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Profound ideological differences and a bitter history of blaming each other for the nation's woes will give way - if just for a day - to pomp and pleasantries Thursday as the five members of the most exclusive club in the world appear publicly together for the first time in years. For Bush, 66, the ceremony also marks his unofficial return to the public eye four years after the end of his deeply polarizing presidency.
On the sprawling, 23-acre university campus north of downtown Dallas housing his presidential library, museum and policy institute, Bush will be feted by his father, George H.W. Bush, and the two surviving Democrats, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. President Barack Obama, fresh off a fundraiser for Democrats the night before, will also speak.
In a reminder of his duties as the current Oval Office inhabitant, Obama will travel to Waco in the afternoon for a memorial for victims of last week's deadly fertilizer plant explosion.
Key moments and themes from Bush's presidency - the harrowing, the controversial and the inspiring - won't be far removed from the minds of the presidents and guests assembled to dedicate the center, where interactive exhibits invite scrutiny of Bush's major choices as president, such as the financial bailout, the Iraq War and the international focus on HIV and AIDS.
On display is the bullhorn that Bush, near the start of his presidency, used to punctuate the chaos at ground zero three days after 9/11. Addressing a crowd of rescue workers amid the ruins of the World Trade Center, Bush said: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
"Memories are fading rapidly, and the profound impact of that attack is becoming dim with time," Bush told The Associated Press earlier this month. "We want to make sure people remember not only the lives lost and the courage shown, but the lesson that the human condition overseas matters to the national security of our country."
More than 70 million pages of paper records. Two hundred million emails. Four million digital photos. About 43,000 artifacts. Bush's library will feature the largest digital holdings of any of the 13 presidential libraries under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration, officials said. Situated in a 15-acre urban park at Southern Methodist University, the center includes 226,000 square feet of indoor space.
A full-scale replica of the Oval Office as it looked during Bush's tenure sits on the campus, as does a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. In the museum, visitors can gaze at a container of chads - the remnants of the famous Florida punch card ballots that played a pivotal role in the contested 2000 election that sent Bush to Washington.
Former first lady Laura Bush led the design committee, officials said, with a keen eye toward ensuring that her family's Texas roots were conspicuously reflected. Architects used local materials, including Texas Cordova cream limestone and trees from the central part of the state, in its construction.
The public look back on the tenure of the nation's 43rd president comes as Bush is undergoing a coming-out of sorts after years spent in relative seclusion, away from the prying eyes of cameras and reporters that characterized his two terms in the White House and his years in the Texas governor's mansion before that. As the library's opening approached, Bush and his wife embarked on a round-robin of interviews with all the major television networks, likely aware that history's appraisal of his legacy and years in office will soon be solidifying.
An erroneous conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a bungling of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina and a national debt that grew much larger under his watch stain the memory of his presidency for many, including Obama, who won two terms in the White House after lambasting the choices of its previous resident. But on Wednesday, Obama staunchly defended Bush's commitment to the America's well-being while addressing Democratic donors.
"Whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves his people and shared that same concern, and is concerned about all people in America," Obama said. "Not just some. Not just those who voted Republican."
There's at least some evidence that Americans are warming to Bush's presidency four years after he returned to his ranch in Crawford, even if they still question his judgment on Iraq and other issues. While Bush left office with an approval rating of 33 percent, that figure has climbed to 47 percent - about equal to Obama's own approval rating, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released ahead of the library opening.
Bush pushed forcefully but unsuccessfully for the type of sweeping immigration overhaul that Congress, with Obama's blessing, is now pursuing. And his aggressive approach to counterterrorism may be viewed with different eyes as the U.S. continues to be touched by acts of terrorism.
Although museums and libraries, by their nature, look back on history, the dedication of Bush's library also offers a few hints about the future, with much of the nation's top political brass gathered in the same state. Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stoked speculation about her own political future Wednesday in a Dallas suburb when she delivered her first paid speech since stepping down as secretary of state earlier this year. And Bush talked up the presidential prospects of his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in an interview that aired Wednesday on ABC.
