September 2007 Archives


US military judge postpones Army sniper hearing on killings of unarmed Iraqis
Michael Sung on September 30, 2007 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge postponed an Article 32 hearing [JAG backgrounder] on US Army sniper Sgt. Evan Vela Sunday, following a fellow Army sniper's acquittal on premeditated murder charges [JURIST report]. Vela, who has argued that he was simply following orders to "bait" and kill suspected Iraqi insurgents with materials that could be used to aid the insurgency, is charged [press release; JURIST report] with premeditated murder, obstruction of justice, wrongfully placing weapons with the remains of deceased Iraqis, and making a false official statement in connection with the killing of three unarmed Iraqis in three separate incidents between April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Vela's preliminary hearing is expected to resume on November 10.

On Saturday, US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval was sentenced to five months in prison [JURIST report] for his role in covering the shootings of three unarmed Iraqis. At Sandoval's trial Vela testified that he (Vela) had actually killed one of the Iraqis Sandoval was originally alleged to have killed. Another defendant, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, has refused to accept a plea agreement [JURIST report] and will go on trial on October 22. AP has more.






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Suu Kyi temporarily released from house arrest to meet UN Myanmar envoy
Michael Sung on September 30, 2007 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar opposition leader and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive] was briefly released from house arrest Sunday to met with visiting UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, but Gambari was not allowed to meet with top junta leaders Senior General Than Shwe [BBC profile] or Deputy Senior General Maung Aye in his efforts to halt rising political violence and repression in the military-led country. Observers say that the temporary release of Suu Kyi was unexpected. The leader of the National League for Democracy has spent 11 of the past 17 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text].

Last Wednesday, the Myanmar government began a crackdown against protesters [JURIST report], arresting hundreds of Buddhist monks demonstrating against human rights abuses by the military government. On Thursday, Myanmar authorities raided several Buddhist monasteries, detaining monks [JURIST report] the junta believed to be leading the demonstrations. At least 10 people have been killed by government soldiers shooting into crowds; protests subsided over the weekend as troops effectively locked down Myanmar's major cities. AP has more. AP has additional coverage.






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Pakistan lawyers clash with police over Musharraf re-election ruling
Michael Sung on September 30, 2007 10:16 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani riot police clashed with lawyers demonstrating outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) [official websites] Saturday, as hundreds protested a high court ruling [JURIST report] allowing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] to run for another term as president while still serving as chief of the Pakistani army. A former vice-president of the Supreme Court Bar Association said twenty lawyers were injured. The demonstration was the first large-scale public action by lawyers since July, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan reinstated suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], holding that President Pervez Musharraf's March 9 suspension of Chaudhry was illegal. The ECP, which formally accepted Musharraf's nomination as a presidential candidate Sunday, recently implemented rule changes [press release] allowing Musharraf to remain as army chief while he campaigns for a third-term.

Last Thursday, Pakistani police sealed off Islamabad [JURIST report] to prevent opposition members from rallying against Musharraf. Earlier this month, Musharraf announced that he will only step down as army chief [JURIST report] if he is re-elected in the October 6 election. The International Herald Tribune has more.






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ICTY Vukovar massacre sentences too lenient: Croatia
Michael Sung on September 30, 2007 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader [official website] has criticized the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] for its judgments [JURIST report] on Serb suspects allegedly involved in the 1991 Vukovar massacre [BBC backgrounder], saying in a letter sent Friday to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the ICTY failed to act in a "balanced and impartial way" and calling for a review of the court's judgments. The ICTY convicted Mile Mrksic on three counts of war crimes last Thursday, sentencing him to 20 years in prison for his involvement in the killing of approximately 200 Croatians. Another defendant received a five-year sentence on aiding and abetting charges, while a third defendant was acquitted on all counts. Croatian President Stipe Mesic, known to be a supporter of the ICTY, said that his own confidence in the ICTY has been eroded.

In December, the Serbian Supreme Court ordered a retrial [JURIST report] in the case of 14 former members of Serb militias who were originally convicted [JURIST report] of war crimes for their roles in the Vukovar massacre. The Serbian judicial proceedings, which opened in March 2004 [JURIST report], have been seen as a test of Serbia's domestic war crimes process. AP has more.






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US soldier sentenced to 5 months for role in Iraqi civilian murders
Jeannie Shawl on September 29, 2007 9:15 PM ET

[JURIST] US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval was sentenced Saturday to five months in prison for his role in covering up the shootings of three unarmed Iraqis. Sandoval was convicted Friday at his court-martial of planting evidence but was acquitted of premeditated murder [JURIST report]. In addition to the prison sentence, Sandoval will receive a reduction in rank and will be required to forfeit his pay.

Sandoval was charged [press release; JURIST report] along with Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley and Sgt. Evan Vela with premeditated murder and wrongfully placing a weapon with the remains of a deceased Iraqi for his role in the incidents, which took place in April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah, Iraq [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Vela and Hensley will be tried separately. Vela's lawyer has argued that Vela was simply following orders to "bait" suspected Iraqi insurgents with materials that could be used to aid the insurgency and then kill them. In August, Hensley refused to accept a plea agreement [JURIST report], saying he was innocent of the charges against him. AP has more.






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Federal judge refuses to dismiss Murtha defamation lawsuit over Haditha comments
Jeannie Shawl on September 29, 2007 7:36 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge has refused to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and ruled that Murtha must provide a deposition in the case. US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website], who is facing charges [JURIST report] for his alleged role in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians, brought the defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] last year. The lawsuit alleges that Murtha falsely accused Wuterich of war crimes during a press conference where Murtha discussed [JURIST report] the November 2005 killings in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive]. Government lawyers had argued that the case should be dismissed because Murtha's comments came while the congressman was acting in his official capacity, but Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled Friday that Murtha must provide testimony to explain his actions. A date for the deposition has not yet been set.

Wuterich commanded the platoon implicated in the Haditha killings and suspected cover-up. He faces several counts of unpremeditated murder, as well as charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement. AP has more.






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New Japan PM to push anti-terrorism law renewal
Katerina Ossenova on September 28, 2007 3:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda [official website; BBC report], the newly elected successor to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [JURIST news archive], said Friday that he plans to submit a new anti-terrorism law to parliament that will allow Japan to continue to refuel allied ships in the Indian Ocean connected to Operation Enduring Freedom [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Afghanistan. The original legislation authorizing the refueling, the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [text], was passed in 2001 and has since been extended annually [MOFA press release]. The law is currently slated to expire November 1, after its renewal was blocked by the upper house of parliament. On Friday, ambassadors from 11 countries, including Australia, Canada, France and Germany, issued a joint statement encouraging Japan to continue its involvement, citing its contribution as "unique and vital."

Japan's involvement in Afghanistan has caused a rift [JURIST report] between the Liberal Democratic Party (LPJ) and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) [party websites]. Abe, a member of the LPJ, announced his resignation [BBC English translation; JURIST report] on September 12, citing problems renewing the anti-terrorism law. DPJ president Ichiro Ozawa [party profile] has voiced his opposition to Japan acting abroad in operations not sanctioned by the United Nations and has promised that his party will continue to block the legislation. The Australian has more. DPA has additional coverage.






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Kenya president rejects bill restraining corruption watchdog
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 28, 2007 1:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] Thursday refused to sign a bill [JURIST report] that would have limited the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) [official website] to only investigating crimes committed after 2003. The amendment, deleting portions of the 2003 Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act [text], would have made it impossible for the commission to continue investigations into some of the country's most notorious corruption cases [JURIST report], including the $1 billion scam known as the Goldenberg Affair [BBC report; Wikipedia backgrounder]. The Financial Times has more.

The Kenyan government has taken a number of anti-corruption initiatives in recent years, especially after Kibaki promised to clean up widespread government graft after being elected to office in 2002. Last year, Kenyan authorities charged [JURIST report] four former senior Kenyan government officials and a top businessman with corruption for their roles in the Goldenberg Affair. The charges came one month after Kibaki's education and energy ministers both resigned [JURIST report] after being implicated, but not charged, in the Goldenberg case for actions they took while serving in the previous regime.






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US soldier acquitted of Iraqi civilian premeditated murder charges
Katerina Ossenova on September 28, 2007 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] A military panel Friday found US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval not guilty of murder in the shooting deaths of three unarmed Iraqis but convicted him of planting evidence to cover up the shootings. Sandoval, along with Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley and Sgt. Evan Vela, was charged [press release; JURIST report] with premeditated murder and wrongfully placing a weapon with the remains of a deceased Iraqi for his role in the incident, which took place between April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah, Iraq [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Sandoval is expected to be sentenced on Saturday. His lawyers expect a sentence of no more than six months in prison for misplacement of public property, while prosecutors argued for a five-year sentence for obstructing justice.

Sandoval pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to these charges when his court-martial in Iraq Wednesday. Vela and Hensley will be tried separately. Vela's lawyer has argued that Vela was simply following orders to "bait" suspected Iraqi insurgents with materials that could be used to aid the insurgency and then kill them. In August, Hensley refused to accept a plea agreement [JURIST report], saying he was innocent of the charges against him. AP has more.






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Cuba detains protestors demanding humane treatment for political prisoners
Lisl Brunner on September 28, 2007 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Cuba [JURIST news archive] Thursday detained at least forty protesters who gathered outside the Ministry of Justice to demand humane treatment for the country's estimated 250 political prisoners. All but one of those detained were released on Friday, but former political prisoner Jose Luis Garcia Perez, who was released in April, reported that he had been beaten while in custody. According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, most of these prisoners live in unsanitary conditions and lack clean water, enough food, and medical attention. During a hearing [recorded video] before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [official website] in July, the Cuban Democratic Directorate [advocacy website; press release] claimed that the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] has not been permitted to inspect Cuban prisons since 1989.

Human rights groups estimate that the number of political prisoners in detention has dropped by over 20 percent since acting president Raul Castro assumed duties from Cuban President Fidel Castro [BBC profiles] on July 31, 2006. The Castro government released two dissidents [JURIST report] in August; however, it denies the existence of political prisoners in Cuba. AFP has more. El Pais has additional coverage [in Spanish].






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Peru protesters demand release of Fujimori
Katerina Ossenova on September 28, 2007 12:31 PM ET

[JURIST] Over 1,000 demonstrators faced off with riot police in Lima, Peru Thursday, demanding the release of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive]. Fujimori was extradited [JURIST report] to Peru Saturday following the Supreme Court of Chile's decision [JURIST report] last week that Fujimori should be extradited on human rights and corruption charges. Fujimori is accused of approving death squad killings and misusing government funds in Peru.

The Supreme Court's review came after Peru filed an appeal of a lower court's ruling [JURIST reports] denying the government's request for extradition. Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. He was being held under house arrest [JURIST report] in Chile after being arrested [JURIST report] in December 2005 after flying into Chile from Japan to campaign for the Peruvian presidency, despite having been officially banned from holding public office until 2010 [JURIST report]. He is currently running for a seat in the Japanese parliament [JURIST report]. AFP has more.






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Philippines terror blacklist bans government critics: HRW
Jaime Jansen on September 28, 2007 11:26 AM ET

[JURIST] The government of the Philippines [JURIST news archive] has used an immigration blacklist [PDF list; HRW press release], consisting of 504 people allegedly linked to al Qaeda or the Taliban, to ban its critics from entering the country, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Friday. The Philippines government confirmed the blacklist, but said it was created to prevent disturbances during a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website] between July 25 and August 10, rather than to block people linked to terror organizations. The list includes rights activists and church groups, as well as former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark [JURIST news archive], who was actively involved in the defense of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive].

HRW urged the Philippines not to prevent peaceful critics from entering the country at any time. Critics say the government has used the list to divert attention from accusations that President Gloria Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] has been involved in violence against her political opponents. Reuters has more.






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US donating $5 million to Hariri tribunal fund
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 28, 2007 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] The US will donate $5 million [remarks text] to the UN-backed tribunal established to investigate and try suspects in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive], US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad announced Thursday. Khalilzad said the financial support

reflects our commitment to the process of accountability for political murder and assassination that has taken place in Lebanon. It is very important...that those who have been responsible for those crimes be brought to justice. That there is no impunity for political assassination, that political assassination is a threat to international peace and stability and every effort has to be made to bring those who are responsible for it to justice in order, not only to have accountability but also to deter future such crimes.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said that he will appoint judges to the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon [UN materials] as soon as sufficient funding for the tribunal is in place, hopefully by the end of 2007. Ban estimates that the tribunal will cost $120 million over three years. Ban expects the UN to secure $35 million in funds for the first year of operation by the end of this year, along with an additional $85 million in pledges to cover the next two years.

The UN Security Council unilaterally established the tribunal [JURIST report; UN News report] in May after a divided Lebanese government failed to agree on a proposal. The tribunal will also investigate [JURIST report] and possibly try suspects in 17 other attempted and successful political assassinations in Lebanon. In August, the Netherlands agreed to host the tribunal [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.





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Pakistan high court allows Musharraf re-election bid
Jaime Jansen on September 28, 2007 10:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] dismissed legal challenges [JURIST report] Friday to a bid by current Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] to run for another term as president while still serving as chief of the Pakistani army. The challengers had also opposed Musharraf's bid to avoid a general election by seeking re-election from the outgoing parliament and provincial assemblies. Recent rule changes [press release] by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) [official website] pave the way for Musharraf to remain as army chief while he campaigns for office. The court said it will explain its reasoning at a later date. Earlier this month, Musharraf announced plans to step down as army chief [JURIST report] if he is re-elected in the October 6 election, but has indicated that he intends to remain as army chief if he loses the election.

Pakistani police sealed off the capital of Islamabad [JURIST report] on Thursday to prevent protesters from rallying against Musharraf's bid for re-election. Also Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the release of over 200 opposition party workers who have been detained [JURIST report] by the government since last week. AP has more.






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DOD allows 'high value' Guantanamo detainees to request lawyers
Jaime Jansen on September 28, 2007 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense has formally allowed fourteen "high-value" terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] the right to request lawyers, the Washington Post reported Friday. The move could pave the way for the "high-value" detainees to challenge their status as enemy combatants in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website]. In the past, defense officials have argued that allowing the "high-value" detainees access to lawyers without stringent security rules could reveal classified CIA information about alleged secret prisons [CoE materials], rendition flights [JURIST news archive] and interrogation methods. Lawyers will be able to communicate with the fourteen detainees after passing a security clearance.

The detainees received request forms [PDF text] in late August and early September, and at least four have already requested lawyers. Last week, the DOJ cut off lawyer access to some 40 detainees [JURIST report] after US District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed 16 habeas corpus challenges, rendering invalid protocols that had been established governing lawyers' access to detainees. The Washington Post has more.






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White House officials urge approval of Law of the Sea treaty
Jaime Jansen on September 28, 2007 9:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Three senior Bush administration officials urged the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee [official website] to approve the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UN materials] Thursday. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Patrick Walsh [statements, PDF] argued that US military interests are at risk while the US remains outside of the treaty. Negroponte noted that joining the convention is the "best way to secure navigational and economic rights related to the law of the sea," while England added that membership in the treaty will "support the global mobility of our armed forces and the sustainment of our combat forces overseas." The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave unanimous support to the treaty in 2004, but a full Senate ratification stalled on the floor [JURIST report].

Opponents of the treaty argue that the treaty does exempt some military activities, but does not specify which ones. Others argue that the treaty fails to take into account special US military and commercial interests. Opponents of the treaty are scheduled to testify before the committee on October 4 [committee materials]. The Washington Times has more.






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Khodorkovsky denied transfer from Siberian jail
Jaime Jansen on September 28, 2007 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] An east Siberian court Friday ruled that former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] should remain in custody for another three months in order to prevent him from obstructing a new investigation into Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website]. Russian prosecutors are investigating new charges [JURIST report] against the former Yukos Oil [corporate website] executives, which include stealing government shares, expropriating oil, and laundering over $25 billion. Lawyers for the men repeated previous calls that the men should be transferred from the Siberian penal colony in Chita Oblast [Wikipedia backgrounder] to Moscow, a call which Russian prosecutors have ignored [JURIST report], despite a March court order [JURIST report] that was upheld [JURIST report] in April.

Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] in May 2005, and is currently serving an eight-year prison term. The additional charges, filed against him in February 2007, are based on allegations that Khodorkovsky used his Open Russia Foundation [SourceWatch backgrounder] to divert oil revenues away from Yukos. If convicted on the new charges, Khodorkovsky faces an additional 15 years in prison. Both the United States and Khodorkovsky [JURIST reports] believe the new charges to be politically motivated, a claim which Russia has denied [JURIST report]. RIA Novosti has more. AP has additional coverage.






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US Supreme Court stays Texas execution after agreeing to hear lethal injection case
Jaime Jansen on September 28, 2007 7:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued a stay of execution [order, PDF] Thursday for a a Texas inmate just hours before he was scheduled to be executed. Earlier this week, the Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition], where the Court will consider whether lethal injections of death row inmates constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, though the Court did not provide specific reasons for granting a stay for Carlton Turner, Jr., convicted of killing his adoptive parents in 1998. Also Thursday, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley [official website] stayed the execution of an Alabama inmate for 45 days while the state develops a new lethal injection procedure [press release].

Texas, like many other states, uses a controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart. The Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] ruled in the Baze case that the state's current method of lethal injection, the same method Texas uses, does not violate the constitution [JURIST report] because the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain." Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.






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Congressman to fight DOJ subpoena in Abramoff probe
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 27, 2007 7:34 PM ET

[JURIST] US Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) [official website] said Thursday that he would fight subpoenas issued by the US Department of Justice [official website] for documents, including legislative records, relating to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive]. Doolittle's lawyer said that the Justice Department had overstepped its authority in demanding the documents, noting that the Constitution forbids the executive branch from intervening in legislative affairs. The subpoenas reportedly call for Doolittle and five members of his staff to turn over almost 11 years worth of records.

Last year, Abramoff pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in federal court in Florida to two conspiracy and fraud charges stemming from the 2000 purchase of the SunCruz Casino [corporate website] as part of a plea agreement [PDF text] with federal prosecutors that would reduce his punishment in exchange for favorable testimony in future DOJ corruption cases. The DOJ is also investigating Abramoff's ties with former house majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) [official website; JURIST news archive], Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) [official website], Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) [official website], 17 current and former congressional aides, and two former Bush administration officials in the Interior Department and government procurement office. AP has more.






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ICTY convicts leader in Vukovar massacre
Alexis Unkovic on September 27, 2007 4:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Thursday handed down judgments [judgment summary; press release] on war crimes suspects Mile Mrksic, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin [BBC profiles; ICTY case backgrounder], who were accused of killing some 200 Croatian POWs at a pig farm near Vukovar [BBC backgrounder] in 1991. The court found Mrksic guilty on three counts of war crimes [JURIST news archive] and sentenced him to 20 years in prison for his part in the massacre. Sljivancanin received a five-year sentence on aiding and abetting charges, prompting immediate criticism from ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] who deemed the sentence too lenient. Radic was acquitted on all counts. AFP has more.

In December, the Serbian Supreme Court ordered a retrial [JURIST report] in the case of 14 former members of Serb militias who were convicted [JURIST report] of war crimes for their role in the Vukovar massacre. The Vukovar case, which opened in March 2004 [JURIST report] has been widely seen as a test of Serbia's domestic war crimes process.






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US Senate backs hate crimes bill targeting sexuality- and gender-based violence
Alexis Unkovic on September 27, 2007 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] approved an amendment to the 2008 Senate Defense Reauthorization Bill [HR 1585 materials] by unanimous voice vote Thursday that would expand federal hate crimes legislation. Among its provisions, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 [S 1105 materials] broadens the definition of a hate crime to include violent attacks against people based on their gender or sexuality and makes it easier for federal law enforcement to become involved in hate crimes cases. The bill is named for Matthew Shepard [foundation website], a gay college student who was killed because of his sexual orientation. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) [official websites] co-sponsored the measure and applauded the amendment's passage [press release] Thursday. The US House of Representatives passed [JURIST report] its version of the bill [PDF text; HR 1592 summary] in May.

The White House has repeatedly threatened to veto [policy statement, PDF] the hate crimes legislation, leading many Senate Republicans to argue that Senate Democrats attached the hate crimes amendment to the bill authorizing Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] funding to force US President George W. Bush's approval. Senate Democrats countered by arguing that the hate crimes amendment legitimately deals with domestic terrorism, while the Defense Reauthorization Bill relates to international terrorism. AP has more.






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Romanov execution not a state political killing: Russia prosecutor general
Gabriel Haboubi on September 27, 2007 2:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Russia's top prosecutor has denied a move by a descendant of Russia's Tsar Nicholas II [Wikipedia profile] to have the Romanovs declared "political victims," Russia's RIA-Novosti reported Wednesday. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Romanov [Wikipedia profile], a Spanish resident, was attempting to obtain an order from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office [official website, in Russian] that the Romanov's 1918 execution [eyewitness account] was a political killing. The office took control of the case in May [JURIST report] after several Russian courts refused to declare the execution political. After conducting its own investigation, the prosecutor's office determined that the execution by revolutionary Bolsheviks was a premeditated murder and not performed following a legal court decision [press release, in Russian], but said that only a decision by a court or "extrajudicial body" can declare the Romanovs to be "political victims." RIA-Novosti reported that a lawyer for the family called the decision "illegal."

Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra, their five children, and several household servants were executed without trial near Yekaterinburg in 1918. The royal family's remains were found in a mining pit in 1991, and reburied with honors [BBC report] at St. Petersburg in 1998. AP has more.






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ICTY upholds verdicts in KLA prison case
Alexis Unkovic on September 27, 2007 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website] Thursday upheld [judgment summary; press release] a 2005 lower court ruling [JURIST report] acquitting two Kosovo Albanians and convicting one other for their alleged actions at a prison camp run by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [BBC backgrounder] during its open rebellion against Serbian forces in 1998. The ICTY specifically rejected the appeal of Haradin Bala, a commander and guard at the Lapusnik prison camp, who was originally sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of torture, cruel treatment and murder. The ICTY also affirmed the 2005 acquittal of Bala's co-defendants, Fatmir Limaj and Isak Musliu, on charges of committing murder, torture and inhumane acts.

In 2003, Bala, Limaj and Musliu were the first Kosovo Albanians indicted [BBC report] for crimes committed during the KLA rebellion. The three men originally went on trial [JURIST report; ICTY case backgrounder] before the ICTY in late 2004. Reuters has more.






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US House lawyers move to quash subpoenas in Cunningham bribery case
Gabriel Haboubi on September 27, 2007 1:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers representing twelve members of the US House of Representatives [official website] who were subpoenaed last month in the criminal trial of a defense contractor charged with bribing former US Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham [official profile] filed motions in the Southern District of California [official website] Wednesday seeking to have the subpoenas quashed. Lawyers for Brent Wilkes [Newsweek profile], who is facing up to 20 years in prison on charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy, are seeking information on congressional "earmarks" that Cunningham requested for Wilkes, and wish to view internal house documents related to defense appropriations. The subpoenaed congress members have said they will not comply with the orders, because according to House Rules [text], sitting House members may only comply with subpoenas when their testimony could be "material and relevant." In addition, their lawyers have argued that members of Congress are not required to disclose communications related to their official duties.

The subpoenas were served on August 13th, however they were only disclosed to the public last week [JURIST report], when the served members announced into the congressional record [floor summary] their intent to not comply. The served members are:

A final subpoena, served to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) was withdrawn following its disclosure into the public record. AP has more.





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Pakistan police seal off capital to prevent protests against Musharraf re-election bid
Joshua Pantesco on September 27, 2007 11:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan police closed off the capital of Islamabad on Thursday to prevent protesters from rallying against President Musharraf's bid for a second five-year term in office. Pakistani lawyers had threatened earlier in the week to defy a government ban on gatherings of more than five people to protest Musharraf's candidacy, which they call illegitimate as Musharraf also serves as the head of the military. The election is scheduled for October 6 and the Supreme Court of Pakistan is expected to issue its ruling on court challenges to Musharraf's re-election bid [JURIST report] within the next several days.

Also Thursday, the Pakistani Supreme Court chief judge ordered the release of over 200 opposition party workers [AP report] who have been detained [JURIST report] by the government since Saturday. The government had justified the arrests as necessary to maintain law and order. AP has more.






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Mugabe blasts US human rights record
Joshua Pantesco on September 27, 2007 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] devoted much of his address [PDF statement] to the 62nd UN General Assembly on Wednesday to attacking the human rights record of US President George W. Bush. Mugabe was responding to Bush's address [PDF text], where Bush called Mugabe's government a "tyrannical regime" that has "cracked down on peaceful calls for reform, and forced millions to flee their homeland." Mugabe in turn accused Bush of human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret prisons in Europe [JURIST news archives].

Bush invoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text] in condemning the human rights records of many countries, including Zimbabwe, and Mugabe responded with the example of Guantanamo Bay:

at that concentration camp international law does not apply. The national laws of the people there do not apply. Laws of the United States of America do not apply. Only Bush's law applies...Mr. Bush thinks he stands above all structures of governance, whether national or international. At home, he does not need the Congress. Abroad, he does not need the UN, international law and opinion. This forum did not sanction Blair and Bush's misadventures in Iraq. The two ran roughshod over the UN and international opinion. Almighty Bush is now coming back to the UN for a rescue package because his nose is bloodied!
Last week, the Zimbabwean parliament unanimously passed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] that essentially gives Mugabe, who is 83 years old, the authority to appoint his successor. Reuters has more.





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Myanmar police raid monasteries, arrest monks as violence continues
Joshua Pantesco on September 27, 2007 9:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar police arrested dozens of Buddhist monks during dawn raids on two monasteries Thursday, one day after police opened fire on anti-government protesters [JURIST report], killing at least eight and arresting over 300. Also Thursday, police again fired shots [BBC report] near crowds of protesters, killing one person. It is unclear whether the shots were aimed at or above the crowd. It is also not clear exactly how many monks were arrested during Thursday's dawn raids, but a monk from the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery estimated that 70 of the 150 monks in residence there were arrested. A witness at a second monastery reported the arrest of several others.

The monks are leading the protests against the government, which they accuse of human rights abuses, including the detention of demonstrators who peacefully protested a sharp rise in fuel prices in August. Tens of thousands of citizens have joined the marching monks in what has become the largest demonstration in the country since a pro-democracy uprising in 1988. The government tolerated the anti-government protesters for a month, but on Tuesday, the military government banned public gatherings [JURIST report] of more than five people and imposed a curfew in response to the anti-government protests [BBC Q&ampA]. The New York Times has more.

In response to Wednesday's violence, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched [UN press release] his Special Envoy to Myanmar and urged peaceful dialogue with the junta leaders. The United States and the European Union issued a joint statement [text; AFP report] calling for an end to the violence and looking to "China, India, ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and others in the region to use their influence in support of the people of Burma/Myanmar." Earlier this week, US President George W. Bush announced US sanctions against Myanmar [speech text, PDF; JURIST report], supplementing the current visa ban on alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses. Myanmar has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. It is not yet clear who will draft the actual constitution or how that process will occur, but the Myanmar government has pledged to put the resulting document to a vote in a national referendum.






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Poland begins publishing Communist-era secret police data
Brett Murphy on September 27, 2007 8:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Poland's Institute of National Remembrance (INP) [official website] has begun officially publishing a list of public officials who worked with or were spied on by the country's Communist-era secret police as part of ongoing efforts to reconcile Poland's pre-1989 Communist heritage. Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and President Lech Kaczynski [official websites] were both listed Tuesday as officials who had been placed under surveillance by the secret police. A special court called for the publication of the index [INP materials] in order to help the country comply with the so-called Lustration Law [RFE backgrounder; BI backgrounder on "lustration" generally] passed in October 2006 requiring over 700,000 Polish professionals - academics [IPN announcement], journalists, lawyers, diplomats and managers of state-owned companies - to file affidavits swearing they they never cooperated with the country's Communist-era secret police.

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal [official website] ruled in May that portions of the law were unconstitutional [JURIST report], but left in force provisions that authorized the disclosure of names of public officials who worked with the secret police. Before the ruling, the prime minister said [JURIST report] that judges could face charges if they acted improperly in ruling on the legality of the Lustration Law. Jaroslaw had called for judges on the court to go before a decommunization tribunal themselves before ruling on the law's constitutionality. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.






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US federal prisons return religious materials to prison libraries
Brett Murphy on September 27, 2007 7:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The US federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) [official website] said Wednesday that it will reshelve all religious material taken from prison chapel libraries originally determined to fall outside of the agency's approved list of materials. The BOP made the decision to temporarily end the Standardized Chapel Library Project in light of growing criticism from a wide spectrum of religious and secular leaders. The BOP says it produced the list of limited material based on a 2004 report [PDF text] by the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General [official website], which provided recommendations for curbing violence and derogation related to Muslim extremism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. The BOP will begin to return all religious material to chapel libraries, except anything deemed to incite violence or encourage radicalism.

Earlier this month, several inmates in a federal penitentiary in New York filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the BOP claiming that the removal of religious texts violated the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text]. The move to restrict prisoners' access to reading materials is not unprecedented; in June 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in favor of allowing federal prisons to prevent the most difficult inmates from reading and possessing general-interest newspapers and magazines. The New York Times has more.






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Federal judge rules Patriot Act search, surveillance provisions unconstitutional
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 26, 2007 6:41 PM ET

[JURIST] A US district judge ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that two provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] that deal with physical search and electronic eavesdropping are unconstitutional. Brandon Mayfield [JURIST news archive], the Oregon attorney arrested [JURIST report] and detained for two weeks in May 2004 after the FBI mistakenly concluded that his fingerprints matched [JURIST report] those found on a bag containing detonators used in the 2004 Madrid train bombings [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], challenged the USA Patriot Act provisions which amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and allowed investigators to search his home and office. The judge Wednesday held that the search had violated Mayfield's Fourth Amendment [Fourth Amendment, text] rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Lawyers for the Justice Department had argued that Mayfield's Patriot Act challenge could not continue after the the US government agreed to pay $2 million in November 2006 in a settlement agreement [PDF text; JURIST report], and that the government's retention of Mayfield's family records would not harm the family. Mayfield originally alleged that the FBI orchestrated his arrest because of his religious beliefs as a Muslim, though a 2006 DOJ Inspector General report [text] refuted those claims [press release]. After an investigation into his arrest and detention, the DOJ Inspector General [official website] cleared FBI agents involved in the incident of any wrongdoing and made several suggestions for improvements to the fingerprint identification process that have since been implemented by the DOJ. The US also formally apologized [PDF text] to Mayfield per the agreement. KGW has more.






