocking the administration in similar cases.

The administration already has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. The high court could announce as early as this month if it will do so.

Jailed American spent years collecting Russian contacts

WASHINGTON | A U.S. corporate security executive and former Marine who has been jailed in Moscow on spying charges has spent more than a decade cultivating friends and contacts in Russia, both virtual and real.

Paul Whelan sought out friends throughout the country, most often through a social networking site that is similar to Facebook and popular largely in Russia. Several told The Associated Press that the American never seemed sinister, merely someone who was interested in Russia and wanted to be pen pals.

Whelan was arrested Dec. 28 while on a two-week visit to the country and has been charged with espionage. The Russian government has so far given no details about the allegations against him, but a close look at his social media history suggests why he might have come to the attention of the Russian security services, regardless of his motives.

His family back home says he was nothing more than a tourist. In a Washington Post op-ed published Friday, his twin brother, David, urged the U.S. government to pressure Russia to release him.

China begins first surface exploration of moon’s far side

BEIJING | A Chinese space rover explored the lunar terrain on Friday in the world’s first mission on the surface of the far side of the moon.

Jade Rabbit 2 drove off a ramp the previous night and onto the soft, powdery surface after a Chinese spacecraft made the first-ever soft landing on the moon’s far side. A photo posted online by China’s space agency showed tracks left by the rover as it headed away from the spacecraft.

“It’s a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation,” Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV, in a twist of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong’s famous comment when he became the first human to walk on the moon in 1969. “This giant leap is a decisive move for our exploration of space and the conquering of the universe.”

Navy SEAL pleads not guilty to killing captured ISIS teen

SAN DIEGO | A decorated Navy SEAL pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of premeditated murder and other crimes in the stabbing death of a teenage Islamic State prisoner in Iraq last year and the shooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians.

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher will stand trial Feb. 19 before a jury that will be one-third enlisted personnel. Gallagher has been jailed since his arrest on Sept. 11, and a judge said he will determine next week whether the 19-year Navy veteran should be released before trial.

— From AP reports