"He doesn't need my counsel, because he knows what it is, which is, `Run,'" Bush said.
Obama, too, may have his own legacy in mind. He's just a few years out from making his own decision about where to house his presidential library and the monument to his legacy.
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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev immediately stopped talking after a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney's office entered his hospital room and gave him his Miranda warning, according to four officials of both political parties briefed on the interrogation. They insisted on anonymity because the briefing was private.
Before being advised of his rights, the 19-year-old suspect told authorities that his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, only recently had recruited him to be part of the attack that detonated pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon finish line, two U.S. officials said.
The CIA, however, had named Tamerlan to a terrorist database 18 months ago, said officials close to the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case with reporters.
The new disclosure that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was included within a huge, classified database of known and suspected terrorists before the attacks was expected to drive congressional inquiries in coming weeks about whether the Obama administration adequately investigated tips from Russia that Tsarnaev had posed a security threat.
Shortly after the bombings, U.S. officials said the intelligence community had no information about threats to the marathon before the April 15 explosions that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Tsarnaev died Friday in a police shootout hours before Dzhokhar was discovered hiding in a boat in a suburban back yard. He was wounded.
Washington is piecing together what happened and whether there were any unconnected dots buried in U.S. government files that, if connected, could have prevented the bombings.
Lawmakers who were briefed by the FBI said they have more questions than answers about the investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said lawmakers intend to pursue whether there was a breakdown in information-sharing, though Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said he "hasn't seen any red flags thus far."
U.S. officials were expected to brief the Senate on the investigation Thursday. That same day, the suspects' parents, Anzor Tsarnaev and Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, plan to fly to the U.S. from Russia, the father was quoted as telling the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. The family has said it wants to take Tamerlan's body back to Russia.
It is unclear whether the issue of their younger son's constitutional rights will matter since the FBI say he confessed to a witness. U.S. officials also said Wednesday that physical evidence, including a 9 mm handgun and pieces of a remote-control device commonly used in toys, was recovered from the bombing scene.
But the debate over whether suspected terrorists should be read their Miranda rights has become a major sticking point in the debate over how best to fight terrorism. Many Republicans, in particular, believe Miranda warnings are designed to build court cases, and only hinder intelligence gathering.
Christina DiIorio Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, said in an email late Wednesday, "This remains an ongoing investigation and we don't have any further comment."
Investigators have said the brothers appeared to have been radicalized through jihadist materials on the Internet and have found no evidence tying them to a terrorist group.
U.S. investigators traveled to the predominantly Muslim province of Dagestan in Russia and were in contact with the brothers' parents, hoping to gain more information.
They are looking into whether Tamerlan, who spent six months in Russia's turbulent Caucasus region in 2012, was influenced by the religious extremists who have waged an insurgency against Russian forces in the area for years. The brothers have roots in Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya but had lived in the U.S. for about a decade.
Dzhokhar told the FBI that they were angry about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the killing of Muslims there, officials said.
Dzhokhar's public defender had no comment on the matter Wednesday. His father has called him a "true angel," and an aunt has insisted he's not guilty.
Investigators have found pieces of remote-control equipment among the debris and were analyzing them, officials said. One official described the detonator as "close-controlled," meaning it had to be triggered within several blocks of the bombs.
That evidence could be key to the court case. And an FBI affidavit said one of the brothers told a carjacking victim during their getaway attempt, "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that."
Officials also recovered a 9 mm handgun believed to have been used by Tamerlan from the site of an April 18 gunbattle that injured a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer, two U.S. officials said.
The officials told the AP that no gun was found in the boat where Dzhokhar was hiding. Boston police Commissioner Ed Davis said earlier that shots were fired from inside the boat.
Asked whether the suspect had a gun in the boat, Davis said, "I'm not going to talk about that."
But Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said a police officer was shot within half a mile of where Tsarnaev was captured, "and I know who shot him."