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Myanmar, Somalia ranked most corrupt countries in annual survey
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 26, 2007 5:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Somalia and Myanmar rank as the world's most corrupt nations in 2007 according to the latest annual Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index [corruption index; press release] released Wednesday. The index ranked 180 countries based on observations by businesspeople and analysts, giving each a score between 1 and 10. Myanmar and Somalia tied for the lowest score of 1.4 out of 10. Transparency International chairman Huguette Labelle said that impoverished countries or countries torn apart by conflict are at the highest risk for persistent corruption, as unscrupulous officials may take advantage of desperation to line their own pockets.

The report did find significant improvement in many African and South East Asian countries from last year's report:

Scores are significantly higher in several African countries in the 2007 CPI. These include Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland. These results reflect the positive progress of anti-corruption efforts in Africa and show that genuine political will and reform can lower perceived levels of corruption.

Other countries with a significant improvement include Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominica, Italy, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Suriname. Countries with a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption in 2007 include Austria, Bahrain, Belize, Bhutan, Jordan, Laos, Macao, Malta, Mauritius, Oman, Papua New Guinea and Thailand.
Last year, the 2006 report listed [JURIST report] Iraq, Haiti, Guinea, and Myanmar as the world's most corrupt nations. Myanmar's score dropped from 1.9 to 1.4 this year. Iraq and Haiti also dropped, while Guinea remained level. Somalia was not included in the 2006 listing. The 2007 report cited Denmark, Finland and New Zealand as the world's least corrupt countries, with each scoring 9.4. AP has more.





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Russia court considers case against Putin critic under 'anti-extremism' laws
Gabriel Haboubi on September 26, 2007 3:23 PM ET

[JURIST] A Russian court began hearings against a renowned political commentator Tuesday, with prosecutors using expanded anti-extremism laws originally designed to combat racism and xenophobia but broadened in July [JURIST reports] to include activities taken for "political or ideological hatred." Prosecutors claim that several books by author Andrei Piontkovsky [fellowship profile; Jamestown Foundation writings], a visiting fellow at Washington DC's Hudson Institute [think tank website], incite violence against Russians, Jews, and Americans. At the hearing, prosecutors refused to give concrete examples of Piotkovsky's extremism, but referenced reports that said Piotkovsky's book "Unloved Country" was insulting to Russians because it contained a fictional conversation in which Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] called opponents "shameful goats." Neither the prosecutors nor the reports explained where the allegations of incitement of hatred against Americans and Jews came from.

Piontkovsky, who denies the allegations, is a leader of Russian opposition party Yabloko [party website], and has described the administration of President Vladimir Putin as a combination of authoritarianism and "bandit capitalism." Investigations of "extremism" have also been brought against other Putin critics, including a human rights activist, a Russian newspaper, and a political analyst who was writing a book on Putin. The Washington Post has more.






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Myanmar police fire on anti-government protesters
Caitlin Price on September 26, 2007 3:09 PM ET

[JURIST] Violence erupted in Myanmar [JURIST news archive] Wednesday as police opened fire on a crowd of 10,000 demonstrators, leaving as many as eight dead. Up to 300 protesters were arrested in the fray, including many Buddhist monks. The violence broke out just one day after the nation's military government banned public gatherings [JURIST report] of more than five people and imposed a curfew in response to the anti-government protests [BBC Q&ampA]. The government acknowledged via state media that the "minimum force" employed by police caused one death; it was the first official admission of the use of force against government protesters. In response to the violence, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched [UN press release] his Special Envoy to Myanmar and urged peaceful dialogue with the junta leaders. The United States and the European Union issued a joint statement [text; AFP report] calling for an end to the violence and looking to "China, India, ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and others in the region to use their influence in support of the people of Burma/Myanmar." AP has more.

The protests are being led by Buddhist monks who object to rights abuses by the government, including the detention of demonstrators who peacefully protested a sharp rise in fuel prices in August. Tens of thousands of citizens have joined the marching monks in what has become the largest demonstration in the country since a pro-democracy uprising in 1988. US President George W. Bush announced US sanctions against Myanmar [speech text, PDF; JURIST report] Tuesday, supplementing the current visa ban on alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses. Myanmar has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. It is not yet clear who will draft the actual constitution or how that process will occur, but the Myanmar government has pledged to put the resulting document to a vote in a national referendum.






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EU probing possible human rights violations in Bangladesh
Gabriel Haboubi on September 26, 2007 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Union is monitoring possible human rights violations in Bangladesh [JURIST news archive], the Bangladeshi New Age reported Wednesday. The paper quoted Netherlands EU ambassador Bea Ten Tusscher as saying that the EU is concerned about several particular human rights cases, despite claims by the the interim military government that the rights situation has improved. If the EU finds that Bangladesh has violated EU human rights guidelines [official texts, PDF], it can suspend cooperation with or impose sanctions on the country. Tusscher's comments came during a round-table discussion on human rights that included local Bangladeshi activists, reporters and others.

Bangladesh's human rights record has been the focus of broad criticism in recent months. In August, Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] criticized Bangladeshi censorship and violence against journalists, calling on the government to guarantee journalists' safety [press release] during a government-imposed curfew [JURIST report]. Last week, the US State Department [official website] expressed concerns about due process for people detained under Bangladesh's emergency rules [JURIST report], which were imposed in January. AFP has more.






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Haiti president vows to continue legal proceedings against Duvalier
Lisl Brunner on September 26, 2007 2:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Haitian President Rene Preval Tuesday declared his intent to continue investigating former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier [BBC backgrounder], despite the latter's recent plea for forgiveness from the people of Haiti [JURIST news archive]. Duvalier, who became president in 1971 at the age of 19, is accused of embezzling money from the national treasury and of killing and imprisoning thousands of dissenters. He has been living in exile in France since his ouster in 1986. Over the weekend, a recorded message from Duvalier was broadcast around Haiti [Guardian report] saying that the former president accepted responsibility for wrongdoing during his administration and suggesting that he might attempt to return to power.

Preval said Tuesday that prosecutors are collecting evidence to begin a trial aimed at recovering the stolen national funds from Duvalier. His assets have been frozen, and Preval is collaborating with the World Bank [official website] to locate assets that Duvalier has placed in foreign countries. The Bank and the United Nations are working with Haiti as part of the new Stolen Asset Initiative [press release], which will assist developing nations in recovering money stolen by former leaders. BBC News has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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Malaysia lawyers protest corruption after release of 'judicial fixing' video
Gabriel Haboubi on September 26, 2007 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Approximately 2000 lawyers and activists, led by the Malaysian Bar Council [profession website], launched a large protest [press release] in Malaysia's capital, Wednesday, calling for an investigation into judicial corruption. Unrest has grown in the country following last week's release of a 2002 video [Bar Council report and streaming video] showing a prominent lawyer on the phone with someone who is believed to be current Malaysian Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim [Wikipedia profile], arranging the appointment of "friendly" senior judges. The lawyer discusses the possibility of Halim's own promotion to chief justice, which later occurred in 2003. The Bar Council ignored government requests [Bar Council report] to call off the protest.

The Malaysian Bar Council organized the march to show solidarity as it handed two memorandums to Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi [official website]. The first memorandum [PDF in English] calls for the establishment of an independent judicial commission to investigate the state of the judiciary, while the second memorandum [PDF in Malay and English] calls for a commission on judicial appointments and promotion. Prior to the march, the Malaysian government established a three-person panel to investigate the video [Star report], but the Bar Council said this failed to address the broader issues of corruption. AP has more.






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Egypt rejects US criticism on alleged rights violations
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 12:09 PM ET

[JURIST] Egypt [JURIST news archive] Wednesday called US criticism of its alleged rights violations "unacceptable," labeling a Monday White House statement [text; JURIST report] about the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid [advocacy website] as "interference" in Egypt's domestic matters. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that the statement by the White House reflected its lack of understanding about Egyptian legal affairs.

Egypt has been criticized lately for apparently clamping down on government critics. Last week, the Egyptian government banned an annual gathering [JURIST report] of the Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS website] amid increasing tension between the government and critics. Earlier this month, a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids [JURIST report] for publishing criticisms of Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party [party website]. Reuters has more.






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White House withdraws Rizzo as CIA general counsel nominee
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 11:42 AM ET

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Tuesday withdrew [press release] John Rizzo [official profile] as the White House nominee for CIA general counsel in light of concerns from Democrats over Rizzo's support for certain interrogation techniques. During a hearing on his nomination in June, Rizzo, currently serving as acting CIA general counsel, said he did not object to the definition of torture in the controversial "Bybee Memo" [PDF text; PBS backgrounder]. In that memo, the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel [official website] defined torture as physical pain equivalent in "intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death."

After the hearing, members of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence expressed reservations [JURIST report] about the Rizzo nomination. In August Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) [official website] said that he would indefinitely block Rizzo's confirmation process [JURIST report] due to Rizzo's remarks on the Bybee Memo. AP has more.






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Italy PM calls for global death penalty moratorium
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi [official website] urged all nations to institute a moratorium on capital punishment in an address [PDF text] delivered to the UN General Assembly Tuesday. Prodi said that such action would mark great progress in ethics and that:

A United Nations resolution against the death penalty will prove that human beings today are better than they were yesterday also in moral terms. An outcome with enormous consequences, heralding a more just future, and a society that has at least freed itself from the spiral of revenge, demonstrating that it has heeded the warning of the ancients: "if you want peace, you must work for justice."
Prodi noted that support for such a resolution is gaining ground in Europe, despite a recent decision by Poland to reject plans [CNSNews report] for a European Union "day against the death penalty" [press release] scheduled for October. A proposed UN resolution calling for a moratorium is expected to receive resistance from others as well, including the US and China.

In January, Italy received the support [JURIST report] of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when it launched a new push against the death penalty [JURIST report] following the execution of Saddam Hussein. On the whole, Italians fervently oppose [CNN report] capital punishment, often protesting high-profile death penalty cases abroad. In May, however, over 300 Italian prisoners currently serving life sentences sent a letter [JURIST report] to the Italian president asking that the death penalty be reinstated. AP has more.





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US soldier pleads not guilty to Iraqi civilian pre-meditated murder
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] US Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval pleaded not guilty at his court-martial in Iraq Wednesday to charges that he and two other soldiers killed three unarmed Iraqis and then placed weapons next to the bodies. Sandoval, along with Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley and Sgt. Evan Vela, was charged [press release; JURIST report] with premeditated murder and wrongfully placing a weapon with the remains of a deceased Iraqi for his role in the incident, which took place between April and June 2007 in the vicinity of Iskandariyah, Iraq [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. If convicted, Sandoval could receive a life sentence.

Earlier this week, Vela's lawyer argued that Vela was simply following orders to "bait" suspected Iraqi insurgents with materials that could be used to aid the insurgency and then kill them. In August, Hensley refused to accept a plea agreement [JURIST report], saying he was innocent of the charges against him. AP has more.






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Chinese lawyer detained for sending letter to US Congress
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Chinese lawyer and outspoken critic of the Chinese government Gao Zhisheng [JURIST news archive] has been arrested again, this time for writing a letter to the US Congress asking the US to help the human rights situation in his home country, a friend of Gao said Tuesday. According to people close to Gao, he was taken from his home by police on Saturday, five days after he warned friends that police had threatened to arrest him if he made any public statements. Police arrested him for violating the conditions of his parole, which took away any political rights, including the rights to free speech and protest.

Gao is on parole for a conviction [JURIST report] of "conspiring to topple" the government of China [JURIST news archive] by writing nine "defamatory" articles posted on international websites. He received a three-year suspended sentence [JURIST report] and was put under house arrest with no telephone and limited access to the outside world. Rights groups have recently slammed China [JURIST report] for not keeping its promises to improve human rights and press freedom in preparation for the 2008 Olympics [official website]. In August, Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] demonstrated in Beijing in protest of the continued detention of nearly 100 journalists and activists. AP has more.






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Texas executes inmate despite pending Supreme Court lethal injection review
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 9:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Texas continued with the lethal injection execution of a convicted murderer Tuesday, despite the US Supreme Court's grant of certiorari [cert. petition, PDF] in a case reviewing whether the method is cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket] on whether the use of a three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Texas, which executes more inmates that any other state, is one of the 37 states that uses this method. Texas Governor Rick Perry said that officials will continue with executions under the state's current interpretation of the law until the Supreme Court rules otherwise.

The Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] ruled in the Baze case that the current method of lethal injection does not violate the constitution [JURIST report] because the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain." Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. AP has more.






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Federal judge rules DOJ needs warrants for dialed digits wiretaps
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2007 8:59 AM ET

[JURIST] US federal Magistrate Judge Joan M. Azrack [official profile] has ruled that the government must obtain warrants in order to place taps on phones that would reveal dialed digits. Under the Patriot Act [JURIST news archive], government agents are permitted to use a wiretap without a warrant so long as it did not include the "contents of any communication." Federal prosecutors had requested that they be able to record what are called post-cut-through dialed digits (PCTDD), the numbers dialed after a call is made, via a warrantless wiretap. In her decision last week, Azrack said that PCTDD information may sometimes contain actual content such as voicemail passwords and credit card numbers, and as such, the government must obtain a warrant in order to survey this type of data.

Earlier in September, the Department of Justice reassured Congress [JURIST report] that the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials] does not allow the government authorities to conduct warrantless domestic searches. Critics allege that the surveillance law, passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August, does not sufficiently narrow the scope of surveillance because it authorizes electronic surveillance as long as the investigation concerns a "person" outside of the United States. The Center of Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] has already filed a legal challenge to the law, contending it violates the Fourth Amendment [press release; JURIST report] because it removes judicial oversight for spying and "leaves it to the executive branch to monitor itself." CNET News has more.






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US extends free legal services coverage to resident Micronesians
Lauren Becker on September 26, 2007 7:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Micronesian Legal Service Corporation (LSC) [official website] attorney Omar Calimbas said Tuesday that beginning October 15, 2007, the US will permit Micronesians living on the US mainland to receive free legal aid services. The decision will change a 1983 US Congressional act that prevented the representation of aliens, with the exception of certain documented persons, as a condition of US federal LSC funding. LSC regulations were amended [Federal Register text] on September 14, and will now allow citizens of Micronesia both on US mainland and in Micronesia to obtain free legal services from the organization.

The Micronesian LSC, which is partially funded by the US federal government, provides free legal services to indigents and distributes funding to nonprofit legal aid organizations. According to the 2000 US Census [PDF text], there are approximately 400,000 Pacific Islanders living in the United States. Calimbas said that many of these people are living in the US in order to support their families in the various islands and that the lifting of the ban will indirectly help in that support. The Saipan Tribune has more.






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ACLU challenges US exclusion of South Africa scholar
Leslie Schulman on September 25, 2007 6:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] in federal court Tuesday against the US Department of State and the US Department of Homeland Security [official websites], alleging that the US government is illegally preventing South African scholar and professor Adam Habib [academic profile] from entering the country. According to the ACLU, Habib had traveled freely to and from the US, frequently speaking at universities and organizations, until his visa was suddenly revoked last October. Last month, the ACLU criticized [press release] the State Department for failing to reissue Habib's US visa. Tuesday's complaint alleges that Habib, who is an outspoken critic of US terrorism policies and the war in Iraq, is being censored at the border for political reasons, and that his exclusion violates the First Amendment rights of US citizens and organizations who are being denied his perspectives.

Last year, the ACLU brought a similar lawsuit [JURIST report] against the US for denying Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan [ACLU profile] entry into the United States under the ideological exclusion provision [ACLU backgrounder; CIS report] of the Patriot Act [JURIST news archive]. Ramadan was unable to accept speaking invitations at various functions and a teaching invitation at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 after his visa was revoked. The ACLU launched a new website [advocacy website] Tuesday, profiling other scholars and politicians that have been similarly kept out of the US. AP has more.






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Getty Museum signs agreement to return looted Italy antiquities
Leslie Schulman on September 25, 2007 6:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The Getty Museum [official website] Tuesday signed [press release] a formal agreement with the Italian Ministry of Culture Heritage and Activities [official website] to return 40 allegedly looted Italian artifacts [list of objects, PDF] to Italy over the next several months. In exchange, Italian officials agreed to drop a civil lawsuit against former Getty Museum curator Marion True. Criminal charges against her, which allege she knowingly acquired illegally obtained and smuggled artifacts, will proceed. True has denied the allegations, as have Getty officials.

The agreement was initially announced [JURIST report] last month, after the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities threatened to suspend all Italian collaboration with the Getty if an agreement was not reached by August. Italian authorities have insisted that, pursuant to a 1939 Italian law, all archaeological artifacts excavated in Italy belong to the Italian state, and that many items recovered in international waters were nevertheless exported illegally from Italy. Italy first demanded [JURIST report] last year that the Getty return all antiquities alleged to have been looted. AP has more.






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Myanmar imposes curfew, bans public gatherings in wake of protests
Leslie Schulman on September 25, 2007 6:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The military government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive] Tuesday banned public gatherings of more than five people and imposed a curfew in response to anti-government protests [BBC Q&A]. These measures come the day after the government threatened [JURIST report] to punish the demonstration leaders. The protests are being led by Buddhist monks who object to rights abuses by the government, including the detention of demonstrators who peacefully protested a sharp rise in fuel prices in August. Tens of thousands of citizens have joined the marching monks in what has become the largest demonstration in the country since a pro-democracy uprising in 1988. In August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] issued a statement urging Myanmar [JURIST report] to immediately release demonstrators, saying that allowing citizens to peacefully express themselves will help foster both democracy and reconciliation. AP has more.

Also Tuesday, US President George W. Bush announced during a speech [PDF text; JURIST report] at the UN General Assembly that the US would impose economic sanctions against Myanmar. The sanctions would come in addition to the current visa ban on alleged perpetrators of human rights [JURIST news archive] abuses. Myanmar has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. It is not yet clear who will draft the actual constitution or how that process will occur, but the Myanmar government has pledged to put the resulting document to a vote in a national referendum.






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Pentagon to move ahead on Khadr trial after court approves jurisdiction
Caitlin Price on September 25, 2007 2:50 PM ET

[JURIST] The Pentagon Tuesday declared its intention to "expeditiously" move forward with the trial of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive], following a Monday decision [PDF text] from the Court of Military Commissions Review (USCMCR) [DOD materials] granting jurisdiction to military trial judges to hear the case. In June, a military commission judge dropped terrorism charges [order, PDF; JURIST report] against Khadr, ruling that the court had no jurisdiction because a Guantanamo Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD materials] had found that Khadr was an "enemy combatant," not an "unlawful enemy combatant" as required under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [PDF text]. The appeals court reversed that ruling, finding that the distinction was purely semantic; that the military judge had the power to hear evidence concerning, and ultimately decide, Khadr's "unlawful enemy combatant" status; and that the language of MCA Section 949a(a) and 948b(c) clearly show that

Congress intended for military commissions to "apply the principles of law" and "the procedures for trial [routinely utilized] by general courts-martial..." This would include the common procedures used before general courts-martial permitting military judges to hear evidence and decide factual and legal matters concerning the court's own jurisdiction over the accused appearing before it.
The USCMCR reinstated [JURIST report] the charges against Khadr, and the Pentagon said it expects prosecutors in that and other military commissions cases to quickly move toward trial [AFPS report].

Khadr was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban. He was only 15 at the time. After earlier proceedings against him were effectively quashed by the US Supreme Court's rejection of presidentially-established military commissions as unconstitutional he was formally recharged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April under the new Military Commissions Act with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. AFP has more.






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Bush urges UN members to respect human rights declaration
Alexis Unkovic on September 25, 2007 1:48 PM ET

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush [JURIST news archive] Tuesday addressed the UN General Assembly [official website] and called on fellow member states to abide by the dictates of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text] by opposing dictatorships and aiding countries seeking to establish democracies. In his speech [PDF text; recorded video] at the opening of the General Assembly's 62nd session [UN materials], Bush also urged the UN to reform its Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website; JURIST news archive], established in 2006 to replace [JURIST report] the UN Human Rights Commission [official website], which was often criticized for allowing states with poor human rights records to become members.

In addition, Bush opened the door Tuesday to the possibility that the US may support the expansion of the UN Security Council [official website] to include members such as Japan:

Some have also called for reform to the structure of the Security Council, including an expansion of its membership. The United States is open to this prospect. We believe that Japan is well-qualified for permanent membership on the Security Council, and that other nations should be considered, as well. The United States will listen to all good ideas, and we will support changes to the Security Council as part of broader U.N. reform. And in all we do, I call on member states to work for an institution that adheres to strict ethical standards, and lives up to the high principles of the Universal Declaration.
Bush also announced in his speech that the US would impose economic sanctions against the military government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive], formerly known as "Burma," in addition to a visa ban on alleged human rights [JURIST news archive] violators from that country. In another controversial comment, Bush said that "the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end" in reference to the rule of Fidel Castro in Cuba, reportedly causing Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque to storm out of the chamber. AP has more.





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Federal government challenges Illinois immigration law
Alexis Unkovic on September 25, 2007 1:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois [official website] Monday filed a federal lawsuit [press release] against state of Illinois [JURIST news archive] in an effort to invalidate a state law that wold prevent employers from using the voluntary E-Verify [DHS backgrounder] program maintained by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website]. E-Verify tracks whether potential employees can legally work in the United States. US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] and DHS officials say the Illinois law frustrates their efforts to combat illegal immigration [JURIST news archive] and violates the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Supporters of the Illinois law say E-Verify is often inaccurate and therefore discriminatory.

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich [official website] signed the Right to Privacy at Work Act into law in August after its passage by the Illinois General Assembly [official website]. The law is set to take effect January 1, 2008. AP has more. The Chicago Tribune has local coverage.






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Supreme Court takes 17 cases for October Term 2007
James M Yoch Jr on September 25, 2007 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday granted certiorari [orders list, PDF] in 17 cases for the October Term 2007, among them notable cases dealing with lethal injection, voter ID laws and subsequently seized evidence. In Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition], the Court will consider whether lethal injections of death row inmates constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. At issue is the three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart used in Kentucky and 36 other states. Opponents of the method claim that it does not contain enough anesthetic to relieve pain; however, the Kentucky Supreme Court in upholding the injection [JURIST report] last November ruled that the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment does not ban all pain. Last week, a federal judge in Tennessee held [JURIST report] that the state's execution protocols, which use the same three-drug cocktail, violate the Eighth Amendment because they do not ensure that prisoners are properly anesthetized before they receive a lethal injection. AP has more.

In two other cases, the Court will hear challenges to the constitutionality of Indiana's controversial voter identification statute [Indiana SOS backgrounder, PDF] that requires voters to present photo identification as a prerequisite to voting. The cases, Crawford v. Marion City Election Board (07-21) [docket; cert. petition], and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita (07-25) [docket; cert. petition], pit those who believe the law prevents voter fraud against opponents who believe the legislation makes it difficult for minorities and impoverished voters to participate in elections. In January, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld [JURIST report] the law, ruling that it does not put an undue burden on the right to vote and therefore does not violate the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court confronted the issue of voter ID laws last term. In October 2006, the Court ruled in a per curiam opinion [PDF text] that Arizona could enforce its voter ID law [JURIST report], which requires voters to show government-issued voter ID cards [JURIST news archive] at the polls. Last month, a federal judge held [JURIST report] that the same Arizona voter ID law did not operate as an illegal poll tax. AP has more.

In Virginia v. Moore (06-1082) [docket; cert. petition], the Court will consider whether a court must suppress evidence seized after an arrest that violated state law. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that David Lee Moore, who was arrested on a suspended license charge, should have been released and issued a summons, making the subsequent search, which turned up crack cocaine, illegal and all evidence inadmissible. Other state courts have held that subsequently seized evidence does not have to be suppressed. AP has more.






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Iran releases fourth Iranian-American on bail
James M Yoch Jr on September 25, 2007 10:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iranian government ended the four-month detention of Iranian-American peace activist Ali Shakeri [advocacy website] Monday, releasing him on bail in the amount of 1 million rials (approximately USD$110,000). Shakeri, a founding member of the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peacebuilding [advocacy website], is the fourth dual US citizen Iran has detained in recent months on charges of endangering Iranian national security. According to a spokesperson for the Iranian judiciary, Shakeri may be granted judicial approval to leave Iran, where he has been detained in a Tehran prison since visiting family in May.

The four Iranian-Americans have now all been released or allowed to depart the country by Iranian authorities. Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh and Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima [JURIST reports] have each been formally charged with anti-government conduct by Iran. Tajbakhsh was released [JURIST report] last week and Esfandiari was released [JURIST report] earlier this month. Azima, who was never imprisoned, has been permitted to leave the country [JURIST report] as well. AP has more.






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Hungary licensing of sex workers said to violate human trafficking treaty
Michael Sung on September 25, 2007 9:54 AM ET

[JURIST] Hungarian officials announced Monday that the government has begun granting entrepreneur licenses to sex industry workers, despite critics' claims that the licensing scheme encourages human trafficking and violates Hungary's obligations under the 1950 UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others [materials]. The licenses will allow sex workers, who are already legally allowed to work subject to government regulations, to issue receipts and pay income and social security taxes.

Supporters of the government's bid to better integrate Hungary's sex industry with the country's economy say that legalization and decriminalization has already allowed for greater transparency and government regulation, which improves the conditions of sex workers. AP has more.






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Israel high court orders land fund to allow non-Jews to purchase land
Michael Sung on September 25, 2007 9:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Israel [official website] Monday ordered the Jewish National Fund (JNF) [fund website; Wikipedia backgrounder] to end its discriminatory policy of selling land only to Jews, ruling that the JNF's mandate to provide land for Jewish resettlement cannot deny equal rights to non-Jewish Israelis. The high court also accepted a temporary arrangement in which the JNF will allow non-Jews to purchase property if the state Israel Land Administration [official website] reimburses the JNF with an equal amount of land. The high court gave the JNF three months to establish a permanent arrangement to comply with the decision.

The JNF, which owns approximately 13 percent of all Israeli land, was founded in 1901 to acquire and develop land for Jewish resettlement. Critics of the JNF say the fund became unnecessary following Israel's statehood in 1948, while supporters say that the JNF is necessary to ensure that Israel remains a predominately Jewish state. AP has more.






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Peru president pledges fair trial for Fujimori
Brett Murphy on September 25, 2007 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Peruvian President Alan Garcia pledged on Monday to act with fairness during the trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive], who was extradited from Chile last week after a Supreme Court of Chile ruling [JURIST report] that he should be transferred to Peru to face human rights and corruption charges. Garcia lauded the court's decision, and promised to fulfill the president's duty "to ensure compliance with the constitution."

The Supreme Court's review came after Peru filed an appeal of a lower court's ruling [JURIST reports] denying the government's request for extradition. Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. He was being held under house arrest in Chile after being arrested [JURIST reports] in December 2005 after traveling to Chile from Japan to campaign for the Peruvian presidency, despite having been officially banned from holding public office until 2010 [JURIST report]. He is currently running for a seat in the Japanese parliament [JURIST report]. IANS has more.






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Iraq parliament to consider private security contractor regulations
Michael Sung on September 25, 2007 8:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi Interior Ministry is proposing draft legislation to be submitted to the Iraqi parliament that places private security contractors under Iraqi legal jurisdiction, a ministry spokesperson said Tuesday. The legislation, drafted in response to the domestic outrage at a September 16 incident in which Blackwater USA [corporate website] contractors allegedly killed 11 unarmed civilians, will overturn an exemption [PDF text] which allows US security contractors to largely operate outside of Iraqi law [JURIST report]. The exception was granted by the US government when it controlled the Coalition Provisional Authority.

On Saturday, the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that investigators have referred the September 16 incident to an investigating judge [JURIST report], who will review the evidence and decide whether to proceed with a criminal prosecutions. A recent US bill [text, see S. 552, Clarification of Application of Uniform Code of Military Justice During a Time of War], passed last year in an effort create greater legal accountability for military contractors, does not apply to the Blackwater contractors in the incident because they were employed by the US State Department. AP has more.






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US criticizes Egypt for alleged rights violations
Brett Murphy on September 25, 2007 7:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bush administration expressed concern Monday about recent "setbacks on press freedom and civil society" in Egypt. Commenting on a recent Egyptian government order mandating the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid [advocacy website], White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said [text]:

These latest decisions appear to contradict the Egyptian Government's stated commitment to expand democratic rights. The contributions of civil society and the free flow of ideas and information are crucial in addressing a host of domestic and international challenges as well as expanding the rights of Egyptian citizens. We urge that any appeals process proceed expeditiously and according to international standards of due process.
The Association had been actively involved in the first lawsuit against a state official on allegations of torture.

Last week, the Egyptian government banned an annual gathering [JURIST report] of the Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS website] amid increasing tension between the government, led by Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak [official profile], and critics. Earlier this month, a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids [JURIST report] for publishing criticisms of Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party [party website]. Egyptian prosecutors also said they would put al-Dustour [media website] editor Ibrahim Issa on trial in a separate action for allegedly spreading "rumors" about Mubarak's health. AP has more.





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Thailand court suspends corruption case against Thaksin
Brett Murphy on September 25, 2007 7:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The Thai Supreme Court for Political Appointees suspended proceedings Tuesday against former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] until he and his wife, Pojamarn, are arrested and brought into court for proceedings. Thaksin has been living in the United Kingdom since the bloodless military coup [JURIST report] that ousted him from power last year. In making the decision to stop proceedings, the court said that although the state has indicated that the extradition process should be complete in 90 days, there is no indication of when Thaksin will actually return to Thailand.

Earlier in September, the Bangkok Criminal Court issued a second arrest warrant [JURIST report] for Thaksin and his wife on corruption charges. Thaksin and Pojamarn have been accused of abuse of power for personal gain [JURIST report], conflict of interest violations, and dereliction of duty for personal gain in charges stemming from a 2003 land purchase by Pojamarn from the government-directed Financial Institutions Development Fund [official website]. Thaksin has refused to return to Thailand to face charges because he does not expect to receive a fair trial [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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Federal appeals court rules treaty does not give individual prisoners cause of action
Brett Murphy on September 25, 2007 6:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled Monday that foreign prisoners do not have a cause of action under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [PDF text] if police do not inform the inmate of their right under the treaty to call the inmate's home country embassy following arrest. Finding that the Vienna Convention is applicable only to sovereign nations, and not individuals, the court wrote [opinion, PDF]:

Article 36 [of the convention] does not create judicially enforceable rights. Article 36 confers legal rights and obligations on States in order to facilitate and promote consular functions. Consular functions include protecting the interests of detained nationals, and for that purpose detainees have the right (if they want) for the consular post to be notified of their situation. In this sense, detained foreign nationals benefit from Article 36’s provisions. But the right to protect nationals belongs to States party to the Convention; no private right is unambiguously conferred on individual detainees.
Attorneys for the inmate plaintiffs indicated that they plan on filing an appeal with the US Supreme Court, saying that other federal jurisdictions have held that the convention does indeed provide such an enforceable right to individuals.

Last year, a Texas state court held [JURIST report] that President Bush "exceeded his constitutional authority" by mandating that US courts follow a March 2005 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision giving individuals rights under the Vienna Convention and saying that the US was obligated to grant review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences to the ICJ. The plaintiff in the case, Jose Ernesto Medellin [ASIL case backgrounder], filed a habeas corpus petition arguing that the US had breached his right to contact the Mexican consulate for legal assistance under Article 36. The Texas case will be considered by the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] in its upcoming October 2007 Term; oral arguments are currently scheduled for October 10. The North County Times has more.





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Khadr military commission charges reinstated
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 24, 2007 8:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Military Commission Review [DOD materials] Monday reinstated terrorism charges against Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive]. In June, a military commission judge dropped charges [order, PDF; JURIST report] against Khadr, ruling that the court had no jurisdiction because a Guantanamo Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD materials] had found that Khadr was an "enemy combatant," not an "unlawful enemy combatant" as required under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text]. The appeals court held that the distinction was purely semantic and that the military tribunal system still had the authority to try Khadr.

Khadr was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban. He was only 15 at the time. After earlier proceedings against him were effectively quashed by the US Supreme Court's rejection of presidentially-established military commissions as unconstitutional he was formally recharged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April under the new Military Commissions Act with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. AP has more.






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Israel opens criminal probe into Olmert real estate purchase
Melissa Bancroft on September 24, 2007 6:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli Attorney General announced Monday that he was opening an investigation into a real estate purchase made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website]. The criminal probe centers on a Jerusalem apartment for which Olmert paid the value of 320,000 American dollars. Olmert is accused of receiving the apartment at a substantially reduced price in exchange for helping a construction company obtain illegal building permits. Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz [official profile] authorized the initial investigation to determine whether a further probe is warranted.

This is not the first time Olmert has been investigated for questionable deals. In April, Olmert was investigated for improperly favoring his supporters [JURIST report] in distributing business grants when he was trade minister in 2001. Olmert has also endured accusations that he promoted the interests of two business associates during the 2005 state sale of Bank Leumi [corporate website]. In January, the Israeli Ministry of Justice announced plans to launch an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations surrounding Olmert's involvement with the sale of Bank Leumi. Throughout the scandals, Olmert has maintained that he has done nothing wrong. AFP has more. Xinhua has additional coverage.






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South Africa president suspends top criminal prosecutor
Melissa Bancroft on September 24, 2007 6:06 PM ET

[JURIST] South African President Thabo Mbeki [official profile] suspended National Prosecuting Authority chief Vusi Pikoli Monday, citing a strained relationship between Pikoli and his superior, Minister of Justice Bridget Mabandla [official website], as the primary motive for the suspension. Pikoli was appointed to lead an elite corruption fighting agency in 2005, but last May complained before parliament of attacks against his office by the ruling political party, the African National Congress [official website].

Mbeki's brief statement emphasized that government functioning "will not be compromised, especially within the context of the collective challenge to fight crime." South Africa [CIA backgrounder; JURIST news archive] has one of the highest crime rates in the world, averaging 50 murders a day. AFP has more. AP has additional coverage.






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Argentina war crimes suspect sentenced in US for visa fraud
Leslie Schulman on September 24, 2007 3:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Argentinean military officer Ernesto Guillermo Barreiro [Desaparecidos profile] has been sentenced [press release] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to six months in jail for one count of visa fraud, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] said Monday. According to ICE, he will likely be deported to Argentina when his US sentence is complete, where he faces charges of torture, kidnapping, and murder for his role in Argentina's 1976-83 Dirty War [Global Security backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. If convicted of those charges, he faces up to life in prison.

Barreiro was arrested [JURIST report] in April for violating US immigration laws, along with two former Peruvian military officials, Telmo Ricardo Hurtado and Juan Manuel Rivera-Rondon. All three are suspected of war atrocities in their home countries, with Barreiro being accused of having served as the chief interrogator at La Perla [IPS report], a clandestine prison, where thousands of suspected dissidents and government opponents were tortured and killed. Reuters has more.






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Indonesia begins court proceedings in civil corruption lawsuit against Suharto
Leslie Schulman on September 24, 2007 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Indonesian prosecutors began court proceedings Monday against former Indonesian President Haji Mohammad Suharto [CNN profile], bringing the government's civil corruption lawsuit [JURIST report] against Suharto for allegedly embezzling $440 million between 1974 and 1998 from the Yayasan Supersemar [official website], a state-funded academic scholarship fund. The court proceedings began after prosecutors for the government failed [JURIST report] to reach a settlement earlier this month. Indonesian law requires that parties try mediation to resolve civil disputes before courts may proceed with a case. Suharto's lawyer Juan Felix Tampubolon has said that the negotiations failed because government prosecutors insisted on terms identical with their suit.

The civil suit is the latest effort by the Indonesian government to hold Suharto accountable for his 32-year reign, which ended in 1998 after public discontent amid the Asian financial crisis erupted into violent protests. Government lawyers are seeking to recover the $440 million in state funds, and an additional $1.1 billion in damages. In January, Indonesian Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh announced plans to bring the civil action against Suharto after dropping criminal charges of corruption because Suharto has been rendered unable to speak or write [JURIST reports] as a result of several strokes. ABC News has more.






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ABA urges death penalty moratorium in Ohio
Leslie Schulman on September 24, 2007 3:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Bar Association death penalty assessment team [ABA materials] has recommended [news release] a moratorium on the death penalty in Ohio, in a report [PDF text; executive summary, PDF] released Monday that cited major flaws in the state's administration of capital punishment [JURIST news archive]. The assessment team, composed of Ohio lawmakers, judges, and law professors, studied the state's death penalty system for approximately 30 months before releasing the report, which only recommends a moratorium until "problems can be corrected and fairness assured." The panel identified several problems [ABA fact sheet, DOC] including inadequate and inconsistent court-appointed representation, inadequate appellate review of claims of error, racial discrepancies in sentencing, and no implementation of the US Supreme Court ruling against executing the mentally retarded [Atkins v. Virginia text]. The ABA hopes that the report will encourage Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland [official website] to impose a moratorium until the report can be reviewed and the state can implement the report's recommendations. Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association executive director John Murphy on Monday called the report a "mugging of [the Ohio] justice system."

The Ohio assessment is one of several that the ABA has conducted since 2001. An assessment panel has also identified problems with death penalty practices in Georgia and Alabama [JURIST reports]. The ABA will next review capital punishment in Pennsylvania. AP has more.






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Violent crime in US increases for second year running: FBI
Brett Murphy on September 24, 2007 12:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Violent crime in the US has increased for the second year in a row, according to the 2006 Crime in the United States report [text; press release] released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation [official website] Monday. The FBI reported that violent crime rose by 1.9 percent in 2006, with the homicide rate increasing 1.8 percent and the number of robberies increasing by 7.2 percent. There were some violent crimes that declined in 2006, including the estimated number of rapes, which declined by 2 percent. In contrast to the violent crime statistics, FBI data showed an overall decline in the amount of property crime by a measure of 2.8 percent.

The FBI in June released the Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report for 2006 [text; JURIST report], which estimated a violent crime increase of only 1.3 percent. The 2005 Annual Report on Violent Crime [text; JURIST report] found that violent crimes had increased for the first time since 2001. The upward trend in violent crime [JURIST report] was initially disclosed in May by FBI Assistant Director of Public Affairs John Miller [official profile], who told AP that mid-sized American cities had been particularly affected. Reuters has more.






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Federal judiciary concerned over salary gap
Brett Murphy on September 24, 2007 12:16 PM ET

[JURIST] US federal judges have expressed concern about the salary gap between federal judges and lawyers in the private sector, saying that judges are resigning in greater numbers than ever before due to inadequate pay, USA Today reported Monday. According to the Federal Judicial Pay Increase Fact Sheet [text] from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the pay for federal judges when adjusted for inflation has actually declined by nearly 25 percent since 1969, whereas the pay for the average US worker has increased by over 18 percent. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has proposed the Federal Judicial Salary Restoration Act of 2007 [S 1638 text, PDF], which would substantially increase the salary for a federal judge. When introducing the bill in June, Leahy said [PDF text]:

This bill would demonstrate our respect and appreciation for our hardworking Federal judges by authorizing an immediate and substantial increase in judicial salaries. Our bill recognizes the important constitutional role judges play in administering justice, interpreting our laws, and providing the ultimate check and balance in our system of government. It is time Congress treated the Federal judiciary with the respect that a co-equal branch of government deserves.
Opponents, however, argue that the current salary level for federal district judges, which places them in the top 10 percent earning bracket, is adequate and do not believe that the issue will cause any harm to the federal bench.

The Federal Judicial Salary Restoration Act is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would increase the salary of federal district judges from $165,200 to $247,800 per year in an attempt to close the pay gap between the federal judiciary and their colleagues in private practice. USA Today has more.





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Myanmar threatens action against protesting monks
Brett Murphy on September 24, 2007 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The military government in Myanmar [JURIST news archive] on Monday threatened to punish the thousands of monks who have been leading protests against the government [BBC Q&A]. The monks are protesting rights abuses by the government, including the detention of demonstrators who peacefully protested a sharp rise in fuel prices in August. Tens of thousands of citizens have joined the marching monks in what has become the largest demonstration in the country since a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

In August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] issued a statement urging Myanmar [JURIST report] to immediately release demonstrators, saying that allowing citizens to peacefully express themselves will help foster both democracy and reconciliation in Myanmar. Earlier this month, the US also criticized [JURIST report] the rights situation in Myanmar, with President George W. Bush saying that it was "inexcusable" for the recently-concluded constitutional convention in Myanmar to have excluded opposition party members. Myanmar has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter have been underway for 14 years. It is not yet clear who will draft the actual constitution or how that process will occur, but the Myanmar government has pledged to put the resulting document to a vote in a national referendum. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.






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'Chemical Ali' ordered executions: court testimony
Katerina Ossenova on September 24, 2007 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Saddam Hussein's cousin and former Iraqi defense minister Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], also known as Chemical Ali, ordered the execution of 25 villagers at a time as he crushed a Shi'a uprising [HRW backgrounder] in southern Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, according to testimony Monday in the crimes against humanity trial [JURIST report] ongoing at the Iraqi High Tribunal. A witness speaking from behind a curtain testified that his son was among those executed. The witness said that al-Majid ordered the executions of about 200 people, in batches of 25 at a time; the bodies were later found in a mass grave. Al-Majid responded that he was not even in Basra at the time. Monday's session of the trial opened with al-Majid and another defendant asking for an adjournment, saying their lawyers were afraid to attend court and had asked for protection from the US military. The request was refused.

Al-Majid and 14 other former Saddam Hussein-era officials are on trial for their role in the government's violent response to the uprising, during which tens of thousands of civilians were killed. They are charged with crimes against humanity and could face the death penalty. Al-Majid has already been sentenced to death [JURIST report] for his role in the 1988 Anfal campaign [HRW backgrounder] that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Kurds. The Iraqi High Tribunal's Appeals Chamber upheld the death sentences [JURIST report] of three defendants in the Anfal case, including al-Majid, on September 4; Iraqi law requires the executions to take place within 30 days of the court ruling. The new case is the third in a series of trials involving Hussein-era officials [JURIST news archive]. The first was the Dujail case [BBC timeline] involving crimes against humanity committed in that Iraqi town in 1982, which resulted in the hangings of Hussein and his co-defendants. AFP has more.






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UN investigators in Darfur cite continuing human rights abuses
Katerina Ossenova on September 24, 2007 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] A group of experts presented an interim report [press release] to the United Nations Human Rights Council [official website] on the situation in Darfur Monday, citing continued human rights violations. The report noted that the government of Sudan demonstrated cooperation [press release] during the period under review and has partially implemented some recommendations. Since other recommendations remain without implementation, the group concluded that it was "not in a position to report that a clear impact on the ground has been identified." The group expressed concern about the ongoing serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and called on the Sudanese government to "address impunity, and to call on all parties to end violence against civilians, especially women, children, internally displaced persons, those with disabilities and humanitarian workers." A report with a detailed description and analysis of the status of the implementation of the group's recommendations in Darfur [JURIST news archive] will be presented in a final report to the Human Rights Council in December 2007. AFP has more.

The investigation by the group of experts was authorized [JURIST report] by a Human Rights Council Resolution in March 2007. In July, The UN Human Rights Committee [official website] urged [DOC text; JURIST report] the Sudanese government to "take all appropriate measures" to guarantee that all state agents, including the military and armed militias, discontinue "widespread and systematic" violations of human rights. Earlier in July, Sudan defended its handling of alleged abuses [JURIST report] in Darfur, saying its judiciary was capable of handling cases of murder, torture, and rape. Sudan has also denied allegations that the government has collaborated with armed militias, and responded to calls from the ICC chief prosecutor for the arrest of Sudanese war crime suspects by saying that the ICC does not have the jurisdiction [JURIST reports] to prosecute alleged war crimes in Darfur because Sudan has not ratified the ICC's Rome Statute [PDF text].






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Israel cabinet approves release of 90 Palestinian detainees
Brett Murphy on September 24, 2007 7:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli cabinet decided Sunday to release 90 Palestinians [press release] currently imprisoned by Israel this week in an attempt to sway Palestinian opinion, including that of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC profile], on Israel [JURIST news archive]. Aides to Abbas, however, said that the release of a mere 90 of the 11,000 Palestinians detained by Israel is not enough in light of the years of failed peace talks between the two groups. The cabinet considered 100 names for release, 10 of which were rejected for security reasons.

Israel released 255 Palestinian prisoners [JURIST report] in July after the government determined that the detainees were not directly involved [press release] in the killing or wounding of Israelis. Similar to the current proposed release, the prisoners were released this summer as a gesture of goodwill in an effort to strengthen the moderate Fatah against the more-hardline Hamas [BBC backgrounder], which violently took over the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] in June. Palestinian infighting between the Islamist-Hamas and the secular-Fatah has established two parallel Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza. AP has more.






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Pakistan lawyers name former judge as presidential nominee
Brett Murphy on September 24, 2007 7:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association nominated former judge Wajeehuddin Ahmed on Monday to run in the upcoming presidential election against current Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile]. Musharraf's eligibility to run is still being contested, despite the Supreme Court of Pakistan's dismissal of three petitions against Musharraf's re-election campaign [AP report]. Ahmed was one of the few judges to stand in opposition to Musharraf by resigning from the Supreme Court [IANS report] in 1999 when the president suspended the constitution of the dismissed government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The lawyers group urged the government not to create difficulties for the nomination, which is due to the Election Commission on September 27.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is still considering seven petitions against Musharraf's bid for re-election, which the Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association has protested [JURIST report], saying that Musharraf's dual role as president and army chief is illegal. Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir Malik has said that the group's goal is to secure Musharraf's resignation [JURIST report] and to restore the 1973 Constitution [text]. Earlier this year Pakistani lawyers led a four-month campaign to reinstate suspended Pakistani Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] after Musharraf suspended him in March for alleged judicial misconduct. Chaudhry was reinstated in July, with all charges of misconduct [JURIST reports] dismissed. IRNA has more.






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Pakistan opposition members arrested ahead of Musharraf re-election bid
Michael Sung on September 23, 2007 10:28 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani government authorities detained at least a dozen members of the opposition Saturday as part of an effort to prevent possible "disturbances" relating to President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] re-election bid. A high level official in the capital Islamabad indicated that more arrests were likely in as the October 6 election nears. Pakistan's president is chosen by an electoral college made up of national and local parliamentarians. Musharraf's government is expecting widespread protests challenging his controversial bid for another 5-year term, which members of the opposition believe is unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, a government lawyer told the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] that Musharraf will only resign as chief of Pakistan's army following his re-election. The high court will decide whether Musharraf can constitutionally hold dual roles as president and army chief [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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DHS travel tracking more detailed than previously acknowledged: WP
Michael Sung on September 23, 2007 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] is retaining more detailed information on US-bound travelers than previously acknowledged in its Automated Targeting System (ATS) [CBP backgrounder; ACLU backgrounder], the Washington Post reported Saturday. Privacy activists say that the ATS, designed to help authorities access the security risk posed by all individuals entering the United States, has recorded highly detailed information, including the reading material carried by one of the activists during personal travel. The activists allege that the information retained by the ATS violates the federal Privacy Act [text], and also retained information including contact information of relatives and whom travelers traveled with.

In May, the US Government Accountability Office released a report [PDF text; JURIST report] criticizing the ATS, saying it violated federal privacy laws by allowing personal information "to be used in multiple prescreening procedures and transferred among various Customers and Border Protection Agency prescreening systems in ways that not fully explained in CBP's privacy disclosures." In September, the DHS announced it will reduce the duration [JURIST report] that travelers' risk assessments will be retained on file from the original 40 years to 15 years. The Washington Post has more.






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Iraq judiciary to probe Blackwater killings
Michael Sung on September 23, 2007 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] A senior Iraqi Interior Ministry official announced Saturday that Iraqi investigators have a videotape showing Blackwater USA [corporate website] private security contractors shooting unarmed Iraqi civilians and that it has referred the incident to the country's judiciary. Under Iraqi law an investigating judge will review the evidence and decide whether to proceed with a criminal prosecution. Blackwater guards contracted by the US State Department allegedly fired on civilians on September 16, killing 11 and prompting the Iraqi government to withdraw Blackwater's operating license [AP report], although company guards were back on limited duty [AFP report] Friday. AP has more. US federal prosecutors are reportedly also investigating Blackwater for allegedly smuggling weapons into Iraqi black markets. The weapons are said to have ended up in the hands of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) [MIPT backgrounder], which has been designated by the US State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. In early 2007, two former Blackwater contractors pleaded guilty to charges relating to weapons smuggling and have agreed to cooperate with government investigations and testify in future criminal proceedings. AP has more. Blackwater has denied the allegations, saying in a statement posted on its website that that the firm has "no knowledge of any employee improperly exporting weapons." AP has additional coverage.

Private US security contractors in Iraq largely operate outside of Iraqi law [JURIST report] due to an exemption [PDF text] granted by the US government in the days of the Coalition Provisional Authority. A recent bill [text] provision [S. 552, Clarification of Application of Uniform Code of Military Justice During a Time of War] intended to broaden their legal accountability does not apply to private contractors employed by the State Department.






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DOJ cuts off Guantanamo lawyer access after federal court ruling
Jeannie Shawl on September 22, 2007 9:19 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Department of Justice lawyer has informed lawyers representing some 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST report] that they will no longer be able to visit with or send written communications to their clients. DOJ lawyer Andrew I. Warden sent an e-mail to the detainees' counsel Friday, referencing a court ruling [CCR press release] issued by US District Judge Ricardo Urbina last week. Urbina dismissed 16 habeas corpus challenges brought on behalf of at least 40 detainees and in doing so also rendered invalid protocols that had been established governing lawyers' access to detainees. The DOJ has put in place a series of steps for attorneys wishing to resume contact with detainees, but one detainee lawyer, Wells Dixon, called the measures "the latest example of the government's efforts to frustrate counsel access to detainees."

Earlier this year, the DOJ sought to restrict lawyer visits [JURIST report], but Guantanamo commander Rear Adm. Harry Harris later backed away from the proposal. AP has more.






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US rejects Germany bid for extradition of CIA agents in el-Masri rendition
Jeannie Shawl on September 22, 2007 11:13 AM ET

[JURIST] A German Justice Ministry official said Saturday that US officials have confirmed that there are no plans to extradite 13 CIA agents wanted in Germany on suspicion of playing a role in the alleged 2003 kidnapping and extraordinary rendition of German national Khalid el-Masri [JURIST news archive]. German prosecutors said in June they would seek extradition [JURIST report] of the agents, but a German Justice Ministry spokesperson told Der Spiegel that after being informed by the Bush administration that the extradition request would be denied, German officials have decided not to press a formal request.

El-Masri alleges that CIA agents kidnapped him while on vacation in Macedonia in 2003 and transferred him to Afghanistan, where he was held in a secret prison for five months and subjected to inhumane conditions and coercive interrogation. He was released in Albania in 2004 without apology or funds to return to Germany. El-Masri sued [ACLU materials] various CIA officials in 2005, arguing that they violated international human rights law in his rendition to Afghanistan. A US federal appeals court upheld [JURIST report] the dismissal of that lawsuit in March 2007, ruling that the case could not be heard in a US court because of the state secrets privilege [Sourcewatch backgrounder]. AP has more.






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Fujimori extradited to Peru after Chile high court ruling
Jeannie Shawl on September 22, 2007 11:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive] was extradited to Peru Saturday following the Supreme Court of Chile's decision [JURIST report] Friday that Fujimori should be extradited on human rights and corruption charges. Fujimori is accused of approving death squad killings and misusing government funds in Peru.

The Supreme Court's review came after Peru filed an appeal of a lower court's ruling [JURIST reports] denying the government's request for extradition. Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. He was being held under house arrest [JURIST report] in Chile after being arrested [JURIST report] in December 2005 after flying into Chile from Japan to campaign for the Peruvian presidency, despite having been officially banned from holding public office until 2010 [JURIST report]. He is currently running for a seat in the Japanese parliament [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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UN General Assembly rejects Taiwan membership bid
Jeannie Shawl on September 22, 2007 10:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN General Assembly [official website] agreed by consensus Friday to accept a committee recommendation that Taiwan's latest bid for UN membership [JURIST reports] be rejected. Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the Republic of China, was kicked out of the UN in 1971 by General Assembly Resolution 2758 [PDF text] and replaced by the People's Republic of China as the representative of China. This is the 15th straight year that Taiwan's application for UN membership has been rejected.

Earlier in the week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon agreed to allow the General Assembly to consider Taiwan's application, but also said [transcript] that the UN Secretariat had determined that "it was not legally possible to receive the purported application for membership" because of the 1971 resolution. Taiwan is currently proceeding with a national referendum [JURIST report] on the subject of its membership in the United Nations despite opposition from China. China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it ever formally declared independence. AP has more.






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Connecticut governor suspends parole for violent offenders
Jeannie Shawl on September 22, 2007 8:48 AM ET

[JURIST] Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell on Friday ordered [press release] the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles [official website] "to immediately suspend approval of future parole for any inmate serving a sentence involving a violent offense." Rell said her decision was based on several recent incidents where parolees have been accused in violent crimes. The new policy "will remain in place until reforms of the parole process are complete."

In addition to banning future parole for violent offenders, Rell also directed the Pardon and Parole Board to review the status of violent offenders currently out on parole; any offender found to be in violation of the terms of their parole will be required to serve the remainder of their sentence. In her announcement, Rell said:

Parole is a privilege, not a right: It must be earned and it must be retained. Until we can find a better way to determine who poses a risk to the public if released, we will not add to the ranks of people on parole.
AP has more. The Hartford Courant has local coverage.





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Russia prosecutors charge suspect in Politkovskaya murder
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 21, 2007 7:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian prosecutors have charged a suspect as an accomplice in the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya [JURIST news archive], Russian news agency Interfax reported Friday. Shamil Burayev, a one-time district head in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya and former presidential candidate, was arrested [JURIST report] earlier this month in connection with Politkovskaya's murder. Burayev's lawyer said prosecutors believe Burayev revealed Politkovskaya's address to other people involved in the murder.

Politkovskaya, who had covered the crisis in Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta [media website, in Russian] since 1999, was shot in the head and in the chest after returning to her Moscow apartment building one day last October. She was a well known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and authored two books on Chechnya. Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika [official website, in Russian] announced last month that Russian authorities had arrested 10 people after an investigation into the killing; two of those suspects were later released [JURIST reports]. Chaika has said that Politkovskaya's murder was orchestrated by a Moscow-based Chechen criminal group specializing in contract killings. Reuters has more.






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North Carolina medical board can't discipline execution doctors: judge
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 21, 2007 5:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The North Carolina Medical Board [official website] does not have the authority to discipline doctors that participate in state death penalty [JURIST news archive] procedures, a state judge ruled [PDF text] Friday. Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens held that state requirements that a physician be in attendance during the lethal injection execution of condemned inmates trump a medical board policy [policy statement] that forbids doctors from participating in executions. Under North Carolina law, a doctor must monitor the condemned prisoner's vital signs and stop the execution if he seems to be suffering. State medical board rules allow doctors to be present, but prohibit any direct involvement in the actual execution.

The North Carolina State Department of Corrections [official website] in March filed [JURIST report] a lawsuit against the medical board, alleging that the board's policy prevents it from carrying out the death penalty [JURIST news archive]. In January, Stephens blocked two executions [JURIST report] when doctors refused to participate after the policy shift. The News & Observer has more.






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Taiwan VP indicted on corruption, forgery charges
Katerina Ossenova on September 21, 2007 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Taiwanese prosecutors Friday indicted Vice President Annette Lu [official profile] and two other leading members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website] on charges of corruption and forgery. Lu, DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun, and former foreign minister Chen Tan-sun are accused of using their positions as public servants to claim special expenses with false receipts. The anti-corruption task force has accused Lu of claiming 5.6 million Taiwan dollars in special expenses using more than 1,000 false receipts from December 2000 to May 2006 in her capacity as vice president. Yu and Chen stand accused of similar charges. The three politicians could face a minimum of 14 years in prison if convicted on all charges. AFP has more.

The indictments are the latest in a series of high-profile corruption cases that have dominated Taiwanese politics in recent months. Former Taiwanese opposition party leader Ma Ying-jeou [personal website, in Chinese; Wikipedia profile] was acquitted [JURIST report] of corruption and accounting fraud charges by the Taipei District Court [official website, in Chinese] in August. The court ruled that there was no evidence that Ma misappropriated a special discretionary expense fund for his personal use during his term as the mayor of Taipei [government website, English version]. The investigation against Ma began after high-profile allegations of insider trading and corruption emerged against Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile] and several relatives. In June, a high court affirmed the conviction [JURIST report] of Chen's son-in-law on insider trading charges. Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, was indicted [JURIST report] last year for embezzlement and falsifying documents. Prosecutors have indicated that they have enough evidence to also indict Chen, but Chen enjoys Article 52 [text] constitutional immunity from most criminal charges while he remains in office.






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Netherlands rejects EU reform treaty referendum
Katerina Ossenova on September 21, 2007 2:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The Dutch government will not hold a general referendum on the proposed EU Reform Treaty [PDF text; EU materials], Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende [official profile] said Friday. Balkenende said the referendum was unnecessary because the new EU treaty had "no constitutional aspirations." The Dutch Parliament [official website] could propose a treaty referendum itself although anti-referendum parties have a majority of seats. AFP has more.

UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband last month rejected calls for a UK general referendum on the proposed treaty [JURIST report], but said that the treaty would not infringe on British independence. In June, then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the EU did not need a real or de facto constitutional treaty, and insisted that the reform treaty did not amount to an EU constitution [JURIST report]. EU leaders reached an agreement [JURIST report] on the reform treaty, which is in effect a cut-down version of the original stalled European constitution [JURIST news archive], in June. The original draft constitution failed as it did not receive unanimous approval among all EU states. Voters in France and the Netherlands [JURIST reports] rejected the proposal in national referenda in 2005.






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Federal investigators probing military contract fraud and corruption allegations
Katerina Ossenova on September 21, 2007 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Federal investigators are probing allegations of fraud and corruption related to $6 billion in military contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon official testifying before the House Armed Services Committee [official website] Thursday. At the hearing [recorded audio], Principal Deputy Inspector General at the Department of Defense Thomas Gimble [official profile] testified [statement, PDF] that his office is currently conducting 90 investigations and 29 audits related to the money spent on the wars so far. The investigations cover issues like procurement fraud, overcharges, false claims, public corruption, theft of money or property and violations of US export rules. Most of the investigations originated in either Iraq or Kuwait and target military and civilian government personnel, and contractors from the United States and other countries. Agents are also investigating the oversight of the American weapons bound for Iraqi forces and whether weapons destined for the Iraqis were in fact transferred. AP has more.

These are not the first allegations of contract fraud connected with Iraq. In August, the US Department of Defense [official website] announced it was sending an investigative team [JURIST report] headed by Pentagon Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter [official website] to Iraq to probe incongruities concerning weapons and supplies bought by the US and intended for the use of Iraqi forces. In July, federal authorities arrested and charged [press release; JURIST report] a former school teacher for accepting kickbacks from contractors attempting to obtain military contracts in Iraq. Carolyn Blake was alleged to have been involved in a scheme with her brother, Major John L. Cockerham, and his wife, Melissa Cockerham, in which she received $3.1 million from contractors in 2004 and 2005. The Cockerhams were arrested and charged with money laundering, bribery and conspiracy [DOJ press release] for receiving up to $9.6 million in kickbacks. In June, former US Army Reserve Lt. Col. Bruce D. Hopfengardner was sentenced to 21 months [JURIST report] in prison for taking bribes and defrauding the Coalition Provisional Authority [official website] in Iraq.






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ICE sued over immigration raids
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 21, 2007 12:51 PM ET

[JURIST] The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund [advocacy website] Thursday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release, PDF] against the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] on behalf of several families who say that ICE agents violently raided their homes without first obtaining court warrants. The suit alleges that the raids, part of a program called Operation Return to Sender [DHS backgrounder], are meant to target illegal immigrants but often focus on homes that do not house them and where ICE agents could not "reasonably expect" to find them. The suit further accuses ICE of singling out Hispanics and says the raids violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

In another pending lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit [petition, PDF; JURIST report] in June against ICE and other federal immigration officials, alleging inadequate medical and mental health care at US detention facilities have caused "unnecessary suffering [and] avoidable death." The total number of aliens detained by ICE annually for immigration violations jumped from approximately 95,000 to 283,000 between 2001 and 2006, according to a July 2007 report [PDF text; JURIST report] by the Government Accountability Office.






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South Africa high court hears Zuma appeal of Mauritius documents ruling
Jaime Jansen on September 21, 2007 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The South African Supreme Court of Appeal [official website] heard arguments Friday in the corruption case against former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma [advocacy website; party profile]. The South African Prosecuting Authority (NPA) [official website] alleges that Zuma received bribes from arms manufacturer Thint, a subsidiary of the France-based Thales Group [corporate website]. Lawyers for Zuma argued Friday that the Durban High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction when it allowed South Africa to request documents from the Mauritius government [JURIST report] relating to alleged meetings between Zuma and Thint.