Authorities had previously said Dzhokhar exchanged gunfire with them for more than an hour Friday night before they captured him inside a tarp-covered boat in a suburban Boston neighborhood backyard. But two U.S. officials said Wednesday that he was unarmed when captured, raising questions about the gunfire and how he was injured.
In other developments:
— Vice President Joe Biden condemned the bombing suspects as "two twisted, perverted, cowardly, knockoff jihadis" while speaking at a memorial service Wednesday for Sean Collier, a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was ambushed in his cruiser three days after the bombing. More than 4,000 mourners paid tribute to the officer.
— The Office of Health and Human Services in Massachusetts confirmed a Boston Herald report Wednesday that Tamerlan, his wife and toddler daughter had received welfare benefits up until last year, when he became ineligible based on family income. The state also says Tamerlan and his brother received welfare benefits as children through their parents while the family lived in Massachusetts.
— The area around the marathon finish line was reopened to the public.
____ Yost and Jakes reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier, Matt Apuzzo, Eileen Sullivan, Adam Goldman and Eric Tucker in Washington, David Crary, Denise Lavoie, Bridget Murphy and Bob Salsberg in Boston and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Multiple explosions aboard two fuel barges near Mobile, Ala., led to a major fire Wednesday night that left three people critically injured with burns and created a situation so unstable that fire and rescue officials decided to let the fire burn into the night.
Firefighters from Mobile and U.S. Coast Guard officials responded after 8:30 p.m. CDT to a pair of explosions involving the gas barges in an area of the Mobile River east of downtown, authorities said.
As they were responding, a third explosion occurred at about 9:30 p.m., Mobile Fire and Rescue spokesman Steve Huffman wrote in an email to The Associated Press. Three more explosions followed over the next few hours.
The Coast Guard said early Thursday that a one-nautical-mile safety zone had been established around one barge, which it identified as an "empty compressed natural gas barge that was at the dock for cleaning."
Authorities said three people were transported to University of South Alabama Medical Center after suffering burn-related injuries. Huffman identified them as workers with Oil Recovery Co.
The three were in critical condition early Thursday, according to nursing administrator Danny Whatley.
Fire officials said they planned to let the barges burn overnight.
The Carnival Triumph, the cruise ship that became disabled in the Gulf of Mexico last February before it was towed to Mobile's port, was evacuated, said Alan Waugh, who lives at the Fort Conde Inn in downtown Mobile, across the river from the scene of the explosions. Waugh saw the blasts and said throngs of Carnival employees and others were clustered on streets leading toward the river as authorities evacuated the shipyard.
"It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red," he said, "We could smell something in the air, we didn't know if it was gas or smoke." Waugh said he could feel the heat from the explosion and when he came back inside, his partner noticed he had what appeared to be black soot on his face.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Ofc. Carlos Vega said the initial blast took place in a ship channel near the George C. Wallace Tunnel — which carries traffic from Interstate 10 under the Mobile River. The river runs south past Mobile and into Mobile Bay, which in turn flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, Huffman and Vega said. Huffman wrote early Thursday that the incident involved "two barges, six explosions so far."
"Once (the fire) is out and safe, a full investigation will take place," he wrote.
Mobile Fire Chief Steve Dean told AL.com he was confident the fire — which he said involves gas like what would be found at a service station pump — wouldn't spread to nearby industrial properties, including the shipyard where the Carnival cruise ship is docked.
Huffman said the ship is directly across the river from the incident — about two football fields in length.
The explosion comes two months after the 900-foot-long Triumph was towed to Mobile after becoming disabled on the Gulf during a cruise by an engine room fire, leaving thousands of passengers to endure cold food, unsanitary conditions and power outages for several days. The ship is still undergoing repairs there, with many workers living on board.
Carnival didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the cruise ship was dislodged from its mooring by a windstorm that also caused, in a separate incident, two shipyard workers to fall into Mobile Bay. While one worker was rescued, the other's body was pulled from the water more than a week later.