In April, the Durban High Court approved a letter of request [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] seeking documents from Mauritius, but Zuma appealed that ruling. The court said that there is no reason why the documents could not be obtained immediately and kept under lock and key pending the outcome of the appeal. Zuma argued that there was no reason to request the documents [SABC report] until after the appeal is finalized. South Africa's Mail & Guardian has more.






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Chile high court orders Fujimori extradition to Peru
Jaime Jansen on September 21, 2007 10:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Chile ruled [PDF text; press release] Friday that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive] should be extradited to Peru to face human rights charges. The much anticipated decision was expected earlier this month, but suffered delays [JURIST report] due to the health of one Supreme Court justice. Fujimori is accused of approving death squad killings and misusing government funds in Peru. The Chilean government said it would extradite Fujimori within 24 hours [Bloomberg report] of the high court's order.

The Supreme Court's review came after Peru filed an appeal of a lower court's ruling [JURIST reports] denying the government's request for extradition. Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000 and is currently under house arrest [JURIST report] in Chile. He was arrested in Chile [JURIST report] in December 2005 after flying into that country from Japan to campaign for the Peruvian presidency, despite having been officially banned from holding public office until 2010 [JURIST report]. He is currently running for a seat in the Japanese parliament [JURIST report]. AP has more. La Nacion has local coverage, in Spanish.






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Khmer Rouge second-in-command denies war crimes charges
Jaime Jansen on September 21, 2007 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] has disputed charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to his detention order [PDF text], published Friday by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive]. Chea, who was arrested and charged [statement, PDF; JURIST report] earlier this week, said that he was never in the position to order the deaths attributed to him and that he would have been ashamed to do so. Despite his denial, Chea has said he will cooperate with the ECCC [JURIST report] and that he has selected Cambodian lawyer Son Arun [press release, PDF] to represent him in proceedings.

Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trial. AFP has more.






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Bangladesh arrests creator of Muhammad cartoon, suspends magazine over publication
Jaime Jansen on September 21, 2007 9:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Bangladesh [JURIST news archive] suspended publication of weekly satire magazine Alpin Friday after hundreds of Bangladeshi Muslims protested the publication of a cartoon depicting a young boy and his "Muhammad cat," saying the cartoon ridiculed the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Protesters burned copies of Prothom Alo [media website, in Bangladeshi], the daily newspaper that publishes the Alpin magazine, and demanded that the cartoonist, editor and publisher be arrested. Cartoonist Arifur Rahman has been arrested, while the editor of Prothom Alo and editors of other daily newspapers have asked for forgiveness from angry citizens. The Bangladeshi government has not said what charges Arifur faces, but it has indicated that the cartoon may be part of a scheme to disrupt the peace.

In June, a UK court sentenced three citizens [JURIST report] to six-year prison terms for inciting murder and racial hatred during a February 2006 protest [BBC report] against the republication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive]. That cartoon was originally published in a Danish newspaper in September 2005, and incited worldwide protests. In March, a French court cleared a French magazine and its director of defamation charges [JURIST report] in the republication of the same cartoon. Reuters has more.






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Rwanda war crimes suspect arrested in Germany
Jaime Jansen on September 21, 2007 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] German police have arrested Augustin Ngirabatware, a former Rwandan minister suspected of genocide in the 1994 Rwanda conflict [BBC backgrounder] between Hutus and Tutsis, German officials announced Thursday. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] accuses Ngirabatware of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, and complicity in genocide. The ICTR quickly sought extradition of Ngirabatware [AHN report] to begin proceedings in Rwanda. The ICTR issued Ngirabatware's arrest warrant in 2001, but Ngirabatware has been able to evade authorities by frequently changing hotels and apartments throughout Europe. He was arrested in Frankfurt on Monday.

Ngirabatware is one of 18 fugitives wanted by the ICTR, while dozens of war crimes cases [ICTR materials] have already begun. Ngirabatware is accused of providing weapons to Hutus during the 1994 conflict. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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ICC prosecutor urges arrest of Sudan war crimes suspects
Jaime Jansen on September 21, 2007 8:00 AM ET

[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] is pushing world leaders to place the prosecution of war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan on top of the agenda [press release] at a UN meeting on Darfur taking place Friday. In a press briefing before the meeting, Moreno-Ocampo said that peace in Sudan is impossible if alleged war criminals remain free, including Sudanese Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Muhammad Harun [Trial Watch profile], who faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last month, Moreno-Ocampo criticized Sudan [JURIST report] for allowing Harun to remain the humanitarian minister and failing to arrest Harun after international authorities issued an arrest warrant [arrest warrant, PDF] earlier this year. Sudanese Ambassador to the UN Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad has said that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir refuses to surrender any Sudanese citizens for prosecution in foreign courts, claiming that Sudan must prosecute any criminals if necessary. Moreno-Ocampo has previously threatened to report [JURIST report] Sudan's failure to arrest war crimes suspects to the UN Security Council [official website].

At his press briefing Thursday, Moreno-Ocampo told world leaders that "there can be no political solution, no security solution, and no humanitarian solution" as long as alleged war criminals stay free in Sudan, urging world leaders to "break the silence." Sudan has previously responded to calls from the ICC chief prosecutor for the arrest of Sudanese war crime suspects by saying that the ICC does not have the jurisdiction [JURIST reports] to prosecute alleged war crimes in Darfur because Sudan has not ratified the ICC's Rome Statute [PDF text]. AP has more.






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Melvyn Weiss indicted on Milberg Weiss conspiracy charges
Joshua Pantesco on September 20, 2007 6:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Federal prosecutors on Thursday handed down an indictment accusing Milberg Weiss name partner Melvyn Weiss [firm profile] of conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The indictment stems from a long-running US Attorney investigation into allegations that Milberg Weiss [firm website] paid up to $11.3 million in illegal kickbacks since 1984 to individuals to serve as lead plaintiffs in class action and shareholder derivative lawsuits. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced that former Milberg Weiss partner William S. Lerach has agreed to plead guilty [press release; JURIST report] to conspiracy to obstruct justice and will forfeit $7.75 million to the government, pay a $250,000 fine, and will serve one to two years in prison.

According to a statement [text] issued by Milberg Weiss Thursday morning, Weiss will remain of counsel to the firm while he defends himself against the charges, but has relinquished his management duties. In May 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Milberg Weiss [PDF text; JURIST report] and two name partners, David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman, on charges of conspiracy to make false statements and obstructing justice. As part of the scheme, certain individuals who agreed to serve as class action representatives were promised 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by Milberg Weiss. This kickback was not revealed to the judge overseeing litigation, and the named plaintiffs who collected the kickback money made false statements under oath concerning the payments. Three individuals pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in connection with the scheme in May 2006, and former Milberg Weiss name partner David Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July. Prosecutors said Thursday that Schulman has now also agreed to plead guilty to racketeering. As part of his plea agreement, Schulman will forfeit 1.85 million and pay a $250,000 fine. Reuters has more.






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Zimbabwe parliament passes constitutional amendments bill
Alexis Unkovic on September 20, 2007 4:49 PM ET

[JURIST] The Zimbabwean Parliament unanimously passed amendments to the Zimbabwean constitution [PDF text] Thursday that essentially give President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] the authority to appoint his successor. Both Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) [Wikipedia backgrounder] and the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change [party website], ultimately supported the measures with all 111 MPs present voting in favor of its adoption.

Floor consideration of the draft constitutional amendment bill concluded Tuesday after only one day of debate [JURIST report]. MPs signalled further support for the amendments in a preliminary vote [JURIST report] Wednesday, setting the stage for Thursday's passage. The changes allow parliament to appoint a new president should the incumbent step down before the end of his term; there is speculation that Mugabe will step down before elections are held so that the ZANU-PF will be able to select the next president. The constitutional reforms also allow the simultaneous election of the president and both houses of the legislature. Critics allege that the reforms are intended to weaken the opposition. The amendments will end the existing assembly's term two years early in 2008, reduce the president's term from six years to five, and increase the number of legislators in the House of Assembly from 150 to 210 and the Senate from 66 to 84. In addition, the number of House of Assembly members appointed by the president will decrease from 30 to 10, but the number of senators appointed by the president will go from 16 to 34. BBC News has more.






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Democratic fundraiser charged with fraud, campaign finance violations
Alexis Unkovic on September 20, 2007 4:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu [Wikipedia profile] has been charged [press release, PDF] by federal prosecutors in New York with fraud for alleged campaign finance law violations, according to a criminal complaint [PDF text] unsealed Thursday. Hsu allegedly created a massive Ponzi scheme [SEC backgrounder], resulting in more than $60 million of illicit gains, and illegally made campaign contributions in other peoples' names in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act [text]. Hsu formerly raised funds for political candidates, including Sen. Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, Clinton agreed [Chronicle report] to return $850,000 she received from Hsu.

The FBI arrested [press release] Hsu in Colorado on federal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution after Hsu failed to appear for a bail hearing in California on unrelated fraud charges on September 5. AP has more.






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Mukasey promises greater DOJ independence: Leahy
Alexis Unkovic on September 20, 2007 3:18 PM ET

[JURIST] Former federal judge and US Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey [WH factsheet; PBWT profile] will forbid US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] employees from discussing sensitive cases with outside agencies if he is confirmed as attorney general, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said Thursday. In a private meeting with Leahy, Mukasey reportedly assured Leahy that any DOJ employee reporting to outside sources, such as the White House or Congress, without Mukasey's authorization would be fired. Leahy said Thursday at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting that he was pleased with Mukasey's "attitude." Leahy has backed off earlier statements that he would hold up Mukasey's nomination until the Bush administration hands over key information about its domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive].

President George W. Bush formally nominated [JURIST report] Mukasey to replace resigning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive] Monday. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have generally reacted favorably [JURIST report] to the nomination, expressing tentative bi-partisan support for a quick confirmation process. AP has more.






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Blackwater Iraq killings highlight lack of legal recourse against US contractors: NYT
Gabriel Haboubi on September 20, 2007 2:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Private security contractors operating in Iraq work largely above the law due to legal loopholes, according to a Thursday New York Times report [text] on the aftermath of Sunday's shooting death of at least eight Iraqi civilians at the hands of private security contractor Blackwater USA [corporate website]. The Iraqi Interior Ministry withdrew Blackwater's operating license [AP report] in the wake of the killings and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on the US to replace the security firm [Bloomberg report] after its "criminal act." The US government exempted its employees and contractors from Iraqi law [order, PDF] when Iraq was still under US administration, an exemption that still applies even though Iraq has since formed its own government. This exemption has in the past denied Iraqis legal recourse against US-based contractors, and has been a source of tension between the US and Iraqi governments. In December, the US government returned a Blackwater employee accused [Virginian-Pilot report] of killing a bodyguard of Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi to the United States, where he was released without charge. Even if charges were brought domestically, it is not certain that US courts have jurisdiction.

Efforts to ensure legal accountability for contractors remain incomplete. An amendment to a Defense Department spending bill last year now means that military contractors in Iraq are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice [text]. The bill [text; see S. 552, Clarification of Application of Uniform Code of Military Justice During a Time of War] does not apply to State Department contractors; the Blackwater employee involved in Sunday's shooting was contracted by the US State Department. Critics argue that until such loopholes are closed, companies like Blackwater will continue to operate above the law. Salon.com has additional coverage.






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Federal judge allows Hitler Youth image on school uniform protest buttons
Gabriel Haboubi on September 20, 2007 1:09 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday that two New Jersey students can protest against a school uniform policy [policy information and text] by wearing buttons that depict uniform-clad Hitler Youth [Britannica backgrounder]. Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. of the District of New Jersey [official website] relied on the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District [text] that allowed Iowa students to wear black arm bands in protest of the Vietnam War. Greenaway said that unless the school "has reason to believe that the speech or expression will 'materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school,'" students may not be punished for expressing their views.

Although the image on the buttons, used as a background to the text "No School Uniforms," does not contain a swastika, administrators in the Bayonee School District [district website] threatened the students with suspension, saying the image of the Hitler Youth conveyed intolerance and racism. Parents of the students filed the lawsuit, arguing that the school violated the students' free speech rights. Greenaway's ruling allowed the students to wear the buttons, but noted that the school could forbid them from distributing the buttons on campus. AP has more.






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Canada government sued for alleged non-compliance with Kyoto Protocol statute
Joshua Pantesco on September 20, 2007 11:44 AM ET

[JURIST] A Canadian environmental advocacy group has sued the Canadian government over the 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act [text], alleging that the government's current compliance plan for the 2005 Kyoto Protocol [text; JURIST news archive] does not meet the act's minimum requirements. The application for judicial review [PDF text; Ecojustice backgrounder], filed by Friends of the Earth Canada [advocacy website], seeks both a declaration that the government's plan is unlawful and an order directing the government "to prepare a revised plan that provides a description of measures to be taken to ensure that Canada meets its obligations under Article 3.1 of the Protocol."

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to reduce greenhouse emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by 2012; however, its emissions are currently up 26.6 percent. South Africa brought a complaint to the committee charged with enforcing the Protocol in May 2006, listing Canada among the 15 nations that have failed to report on their progress toward achieving its goals. Canada has said that if it fails to meet targets, it will not purchase emissions credits through the European Union's Emissions Trading System. A previous lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by Friends of the Earth Canada challenging Canada's failure to reduce greenhouse emission standards was stayed [press release] pending the results of the Implementation Act, which was passed in June.

Canada officially ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 while Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chretien was in power; the Conservative Party government of current Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been at best ambivalent about the pact it inherited, which Harper once called a "job-killing, economy-destroying" scheme [CBC report] to drain money from industrialized countries. The United States and Australia are the only two industrialized states still refusing to ratify the landmark environmental treaty.






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Federal judge rules Kentucky courthouse Ten Commandments display constitutional
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 20, 2007 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] A display featuring the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse passes constitutional muster because it does not promote religion, a federal judge held in a ruling released Wednesday. Judge Karl Forester of the Eastern District Court of Kentucky [official website] ruled against a lawsuit [ACLU backgrounder] brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky [advocacy website], finding that the display was part of an exhibition on the basics of American law and government. The ruling allows a similar lawsuit involving a Ten Commandments display at another Kentucky courthouse to proceed, because Forester was not convinced that other display was not intended to endorse religion.

In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on government property must be determined on a case by case basis, but that displays which included the Commandments for their legal or historical value rather than for their religious significance were more likely to be constitutional. In 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a display of the Ten Commandments [ruling text, PDF] in a Mercer County, Kentucky courthouse that was originally accompanied by other historical documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich noted that the Mercer County display did not demonstrate a religious intent or purpose, nor were the Ten Commandments more prominent than the other documents on display. His reasoning paralleled the Supreme Court's in another Ten Commandments ruling when it permitted a display of the Commandments on the Texas state capitol grounds [JURIST report] that included other historical documents and had existed for almost 40 years. AP has more. From Louisville, the Courier-Journal has local coverage.






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Khmer Rouge tribunal expects cooperation from former second-in-command
Joshua Pantesco on September 20, 2007 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch backgrounder] has expressed his desire to cooperate fully with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive], the court established to try former Khmer Rouge leaders, an ECCC judge told the press Wednesday. You Bunleng, a Cambodian investigating judge of the ECCC, told Reuters that Chea "has no complaints" and will "elaborate on the regime when the trial comes." The ECCC will not try Chea and other defendants before the court, including the chief Khmer Rouge inquisitor known as Duch, until after the judges have collected and analyzed all the evidence, a process expected to take months or years.

Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. He was arrested Wednesday, and subsequently charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes [JURIST report]. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians who died between 1975 and 1979. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trial. Reuters has more.






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France lower house passes controversial immigration bill
Joshua Pantesco on September 20, 2007 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] France's National Assembly [official website, in French], the lower house of the French parliament, passed a new immigration bill [dossier and materials, in French; JURIST report] aimed at increasing the ratio of skilled to unskilled immigrants entering France by a 91-45 vote Thursday. The bill has sparked controversy, both in France and abroad, for a provision that permits officials to test the DNA of an applicant seeking to rejoin family in France if immigration officials doubt the veracity of the application. Another provision requires applicants to prove financial security and take a test on French language and culture as a condition of immigration.

The bill follows a campaign promise by French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile] to toughen the country's immigration policy, a move already begun by the introduction of deportation quotas seeking to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants in 2007. Prior to assuming the presidency [JURIST report], Sarkozy also took a tough stance on immigration while serving as interior minister. In February 2006, he proposed legislation [JURIST report] to enable the government to expel immigrants who did not make sufficient efforts to integrate in French society and seek work. In June 2006, the French parliament passed a conservative immigration bill [JURIST report] that tightened restrictions on unskilled, non-EU immigrants and required immigrants to sign a pledge to learn French and to abide by French law. In September 2006, Sarkozy announced that France had granted amnesty [JURIST report] to 6,924 illegal immigrants with school-age children, even though thousands more had applied. The move was criticized as "totally arbitrary" - an assertion that Sarkozy denied.

The current bill is now before the Senate [official website] for debate, and will be voted on sometime next month. EU Observer has more.






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Iran releases second Iranian-American scholar from prison
Joshua Pantesco on September 20, 2007 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Iran released on bail Iranian-American consultant Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh [OSI press release; JURIST news archive] from prison Wednesday, according to IRNA, the official Iranian news agency. Tajbakhsh, employed by the Open Society Institute, will not be allowed to leave Iran without judicial approval.

Tajbakhsh and Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] were arrested [JURIST report] in May after alleged involvement in a plot against the Iranian government. Though the investigation concluded in August and Esfandiari left Iran [JURIST reports] earlier this month, Tajbakhsh continued to be held without charge. Tajbakhsh said last week that Iran has not brought formal charges against him, but an Iranian spokesman said he has been charged with endangering national security. AP has more.






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UN again rejects Taiwan bid for membership
Brett Murphy on September 20, 2007 9:00 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN on Wednesday again rejected Taiwan's 15th bid for UN membership [JURIST report], as a UN committee balked at placing the issue on the General Assembly's agenda. Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the Republic of China (ROC), was kicked out of the UN in 1971 by General Assembly Resolution 2758 [PDF text] and replaced by the PRC as the representative of China. Taiwan's applications for UN membership have been rejected each of the last 14 years.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon agreed to allow the committee to consider Taiwan's application [AP report], but also said [transcript] that the UN Secretariat had determined that "it was not legally possible to receive the purported application for membership" because of the 1971 resolution. Taiwan is currently proceeding with a national referendum [JURIST report] on the subject of its membership in the United Nations despite opposition from China. China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it ever formally declared independence. AP has more.






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Federal judge rules Tennessee lethal injection procedure 'cruel and inhumane'
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 19, 2007 6:49 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Tennessee's execution procedures constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment, derailing plans to execute a death row inmate next week. US District Judge Aleta Trauger [official profile] held that revised death penalty protocols [PDF text; JURIST report], devised by the Tennessee Department of Corrections in April at the request of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen [official website], do not ensure that prisoners' are properly anesthetized before they receive a lethal injection and thus violate their constitutional Eighth Amendment rights. The Tennessee Attorney General's office has not yet decided whether or not it will appeal the decision.
AP has more.

Bredesen ordered a moratorium on executions [executive order, PDF; JURIST report] in February and directed the Tennessee Department of Corrections to conduct a "comprehensive review of the manner in which death sentences are administered... and provide [the governor] new protocols and related written procedures in administering death sentences in Tennessee." Bredesen accepted the new protocols and the state conducted its first execution [JURIST report] under the new rules in May. The new protocol includes more detailed guidelines for administering lethal injections but still includes a controversial three-drug "cocktail" which some say may be ineffective in preventing inmates from suffering a painful death [JURIST report]. Tennessee executed [JURIST report] a condemned man by electric chair last week, the first execution by electrocution in the state since 1960.






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Canada opposition leader urges PM to work for Khadr Guantanamo release
Caitlin Price on September 19, 2007 3:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Canadian Liberal Party opposition leader Stephane Dion [official profile] Wednesday joined calls [press release] urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile] to pressure the US government for the immediate release of Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [TrialWatch profile; JURIST news archive]. Following a meeting with lawyers appointed to represent Khadr in his hearing before a military commission review court [JURIST news archive], Dion said that Khadr should face charges in civilian court in the US or Canada, and that he should receive "the same consular support that any other Canadian - detainee or not - would receive." Speaking on Khadr's 21st birthday, Dion said that Khadr should be tried in a "legitimate court" to ensure that he receives due process, adding that it is clear that fair prosecution at Guantanamo "does not work."

Khadr is the only citizen of a Western nation currently detained at Guantanamo. He was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban. Earlier proceedings against him were effectively quashed when the US Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional [JURIST report] military commissions established by the president. He was formally recharged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April under the new Military Commissions Act with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Last month, the Canadian Bar Association urged Harper [JURIST report] to "negotiate" with the US for Khadr's release, saying that indefinite detention without charge contradicts the rule of law. To date the Harper government has declined to comment on any plans to ask for Khadr's release. The Globe and Mail has more.






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Japan court denies compensation to WWII Korean slave laborers
Gabriel Haboubi on September 19, 2007 3:14 PM ET

[JURIST] A Japanese district court Wednesday rejected demands for compensation by 22 South Korean women, as well as the surviving relatives of other women, who were forced to work [JURIST news archive] at a Japanese military hardware factory during World War II. Although the Toyama District Court recognized that the women were brought to Japan and forced to work at the factory, the judge ruled that war-related financial settlements had already been reached under various peace and compensation treaties, such as the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea [text]. The plaintiffs, at the time between the ages of 12 and 19 years old, were brought to Japan under the pretense that they would receive higher education. The women were then forced to work without pay and without sufficient food. The plaintiffs were seeking approximately 100 million yen ($862,000 USD).

In May a similar lawsuit brought by seven South Korean women was dismissed [JURIST report], with the court citing the 1965 treaty. In June the Japanese Sapporo High Court rejected a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by Chinese plaintiffs who alleged that they were forced to work as slave laborers in mines and factories during the war. In that case the court ruled that the 1972 Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China [text] renounced Chinese claims for war reparations from Japan. AP has more.






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Argentina high court orders protection of malnourished indigenous group
Lisl Brunner on September 19, 2007 3:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Argentina [official website] has ordered [PDF text, in Spanish] the government to provide the indigenous people of the Chaco region with basic necessities while it investigates claims that their land has been illegally sold to commercial farmers. The amparo action, brought by the office of the Defender of the People [official website, press release], alleged that government officials have denied food and medical aid to the Toba, Wichi, and Mocovi tribes, which together claim 60,000 members in the Chaco region. As a result, they are suffering from malnourishment and illnesses such as cholera and tuberculosis, and at least 12 Toba have died in the past few months. The Supreme Court issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday ordering the government to provide food, potable water, and methods of communication with and transportation to health facilities. Noting "the necessity, without prejudice to what could be decided at the adequate moment in relation to the competence [of the Court], to adopt measures that tend to guarantee the effectiveness of the rights [claimed] and to avoid the violation of these rights," the Court also ordered a hearing to take place next month.

Since June of this year, members of the Wichi community [Survival International profile] have camped out in front of the headquarters of the Chaco regional government, some undergoing a hunger strike, to demand land rights, education and health care for the indigenous people of the Chaco. According to the protesters, the government has permitted public lands reserved for indigenous groups in the Chaco to be sold to growers of genetically modified soy. In 2003, the Wichi won a legal battle against the government when the Supreme Court ruled that licenses to conduct commercial logging on the Wichi's traditional lands could not be granted without prior consultation with the tribe. Clarin has local coverage, in Spanish.






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Bush urges Congress to make surveillance law updates permanent
Caitlin Price on September 19, 2007 2:55 PM ET

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Wednesday urged [speech text; WH fact sheet] Congress to make permanent a law broadening the government's ability to conduct warrantless surveillance of terror suspects abroad, echoing recent statements by intelligence officials. The Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials], passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August, gives the executive branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text]. Speaking from National Security Agency headquarters, Bush said technological innovations such as cell phones and the Internet render FISA outmoded and extend privacy protection to foreigners, something that was not intended by FISA's drafters. In addition to urging the permanent adoption of the Protect America Act, Bush noted his support of proposals granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that aided government surveillance without a court order:

It's particularly important for Congress to provide meaningful liability protection to those companies now facing multi-billion dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend our nation following the 9/11 attacks. Additionally, without this protection, state secrets could be revealed in connection with those lawsuits - and our ability to protect our people would be weakened.
US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified [statement, PDF; JURIST report] before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday in support of making the Protect America Act permanent.

Last week, US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein [official profile], head of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division, sent a letter to Congress [JURIST report] saying that the Protect America Act will not allow government authorities to conduct warrantless domestic searches, a frequent concern of critics. AP has more.





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Kyrgyzstan president seeks constitutional referendum on parliamentary elections
Gabriel Haboubi on September 19, 2007 2:30 PM ET

[JURIST] Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile] Wednesday called for a national referendum on amending the Kyrgyzstan constitution [constitutional materials, in Kyrgyz] to elect parliament members by party list rather than by direct election, saying such a change would help defeat a "constitutional deadlock." Critics say the change would hurt smaller parties and independent politicians in Kyrgyzstan [JURIST news archive], and is designed to bolster Bakiyev's own position. Bakiyev's proposal comes on the heels of constitutional changes approved by parliament late last year that first curtailed [JURIST report] and then restored [JURIST report] Bakiyev's presidential power, after Bakiyev threatened to dissolve parliament. The Constitutional Court later threw out the amendments, holding that they were approved under pressure.

Kyrgyzstan has been in political turmoil, with the Kyrgyz constitution being amended numerous times, since former president Askar Akayev [BBC profile] was ousted [JURIST report] during the so-called Tulip Revolution [Wikipedia backgrounder] of 2005. The newly proposed amendment will be voted on in late October. AP has more.






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US Senate defeats measure restoring habeas corpus to detainees
Gabriel Haboubi on September 19, 2007 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] A measure in the US Senate [official website] that would have overturned the current ban on habeas corpus petitions [SA 2022 materials] for detainees at Guantanamo Bay was unable to achieve the 60 votes needed [roll call] to cut off debate Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the bill would have amended the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 [HR 1585 summary] to rescind portions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text, JURIST news archive] that prevent detainees from challenging their detentions in court. Following the vote, Leahy said that the Senate should not give up on the bill [press release], likening the suspension of habeas corpus to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and calling it "an action driven by fear" and a "stain on America’s reputation in the world."

Prior to Wednesday's 56-43 defeat, Specter characterized habeas corpus as a fundamental right [press release], tracing its history to the Magna Carta in 1215. Leahy said that the Senate should not forget that values such as habeas corpus are the foundation of what makes America strong [press release]. Specter and Leahy are also co-sponsors of another bill [S 185 summary], currently on the legislative calender, that also seeks to restore habeas corpus for detainees. AP has more.






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Turkish PM calls for end to headscarf ban at state universities
Brett Murphy on September 19, 2007 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [IHT backgrounder] Tuesday urged the government of Turkey to remove the current ban on the wearing of headscarves at state universities [JURIST report], saying that the ban effectively denies some Muslim women access to higher education. Erdogan, whose Muslim-rooted AK Party promised a new constitution [JURIST report] after winning elections earlier this year, said that the headscarf issue is a top priority. Opponents say that the ban on headscarves is necessary to protect the separation of religion and state.

Traditionally worn by Muslim women, headscarves and other forms of religious dress [JURIST news archive] are banned from many public places in modern Turkey, a majority Muslim country despite official secularism. Last year, a Turkish court acquitted [JURIST report] retired archaeologist Muazzez Ilmiye Cig [personal website] of charges of insulting religion after postulating in her book that headscarves were originally worn before the founding of Islam by ancient Mesopotamian priestesses who initiated young men into sex. The case also drew criticism from international archaeological associations [IAA appeal] and from the European Union, which had warned Turkey that its laws infringing freedom of expression may delay its entry into the global body. BBC News has more.






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Zimbabwe parliament backs constitutional amendments in preliminary vote
Caitlin Price on September 19, 2007 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] A Zimbabwean parliamentary debate on a draft constitutional amendment bill that could essentially give Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] the authority to appoint his successor concluded without challenge Tuesday. Floor debate lasted only one day [JURIST report], and the swift conclusion was dubbed an "historical collaboration" by state television network ZTV. The proposed changes would allow parliament to appoint a new president should the incumbent step down before the end of his term; there is speculation that Mugabe will step down before elections are held so that his ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) [Wikipedia backgrounder], would be able to select the next president. ZANU-PF currently enjoys the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority for amending the Zimbabwean constitution [PDF text]. Primary opposition group Movement for Democratic Change [party website] said they declined to object to the measure as a sign of good faith for constitutional reform to ensure free elections. The draft will become law after a final vote. AP has more.

In June, the Zimbabwean government published [JURIST report] the bill to amend the constitution, which also proposes the simultaneous election of the president and both houses of the legislature. Critics allege that the reforms are intended to weaken the opposition. The proposed amendments would end the existing assembly's term two years early in 2008, reduce the president's term from six years to five, and increase the number of legislators in the House of Assembly from 150 to 210 and the Senate from 66 to 84. In addition, the number of House of Assembly members appointed by the president would decrease from 30 to 10, but the number of senators appointed by the president would go from 16 to 34.






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UN urges US ratification of nuclear test-ban treaty
Brett Murphy on September 19, 2007 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] urged the US and nine other countries to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [PDF text] on Tuesday, saying [press release] that the ratification would "move us toward the larger goals of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and preventing their proliferation." UN diplomats said that US leadership is essential to finishing the deal, which will not go into effect until all 44 nations listed in Annex 2 of the treaty ratify it. Only 10 nations have yet to ratify the accord, including China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the US.

The US signed the treaty in 1996, but has consistently withheld ratification [JURIST report] citing national security concerns. The US staged a boycott [JURIST report] of a 2005 UN conference designed to encourage the treaty's passage. A total of 177 states have signed the treaty, 140 of which have ratified it in their home countries. AP has more.






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Germany justice minister proposes new anti-terror laws
Joshua Pantesco on September 19, 2007 10:14 AM ET

[JURIST] German Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries [official profile, in German] on Tuesday proposed [press release, in German] adding two new criminal offenses to Germany's anti-terrorism law in the wake of the September 4 arrest [IHT report] of three suspected Islamic militants who are accused of planning a series of car bombings. The first proposed offense, "preparing an act of violence," would criminalize actions in furtherance of a plan to commit a terrorist attack, such as stockpiling weapons or attending a terrorist training camp, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The second proposed offense, providing "instructions for an act of violence, would criminalize, for example, posting bomb-making instructions on the Internet, and would carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Under section 7 of the German Penal Code, § 129a StGB [text, in German], "membership in a terrorist organization" is a crime. In 2007, the German government enacted an anti-terrorism law [Heise Online report] to allow federal intelligence agencies to collect data from airlines, banks, postal firms, and telecommunications and teleservice companies. AP has more.






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Argentina protests mark anniversary of disappearance of Dirty War trial witness
Lisl Brunner on September 19, 2007 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Protesters in Buenos Aires on Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez [JURIST report], who is believed to have been kidnapped after testifying against Miguel Etchecolatz [Project Disappeared profile] in the latter's trial [JURIST report] for crimes committed during Argentina's Dirty War [Global Security backgrounder]. Lopez, 77, had testified that he was abducted in 1976 and held in a clandestine detention center. He disappeared one day before Etchecolatz, the former chief investigator of the Buenos Aires police, became the second official in Argentina to be sentenced [JURIST report] for crimes against humanity and genocide. Lopez was the first of two witnesses to disappear last year; however, Luis Gerez, who was kidnapped in December 2006, reappeared three days later.

The Argentinean police claim to have interviewed 549 people in their investigation of Lopez's disappearance and to have pursued leads that associates of Etchecolatz abducted and possibly murdered Lopez. According to Lopez's lawyer, the government is reluctant to probe too deeply into the case due to the involvement of state security forces. The situation has also prompted concern among human rights groups for the safety of witnesses who are set to testify in the numerous upcoming trials of alleged war criminals. The trial of former police chaplain and Catholic priest Christian Von Wernich is currently underway, and Hector Febres, a former naval officer, will face trial in October for crimes committed at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), one of the largest clandestine detention and torture centers of the Dirty War. IPS has more. Clarin has additional coverage, in Spanish.






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Ex-Khmer Rouge second-in-command charged with crimes against humanity
Joshua Pantesco on September 19, 2007 9:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Cambodian officials on Tuesday arrested former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch backgrounder] and escorted him to a hearing before the co-investigating judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive], the court established to try former Khmer Rouge leaders. At the hearing, the court charged Chea with crimes against humanity and war crimes [statement, PDF] and ordered him to a detention cell.

Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians who died between 1975 and 1979. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trial. AP has more.






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Former Milberg Weiss partner Lerach pleading guilty to conspiracy charges
Joshua Pantesco on September 19, 2007 8:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Milberg Weiss partner William S. Lerach has agreed to plead guilty [press release] to conspiracy to obstruct justice charges in a plot in which Milberg Weiss allegedly paid up to $11.3 million in illegal kickbacks since 1984 to individuals to serve as lead plaintiffs in class action and shareholder derivative lawsuits. As part of the plea deal, Lerach will forfeit $7.75 million to the state, pay a $250,000 fine, and complete a one to two year prison sentence. He severed ties [press release] with his most recent law firm, now Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman Robbins, in late August.

In May of 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Milberg Weiss [JURIST report] and two name partners, David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman, on charges of conspiracy to make false statements and obstructing justice. Lerach was named as "Partner B" in the indictment [PDF text]. As part of the scheme, certain individuals who agreed to serve as class action representatives were promised 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by Milberg Weiss. This kickback was not revealed to the judge overseeing litigation, and the named plaintiffs who collected the kickback money made false statements under oath concerning the payments. Three individuals pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in connection with the scheme in May 2006, and former Milberg Weiss name partner David Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July. Reuters has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.






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US Senate kills DC congressional voting rights bill
Leslie Schulman on September 18, 2007 5:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] voted Tuesday 57-42 [roll call] against proceeding with debate on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act [S. 1257 bill summary], killing the bill before it reached Senate consideration by falling three votes short of the 60 necessary to move forward. The bill, which easily passed [JURIST report] in the House in April, would have made the District of Columbia [official website] a congressional district with full voting rights in the House. As a compromise with Republicans, the bill would also have added a temporary at-large seat for Utah. Utah came close but fell short of obtaining a new district [CPPA backgrounder, PDF] after the 2000 census. Passage of the bill in the Senate was uncertain, however, and President George W. Bush had already threatened a veto [JURIST report], calling the bill unconstitutional.

The District of Columbia currently has a delegate in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton [official website], who is able to vote in committee and on some amendments, but is not allowed to vote on the final passage of a bill. A February report by the Congressional Research Service flagged the potential unconstitutionality [JURIST report] of any bill granting a House vote for the District, focusing on the language in Article I, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution that the House is to be comprised by the "people of the several States." The Washington Post has more.






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Dereliction of duty charges dropped against US Marine in Haditha case
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 18, 2007 5:38 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Marine Corps commanding officer ordered Tuesday that charges be dismissed [press release] against Marine Capt. Lucas McConnell for failing to report the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive]. McConnell was granted immunity from prosecution by Lt. Gen. James Mattis [official profile], commanding officer at Camp Pendleton [camp website], California, in exchange for his cooperation in prosecutions against other accused service members. McConnell originally faced dereliction of duty charges [JURIST report], although his lawyer had argued that he should not be charged because he was not present when the civilians were killed. Reuters has more.

The Haditha investigation has culminated in the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths during the war in Iraq. In August, preliminary Article 32 hearings began for US Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website], who commanded the platoon implicated in the killing and suspected cover-up. He faces several counts of unpremeditated murder, as well as charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement. Also in August, a hearing officer recommended [JURIST report] that murder charges be dropped against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum [advocacy profile] for his role in the Haditha incident. The hearing officer argued there was insufficient evidence to support bringing Tatum to court-martial on charges of unpremeditated murder, negligent homicide and assault [USMC charge list]. An official report on the Haditha incident by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell found "serious misconduct" [JURIST report] on all levels of the US Marine Corps chain of command.






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France parliament debates stricter immigration measures
Caitlin Price on September 18, 2007 5:17 PM ET

[JURIST] France's National Assembly [official website, in French], the lower house of the French parliament, Tuesday debated [transcript, in French] a new immigration bill [dossier and materials, in French] proposing tightened requirements for foreigners seeking to join immigrant relatives in France. The bill comes after a campaign promise by French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile] to toughen the country's immigration policy, a move already begun by the introduction of deportation quotas seeking to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants in 2007. Under the terms of the new bill, applicants over the age of 16 seeking to join immigrant family members already in France would be required to prove French language competency and financial security. If the petition is questioned by immigration officers, applicants would be asked to take voluntary DNA tests to prove their biological relationship to French residents. Despite opposition from civil rights groups and members of his own party, Sarkozy believes the bill will greatly increase the proportion of skilled workers in France. The bill is expected to be passed in the lower house this week, and will be debated in the Senate [official website] next month.

Prior to assuming the presidency [JURIST report], Sarkozy also took a tough stance on immigration while serving as interior minister. In February 2006, he proposed legislation [JURIST report] to enable the government to expel immigrants who did not make sufficient efforts to integrate in French society and seek work. In June 2006, the French parliament passed a conservative immigration bill [JURIST report] that tightened restrictions on unskilled, non-EU immigrants and required immigrants to sign a pledge to learn French and to abide by French law. In September 2006, Sarkozy announced that France had granted amnesty [JURIST report] to 6,924 illegal immigrants with school-age children, even though thousands more had applied. The move was criticized as "totally arbitrary" - an assertion that Sarkozy denied. CBC News has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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Congressmembers subpoenaed to testify in Cunningham contractor bribery trial
Leslie Schulman on September 18, 2007 5:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for Brent Wilkes [Newsweek profile], a defense contractor connected to disgraced former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham [official profile], have subpoenaed 13 members of Congress to testify at Wilkes' October 2 trial. All of the lawmakers, including former House Speaker Dennis Hastert [official website], have said they will not comply with the orders, because according to House Rules [text], sitting House members may only comply with subpoenas when their testimony could be "material and relevant." General counsel for the House has said it will file a motion to quash the subpoenas because Wilkes' lawyers have failed to show how the lawmakers' testimonies are relevant to the trial. The subpoenas were announced [floor summary] during House floor proceedings Monday, as dictated by the Rules.

Wilkes and former CIA executive director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo [Wikipedia profile] were both indicted by a grand jury [JURIST report] in February for their involvement in the Cunningham case, and have been under investigation by the FBI since last May, after Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2005 [JURIST report] to taking $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and others in return for federal contracts. The indictment includes charges of money laundering and fraud, as well as conspiracy between Wilkes and John T. Michael, nephew of New York businessman Thomas Kontogiannis [Union Tribune report], to bribe Cunningham. Wilkes is also alleged to have received $12 million in unlawful government contracts for his company ADCS [corporate website]. Wilkes has pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of money laundering, fraud, and corruption. Both Foggo and Wilkes face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges. AP has more.






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US House committee launches probe of State Department inspector general
Caitlin Price on September 18, 2007 4:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee [official website] Tuesday announced [press release] an investigation into whether State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard [official profile] interfered with a fraud investigation related to construction of a new US embassy in Baghdad to protect the Bush administration from "political embarrassment." In a letter to Krongard requesting his cooperation in the investigation, Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) [official profile] said that the allegations span "all three major divisions of the Office of Inspector General — investigations, audits, and inspections," and were made by former and current Office of Inspector General employees of varying ranks. Waxman listed concerns that included Krongard's refusal to investigate wasteful spending or procurement fraud in State Department contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his refusal to cooperate with a Justice Department fraud investigation into the construction of the new US Embassy in Iraq.

Security firm Blackwater USA [corporate website], charged with protection of US diplomats in Iraq, is also under investigation by the committee and was implicated in the letter to Krongard. The Iraqi government Monday ordered the firm out of the country [CBS report] after eight Iraqi civilians were shot in an incident following a car bomb targeting State Department officials. Though not named, Blackwater is reportedly the firm to which Waxman referred in accusing Krongard of impeding efforts by "investigators to cooperate with a Justice Department probe into allegations that a large private security contractor was smuggling weapons into Iraq." Waxman said [press release] Tuesday that the Blackwater controversy is "an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors." AP has more.






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US intelligence chief pushes Congress for more changes to surveillance law
Caitlin Price on September 18, 2007 3:01 PM ET

[JURIST] US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell [official website] pushed for new and permanent changes to a recently passed temporary surveillance law in a statement [PDF text] to the House Judiciary Committee [official website] Tuesday. The Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials], passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August, gives the Executive Branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [EFF Q&A] by establishing judicial oversight of domestic wiretapping. McConnell urged the panel to permanently update FISA to include the provisions of the Protect America Act, including changing the definition of electronic surveillance to exclude limitations on governmental surveillance "directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States." He pointed to threats both from terrorist groups and from China and Russia, nations which he says are spying on US activities and assets nearly at "Cold War levels." McConnell also proposed granting liability protection to members of the private sector connected to government anti-terror work, including telecommunications companies that aided government surveillance without a court order. McConnell made a similar push last week at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee [JURIST report].

Last week US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein [official profile], head of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division (NSD), sent a letter to Congress [JURIST report] stating that the Protect America Act will not allow government authorities to conduct warrantless domestic searches. Wainstein reiterated the Bush administration's position that the new legislation, which "could be read to authorize the collection of business records of individuals in the United States," will not be used for such surveillance. The Center of Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] filed a legal challenge to the law, contending it violates the Fourth Amendment [JURIST report] because it removes judicial oversight for spying and "leaves it to the executive branch to monitor itself." McConnell told the Judiciary Committee that the executive branch is "committed to conducting meaningful oversight of the authorities provided by the Protect America Act," through monitoring from internal review, outside agencies, the FISA court, and the Congress and its committees. AP has more.






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Maoists leave Nepal government in new call for democratic republic
Leslie Schulman on September 18, 2007 2:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The Communist Party of Nepal - Maoists (CPN-M) [party website] announced Tuesday that it is vacating the interim government and boycotting future elections until its demands for parliament to immediately declare the country a federal democratic republic were met. Senior members of the Maoist party, who say that they have secured over one million signatures on a petition calling for the creation of a republic government, said Tuesday that they would engage in peaceful rallies leading up to a nationwide strike in early October. AP has more.

This is the latest in a series of political upheavals in Nepal [JURIST news archive]. The CPN-M has been agitating for the declaration of a republic [JURIST report] and abolishment of the monarchy for months, but senior leaders in the six other major parties involved in the interim parliament, operating under the powers of the interim constitution [JURIST report], assert that the parliament only has the power to set up elections for a Constituent Assembly [eKantipur report], which will then decide the form of Nepal's new government.






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Children often victims of extrajudicial killings in Philippines: advocacy groups
Alexis Unkovic on September 18, 2007 2:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Two advocacy groups in the Philippines [JURIST news archive] said Tuesday that children are often the victims of extrajudicial killings, citing statistics compiled by Karapatan (The Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights) [advocacy website]. The Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns and the Gabriela Women's Party [advocacy website] criticized Philippine President Gloria Arroyo [official website; BBC profile], saying that instances of human rights [JURIST news archive] violations have ironically increased in the Philippines since the end of martial law in 1981. The groups said that seven percent of the victims recorded by Karapatan since 2001 were children, and that five children have died in extrajudicial killings so far this year.

In July, Arroyo urged lawmakers [JURIST report] from both houses of Congress to pass legislation to curb extrajudicial killings and disappearances [transcript]. The Inquirer has more.






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Iranian-American journalist leaves Iran
Alexis Unkovic on September 18, 2007 1:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian-American journalist Parnaz Azima, a reporter for Radio Farda [media website, in Arabic], left Iran [JURIST news archive] Tuesday after months of being held in the country on security-related charges. A spokesperson for Radio Farda's parent service Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) [media website] told AP that Azima will soon arrive in the United States. Azima was granted permission to leave Iran [JURIST report] September 5, although the charges against her remain open [RFE/RL report]. Authorities reportedly returned Azima's passport to her on September 4.

Azima originally traveled to Iran in January to visit her sick mother and Iranian authorities confiscated her passport upon her arrival. Two other Iranian-Americans charged by Iran with endangering national security, Open Society Institute consultant Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh [OSI press release] and Ali Shakeri of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding [advocacy website], still have not been released. Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari [JURIST news archive] left Iran earlier this month after being detained for over 100 days for her involvement in an alleged plot "against the sovereignty of the country." AP has more.






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Maryland high court narrowly affirms same-sex marriage ban
Alexis Unkovic on September 18, 2007 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Maryland Court of Appeals [official website] on Tuesday ruled [opinion text, PDF] 4-3 that the state's 1973 law banning same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] is constitutional. In reversing the judgment of the lower Circuit Court, Maryland's highest court held that a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman neither denies individuals fundamental rights nor discriminates illegally on the basis of gender. The plaintiffs, 19 same-sex couples represented in the case [docket, ACLU materials] by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], had argued that marriage is a fundamental right which should not be denied according to the parties' genders. The majority opinion did allow that the Maryland General Assembly [official website] can pass legislation recognizing same-sex unions [JURIST news archive] if it chooses to do so.

The ACLU filed the case [JURIST report] in 2004, and the Maryland Court of Appeals later heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on appeal in December 2006. Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock originally ruled against enforcing the 1973 law [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in January 2006, holding that it subjects same-sex couples to a discriminatory classification based solely on their sexual orientation. AP has more. The Baltimore Sun has local coverage.






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Zimbabwe parliament considers constitutional amendments
Michael Sung on September 18, 2007 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The Zimbabwean parliament began debate Tuesday on a draft constitutional amendment bill that could essentially give Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] the authority to appoint his successor. The changes would allow the parliament to appoint a new president should the incumbent step down before the end of his term; there is speculation that Mugabe will step down before elections are held so that his ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) [Wikipedia backgrounder], would be able to select the next president. ZANU-PF currently enjoys the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority for amending the Zimbabwean constitution [PDF text].

In June, the Zimbabwean government published [JURIST report] the bill to amend the constitution, which proposes the simultaneous election of the president and both houses of the legislature. Critics allege that the reforms are intended to weaken the opposition. The proposed amendments would end the existing assembly's term two years early in 2008, reduce the president's term from six years to five, and increase the number of legislators in the House of Assembly from 150 to 210 and the Senate from 66 to 84. In addition, the number of House of Assembly members appointed by the president would decrease from 30 to 10, but the number of senators appointed by the president would go from 16 to 34. The main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change [party website], said Tuesday that it has reached a deal with ZANU-PF and would not try to block the amendments. BBC News has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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France judiciary probing 1999 assassination of Iran military official
Michael Sung on September 18, 2007 9:39 AM ET

[JURIST] French judicial officials indicated Monday that the judiciary is launching a new investigation into the 1999 assassination [BBC report] of Iranian deputy chief of the joint staff Brigadier-General Ali Sayyad Shirazi in Tehran. The probe, renewed at the request of Shirazi's family, will focus on the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) [MIPT backgrounder], which has claimed responsibility in the assassination. The MEK, based in France and Iraq, is dedicated to the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The MEK, also known as the People's Mujahideen of Iran, supported Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Last December, the European Court of First Instance [official website] ruled that the Council of the European Union's decision to freeze the group's assets was made without giving the MEK a fair hearing and was reached without a "sufficient statement of reason" [JURIST report]. The ruling prompted the EU to revise [press release, PDF; JURIST report] its procedures in establishing and maintaining its list of terrorist entities. AP has more.






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Musharraf to resign Pakistan army chief post after successful reelection: lawyer
Michael Sung on September 18, 2007 8:56 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] will only resign as chief of Pakistan's army following his reelection, government lawyer Sharifuddin Pirzada said Tuesday during proceedings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website]. The high court is hearing petitions from opposition parties challenging Musharraf's dual role as president and army chief [JURIST report], as well as Musharraf's bid to avoid a general election by seeking reelection from the outgoing parliament and provincial assemblies. Pirzada said that Musharraf would resign from his army post after being elected but before being sworn in for another term as president, but opposition leaders immediately criticized the plan as unconstitutional.

On Monday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) [official website] announced election rule changes [press release] that will allow Musharraf to remain as army chief while he runs for office. Earlier this month, members of the opposition began challenging Musharraf's dual role [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Federal judge dismisses California global warming lawsuit against automakers
Jaime Jansen on September 18, 2007 8:46 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge in California dismissed a lawsuit [order, PDF] Monday alleging that vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases [EPA backgrounder] have contributed to global warming constituting a "public nuisance" that has cost the state of California millions of dollars. Judge Martin J. Jenkins of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] wrote that the case "presents a non-justiciable political question" and said that courts lack jurisdiction to decide injury lawsuits based on global warming, noting that the issue needs to be addressed on a nationwide scale by Congress. Jenkins added that he did not want to expose automakers, utility companies and other industries to damages for "lawfully engaging in their respective spheres of commerce." Last week, a federal court in Vermont ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that states have the power to regulate automobile greenhouse gas emissions.

Former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed the lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] last year against Chrysler, General Motors Corporation, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, alleging that vehicles manufactured by the companies "currently account for nearly 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and more that 30 percent in California." The automakers moved to dismiss the lawsuit [JURIST report] last December, arguing that disagreements they may have with the state should be settled through the regulatory process, not litigation. The New York Times has more.






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Mexican drug lord pleads guilty in US federal court
Jaime Jansen on September 18, 2007 8:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Mexican drug lord Francisco Javier Arellano Felix [Wikipedia profile] pleaded guilty [press release] in the US District Court for the Southern District of California [official website] Monday to running a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiracy to launder money. Prosecutors alleged that Arellano Felix helped run the Arellano Felix cartel [PBS backgrounder], based out of Tijuana, Mexico, which became notorious for its aggressive and ruthless behavior and brought hundreds of tons of marijuana and cocaine into the US. The plea agreement, which came after officials in Washington, DC agreed not to pursue the death penalty, calls for Arellano Felix to forfeit $50 million and a yacht.

Sibling Francisco Rafael Arrellano Felix [Wikipedia profile] became the first major accused drug dealer to be extradited from Mexico [JURIST report] last year, and pleaded not guilty to cocaine distribution charges [AP report]. The Arellano Felix cartel was once run by a family of seven brothers and four sisters. Francisco Javier Arellano Felix is the second of the cartel leaders to face drug related charges. All other charges were dropped under the plea agreement, and Arellano Felix will be sentenced on November 5. AP has more.






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Mukasey AG nomination gets hesitant support from Senate Democrats
Jaime Jansen on September 18, 2007 7:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have generally reacted favorably to President Bush's Monday nomination [JURIST report] of former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey [WH factsheet; PBWT profile] as the US Attorney General, showing support for Bush's bi-partisan efforts at nominating an independent mind for the nation's top law enforcement officer and paving the way for a relatively smooth confirmation. Many US senators stopped short of announcing their support of Mukasey, but several top Democrats expressed the need for a quick confirmation and signaled a readiness to compromise with GOP lawmakers in order to clean up the scandal-ridden US Department of Justice [official website]. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website] applauded Bush's bi-partisan efforts [press release], noting that "Judge Mukasey has strong professional credentials and a reputation for independence...and knows how to say no to the President when he oversteps the Constitution." While Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] initially threatened to hold up Mukasey's nomination until the Bush administration hands over key information about its terrorist surveillance program [JURIST news archive], Leahy later said that he looks forward to meeting with Mukasey and gathering information for confirmation hearings, adding that "cooperation from the White House will be essential" [press release]. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) [official website] echoed Leahy's comments, adding that holding up Mukasey's confirmation would be a "mistake" when the "White House has taken a step forward" with a bi-partisan nomination. Mukasey has been regarded as strict on national security matters, but ruled [PDF text] in March 2003 that US citizen Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] had to be allowed to meet with counsel despite being classified as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive], prompting Senate Judiciary Committee member Russ Feingold (D-WI) [official website] to express interest [press release] in Mukasey's "views on executive power and the need to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans while fighting al Qaeda and its affiliates aggressively."

Leading Republicans have begun urging the Senate to confirm Mukasey quickly. Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] welcomed Mukasey's nomination, noting that "President Bush has made a very conscience and deliberate effort to choose someone who would not be controversial." Specter expressed hope that Mukasey's nomination "will not get bogged down" [press release] in requests for information from the White House, including requests about the terrorist surveillance program and the firing of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archive], which eventually precipitated the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST report]. Mukasey emerged as a leading candidate for the nomination after Democrats balked [JURIST report] at the prospect of Theodore Olsen [DOJ profile], saying Olsen was overly partisan and threatening to invoke procedural barriers to his confirmation. AP has more.






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Jury hears closing arguments in trial of Muslim charity accused of funding terrorism
Melissa Bancroft on September 17, 2007 7:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Closing arguments began Monday in the case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development [ADL backgrounder], a Muslim foundation charged with financing international terrorism by supporting the Palestinian group Hamas [BBC backgrounder]. Once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, federal prosecutors shut down the Holy Land Foundation in 2001 and subsequently charged the organization and five of its leaders [JURIST report] in 2004 on 42 counts of conspiracy, providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to deal in the property of a terrorist, dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist, money laundering, conspiracy to impede an investigation by the IRS, and filing false tax returns. The defense argued that the charity's funds were used only to help Palestinians in need.

The prosecution argued the charity was in place only to funnel money through Palestinian schools and charities used to support Hamas. If the defendants are found guilty, they could face up to life in prison. AP has more.






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European Commission president urges UK support of EU reform treaty
Melissa Bancroft on September 17, 2007 7:04 PM ET

[JURIST] European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] Monday called on the UK to support the proposed EU Reform Treaty [PDF text; EU materials]. During a speech [text] to delegates of the UK Liberal Democratic Party [party website], Barroso emphasized that the reform treaty is not simply a retread of the failed EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch [JURIST reports] voters in 2005. Barroso also stressed the need for the treaty to evolve to accommodate the changing EU.

Last week, Sir Menzies Campbell [personal website], a leader in the Liberal Democratic party, said that Britain should focus on the larger issue of whether it should remain involved in European politics at all rather than whether it should ratify the treaty. The Liberal Democrats have traditionally identified themselves as the pro-EU party. UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband last month rejected calls for a general referendum on the proposed treaty [JURIST report], but said that the treaty would not infringe on British independence. The Guardian has more.






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New York, NYC file joint Vioxx lawsuit
Leslie Schulman on September 17, 2007 4:33 PM ET

[JURIST] New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official websites] Monday filed a joint lawsuit [press release] against pharmaceutical giant Merck [corporate website], alleging that the company misrepresented known dangers associated with arthritis drug Vioxx [Merck materials; JURIST news archive], causing millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted. The suit alleges that Merck withheld information regarding the risk of cardiovascular disease to its patients, and that most of the filled prescriptions for Vioxx would not have been placed if the prescribing physician had been fully informed of the dangers. Accordingly, the complaint seeks millions of dollars in restitution for "taxpayer dollars wrongfully spent on Vioxx prescriptions." This is the first time that a state and a city have filed a joint Medicaid fraud lawsuit. Reuters has more.

Merck has been involved in a stream of Vioxx-related litigation during the last few years, including state and federal lawsuits in Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and California [JURIST reports]. Earlier this month, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit filed against Merck, reversing a lower court's decision to grant nationwide class certification in the case. Decertification of the class action means plaintiffs can still file individual lawsuits against Merck but not as a unified class.






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Federal judges consider Texas municipal challenge to Voting Rights Act
Leslie Schulman on September 17, 2007 3:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Three federal judges representing the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Monday appeared dubious during oral arguments [media advisory] in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Gonzales [DOJ case documents] that the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act [text] should be found unconstitutional. The plaintiff, a municipal utility district in Texas, argued that Section 5, which requires voting officials in a select 16 states to obtain approval by the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] before amending their voting procedures, is not neutrally applied to all 50 states and is thus unconstitutional. Section 5 is intended to protect voters in states with histories of racial profiling at the polls, and only allows changes in voter protocol that do not have a racially discriminatory purpose and will not negatively impact minority voters.

The lawsuit was filed last August, just a week after President Bush signed a law extending the Act [JURIST report] for another 25 years. AP has more.






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Germany court rejects Zundel appeal of Holocaust denial sentence
Leslie Schulman on September 17, 2007 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The German Federal Court of Justice [official website, in German] said Monday it has dismissed [press release] an appeal made by writer Ernst Zundel [ADL profile; CBC profile] to overturn his February conviction for denying the Holocaust. Earlier this year, Zundel was sentenced to five years in prison after the court found him guilty on 14 counts of incitement, libel and disparaging the dead [JURIST reports]. Holocaust denial constitutes a crime under Section 130 (3) [text] of the German Federal Criminal Code, which provides:

Whoever publicly or in a meeting approves of, denies or renders harmless an act committed under the rule of National Socialism of the type indicated in Section 220a subsection (1) [genocide], in a manner capable of disturbing the public piece shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine.
In his closing argument, Zundel maintained that the Holocaust never happened.

Zundel left Germany for Canada in 1958, but after a unsuccessful bid to gain Canadian citizenship and a short stay in the United States he was deported to Germany in 2005 after being judged a national security threat. A Canadian court convicted him in 1988 of "spreading false news" in an anti-Holocaust tract, but the "false news" law was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada [judgment], which held it contrary to freedom of expression. Germany issued an international warrant for Zundel's arrest in 2003, and took him in to custody immediately after he was returned by Canadian authorities in March 2005. In its rejection of his appeal, the federal court also affirmed a lower court's ruling that Zundel's sentence should not be reduced because he had been detained by Canadian authorities before being deported to Germany. AP has more.





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Bush formally nominates Mukasey as US attorney general, resurrects Keisler as interim
Jeannie Shawl on September 17, 2007 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Monday nominated [WH screenshot] retired federal judge Michael B. Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PBWT profile] to serve as the next attorney general of the United States. Mukasey, 66, retired from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2006 after 18 years - the last six of them as chief judge. He recently rejoined [press release] his former firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler [firm website] in Manhattan. While on the federal bench, Mukasey presided over a variety of high-profile cases, including the terrorism trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman [MIPT profile] for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Although generally regarded as strict in national security matters, Mukasey ruled [PDF text] in March of 2003 that US citizen Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] had to be allowed to meet with counsel despite being classified as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive].

In his announcement of the nomination [transcript; recorded video] Monday, Bush also said that Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler [official website] will serve as acting attorney general pending Mukasey's confirmation, replacing Solicitor General Paul Clement, who Bush said would "remain focused on his duties as Solicitor General, so he can prepare for the Supreme Court term that begins just two weeks from today." Keisler announced his resignation [JURIST report] as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the DOJ Civil Division earlier this month. During his tenure at the Justice Department, Keisler was responsible for managing litigation over the habeas corpus rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Last year, President Bush nominated [JURIST report] Keisler to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but the Senate has yet to confirm the nomination.

In his remarks at the White House, Bush described Mukasey as:

...clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces. As a judge and a private lawyer, he's written on matters of constitutional law and national security. He knows what it takes to fight this war effectively, and he knows how to do it in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our Constitution. And when confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General, he will work to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence officers have the tools they need to protect the United States and our citizens. ...

With Mike Mukasey, the Justice Department will be in the hands of a great lawyer and an accomplished public servant. Mike has shown good judgment in the courtroom, he's shown good judgment outside the courtroom. ...

It's a pivotal time for our nation, and it's vital that the position of Attorney General be filled quickly. I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey promptly.
In his own remarks [WH photo] Monday, Mukasey said:
Mr. President, I am also grateful to you for giving me the chance to return to the department of Justice where I served early in my career.

The department faces challenges vastly different from those it faced when I was an assistant U.S. attorney 35 years ago. But the principles that guide the department remain the same -- to pursue justice by enforcing the law with unswerving fidelity to the Constitution. I have always had great respect for the men and women who follow those principles day in and day out in all the constituent branches of the department. My fondest hope and prayer at this time is that, if confirmed, I can give them the support and the leadership they deserve. ...

I said a moment ago that the challenges the Department faces are vastly different from those we confronted 35 years ago. Less than a week ago, we marked a solemn anniversary that reminds us, if we need reminding, of how different those challenges are. Thirty-five years ago, our foreign adversaries saw widespread devastation as a deterrent; today, our fanatical enemies see it as a divine fulfillment.

But the task of helping to protect our security, which the Justice Department shares with the rest of our government, is not the only task before us. The Justice Department must also protect the safety of our children, the commerce that assures our prosperity, and the rights and liberties that define us as a nation.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Mukasey will succeed Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive], whose resignation officially took effect [JURIST report] Monday.





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Pittsburgh diocese to settle clergy abuse claims for $1.25M
Katerina Ossenova on September 17, 2007 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh [diocesan website] Monday announced the creation of a $1.25 million fund to settle 32 lawsuits alleging abuse or injury by priests. Even though Pennsylvania's statute of limitations barred many victims from filing personal injury claims, the diocese has created the fund and will also offer a program of counseling and healing.

Other dioceses across the country have reached similar settlements. The Catholic Diocese of San Diego [diocesan website] announced an agreement [JURIST report] this month to pay $198.1 million to settle 144 claims of sexual abuse by its clergy. A Los Angeles Superior Court in July 2007 approved a $660 million settlement [JURIST report] between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles [diocesan website] and plaintiffs in 508 outstanding clergy sex abuse lawsuits. In January 2007, the Catholic Diocese of Spokane [diocesan website] agreed to settle molestation claims [JURIST report] against its own priests for $48 million as part of its Chapter 11 reorganization plan. The Archdiocese of Portland filed for Chapter 11 [JURIST report] in 2004, and the dioceses of Tuscon, Spokane, and Davenport soon followed suit in the wake of hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits [JURIST news archive] against clergy. The total settlements of all Catholic clergy abuse claims have cost the US church at least $2.3 billion since 1950. AP has more. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has local coverage.






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China cracking down on illegal land transfers
Katerina Ossenova on September 17, 2007 9:58 AM ET

[JURIST] China has increased its efforts to stop illegal land transfers and punish government officials responsible for illegal land title transfers, an official from the Law Enforcement and Supervision Bureau under the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources [official website] said Monday. While property in China [JURIST news archive] is essentially state-owned, land use titles convey their holders a form of ownership and corrupt local officials have illegally confiscated property from individuals and families and transferred the titles to property developers. Zhang Xinbao, director of the Law Enforcement and Supervision Bureau, noted that although in the past these illegal land seizures were rarely prosecuted, the increased crackdown on corrupt officials has led to 3,000 officials punished for such actions in the last year. Zhang said that in the last six years, 8,698 officials have been penalized by the Communist Party over illegal land title transfers, while 1,221 others have been punished by the legal system. China has also increased the legal rights of property owners who often receive little to no compensation for the confiscation of their land. AP has more. Xinhua has local coverage.

China has recently been engaged in a crackdown on corruption [JURIST news archive], and in some cases has used capital punishment in corruption cases. In July, the former commissioner of China's State Food and Drug Administration [official website, in Chinese] was executed for accepting $850,000 in bribes [JURIST report]. In August, Chinese Communist Party discipline commission spokesman Gan Yisheng said that China's use of capital punishment in political and economic corruption cases is appropriate and effective [JURIST report]. Gan justified the punishment by saying that it has "been endorsed by the Chinese people and also recognized by the international community." Last week, a Chinese bank official convicted of corruption was executed [JURIST report] for taking bribes and embezzling the equivalent of almost $2 million USD.






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Egypt bans social gathering of opposition Muslim Brotherhood
Jaime Jansen on September 17, 2007 8:29 AM ET

[JURIST] The Egyptian government has banned an annual gathering [MB press release] of the Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS backgrounder] as part of its crackdown on opposition to the Egyptian government, a Brotherhood official said Sunday. The Brotherhood gathers annually for a social celebration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan; 1,500 people usually attend the event. This is the first time the gathering has been banned by the government in 20 years. The Brotherhood has been banned as a political party since 1954, but its members run as independents and the organization has grown into Egypt's most powerful opposition movement with 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament.

The ban comes at a time of increasing tension between the Egyptian government, led by President Hosni Mubarak [official profile], and critics. Last week, a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids [JURIST report] for publishing criticisms of Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) [party website]. Also last week, Egyptian prosecutors said they would put al-Dustour [media website] editor Ibrahim Issa on trial in a separate action for allegedly spreading "rumors" about Mubarak's health. In 2006, human rights groups condemned a court decision [JURIST report] to sentence a controversial newspaper editor to a year in prison for criticizing Mubarak, and three journalists went on trial [JURIST report] for allegedly slandering a local election commission chief by alleging fraud in parliamentary elections. AP has more.






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Central African Republic government forces responsible for human rights abuses: HRW
Katerina Ossenova on September 17, 2007 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Central African Republic (CAR) [CIA backgrounder; BBC backgrounder] government forces are responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings [press release] and the burning of thousands of civilian homes since mid-2005 in their counterinsurgency campaign, according to a new report [text] from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The report, released Friday, alleges that since the beginning of the conflict, CAR security forces have been responsible for human rights abuses and breaches of law, including multiple summary executions and unlawful killings, widespread burning of civilian homes, and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. An elite unit of the Presidential Guard, based in the town of Bossangoa, was said to be responsible for many of the killings and village burnings. HRW also reported that rebel forces have committed serious abuses but not to the extent of those committed by government forces. HRW noted that not a single soldier or officer has been held accountable for any of the atrocities committed and called on CAR authorities to take immediate steps to "end impunity and put in place effective civilian protection mechanisms in the north." The advocacy group urged the United Nations and the European Union to send in a civilian protection force and ensure that the force has the mandate and the capacity to provide effective protection to civilians in CAR.

CAR [JURIST news archive] has suffered decades of coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960. In June 2007, Amnesty International [advocacy website] also reported that humanitarian abuses have become commonplace [JURIST report] as the armed conflict between the government and opposition forces escalates. The International Criminal Court [official website] opened a probe in May 2007 into allegations of rape and other violence [JURIST report] committed in the CAR. The probe [press release; ICC backgrounder, PDF] will focus on events that occurred between 2002 and 2003 during a violent conflict between rebel forces and the government, but will also keep watch on current events in the country. AP has more.






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Pakistan high court hears case against Musharraf re-election bid
Jaime Jansen on September 17, 2007 7:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] began hearing petitions Monday by parties opposing the re-election of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] while he serves as chief of Pakistan's army. The court hearings came the same day that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) [official website] said that a change to election rules [press release] will facilitate Musharraf's bid for re-election [AP report]. Last week, the ECP changed the law [Hindu.com report] so that Article 41(3) [PDF text] of the Pakistani Constitution [text], which prohibits a candidate from holding a government office, no longer applies. The rule change allows Musharraf to remain the army chief while he runs for office. A senior official in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League said Monday that Musharraf will step down from his role as army chief [Reuters report] if elected to a second term as president.

The parties petitioning the Supreme Court Monday oppose Musharraf's dual role as president and army chief, and also say Musharraf must be elected by a general election rather than Musharraf's suggestion that he be elected by the outgoing parliament and provincial assemblies. Monday's arguments are the second round of opposition arguments posed to the Supreme Court. Other opposition parties began disputing Musharraf's dual role earlier this month [JURIST report]. Meanwhile, a group of Pakistani lawyers has begun a campaign to obtain Musharraf's resignation [JURIST report] and restore the 1973 Constitution [text]. AFP has more.






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European court upholds landmark fine in Microsoft antitrust case
Jaime Jansen on September 17, 2007 7:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of First Instance [official website] on Monday upheld [text] the European Commission's (EC) 2004 landmark anti-trust ruling [JURIST report] against Microsoft's appeal [JURIST report] of the $613 million fine and order for Microsoft to share its communications code with competitors. The court agreed with the EC's ruling that Microsoft [corporate website; JURIST news archive] abused its monopoly power in the computer market by trying to force consumers into buying Microsoft software, noting that selling media software with its Windows operating system damaged European competitors. The court did, however, overrule the EC's imposition of a monitoring trustee, saying that the EC overstepped its bounds by requiring Microsoft to pay for the expenses of the trustee. EC President Jose Manuel Barrosso applauded Monday's ruling, saying it confirmed the EC's credibility [Reuters report] in ruling on antitrust cases.

The EC has accused Microsoft of continuing to steadily increase its market share [JURIST report] in the workgroup server market through abusive business practices. Last July, EC antitrust regulators imposed a $2.75 million per day fine [JURIST report] on Microsoft for continuing noncompliance with the 2004 order, which required Microsoft to share information necessary for compatibility with competitors and offer a reduced version of the Windows XP operating system without Windows Media Player. Microsoft may appeal Monday's decision to the European Court of Justice [official website]. AP has more.






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Bush nominating retired judge Mukasey as attorney general: reports
Bernard Hibbitts on September 16, 2007 6:53 PM ET

[JURIST] President Bush has decided to nominate retired federal judge Michael B. Mukasey [PBWT profile; New York Sun profile] as the next US attorney general succeeding the resigned Alberto Gonzales and will formally announce his pick Monday, according to administration and Republican Party sources cited in media reports late Sunday. Mukasey, 66, who retired from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2006 after 18 years - the last six of them as Chief Judge - recently rejoined [press release] his former firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler [firm website] in Manhattan. He is seen as a likely reconciliatory nominee who could receive approval from Senate Democrats; in 2003 New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer put his name forward for appointment to the US Supreme Court.

Mukasey has presided over a variety of high-profile cases, including the terrorism trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman [MIPT profile] for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Although generally regarded as strict in national security matters, Mukasey ruled [PDF text] in March of 2003 that US citizen Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] had to be allowed to meet with counsel despite being classified as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive]. In a recent Wall St. Journal op-ed penned after the Padilla verdict Mukasey said his case illustrated "the inadequacy of the current approach to terrorism prosecutions" and suggested that Congress give "careful scrutiny" to the creation of a "separate national security court staffed by independent, life-tenured judges to deal with the full gamut of national security issues, from intelligence gathering to prosecution." Although well-respected in legal circles Mukasey is not that well-known in Washington and some Justice Department insiders have expressed concern at his lack of managerial experience. AP has more.






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Japan ruling coalition may force anti-terror law renewal: PM candidate
Michael Sung on September 16, 2007 10:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese House of Representatives member Yasuo Fukuda [official website, in Japanese; Wikipedia profile], the leading candidate to succeed former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [JURIST news archive], said Sunday that the coalition government under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) [party website] may take the unusual step of renewing the controversial Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [text] by adopting renewal measures twice in the House of Representatives, altogether bypassing the opposition-controlled House of Councillors [official website]. The legislation, originally passed in 2001 and extended annually [MOFA press release], is slated to expire November 1. The measure allows Japan to provide logistical support for allied vessels in the Indian Ocean for operations relating to Afghanistan.

Last Wednesday, Abe unexpectedly announced his resignation [BBC English translation; JURIST report] citing problems renewing the law. His office also flagged personal health concerns, and Abe was hospitalized [Japan Times report] on Thursday, suffering from stress and exhaustion. Abe had previously threatened to resign [JURIST report] if the anti-terrorism law was not renewed. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) [party website] is opposed to Japanese participation in military operations not sanctioned by the United Nations. Thompson Financial has more.






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Ex-federal judge Mukasey emerges as leading US attorney general candidate
Michael Sung on September 16, 2007 9:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey [PBWT profile] is emerging as the leading candidate to head the US Department of Justice, the New York Times and AP reported Saturday. Mukasey, who retired from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2006 after 18 years, has been previously endorsed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official website] for the US Supreme Court and is seen as a likely reconciliatory nominee who could receive approval from Senate Democrats. Mukasey has presided over a variety of high-profile cases including the terrorism trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman [MIPT profile] for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mukasey ruled [PDF text] in March of 2003 that Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] had to be allowed to meet with counsel despite being classified as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive].

Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive] resigned as attorney general late last month after a controversial 2 1/2 year stint. Others including former Solicitor General Theodore Olson [JURIST report], have been touted as possible candidates for the AG post, but Senate Democrats have vowed to oppose Olson's nomination [JURIST report]. In the interim, Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] is currently serving as acting attorney general. The New York Times has more. AP has additional coverage.






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New surveillance act does not authorize warrantless domestic searches: DOJ
Michael Sung on September 16, 2007 8:52 AM ET

[JURIST] US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein [official profile], head of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division (NSD) [official website], is seeking to reassure members of Congress that the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials] is not over-broad and will not allow government authorities to conduct warrantless domestic searches, the Washington Post reported Saturday. The Protect America Act gives the Executive Branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [EFF Q/A] establishing judicial oversight of domestic wiretapping. In a letter sent to Congress Friday, Wainstein reiterated the Bush administration's position that the new legislation, which "could be read to authorize the collection of business records of individuals in the United States," will not be used for such surveillance. Wainstein also indicated that the administration is open to revisiting the legislation to address concerns by critics that the legislation allows domestic warrantless physical searches.

Critics allege that the the Protect America Act, passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August, does not sufficiently narrow the scope of surveillance because it authorizes electronic surveillance as long as the investigation concerns a "person" outside of the United States. The Center of Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] has already filed a legal challenge to the law, contending it violates the Fourth Amendment [press release; JURIST report] because it removes judicial oversight for spying and "leaves it to the executive branch to monitor itself." The Washington Post has more.






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NYT researcher released from China prison after serving three years
Bernard Hibbitts on September 15, 2007 8:29 PM ET

[JURIST] New York Times researcher Zhao Yan [JURIST news archive] was released as anticipated [JURIST report] from a Chinese prison early Saturday after serving three years for fraud. He was reunited with his family and thanked those who had worked for his release. Zhao was formally indicted [JURIST report] in December 2005 after a 2004 New York Times report [text] revealed the resignation of Jiang Zemin as head of the Chinese military before it was formally announced by the government. The charges were dropped in March 2006, but Chinese authorities continued to detain Zhao and later reinstated the charges, a process which Chinese officials maintained was legal [JURIST reports]. A Chinese court ultimately convicted Zhao of taking $2,500 from a village official, but the state secrets counts against him were dismissed.

Human rights groups and journalism advocacy organizations criticized the proceedings against Zhao for being politically motivated and without merit [CPJ alert]. During his trial, Zhao’s lawyers were not allowed to call witnesses on his behalf or permitted to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution. The New York Times has more.






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Russia arrests ex-Chechen official in Politkovskaya murder probe
Bernard Hibbitts on September 15, 2007 7:57 PM ET

[JURIST] A former official in the Chechen government has been arrested in connection with the murder of Russian journalist and rights activist Anna Politkovskaya [JURIST news archive], Russian media reported Saturday. The Komsomolskaya Pravda [media website] tabloid reported that Shamil Burayev, a one-time district head in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, had been arrested by police Thursday and is suspected of "organizing a murder." RFE/RL has more.

Politkovskaya, who had covered the crisis in Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta [media website, in Russian] since 1999, was shot in the head and in the chest after returning to her Moscow apartment building one day last October. She was a well known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and authored two books on Chechnya. Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika [official website, in Russian] announced last month that Russian authorities had arrested ten people after an investigation into the killing; two of those were later released [JURIST reports]. Chaika says that Politkovskaya's murder was orchestrated by a Moscow-based Chechen criminal group specializing in contract killings.






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Gonzales leaves Justice Department as AG resignation takes effect
Bernard Hibbitts on September 15, 2007 1:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive] bade farewell to public service Friday, officially leaving the US Justice Department [official website] after a stormy 2 1/2 years as Attorney General. Gonzales resigned [JURIST report] late last month in the midst of controversy surrounding the firings of several US Attorneys and subsequent allegations that he may have perjured himself in testimony on the matter before Congress. Gonzales had indicated that his resignation would take effect September 17 [JURIST report]. In his last public speech [text] at DC's Bolling Air Force Base as part of its Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, Gonzales stressed his Justice Department initiatives against violent crime, child sex abuse, and terrorism, but insisted that he left office with optimism:

Over the past two and a half years, I have seen tyranny, dishonesty, corruption and depravity of types I never thought possible. I've seen things I didn't know man was incapable of.

But I will tell you here and now that these things still leave me hopeful. Because every time I see a glimmer of the evil man can do, I see the defenders of liberty, truth, and justice who stand ready to fight it.
Later Friday at the Justice Department itself, Gonzales spoke briefly to staff and employees at a ceremony attended by a number of serving and former Bush administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former White House chief of staff Andy Card. Speakers at the event praised Gonzales for his work and his character notwithstanding the complaints of critics who accuse him of having greatly politicized the department out of excessive loyalty to the President, whom he previously served as White House counsel. The White House is expected to nominate a new attorney general soon; former Solicitor General Theodore Olson [JURIST report] and US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Wilkins [official profile], among others, have been touted as possible successors. In the interim, Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general. AP has more.





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Bush signs 'minimal' legislative ethics bill but urges more reforms
Bernard Hibbitts on September 15, 2007 11:44 AM ET

[JURIST] President Bush Friday signed what he described as a "minimal" ethics reform bill [press release] designed to force lawmakers to disclose pet projects and divulge more details about campaign contributions. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 [PDF text] was passed last month in the Senate after being approved in the House [JURIST reports] in late July. Hailed [press release] by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as the "toughest lobbying and ethics reform in generations," it requires congressmen to flag their support of earmarks [JURIST report] - targeted spending programs - and disclose donations from lobbyists who "bundle" donations totaling over $15,000. The legislation also strips pensions from lawmakers found guilty of bribery or perjury.

In his signing remarks, Bush said the new law had consistency problems, could pose problems for presidential campaigns by incumbents, and did not go far enough on earmarks:

The legislation includes minimal improvements in the area of disclosure, both for lobbying and earmarks. But there is still more to be done -- and I will work with the Congress to improve upon this legislation.

For example, the bill holds members of the Senate and Executive Branch employees to a much higher standard of conduct than members of the House. The specific bill language is confusing, and I believe these increased restrictions would have a negative impact on recruitment and retention of federal employees. I urge the Congress to make these standards more uniform and less confusing and to do so in a way that will not discourage public service.

In addition, this bill would have the effect of unreasonably burdening sitting President's and Vice President's reelection campaigns. I look forward to working with Congress to amend these provisions to provide a reasonable process for allocating the cost of Presidential and Vice Presidential campaign travel that is consistent with security needs.

I am pleased that the Congress has begun to make progress in bringing greater transparency to the earmarking process. However, this bill falls far short of the reform that American taxpayers deserve. I am concerned that there are potential loopholes in some of the earmark reforms included in this bill that would allow earmarks to escape sufficient scrutiny. This legislation also does not address other earmark reforms I have called on Congress to implement, such as ending the practice of putting earmarks in report language.
AP has more.





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Rights groups accuse Egypt of limiting press freedoms after court jails editors
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 14, 2007 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International and Reporters without Borders [advocacy websites] Friday accused Egypt of clamping down on freedom of the press after a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids for publishing criticisms of President Hosni Mubarak [official profile] and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) [party website]. Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al Dustour; Adel Hammouda, editor of Al-Fagr [media websites]; Wael Al-Abrashi, editor of the independent newspaper Sawt Al-Umma; and Abdel-Halim Qandil, former editor of Al-Karama, were convicted of defaming the president and sentenced to a year in prison and a 20,000 Egyptian pound fine each. Reporters without Borders said [press release] that Egypt has been cracking down on critical journalists at a time when the president's succession is at issue, while Amnesty International said [press release] that the charges against the editors were part of an organized campaign to discourage criticism against the government. AP has more.

The case against the editors is only one example of what critics see as recurrent attacks on the press by Egypt's government. On Tuesday, Egyptian prosecutors said that they would put al-Dustour editor Issa on trial in a separate action for allegedly spreading "rumors" about Mubarak's health [Reuters report]. In 2006, human rights groups condemned a court decision [JURIST report] to sentence a controversial newspaper editor to a year in prison for criticizing Mubarak, and three journalists went on trial [JURIST report] for allegedly slandering a local election commission chief by alleging fraud in parliamentary elections. In 2006, the Egyptian parliament considered a new press law that including a provision allowing journalists to be imprisoned for reporting on alleged financial impropriety by public officials, but dropped that provision [JURIST report] before the law was passed.






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ICTY chief prosecutor mandate extended to year-end
Katerina Ossenova on September 14, 2007 2:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The United Nations Security Council [official website] has extended [press release] the mandate for International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] until December 31, the war crimes tribunal announced Friday. Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general, has served two four-year terms as the ICTY chief prosecutor. She was initially expected to step-down in September [JURIST report], but in June she said she would stay until the end of the year while the UN chooses her replacement. It is expected that Serge Brammertz [UN profile], a former federal prosecutor in Belgium and former deputy prosecutor for investigations at the International Criminal Court, will serve as the next ICTY chief prosecutor [JURIST report]. Brammertz currently heads the UN investigation [JURIST news archive] into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; that probe's mandate expires in December. Del Ponte will serve as Switzerland's ambassador to Argentina [press release; JURIST report] when her term as ICTY prosecutor expires

Del Ponte has repeatedly criticized Serbia for failing to bring to justice several accused war criminals who are believed to be hiding there, including former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder; JURIST news archive], former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic [JURIST report], and Bosnian Serb police commander Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY indictment]. On Thursday, Serbia said it will increase efforts [JURIST report] to locate and arrest these war criminals in order to receive a favorable report from Del Ponte when she advises EU officials on a pending pre-membership deal with the country. Reuters has more.






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State Department religious freedom report criticizes Iraq, other US allies
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 14, 2007 2:33 PM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released the annual State Department Report on International Religious Freedom [text] Friday, criticizing what it considered to be sharp decreases in religious freedom and an increase in religious strife in several nations, including Iraq. The report found that Iraqis' ability to freely practice the religion of their choice is severely hampered by rising violence, mostly between Shia and Sunni Muslims but also directed against practitioners of less conservative Muslim faiths and non-Muslim religions.



Although the study said that government policy in Iraq generally does not interfere with the free practice of religion, it found that an atmosphere of lawlessness permits criminal and terrorist gangs to target outsider religious groups with impunity:
Individuals were victims of not only harassment and intimidation but also kidnapping and even killings. Women and girls were often threatened for refusing to wear the hijab, for dressing in Western-style clothing, or for failing to adhere sufficiently to strict interpretations of conservative Islamic norms governing public behavior. During the reporting period, numerous women, including Christians, reported opting to wear the hijab for security purposes after being harassed for not doing so. One Sabean-Mandaean woman reported that she was burned in the face with acid for not wearing the hijab.
The report also criticized religious violence in several other US-allied nations, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia [JURIST news archives].

The State Department assessment designated a number of states as "countries of particular concern" (CPC) for their systematic repression of religious freedom, including Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Uzbekistan [JURIST news archives]. All eight countries have previously been listed as CPC. The most recent addition to the list was Uzbekistan, which was first designated as a CPC in 2006 for a series of raids against conservative Muslims whose beliefs differed from state-sanctioned dogma. AP has more.





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Iran leader says 'war criminal' Bush should be tried before international court
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 14, 2007 2:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official website] said Friday that US President George W. Bush was a "war criminal" comparable to Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein and that he would eventually be brought before an international tribunal to answer for his actions. In a sermon at Tehran University marking the start of Ramadan, Khamenei accused the US of working to dominate the Middle East and to undermine the legitimate governments of various countries in the region. He also insisted that US efforts to impose sanctions on Iran for continuing its nuclear program [IAEA backgrounder] will not weaken the country. IRNA has more. Haaretz has additional coverage.

Relations between Iran and United States have recently been strained because of Iran's refusal to abandon its nuclear program. Last year, Iran announced strong opposition to the Iran Freedom Support Act [HR 6198 text, PDF], a bill later signed into law [JURIST report] by President Bush that authorizes US sanctions against foreign governments that provide support for Iran's nuclear program or contribute towards the country's armament.






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Iraq still facing legal challenges: White House report
Katerina Ossenova on September 14, 2007 1:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The White House submitted a new Benchmark Assessment Report [PDF text] on Iraq to Congress Friday, noting that little progress had been made by the Iraqi government toward accomplishing 18 "benchmarks" thought to be essential to Iraq's stability. The Initial Benchmark Assessment Report [PDF text; JURIST report], submitted to Congress in July, had reported that the Iraqi government was making satisfactory progress toward meeting eight of 18 goals and unsatisfactory progress on eight others; two of the goals could not be rated for performance. The assessment issued Friday found that the Iraqi government had only met one new benchmark - allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [party website] to hold government positions:

The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification reform. The fact that legislation has not yet passed the COR should not diminish the significance of the agreement reached by the leaders or the re-integration of former Baathists taking place on the ground. The overarching goal of de-Baathification reform is political accommodation between the Shi’a and Sunni communities. The leaders’ agreement combined with the return of former Baathists to civic life is a significant step in that regard. Debate on this draft law in the COR is an integral part of developing the broad political acceptance needed to promote real reconciliation.
President Bush, in a televised address [transcript] on Thursday, said this about the Iraq government's progess:
The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks - and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must. Yet Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done. For example, they have passed a budget. They're sharing oil revenues with the provinces. They're allowing former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions. Local reconciliation is taking place. The key now is to link this progress in the provinces to progress in Baghdad. As local politics change, so will national politics.
Friday's report claims that meeting the 18 benchmarks required of the Iraqi government will advance reconciliation within Iraqi society, improve the security of the Iraqi population, provide essential services to the population, and promote the country's economic well-being.

Some of the benchmarks already met by the Iraqi government include the formation of a Constitutional Review Committee [JURIST report] and completion of a constitutional review, enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification reform [JURIST news archive] and enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions [JURIST news archive]. The Iraqi government has far failed at the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources [JURIST report], increasing the number of Iraqi security forces able to operate independently and ensuring that Iraqi political officials are not undermining or making false accusations against foreign forces. Two benchmarks, amnesty legislation and militia disarmament, were not ready to be assessed. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.





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China to release jailed NYT researcher sentenced for fraud
Katerina Ossenova on September 14, 2007 12:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Zhao Yan [JURIST news archive], a New York Times researcher who was sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] for fraud in August 2006, is to be released on Saturday, according to Chinese prison officials. A Chinese court convicted Zhao of taking $2,500 from a village official, but dismissed more serious charges of illegally leaking state secrets to foreigners. If Zhao had been convicted on those charges, he could have faced an additional 10-year sentence in a high-security prison. Zhao was formally indicted [JURIST report] in December 2005 after a 2004 New York Times report [text] revealed the resignation of Jiang Zemin as head of the military before it was formally announced by the government. The charges were dropped in March 2006, but Chinese authorities continued to detain Zhao and eventually reinstated the charges, a process which Chinese officials maintained was legal [JURIST reports]. Human rights groups and journalism advocacy organizations have criticized the proceedings against Zhao for being politically motivated and without merit [CPJ alert]. During his trial, Zhao’s lawyers were not allowed to call witnesses on his behalf or permitted to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.

The 2006 US Department of State Country Report [text; JURIST report] on China denounced repeated government threats to and arrests of journalists, especially those using the Internet. In addition to Zhao Yan's case, the report also cited the imprisonments of journalists Ching Cheong [JURIST news archive], Shi Tao, and Lu Jianhua [JURIST reports]. The New York Times has more.






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Iraqis sue Australian exporter alleged to have paid oil-for-food kickbacks to Saddam
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 11:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Victims of Saddam Hussein's government filed a class action lawsuit against the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) [corporate website; JURIST news archive] and its US subsidiary in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], AWB officials said Friday. The suit alleges that AWB contributed to injuries and damages suffered by Iraqi citizens by giving substantial assistance to Hussein's government, relating to crimes perpetrated between 1996 and 2003. AWB has not yet been served the lawsuit, which also names France-based bank BNP Paribas [corporate website], but AWB has vowed to "vigorously defend" any legal challenge. The lawsuit is a result of a report released last year by the Cole Commission [official website], which concluded that AWB paid roughly $220 million in kickbacks to Hussein's former regime to secure $2.3 billion in grain contracts under the now-defunct UN oil-for-food program [JURIST news archive]. The Commission last year recommended that criminal charges be filed [CC materials; JURIST report] against 12 AWB executives.

AWB is facing other class action lawsuits relating to government kickbacks to the Hussein regime. Last year, several Iraqi citizens filed a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] against AWB and BNP under RICO [text], the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [DOJ materials] and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act [PDF text]. AAP has more.






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Kurdish government demands Iraq oil minister resign over contracts comments
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 11:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) [official website] Thursday called for the resignation of Iraq Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani in response to Shahristani's remarks that oil contracts signed by the KRG with several global companies are illegal. At a Tuesday meeting [press release] of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) [organization website], Shahristani contended the contracts are illegal because the Iraqi Parliament has not yet passed a controversial oil law [JURIST news archive]. The KRG last month adopted the "Kurdistan Oil and Gas Law" [JURIST report] after KRG Prime Minister Nechervan Idris Barzani [official profile] signed legislation that will allow the Kurdish government to control its own oil resources and select its own foreign investors. The Kurdish government says that the law, which requires the KRG to share oil revenues with the Iraqi federal government and other regions, is consistent with the Iraqi constitution [JURIST news archive].

The national draft oil revenue bill has been delayed by successive legislative boycotts and is a source of tension [JURIST reports] between different ethnic factions in the Iraqi parliament. Sunni politicians have pushed for federal control over oil revenues and approval rights for foreign development, while Kurds have been adamant about retaining domestic control over oil resources. AFP has more.






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Fair use of copyrighted material benefits US economy: report
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) [advocacy website] released a report [PDF text; press release] Wednesday saying that fair use exceptions [US Copyright Office backgrounder] to US copyright laws create more than $4.5 trillion in revenue in the US annually, employ millions of workers, and represented one-sixth of the total US GDP in 2006. The report, released at a briefing on Capitol Hill, indicates that media firms, educational establishments and software developers that benefit from the fair use of content contribute more than three times the amount that copyright-controlled industries do to the US economy.

The Fair Use exception [text] to US copyright law [text] says that limited unauthorized use of copyrighted material for scientific, educational, journalistic, or research purposes is not a violation of the copyright; the exception permits a broad range of technology businesses to benefit. Ed Black, President and CEO of CCIA, said:

Fair use protects competition by guaranteeing that companies can reverse engineer software so that their products will work and 'inter-operate' with the products of their competitors. Fair use guarantees journalists, scholars and ordinary citizens the right to quote and abstract from others' writings, and so buttresses basic rights of free expression. And fair use guarantees that technological innovations such as the Internet itself, whose very function is to copy information from one place to another, can operate normally without running afoul of copyright law. Fair use thus helps to ensure that the benefits of copyright accrue to the public. It produces a multiplier effect without which we would all be poorer.
Vnunet.com has more.





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Google pushes for international Internet privacy guidelines
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Google [corporate website] called for new international laws to protect personal information online [speech text] at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website; conference materials] conference Friday, urging that an international body such as the UN or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) [official websites] create the guidelines. Google global privacy attorney Peter Fleischer [personal blog] noted that the existing guidelines on privacy and personal data are out of date, with OECD guidelines dating back to 1980 and European Commission guidelines dating back to 1995, both prior to the widespread use of the Internet. Google suggested that a Privacy Framework [PDF text] created by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) [official website] in 2004 could serve as a model for new international guidelines. The Financial Times has more.

Google's attitude towards privacy has seen a dramatic shift in the last year. In June, Google announced that it will retain user search data for 18 months [JURIST report], down from its previous policy of retaining data for 18-24 months. Google's policy revision came in response to an announcement [JURIST report] by the European Commission [official website] in May that the EU's independent advisory panel would investigate [press briefing] Google to determine whether it complies with EU privacy rules [EU Data Protection website]. In April, numerous Internet privacy groups in the United States filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint [PDF text; JURIST report] against Google, following reports that the company was planning to buy Internet advertising company DoubleClick [corporate website]. The groups requested that the FTC block the proposed merger [agreement text; SEC press release] until the agency conducts an investigation, saying that the merger would allow Google to match users' personal information with their Internet usage history and habits.






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China high court puts new limits on capital sentences
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] China's Supreme People's Court [official website] handed down anticipated new guidelines [JURIST report] for capital punishment [JURIST news archive] cases Thursday, saying that swift executions should only be imposed on people who have committed heinous crimes, with "ironclad evidence that result in serious social damage." In less serious capital punishment cases, the court said convicted persons should be given a two-year reprieve with the possibility of commuting the sentence to life in prison upon good behavior. The court added that crimes of passion and white collar crimes should not automatically receive death sentences, and offenders who help recover damages for family members of victims or money related to white collar crimes should receive lighter penalties. AP has more. Xinhua has local coverage.

The order is part of an ongoing effort by the the court to drastically reduce the number of executions in China [JURIST report], a country that reportedly executes more citizens [JURIST news archive] than all other countries combined. In response to wrongful convictions and international criticism, China implemented reforms [JURIST report] at the beginning of this year requiring that all death sentences be approved [JURIST report] by the high court. High court vice-president Jiang Xingchang [official profile] was recently quoted as saying that fewer people were sentenced to death in 2006 [JURIST report] than at any point in the previous decade, and that the reforms have extended the declining numbers into 2007.






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Former Pakistan PM Bhutto facing corruption charges on return
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] will be allowed to return to Pakistan to campaign for office but will face corruption charges [JURIST report], the Pakistani government said Friday. Bhutto, who left the country in 1999 under the cloud of corruption allegations after her government collapsed, will return October 18, according to her party; her supporters have been in talks with President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] that may allow her to share power with Musharraf after Pakistan's upcoming presidential election, but the two have failed to agree on terms relating to Bhutto's corruption charges, Musharraf's possible re-election, and Bhutto's push to pass a constitutional amendment allowing her to seek a third term as prime minister. Observers say, however, that Bhutto risks losing substantial support from the Pakistani public and even her own Pakistani Peoples Party [party website] if she reaches any kind of agreement with Musharraf, who ousted a democratically elected government led by Bhutto successor Nawaz Sharif in a military coup.

The government's announcement on Bhutto comes at the heels of its refusal [JURIST report] to allow former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile] to return to Pakistan on Monday. Sharif was initially served with an arrest warrant on corruption charges of his own when he arrived on a flight from London, but was later deported to Saudi Arabia. Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim explained the distinction between the two cases by saying that Bhutto had always been allowed to return to Pakistan, whereas Sharif had "an undertaking with the Saudi government" that forced him to return to exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif had supposedly agreed to stay out of the country for 10 years after his ouster. He has since appealed [JURIST report] his deportation to the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website], which previously ruled that he was allowed to return as a citizen of Pakistan. AP has more.






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US boycotts terrorism conference to protest exclusion of Chechen rights group
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A US delegation walked out of a conference on victims of terrorism [OSCE materials] hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] Thursday, protesting the OSCE's refusal to allow the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society [advocacy website], a small NGO that reported on human rights violations and disappearances in the Northern Caucasus, to participate in the talks. Chris Sibilla, a political officer at the US Mission to the OSCE, filed a formal protest [text] at the beginning of the conference, saying the Friendship Society is a "reputable" group and that peaceful NGOs such as the Friendship Society should be allowed to participate. An OSCE spokesperson said the Friendship Society had been banned from the conference because Russia objected to its participation. AP has more.

In January,the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Russian lower court order to shut down the Society [JURIST report] pursuant to a new law [JURIST report; JURIST news archive] supported by President Vladimir Putin that bans NGOs headed by persons with criminal records. One month after the enactment of the law, RCFS co-founder Stanislav Dmitriyevsky was convicted of inciting racial hatred [JURIST report].






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UN rights chief urges rights council members to open records
Alexis Unkovic on September 13, 2007 6:21 PM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] Thursday called on [press release] state members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website; JURIST news archive] to open their records and allow the Council to adhere to its mandate to serve as an effective watchdog. The organization has been bogged down in debate since its inception over how to effectively conduct the country reviews.

Members of the UNHRC reached an agreement [JURIST report; press release] in June to adopt final, internal rules governing the body. The UNHRC was established in 2006 to replace [JURIST report] the UN Human Rights Commission [official website], which was often criticized for allowing states with poor human rights records to become members. AP has more.






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UN adopts treaty supporting rights of indigenous peoples
Alexis Unkovic on September 13, 2007 4:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN General Assembly Thursday adopted [press release] the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [text], a non-binding treaty outlining the global human rights [JURIST news archive] of approximately 370 million indigenous people and bans discrimination against them. The General Assembly [official website] passed the measure with the support of an overwhelming majority of member states [list]. Enactment of the treaty has been debated for over two decades.

One hundred forty-three member states voted to adopt the treaty and 11 abstained. Four member states - Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States - notably voted against adopting the treaty, citing concerns that its text conflicted with their countries' own laws, among other contentions. Canadian UN ambassador John McNee [official website] expressed "significant concerns" [statement text] that the treaty contradicted provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] and did not provide adequate guidance on issues such as implementation. BBC News has more. CBC News has additional coverage.





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Canada electoral chief resists political push to bar face-covered Muslim women from polls
Alexis Unkovic on September 13, 2007 4:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand [official profile] Thursday resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers to invoke his discretionary powers, reserved for exceptional circumstances, to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas [JURIST news archives] when they vote in by-elections in the province of Quebec on Monday. Mayrand said in testimony [recorded video] before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs [official website] that his position allowing them to vote accords with the recently passed Bill C-31 [text] on voting procedures, cited by many MPs as an effort to require voters to show their faces. Elections Canada [official website], an independent body that oversees national elections, announced September 6 that Muslim women will be allowed to wear [press release] veils and burqas and will not be required to show their faces [JURIST report] to vote so long as they are able to sufficiently prove their identity with photo IDs or other documentation. During his testimony Thursday, Mayrand sparred with MPs who claimed he was going against the will of the legislature, insisting that a bar "would be a request for me to amend the Act, not uphold the law" and maintaining that it is not his prerogative to "juggle" fundamental constitutional rights.

Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile] voiced his disapproval [JURIST report] of the administrative decision allowing women to wear traditional Muslim face-covering garb while voting. CBC News has more. The Globe & Mail has additional coverage.






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DOD releases redacted version of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Gitmo testimony
Alexis Unkovic on September 13, 2007 3:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense released censored audio recordings [MP3 file] of the March 9 Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) [DOD backgrounder] hearing of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile] Thursday after months of controversy. The recording eliminated 10 of about 40 minutes of Mohammed's testimony [transcript, PDF] in which he said he masterminded the 9/11 attacks [JURIST report] and claimed responsibility for 29 other planned terror attacks. The edited portions reportedly contained Mohammed's rationale for why Islamic extremists have attacked the United States. US government officials said their decision to censor the tape was based on national security concerns, specifically fears that the eliminated portions could be used in terrorist propaganda. The Defense Department had previously refused to release [JURIST report] the audio recordings of Mohammed's testimony in their entirety.

Mohammed and 13 other top terror suspects [DNI profile, PDF] were given closed [JURIST report] CSRT hearings earlier this year at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] to determine if they qualified as "enemy combatants" [JURIST news archive] subject to indefinite US military detention. The Pentagon has also made audio recordings of the other hearings available online. Mohammed was confirmed as an enemy combatant following his March 9 CSRT hearing [JURIST report; DOD unclassified summary]. He was transferred last September from a secret CIA prison overseas [JURIST report] into military custody at Guantanamo Bay. AP has more.






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Kenya lawmakers limit corruption investigations
Gabriel Haboubi on September 13, 2007 2:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Kenyan lawmakers have approved a bill limiting the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) [official website] to investigating crimes committed after 2003. The amendment, deleting portions of the 2003 Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act [text], will make it impossible for the commission to continue investigations into some of the country's most notorious corruption cases [JURIST report], involving millions of dollars in a state where most citizens live on less than a dollar a day. One investigation which will be forced to end is the probe of the $1 billion scam known as the Goldenberg Affair [BBC report; Wikipedia backgrounder]. Four senior Kenyan officials and a top businessman were charged for their roles in the case [JURIST report] last year.

Kenyan Justice Minister Martha Karua [Wikipedia profile], who argued against the amendment, called the move a "deadly blow" to the KACC, pointing out that many past economic crimes remained to be investigated. Karua also noted that the lawmaker who proposed the amendment, Paul Muite, was allegedly connected to the Goldenberg scandal. She described Muite's interest in the KACC as "obvious", and his amendment "mischievous". BBC News has more.






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Moscow court rules new Khodorkovsky probe illegal
Gabriel Haboubi on September 13, 2007 2:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A Russian court Thursday upheld a ruling that a new investigation into former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] and his partner Platon Lebedev [advocacy website] was illegal. The Moscow City Court supported Moscow's Basmanny Court ban on an investigation in Chita into new charges [JURIST report] against the former Yukos Oil [corporate website] executives, which included stealing government shares, expropriating oil, and laundering over $25 billion. Lawyers for the men repeated previous calls that the men should be transferred from the Siberian penal colony in Chita Oblast [Wikipedia backgrounder] to Moscow, a call which Russian prosecutors have ignored [JURIST report], despite a March court order [JURIST report] that was upheld [JURIST report] in April.

Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] in May 2005, and is currently serving an eight-year prison term. The additional charges, filed against him in February 2007, are based on allegations that Khodorkovsky used his Open Russia Foundation [SourceWatch backgrounder] to divert oil revenues away from Yukos. If convicted on the new charges, Khodorkovsky faces an additional 15 years in prison. Both the United States and Khodorkovsky [JURIST reports] believe the new charges to be politically motivated, a claim which Russia has denied [JURIST report]. RIA Novosti has more.






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UK rights group warns of growing surveillance state
Gabriel Haboubi on September 13, 2007 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in the United Kingdom are endangering the privacy of law-abiding Britons by increasingly using mass surveillance to profile people rather than targeting individual criminal suspects using intelligence-led policing, UK rights group Liberty [advocacy website] concluded in a report [press release] published Thursday. Liberty warned that data-mining in the National Identity Cards Database [enabling legislation] now allows the British government to retain and share unprecedented amounts of individual personal information while the National DNA Database (NDNAD) [Home Office backgrounder] has recently been expanded by taking DNA samples on arrest, rather than on conviction, and moreover shows evidence of racial bias [JURIST report], with 40 percent of the 3.9 million sample database being from black males, compared with only 9 percent being from white males.

Liberty recommended simplifying the procedure for innocent DNA to be removed from the NDNAD, and limiting police ability to expand the database. Liberty is also urging legislation to regulate the UK's use of public CCTV security cameras - which now include 'talking' versions [Daily Mail repprt] - and ensure protection of citizens' personal details. The group additionally insists that authorisations for access to personal communications such as email, mobile and phone calls be subject to judicial review and oversight. Earlier this month a UK judge advocated expanding the NDNAD database [JURIST report] to include all citizens and any visitor to the UK. The Daily Mail has more.






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US sex offender laws 'may do more harm than good': HRW
Joshua Pantesco on September 13, 2007 12:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] concluded in a report [text] released [press release] Thursday that is unclear whether sex offender laws "do more harm or good," noting that they prevent further harm to children but that they also encourage the harassment and ostracism of sex offenders. The report criticized registration laws as unsuitable for offenders who pose no safety risk, and said that community notification laws often lead to harassment of former sex offenders without increasing neighborhood safety. In other circumstances, residency restrictions, such as protective covenants on housing units and distance restrictions from schools and hospital campuses, "have the effect of banishing registrants from entire urban areas and forcing them to live far from their homes and families."

HRW interviewed victims, offenders, law enforcement and governmental officials, and others over a two-year period leading up to the report. The report cites studies indicating that three-quarters of sex offenders do not repeat their crimes, and that, in some case, even serious sex offenders can be receptive to treatment. Reuters has more.






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Senate Democrats leader balks at possible Olson AG nomination
Joshua Pantesco on September 13, 2007 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website] told reporters Wednesday he would lead opposition to the nomination of former US Solicitor General Theodore Olson [firm profile; DOJ profile] to the post of US attorney general. Olson was mentioned as a potential candidate [JURIST report] on a short list floated by the White House earlier this week, but Senate Democrats consider Olson to be overly partisan. Reid threatened to invoke a procedural barrier that would require 60 votes to overcome if necessary to block Olson's confirmation. Reuters has more.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile; JURIST news archive] announced his resignation [letter, PDF; JURIST report] on August 27, saying that it will take effect on September 17 [JURIST report]. His resignation followed months of controversy over the Justice Department's handling of the firings of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archive] and subsequent allegations that he may have perjured himself [JURIST report] in testimony before Congress. Current Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] will serve as acting attorney general until the Senate confirms a new permanent official.






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Iraq oil bill negotiations failing: NYT
Joshua Pantesco on September 13, 2007 11:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Negotiations have collapsed in Iraq over a controversial oil bill [JURIST news archive] that would govern the distribution and refinement process and give the national government control over oil revenue, the New York Times reported Thursday. The bill, which the Iraqi cabinet approved [JURIST report] in February, is now in jeopardy due to a conflict between the Iraqi oil minister and officials from the Kurdish north, where most Iraqi oil is located. In recent weeks, Kurdish officials have signed oil contracts with foreign companies even though the federal oil law is not in place, prompting others to doubt Kurdish commitment to following the federal law. Kurds have proceeded to sign contracts pursuant to their own regional oil law, which they say is constitutional under Article 112 of the Iraqi Constitution [constitution text]; according to that article, regional law preempts federal law when a conflict arises between the two. Kurdish officials also say their regional law is constitutional under Article 109, which decrees that "oil and gas is the property of all the Iraqi people in all the regions and governorates." The New York Times has more.

The oil law is one of 18 benchmarks established by the US Congress to measure US success in the Iraq mission. Several recent reports, including the White House's Initial Benchmark Assessment Report [text; JURIST report] and a report [text, PDF; summary] released in September by the US Government Accountability Office, conclude that the Iraqi Government has not met most of the legislative, security, and economic benchmarks. In March, associates of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile] said passage of the draft law is key to continued US support [JURIST report] of the current government.






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Serbia pressing hunt for war crimes fugitives with EU deal in the balance
Joshua Pantesco on September 13, 2007 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Serbia will increase efforts to locate and arrest several war criminals to curry a favorable report from Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] when she advises EU officials on pending pre-membership deal with the country, a Serb liaison official said Wednesday. Del Ponte has heaped criticism on Serbia for failing to bring to justice several accused war criminals who are believed to be hiding in Serbia, including former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder; JURIST news archive], former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic [JURIST report], and Bosnian Serb police commander Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY indictment].

On Monday, the European Union said [JURIST report] it would sign a pre-membership aid and economic deal with Serbia only if Del Ponte's report indicates Serbia has cooperated with the ICTY. Previous negotiations were put on hold [JURIST report] for more than 13 months after Del Ponte determined Belgrade was not actively pursuing wanted fugitives. The EU and Serbia reopened membership talks after the Serbian government renewed efforts to capture Mladic. The renewed efforts led to the arrest of Mladic's former intelligence officer, Zdravko Tolimir [JURIST report]. Del Ponte's report is expected some time after September 24. AP has more.






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Federal sex offender commitment law ruled unconstitutional
Joshua Pantesco on September 13, 2007 9:28 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal law allowing prison officials to indefinitely commit sex offenders to a mental hospital following their prison term is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, effectively freeing five convicted sex offenders pending the government's filing of a motion to stay the order. Senior US District Court Judge Earl Britt [official profile] of the US Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] struck down the section of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 [text] allowing prosecutors to request that a sex offender be committed to a mental hospital upon "clear and convincing evidence" that the person is "sexually dangerous" and thus likely to commit the crime in the future. Britt ruled that Congress does not have the power to influence outcomes of criminal proceedings that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of state courts.

In 1997, the Supreme Court in Kansas v. Hendricks [text] upheld a state civil commitment process as constitutional. The Kansas statute at issue allowed the state to confine, in a state mental hospital, sexually violent criminal offenders who are found to have a "mental abnormality" that poses a danger to others, even if their condition does not qualify as a "mental illness." The Court held, inter alia, that the Kansas statute did not violate the Double Jeopardy clause because the confinement was civil in nature and thus did not involve criminal punishment. As of 2006, at least 17 states and the District of Columbia had civil commitment statutes [press release]. AP has more. The News & Observer has local coverage.






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Ex-Marine pleads not guilty to Fallujah killings in civilian court
Joshua Pantesco on September 13, 2007 8:56 AM ET

[JURIST] A former US Marine sergeant pleaded not guilty in a California federal court Wednesday to two counts of voluntary manslaughter for killing two Iraqi insurgents during the Multinational National Force-Iraq's November 2004 offensive [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Fallujah [Wikipedia backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The criminal complaint [PDF text] against Jose Nazario accuses the former sergeant and squad leader of ordering his squad to shoot several unarmed Iraqi men in a house they had just searched. Nazario denies all charges. His lawyers say it is highly unusual for civilian prosecutors to prosecute a decorated veteran for war crimes. AP has more.

Nazario was charged [JURIST report] in August after he was arrested and taken into custody by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) [official website]. In July, the NCIS announced investigations of at least 10 Marines [JURIST report] in connection with the Fallujah offensive. The latest allegations came after former Marine Corporal Ryan Weemer, during a polygraphed job interview with the US Secret Service, admitted he had witnessed indiscriminate killings in Fallujah. Military journalist Nathaniel Helms has allegedly corroborated the account, reporting that he witnessed Marines execute subdued Iraqi prisoners, whose bodies were later buried under rubble from an air strike.






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Afghan al-Qaeda detainee transferred to Guantanamo
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 12, 2007 5:48 PM ET

[JURIST] An Afghan terror suspect has been transferred to Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], the US Department of Defense (DOD) announced [press release] Wednesday. Known only as Inayatullah, DOD said the detainee has admitted to being the head of al-Qaeda operations in Zahedan, Iran, and to orchestrating al-Qaeda terrorist attacks. DOD indicated that Inayatullah's status will be determined by a combatant status review tribunal [DOD materials], and that the International Committee of the Red Cross [advocacy website] will be granted access to him while he is detained. Including Inayatullah, there are approximately 340 detainees currently at Guantanamo.

The Defense Department says that approximately 80 detainees at Guantanamo are currently eligible to be transferred off the base, and the terms of their departure are the focus of ongoing discussions between the US and the detainees' home nations. In early September, 16 Saudi detainees were transferred [JURIST report] back to Saudi Arabia. In August, six detainees were transferred [JURIST report] to their home countries of Bahrain and Afghanistan.






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Federal court affirms states right to regulate auto greenhouse gas emissions
Caitlin Price on September 12, 2007 4:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The US District Court for the District of Vermont ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that states have the power to regulate automobile greenhouse gas emissions. In Green Mountain Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie the court held that the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) [text] does not preempt state regulation of emission standards. Auto industry insiders, including General Motors, Daimler Chrysler [corporate websites], and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers [trade website], had testified that the heightened emissions standards adopted by states like California and Vermont [legislative materials] would not stop global warming but would cripple the automotive industry. The court rejected the latter claim, stating that the automotive industry "bears the burden of proving the regulations are beyond their ability to meet," and that

in light of the public statements of industry representatives, history of compliance with previous technological challenges, and the state of the record, the Court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California’s [...] regulations.
Lawyer Matt Pawa [firm website], who represented several environmental groups that joined the suit including Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense [advocacy websites], told JURIST that the decision was "a historic win for the planet and for the fight against global warming." AP has more.

Vermont's standards require a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2016. In July, New Jersey passed legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions [JURIST report], citing a lack of leadership on the federal level. Also in July, the US Supreme Court confirmed [JURIST report] that the Environmental Protection Agency [official website] has the authority to regulate automobile emissions and that it had not abdicated such responsibility under the Clean Air Act [text].





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New Jersey high court rejects medical duty to say embryo is 'existing human being'
Caitlin Price on September 12, 2007 3:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] Wednesday ruled [syllabus and opinion, PDF] 5-0 that New Jersey doctors do not have a duty to inform abortion-seeking patients that an embryo is an "existing human being." The court declined to use the case of Acuna v. Turkish to weigh in on the issue of when life begins, holding that

a physician has a common law duty to provide a woman with material information concerning the medical risks of terminating her pregnancy; however, there is no common law duty requiring a physician to inform a pregnant patient that an embryo is an existing, living human being and that an abortion results in the killing of a family member.
Rose Acuna sued Dr. Sheldon C. Turkish for medical malpractice, wrongful death, and emotional distress after consenting to an abortion that Turkish allegedly said would remove an embryo that was "only blood." After complications arose from an incomplete abortion, a nurse told Acuna that "parts of the baby" remained inside her; Acuna said she suffered emotional distress because she was not informed that the embryo was a "complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being." The court said that there is a clear lack of consensus among the medical community and the public whether the plaintiff's assertions are medical fact or moral beliefs. The US Supreme Court will decide later this month whether to hear a separate issue in the case concerning an equal protection challenge to the New Jersey wrongful death statute.

The ACLU called [press release] the New Jersey ruling a victory for abortion rights and free speech, commending the court's refusal to "turn doctors into ideological mouthpieces and subject women to non-medical moral judgments." Similar cases are pending in South Dakota [JURIST report] and Illinois. AP has more.





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Six US states seek extension of Microsoft antitrust settlement
Gabriel Haboubi on September 12, 2007 2:40 PM ET

[JURIST] A group of six US states and the District of Columbia, collectively called the "California group," Tuesday requested that the terms of the 2002 Microsoft [corporate website; JURIST news archive] antitrust settlement [final judgment] be extended from their scheduled expiration this November until 2012. Lawyers for the group, arguing in front of Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly [official profile] of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], said that Microsoft should still be subject to oversight, as products Windows and Internet Explorer still dominate the market. The California Group may have a difficult time convincing Kollar-Kotelly, who said that the settlement agreement was not designed to reduce Microsoft's dominance in the market but was instead designed to correct anti-competitive practices. Microsoft's filing [PDF text] largely responded to criticisms in the California group's separate filing [PDF text]. Both the Justice Department and the "New York Group," another group of five states, have recently touted the success of the decree [filing text].

The California group had not mentioned requesting an extension of the decree when all parties were preparing a joint status report [filing text] late last month. As such, Kollar-Kotelly has asked the California group to prepare a written proposal explaining the rationale for an extension by October 15. Microsoft will then have a little less than a week to establish a timeframe for responding to the request. Last year, Kollar-Kotelly granted [JURIST report] a Justice Department request [JURIST report] to extend certain provisions of the settlement until November 2009. The Washington Post has more.






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Ninth Circuit rejects California bid to avoid federal supervision of prisons
Caitlin Price on September 12, 2007 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] Tuesday rejected [order, PDF] an appeal by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [official profile] of rulings creating a federal panel [JURIST report] to supervise California's overcrowded prison system [JURIST news archive]. In July, two separate district court judges held [JURIST report] that while California may appeal specific orders made by a special three-judge panel, the state cannot appeal the original rulings establishing the panel. Schwarzenegger had argued that the panel was established too soon, before the state's $7.7 billion prison expansion program [JURIST report] had time to work. The Ninth Circuit denied the appeal based on lack of jurisdiction, stating that California may not appeal before the three-judge panel has been established and has entered a final judgment. The panel's first meeting is set for September 24; the Schwarzenegger administration does not plan to further appeal.

In July, Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California and Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the Eastern District of California rejected California's argument that the panel may jeopardize public safety by ordering the release of prisoners from overpopulated facilities. California's construction program will create 53,000 new prison and jail beds over the next five years. The threat of federal oversight has also induced California to introduce a plan to release prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes [JURIST reports]. The San Francisco Chronicle has more.






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China executes bank official for taking bribes, embezzling money
Gabriel Haboubi on September 12, 2007 2:00 PM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese bank official convicted of corruption was executed [Peoples Daily report] Tuesday for taking bribes and embezzling the equivalent of almost $2 million USD. Wen Mengie, the former IT head of the Beijing branch of the Agricultural Bank of China [corporate website], bought three houses in Beijing with money received during bank purchases of ATM machines and computer software. He originally argued that the money had been a gift from the suppliers, but the suppliers testified that he had demanded the money as a bribe. Investigators were tipped off when Wen went to a bank wearing dark glasses and using a fake name, seeking to pay off mortgage loans using bags of money.

The Agricultural Bank of China has been financially struggling due to employee corruption. Last year, the bank fired 64 people and disciplined 1300 more after investigators found financial discrepancies equivalent to nearly $7 billion USD. China [JURIST news archive] has been cracking down on corruption [JURIST news archive] using capital punishment. In July, the former commissioner of China's State Food and Drug Administration [official website, in Chinese] was executed for accepting $850,000 in bribes [JURIST report]. In August, Chinese Communist Party discipline commission spokesman Gan Yisheng said that China's use of capital punishment in political and economic corruption cases is appropriate and effective [JURIST report]. Gan justified the punishment saying that it had "been endorsed by the Chinese people and also recognized by the international community." AFP has more.






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Former UK Guantanamo detainee to sue UK intelligence services over torture
Gabriel Haboubi on September 12, 2007 1:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Former British Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Tarek Dergoul [History Commons profile] is suing the UK's MI5 (domestic) and MI6 (foreign) [official websites] intelligence services over complicity with Dergoul's alleged torture, according to a Wednesday report [text] in the Guardian. Dergoul alleges that he was subjected to beatings, sexual humiliation, extremes of cold, and insults to his religion while being held by US forces in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and that UK agents periodically interviewed him during his detention, attempting to benefit from his abuse at the hands of others. Dergoul seeks a ruling to prevent UK intelligence from benefiting from the abuse of prisoners held outside the UK. He also seeks damages from the intelligence services and the UK's Foreign Office [official website], citing "misfeasance in public office."

Dergoul was picked up in Afghanistan in 2001, where he was held for four months before being sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was returned to Britain in 2004, where he was released without charge [JURIST report]. Dergoul alleges that he was only in Afghanistan to study Arabic, and has no ties to terrorism. AFP has more.






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Peru president criticizes Chile court delay on Fujimori extradition decision
Brett Murphy on September 12, 2007 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Peruvian President Alan Garcia [official website] criticized the Supreme Court of Chile on Tuesday for delaying until after September 19 its ruling on whether to allow the extradition of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [personal website, JURIST news archive]. Garcia said that he was confident the judges would come to the right decision, but expressed disappointment that the verdict has been repeatedly delayed. The Supreme Court of Chile announced in August that the decision would be postponed [JURIST report]. It was expected at that time that a verdict would be issued by September 5, but it was further delayed because of the ill-health of one of the judges [LIP report] and the absence from the country of Chilean President Michell Bachelet [BBC profile].

The Supreme Court's review comes after Peru filed an appeal of a lower court's ruling [JURIST reports] denying the government's request for extradition. Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000 and is currently under house arrest [JURIST report] in Chile. He was arrested in Chile [JURIST report] in December 2005 after flying into that country from Japan to campaign for the Peruvian presidency, despite having been officially banned from holding public office until 2010 [JURIST report]. He is currently running for a seat in the Japanese parliament [JURIST report]. Xinhua has more.






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US intelligence officials challenge Guantanamo detainee evidence ruling
Brett Murphy on September 12, 2007 11:25 AM ET

[JURIST] The directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and National Security Agency (NSA) [official websites] have said that a July 20 appeals court decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] mandating the disclosure to federal appeals courts of all evidence on Guantanamo detainees will pose a serious risk to national security. In court filings, the intelligence officials argued that the release of such information could impede further intelligence gathering. The officials also said that the compiling of all the information would take so much effort that it would distract the organizations from ongoing terror investigations.

The July 20 decision held that federal appeals courts reviewing "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] designations of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees must review all evidence regarding that detainee. The ruling further held that while the government can withhold "certain highly sensitive information" from defense counsel, it can cannot keep such evidence from the court. The Boston Globe has more.






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Tennessee conducts first execution by electric chair in 47 years
Brett Murphy on September 12, 2007 10:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Tennessee [JURIST news archive] executed a condemned man by electric chair [Wikipedia backgrounder] on Wednesday, the first execution by electrocution in the state since 1960. Daryl Holton, who confessed to the 1997 murder of his three sons and their half-sister, chose to be electrocuted [Shelbyville Times-Gazette report] rather than to receive a lethal injection, Tennessee's usual method of execution. Tennessee law allows inmates to choose their method of death if their crime occurred before 1999 [TDC backgrounder].

According to a fact sheet [PDF text] distributed by the Death Penalty Information Center [advocacy website], 153 executions by electrocution have taken place in the US since 1976, with only 10 occurring since the turn of the century. Ten states currently authorize the use of electrocution [DPIC backgrounder], Nebraska being the only state that requires it. AP has more.






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Former Philippines president sentenced to life in prison for corruption
Brett Murphy on September 12, 2007 10:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Ousted Philippines president Joseph Estrada [BBC profile] was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after being convicted on "plunder" charges stemming from kickbacks he received while in office. Plunder was formerly a capital offense, but the Philippines abolished the death penalty in June 2006. Estrada said that he was disappointed with the trial [AP report], saying that the decision against him was based on political motives. In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered Estrada to pay $15.5 million. The former president's son Jinggoy Estrada and lawyer Eduardo Serapio, co-defendants on the charges, were acquitted.

Estrada was forced from power in a 2001 revolt that brought to power his former vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website]. He has been held in detention in the Philippines [JURIST news archive] ever since his ouster. He had been charged with mass corruption under the nation's economic plunder law [text] for allegedly stashing some $77 million in gambling payoffs, kickbacks and illegal commissions in secret bank accounts under an alias. AP has more. The Philippines Star has local coverage.






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White House close to selecting new attorney general: officials
Brett Murphy on September 12, 2007 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush has narrowed the list of candidates to replace outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile; JURIST news archive], with officials indicating that former Solicitor General Theodore Olson [official profile] is one of the top candidates for the position. Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official website] was quoted in Wednesday's New York Times as saying that Olson's candidacy suggests the White House is not looking to work with the Democrats to reach a consensus on choosing a replacement, as Olson is considered by many to be very partisan. White House aides counter, however, that it would be difficult for Democrats to block a confirmation after spending months demanding that a new attorney general replace Gonzales.

Gonzales announced his resignation [letter, PDF; JURIST report] on August 27, saying that it will take effect on September 17 [JURIST report]. His resignation followed months of controversy over the Justice Department's handling of the firings of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archive] and subsequent allegations that he may have perjured himself [JURIST report] in testimony before Congress. Current Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] will serve as acting attorney general until the Senate confirms a new permanent official. The New York Times has more.






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Japan PM resigns amidst fight over anti-terror law renewal
Brett Murphy on September 12, 2007 9:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [official website, in Japanese; JURIST news archive] announced his resignation [BBC English translation] on Wednesday, citing problems renewing a Japanese anti-terrorism law. His office also cited health reasons. At a news conference, Abe said he hoped his resignation would allow Japan's political parties to work together to approve the law [AP report], which would provide further support to US operations in Afghanistan:

Recently, in Sydney, I said that the mission that has been the expectation, and that has been highly regarded by the international community, in the war against terrorism should not be discontinued and that it should be continued by all means.

International contribution forms the core of the assertive diplomacy that I have advocated.

I had the responsibility to persist in this policy with everything in my power. With that thought, I said that I would make every effort and risk my job in order not to discontinue this mission.

I also said I would absolutely not cling to power. Toward this end, I had to make every effort possible.

I also felt that I had to work hard to create the environment, and that I had to give everything I have, and to do everything possible.

Today, I requested a party leaders' meeting with [opposition Democratic Party of Japan] President [Ichiro] Ozawa in order to convey my honest feelings.

Unfortunately, my proposal for the meeting was, in effect, rejected.

President Ozawa had criticised [me] before for not following the people's mandate. It is truly regrettable.

I thought about what I should do in order to continue the war against terrorism and concluded that I needed to turn the tide.

Under a new prime minister, the government should aim to continue the fight against terrorism, and to provide a breakthrough in this situation.
The Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [text], originally passed in 2001 and extended annually [MOFA press release] since, is currently slated to expire November 1. Among other things, it allows Japan to refuel allied ships in the Indian Ocean for operations relating to Afghanistan. US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said that he hopes the renewal controversy does not become a major political issue [Mainichi Daily News report].

On Monday, Abe threatened to resign if the anti-terrorism law was not renewed. Japan's involvement in Afghanistan has caused a rift between Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) [party websites]. DPJ president Ichiro Ozawa [party profile] has voiced his opposition to Japan acting abroad in operations not sanctioned by the United Nations. The New York Times has more. The Japan Times has local coverage.





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South Korea concludes probe into Intel anti-competition allegations
Leslie Schulman on September 11, 2007 7:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The Korean Fair Trade Commission [official website, in English] has completed a two-year investigation into allegations that computer chip maker Intel pressured consumers into buying its products over those made by rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate websites], according to Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy Tuesday. Mulloy said the company had received a "statement of objection," which is a set of preliminary antitrust charges, although no formal charges have yet been laid. The Commission's investigation follows on the heels of similar probes [JURIST report] by the European Commission and the Japan Fair Trade Commission [official websites], which similarly found that Intel pressured consumers into favoring its computer chips. Mulloy asserted Tuesday that Intel had merely engaged in "pro-competition," which was "ultimately beneficial to consumers." Intel could face fines in both Europe and Korea for engaging in anti-competitive behavior.

Last month, American Antitrust Institute [advocacy website] President Albert Foer wrote a letter [PDF text] to the US Federal Trade Commission [official website], urging the government to conduct its own investigation into Intel's behavior. The letter was a response to the European Commission filing formal charges [Business Wire report] in July against Intel for violating European Union competition laws by abusing its dominance power in the marketplace. In 2005, AMD filed anti-trust lawsuits [US complaint, PDF] against Intel in both the United States and Japan [JURIST reports]. Intel has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. AP has more.






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California trial begins for alleged ecoterrorist
Leslie Schulman on September 11, 2007 6:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial of Rod Coronado [defense website], an environmental and animal rights activist charged [US DOJ press release, PDF] with one count of distributing information on explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction, began in California Tuesday. Federal prosecutors say that in 2003 Coronado told an audience in San Diego how to start a fire using products commonly purchased from stores. Coronado faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted under legislation passed by Congress in 1997 in the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building and now enshrined in USC Title 18, Section 842(p)(2)(A) [text].

Coronado is said to have been a longtime advocate of ecoterrorism [Wikipedia backgrounder], and has been connected with both the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) [advocacy websites]. In June, Daniel McGowan, another alleged ecoterrorist associated with both the ALF and ELF, was sentenced [JURIST report] to 7 years in prison for conspiracy and arson charges. In May 2005, a top FBI official testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that violent environmental and animal rights groups are the nation's top domestic terror threat [testimony transcript; JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Afghanistan rights commission urges Karzai to protect its autonomy
Leslie Schulman on September 11, 2007 6:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) [official website] has asked President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to veto a bill awaiting bicameral and presidential approval that would strip the Commission of the power to select its own commissioners, handing that power to parliament instead. Under the Afghanistan Constitution [text], AIHRC is an independently-run body. However, the Afghan lower house voted [Pajhwok Afghan News report] last week to require 16 independent commissions, including the AIHRC, to obtain parliamentary approval for appointment of their commissioners. The bill must pass both the lower and upper houses of the national assembly, as well as gain presidential backing, before it can become law.

According to the AIHRC website, the Commission is "independent" because:

it is not within the trine pillars of the country, Judiciary, parliament and government; however, it is part of the structure of the system and acts independently. The Commission mandate requires acting independently; otherwise the Commission can not monitor the activities of government agencies and other institutions in regard to implementation of law and ensuring of human rights.
The AIHRC has been a major watchdog on the legality of US military action in Afghanistan, urging [JURIST report] the establishment of a better legal framework to guide the US military when acting within Afghan borders. IRIN has more.





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Detained Iranian-American to be freed from Tehran prison 'within days'
Caitlin Price on September 11, 2007 4:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Detained Iranian-American consultant Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh [OSI press release; JURIST news archive] is expected to be released from a Tehran prison "within the next few days," according to comments from Tajbakhsh and those of an Iranian spokesman talking to journalists during a interview at the notorious Evin Prison [AP report; Wikipedia backgrounder] Tuesday. Tajbakhsh and Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] were arrested [JURIST report] in May after alleged involvement in a plot against the Iranian government; though the investigation concluded in August and Esfandiari left Iran [JURIST reports] earlier this month, Tajbakhsh continued to be held without charge. Tajbakhsh reported during Tuesday's media visit that he still has not been formally charged, but an Iranian spokesman said he has been charged with endangering national security. It was reported [text] Tuesday that Tajbakhsh's bail has been set at one billion rials, lower than Esfandiari's posted bail [JURIST report].

Esfandiari remains accused of involvement in an alleged plot "against the sovereignty of the country." In July, a video aired on Iranian state television purporting to show Tajbakhsh and Esfandiari confessing to attempts to create a "gap between the [Iranian] government and the nation." Tajbakhsh's employer, the Open Society Institute [organization website], said that the statements were made under pressure from captors. Tajbakhsh told reporters Tuesday that prison conditions were "fine." AP has more.






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Time magazine to appeal $106M damages award in Suharto defamation suit
Caitlin Price on September 11, 2007 3:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Time [media website] magazine announced Tuesday that it plans to appeal an August 30 decision [JURIST report] by the Supreme Court of Indonesia awarding former Indonesian President Haji Mohammad Suharto [CNN profile; JURIST news archive] $106 million in damages in Suharto’s defamation suit against the publication. Suharto sued Time over a 1999 article [text] that said Suharto had hidden billions of dollars in foreign banks. The Supreme Court overturned two lower court decisions against Suharto, ordering Time to pay damages and publish a formal apology in Indonesian newspapers and its own magazine. A lawyer for the magazine said that Time stands by the months of research conducted for the story, and that it will "take any legal measures available to defend freedom of the press." No further details of the appeal were given. AP has more.

Suharto is currently the subject of a civil lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by the Indonesian government for allegedly embezzling $440 million between 1974 and 1998 from the Yayasan Supersemar [education website, in Bahasa Indonesian], a state-funded academic scholar fund. Last week, prosecutors announced that the court-ordered settlement negotiations had broken down, and that the government will instead proceed in court [JURIST reports]. Suharto was ousted from power in 1998 amid violent protests against a 32-year dictatorship that used security forces to stifle dissent and allegedly embezzled billions of government funds.






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New Orleans nursing home owners not charged in Katrina drowning deaths
Caitlin Price on September 11, 2007 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan [official profile] declined Monday to file criminal charges against a local nursing home for the death of 19 elderly residents during post-Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] flooding. During the hurricane, nuns from the Sisters of the Holy Family [congregation website], who operated the Lafon Nursing Home, decided evacuation posed a greater risk to patients than remaining within the home. Elderly nuns living in the facility and all of the nuns in the nearby motherhouse were evacuated; none of the first-floor patients were moved. Jordan said that an investigation revealed no criminal conduct [DA press release]. AP has more.

The decision came just days after a Louisiana state jury found owners of another New Orleans nursing home not guilty [JURIST report] of 35 charges of negligent homicide and 64 charges of cruelty. Thirty-five residents at St. Rita's Nursing Home were killed due to flooding that overtook the one-story nursing home in less than 20 minutes. The owners pleaded not guilty, maintaining that they did what they thought would keep the residents safe by keeping the residents at the home with food, water, and generators.






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Florida judge rules Diaz execution 'painless, humane'
Alexis Unkovic on September 11, 2007 2:31 PM ET

[JURIST] A Florida Fifth Judicial Circuit [official website] judge ruled Monday that the December 2006 execution [JURIST report] of Angel Diaz [AI profile; JURIST news archive] was not "botched," as previously alleged by a medical examiner. According to autopsy reports, Diaz endured a 34-minute-long lethal injection that required a second injection after needles were improperly inserted into his arm. In his opinion, Circuit Judge Carven Angel concluded that Diaz died within a reasonable period of time following injection of the drugs, and his death was "painless and humane." Angel's ruling came in the case of Lightbourne v. State of Florida [docket], a lethal injection challenge arising out of the Diaz execution. Angel ruled that the stay of execution can now be lifted for death row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne, arguing that the Florida Department of Corrections [official website] has taken appropriate measures to correct "irregularities" arising out of Diaz's execution. The Florida Supreme Court [official website] has yet to consider the issue; oral arguments in the Lightbourne case are scheduled for October 11.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush [official profile] suspended all executions in the Florida in December following Diaz's execution and appointed a commission to study Florida's lethal injections procedures [PDF text]. Florida Governor Charlie Crist [official profile] officially ended the state's temporary suspension on executions [JURIST report] in July. AP has more. The St. Petersburg Times has local coverage.






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Ninth Circuit upholds death sentence despite jury use of Bible quotes
Alexis Unkovic on September 11, 2007 1:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] upheld the death sentence of Stevie Lamar Fields Monday, ruling that a jury foreman's reliance on Biblical scripture had no "substantial and injurious effect" on the jury's sentencing decision. The court ruled [opinion text, PDF] 9-6 against Fields' habeas appeal. Fields was convicted of rape, kidnapping, robbery, and murder and sentenced to death in 1979, despite the fact that the jury foreman in the case used personal notes, including Bible quotations regarding capital punishment [JURIST news archive], during the jury's deliberations.

This is not the first opinion on the role of freedom of religion in court decisions to come out of the Ninth Circuit in the last few days. On Friday, the court ruled [opinion text, PDF] that it was unconstitutional under the First Amendment for a parole officer to mandate that a former prisoner attend meetings sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous [advocacy website]. The New York Times has more.






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Former Philippines president facing verdict in six-year corruption trial
Alexis Unkovic on September 11, 2007 1:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Ousted Philippines president Joseph Estrada [BBC profile] maintained his innocence Tuesday and predicted he will be acquitted of corruption charges when the verdict in his six-year trial [JURIST report] is handed down Wednesday. Estrada was removed from power in a 2001 revolt that brought his former vice president, current Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website] to power. He has been held in detention in the Philippines [JURIST news archive] ever since his ouster. He has been charged with mass corruption under the nation's economic plunder law for allegedly stashing some $77 million in gambling payoffs, kickbacks and illegal commissions in secret bank accounts under an alias.

Estrada supporters are expected to rally Wednesday outside the Manila courthouse where the former leader has been on trial, and the government has placed security forces on alert. ABC Australia News has more. CNA has local coverage.






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France justice minister in talks with disgruntled judges
James M Yoch Jr on September 11, 2007 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] French Justice Minister Rachida Dati [official profile, in French; BBC profile] engaged in emergency discussions with senior members of the French judiciary on Monday to prevent a threatened judges' revolt. Objections have been raised to what some regard as the authoritarian style the controversial politician [Telegraph report] has adopted since her appointment by new French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile, in French; JURIST news archive]; in the process, Dati has been accused of trying to muddy the constitutional separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. Several advisers in Dati's office have already quit in protest.

Dati was sharply criticized earlier this year for saying that she was "head of the prosecutors" while responding to opposition to a bill she proposed [JURIST report] to toughen the French criminal code [text, in French]. Last Friday France's Higher Judicial Council [official website] summoned her for questioning after she sparred with a prosecutor who criticized her proposal. She is the first Justice Minister to be summoned by the Council. Dati, 41, is a Muslim of North African origin; trained as a lawyer, she enjoyed a mercurial rise in Sarkozy's inner circle since she began advising him on immigration issues in 2002 when he was still Interior Minister. The Times has more.






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US Marine officer accused in Haditha probe rejects 'cover-up' plea bargain
Michael Sung on September 11, 2007 9:04 AM ET

[JURIST] A lawyer for US Marine First Lt. Andrew Grayson, an intelligence officer accused of mishandling an investigation into the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive], said Monday that Grayson has rejected a plea offer from military prosecutors requiring him to admit attempting to cover up the killings in exchange for prosecutors dropping all charges. Grayson, accused of making a false official statement, obstructing justice, and dereliction of duty, allegedly ordered a subordinate to delete photographic evidence [JURIST report] taken hours after the killings to keep it out of a report being prepared for top-ranking officers and a reporter. Grayson will now likely face a Article 32 [JAG backgrounder] hearing in November. AP has more.

The Haditha investigation has culminated in the largest US military prosecution involving civilian deaths during the war in Iraq. In August, preliminary Article 32 hearings began for US Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website], who commanded the platoon implicated in the killing and suspected cover-up. He faces several counts of unpremeditated murder, as well as charges of soliciting another to commit an offense and making a false official statement. Also in August, a hearing officer recommended [JURIST report] that murder charges be dropped against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum [advocacy profile] for his role in the Haditha incident. The hearing officer argued there was insufficient evidence to support bringing Tatum to court-martial on charges of unpremeditated murder, negligent homicide and assault [USMC charge list]. A final decision on Tatum's case has not yet been made. An official report on the Haditha incident by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell found "serious misconduct" [JURIST report] on all levels of the US Marine Corps chain of command.






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Netherlands invites UN to finalize hosting details for Hariri tribunal
Jaime Jansen on September 11, 2007 8:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Dutch government has invited UN representatives to discuss final arrangements for the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon [UN materials] it has agreed to host [JURIST report] to try suspects for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive], Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen [official website, in Dutch] said Monday in a letter to the Dutch parliament [official website, in Dutch]. The UN delegation will help determine the specific location and costs of the tribunal, and where suspects will be imprisoned if convicted. Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that he will appoint judges to the tribunal [JURIST report] as soon as sufficient funding for the tribunal is in place, supposedly by the end of 2007. Ban estimates that the tribunal will cost $120 million over three years, and expects the UN to secure $35 million in funds for the first year of operation by the end of this year, along with an additional $85 million in pledges to cover the next two years. Ban said that he has already taken preliminary steps on the selection of international and Lebanese judges, and that he hopes to announce the names of judges to sit on the tribunal by the end of the year.

The UN Security Council unilaterally established the tribunal [JURIST report; UN News report] in May after a divided Lebanese government failed to agree on a proposal. The tribunal will also investigate [JURIST report] and possibly try suspects in 17 other attempted and successful political assassinations in Lebanon. AP has more.






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Oregon lawyer falsely accused in Madrid bombings challenges Patriot Act
Jaime Jansen on September 11, 2007 8:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Brandon Mayfield [JURIST news archive], the Oregon attorney arrested [JURIST report] and detained for two weeks in May 2004 after the FBI mistakenly concluded that his fingerprints matched [JURIST report] those found on a bag containing detonators used in the 2004 Madrid train bombings [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] argued Monday that provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] allowed investigators to search his home and office in violation of the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure clause [text]. Appearing in the US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website], Mayfield said that he was unfairly targeted by the FBI because he converted to Islam and that the government continues to violate his Fourth Amendment rights by retaining copies of his family's personal records.

Lawyers for the Justice Department argued that Mayfield's Patriot Act challenge could not continue after the the US government agreed to pay $2 million in November in a settlement agreement [PDF text; JURIST report], and that the government's retention of Mayfield's family records would not harm the family. Mayfield had originally alleged that the FBI orchestrated his arrest because of his religious beliefs as a Muslim, though a 2006 DOJ Inspector General report [text] refuted those claims [press release]. After an investigation into his arrest and detention, the Inspector General [official website] cleared FBI agents involved in the incident of any wrongdoing and made several suggestions for improvement to the fingerprint identification process that have been implemented by the DOJ. The US also formally apologized [PDF text] to Mayfield per the agreement. AP has more.






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Pakistan ex-PM Sharif appeals deportation as contempt of high court ruling
Jaime Jansen on September 11, 2007 7:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile] filed an appeal of Sharif's Monday deportation [JURIST report] to Saudi Arabia with the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Tuesday, asking the court to hold the Pakistani government in contempt for violating an August Supreme Court ruling that Sharif had an "inalienable right to enter and remain in the country" [JURIST report] as a citizen of Pakistan. Sharif was arrested on corruption and money laundering charges [JURIST report] and then expelled shortly after landing in the country on a flight from London. Sharif was first sent to Saudi Arabia seven years ago under a deal with then coup leader and now president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] to stay out of the country for 10 years. Over the weekend, security officials detained more than 2,000 supporters [JURIST report] of Sharif anticipating his return to Pakistan, where he was expected to challenge Musharraf's re-election bid. AP has more.

Sharif's deportation has sparked worldwide outrage, prompting several retired Supreme Court of Pakistan justices to publicly condemn it and advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] to accuse Musharraf of flouting international law [HRW statement] by forcing Sharif back into exile. Retired Justice Fakharunisa Khokhar said Sharif should have been given a trial for the new corruption charges under which he was arrested rather than being immediately deported. Pakistani Attorney General Malik Qayyum countered that the government's move was "according to the law." HRW has called for the Pakistani government to release those arrested over the weekend for supporting Sharif's return. AFP has more. From Pakistan, the Daily Times has local coverage.






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EU says Serbia deal dependant on cooperation with war crimes tribunal
Melissa Bancroft on September 10, 2007 7:32 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Union said Monday that it will only sign a new pre-membership aid and economic deal with Serbia when that country has demonstrated its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. Carla Del Ponte [official profile], the ICTY chief prosecutor, will submit a report in the next few weeks to the EU suggesting whether she believes Serbia is fully cooperating with the ICTY. Del Ponte has discouraged agreements between Serbia and the EU before [JURIST report] based on Serbia's lack of progress in the capture and arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder; JURIST news archive].

Previous negotiations were put on hold [JURIST report] for more than 13 months after Del Ponte determined Belgrade was not actively pursuing wanted fugitives. The EU and Serbia reopened membership talks after the Serbian government renewed efforts to capture Mladic which led to the arrest of his former intelligence officer, Zdravko Tolimir [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Son of ex-Liberian president Taylor pleads not guilty to charges of torture
Melissa Bancroft on September 10, 2007 7:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Charles McArthur Emmanuel [JURIST news archive], son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, pleaded not guilty Monday to a US federal indictment charging him with involvement in killings and torture in Liberia. Emmanuel, a Boston-born US citizen, was the first person ever to be indicted under a 1994 federal anti-torture statute [18 USC 2340A text]. During his father's regime, Emmanuel was the leader of the Liberian anti-terrorist unit known by others as the "Demon Forces". The eight-count indictment accused Emmanuel of using electric shocks, lit cigarettes, stinging ants, molten plastic and bayonets to torture victims from 1999 to 2002. More specifically, he was accused of shooting three random victims at a April 1999 bridge checkpoint and then ordering another's throat slit after he attempted to escape.

In July, US District Judge Cecilia Altonaga upheld [JURIST report] the torture charges, rejecting Emmanuel's argument that the federal statute under which he was charged exceeds Congressional authority because it criminalizes behavior of foreign government officials outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Last December, a federal judge denied bail for Emmanuel, ruling that Emmanuel was a flight risk and a danger to the community. Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is currently on trial in the The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] for crimes against humanity. AP has more.






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Hayat sentenced to 24 years for supporting terrorism, lying to FBI
Melissa Bancroft on September 10, 2007 6:40 PM ET

[JURIST] California resident Hamid Hayat was sentenced to 24 years in a federal prison Monday following his 2006 conviction [JURIST report] for supporting terrorism and lying to the FBI. Because Hayat [JURIST news archive] had no prior criminal record, US District Court Judge Garland Burrell Jr. [official profile] determined that the maximum sentence of 39 years imprisonment was more than needed to sufficiently punish Hayat.

Hayat was found guilty on three counts of making false statements to the FBI and one count of providing material support to terrorists, and initially faced up to 39 years in prison. It was alleged that Hayat attended an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. At the sentencing hearing, Burrell reiterated his belief that Hayat had "attended a terrorist training camp, returned to the United States ready and willing to wage violent jihad when directed to do so." AP has more.






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Hamas to replace uncooperative Gaza judges
Leslie Schulman on September 10, 2007 4:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Palestinian judges in the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] who are unwilling to cooperate with local authorities will be replaced, Hamas [BBC backgrounder] spokesmen said Monday in a bid to end a three-month judicial stalemate. The Gaza Strip judiciary, under orders from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC profile], has refused to cooperate with the Hamas government in Gaza and has ceased functioning since Hamas violently took over the territory in June. A backlog of criminal cases quickly accumulated, and, in July, Hamas replaced [JURIST report] Palestinian Authority courts with a judicial committee to begin considering the excess. Monday's move is seen as an attempt to return judicial control to the courts.

Palestinian infighting between the Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah Movement [BBC backgrounder] has led to the establishment of two parallel Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas, which was elected as the ruling party [JURIST report] of the Palestinian Authority in early 2006, has refused to distance itself from terrorism or recognize Israel's right to exist as a nation-state, resulting in increased ostracism by the United States, the European Union, and Israel. Earlier this month Abbas announced changes to Palestinian election law [JURIST report] intended to reduce the political power of Hamas. AP has more.






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Bosnia war crimes defendants begin new hunger strike
Leslie Schulman on September 10, 2007 3:41 PM ET

[JURIST] The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] announced Monday that 25 defendants facing war crimes charges have begun a coordinated hunger strike [press release], demanding to be tried under the criminal code in place at the time of their alleged crimes, not under the 2003 criminal code [text] which authorizes forty-year maximum penalties for the crimes charged. The code enforced during the 1992-1995 civil war [Wikipedia backgrounder] authorized maximum penalties of only fifteen years. The Court said it would:

act in accordance with its legal obligations, respecting all rights of the suspects and accused. Taking into consideration the ongoing hunger strike the Court of [Bosnia and Herzegovina] will also ensure the necessary medical assistance to the detainees.
Reuters has more.

The War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established [JURIST report] in 2005 to relieve the caseload of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and is organized under Bosnian law. Many of the defendants engaged in a similar strike [JURIST report] in January, which halted proceedings. In March the Court dismissed their claims that the application of the 2003 criminal code violated the European Convention on Human Rights [text].





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FISA should be permanently revised for terror fight: DNI
Leslie Schulman on September 10, 2007 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell [official profile] Monday urged senators [PDF text] to pass long-term legislation to "modernize" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive], contending that a permanently-revised FISA is critical to fighting terrorism. Speaking at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee [official website] on the status of fighting terrorism six years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive], McConnell said:

The recent enactment of the Protect America Act of 2007 provided a necessary update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This critical legislation has already assisted the Intelligence Community in closing a critical gap in the IC's ability to provide warning of threats to the country. This Act sunsets in less than six months, and I believe that making its changes permanent will be an important step toward ensuring the protection of our Nation. Importantly, the Act provides for meaningful oversight of activities.
McConnell also called for a "collaborative intelligence enterprise" among government organizations targeting terrorism and other threats to the US, as well as stronger foreign language initiatives in the workforce.

FISA, which was passed in 1978 to allow the US to monitor Americans' overseas conversations, was revamped last month after the US House of Representatives passed [JURIST report] the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials], granting the Executive Branch expanded surveillance authority for six months. In the interim, Congress will be considering the passage of permanent changes to FISA. AP has more.





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Anfal death sentences do not require presidential approval: Iraqi judge
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 10, 2007 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] An Iraqi judge and spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website] said at a Baghdad news conference Monday that the execution of three former Saddam-era Iraqi officials sentenced to death for their role in the 1988 Anfal Campaign [HRW backgrounder] can proceed without the approval of the Iraqi president because of the scope of their crimes. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile] said Friday that he objected to the planned execution of one of the condemned officials [JURIST report], former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai [TrialWatch profile], and that he would not approve al-Tai's death sentence. The Iraqi constitution holds that executions must first be approved by the government and the president's office, but legal experts disagree over whether that rule applies to the special court that tried the former officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A lawyer for the three condemned officials, also including Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti and Ali Hassan al-Majid - known in the Western media as "Chemical Ali" [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], filed a petition [text, doc] for commutation of the sentences Sunday, insisting that they could not be carried legally out without the personal approval of the Iraqi president. Monday's announcement, although not an official ruling, suggests that the petition is likely to be denied. AP has more.

The three officials were all convicted [JURIST report] in June of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in the slaughter and gassing of tens of thousands of Kurds during the Anfal Campaign. Al-Majid has repeatedly denied the allegations [JURIST report], saying that he does not know who used chemical weapons or "if they were ever used." Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] was also a co-defendant in the Anfal genocide trial before he was executed in December 2006. Talabani similarly refused to sign Hussein's death warrant [JURIST report], invoking his general opposition to the death penalty. The warrant was subsequently signed by Talabani's vice-presidents.






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US and allies impeded efforts to capture war crimes fugitive: ex-ICTY official
Brett Murphy on September 10, 2007 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The United States and other western countries repeatedly impeded efforts by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] to arrest Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], according to the memoirs of Florence Hartmann [book website], former spokeswoman for ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte [BBC profile], published Monday in France. Hartmann said that French President Jacques Chirac had planned a campaign to capture Karadzic, but backed down at the urging of the US, Britain, and Germany. Hartmann also said that Russia aided in moving Karadzic to safety in Belarus, and alleged that the West helped in order to hide information about the Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].

Del Ponte has repeatedly called on [JURIST report] Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to renew their efforts to capture Karadzic and fellow war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic [BBC profile]. Mladic and Karadzic are suspected of orchestrating the genocide of nearly 8,000 people in Srebrenica in the 1990s. BBC News has more.






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US prison inmates sue to stop purge of unapproved religious books from chapel libraries
James M Yoch Jr on September 10, 2007 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Several inmates of a federal penitentiary in New York have filed a lawsuit challenging a decision by the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) [official website] to remove religious and spiritual books from prison chapel libraries, according to the New York Times [media website] on Monday. Prison chaplains across the country have been directed to remove from prison chapel libraries any books that are not included on a list of preferred texts compiled at the behest of BOP by religious experts. The inmates say that the program, referred to as the Standardized Chapel Library Project, violates the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text]. The BOP says it produced the lists based on a 2004 report [PDF text] by the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General [official website], which provides recommendations for curbing violence and derogation related to Muslim extremism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive]. The report states that:

. . . supervision of chapel libraries is not as thorough as it should be. None of the chaplains at the facilities that we visited was able to produce an inventory of the books and videos available to the inmates, and it did not appear that these materials had been evaluated after the terrorist attacks of September 11. We recommend that the BOP undertake an inventory of chapel books and videos to confirm that they are permissible under BOP security policies. The BOP also should consider maintaining a central registry of acceptable material to prevent duplication of effort when reviewing these materials.
The BOP asserts that the list, which currently contains a limit of 150 texts and 150 multimedia items for each of 20 recognized religions or religious categories, will be expanded in October 2007 and will be again updated in the future. Many religious scholars find fault with the decision to exclude some religious materials, and many of the chapels have not been provided with funding to replace the removed books with items from the BOP approved list. The move to restrict prisoners' access to reading materials is not unprecedented; in June 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] in favor of allowing federal prisons to prevent the most difficult inmates from reading and possessing general-interest newspapers and magazines. The New York Times has more.





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Indonesia high court awards Suharto damages in Time defamation suit
Brett Murphy on September 10, 2007 12:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Indonesia [official website, in Bahasa Indonesian] has awarded former Indonesian President Haji Mohammad Suharto [CNN profile; JURIST news archive] the equivalent of $129 million in damages in Suharto’s defamation suit against Time Magazine [media website], according to a court spokesperson. The ruling was made on August 30. Suharto sued Time over a 1999 article [text] that said Suharto had hidden billions of dollars in foreign banks. The Supreme Court overturned two lower court decisions against Suharto, ordering Time to pay damages and publish a formal apology in Indonesian newspapers and its own magazine.

Suharto is currently the subject of a civil lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by the Indonesian government for allegedly embezzling $440 million between 1974 and 1998 from the Yayasan Supersemar [website, in Indonesian], a state-funded academic scholar fund. Last week, prosecutors announced that the court-ordered settlement negotiations [JURIST report] had broken down, and that the government will instead proceed in court [JURIST report]. Suharto was ousted from power in 1998 amid violent protests against a 32-year dictatorship that used security forces to stifle dissent and allegedly embezzled billions of government funds. AFP has more.






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DHS makes limited modifications to security tracking program
Brett Murphy on September 10, 2007 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] has modified its Automated Targeting System [CBP backgrounder] to limit its ability to track persons who may be considered a security threat when they travel abroad. Under regulations that went into effect late last week, DHS will now hold risk assessments of those traveling abroad who may pose a potential risk on file for 15 years instead of the original 40. In addition, profiles of persons deemed potential security risks will no longer be shared with other federal or state agencies for routine matters.

Critics such as the Center for Democracy and Technology [advocacy website] have dismissed the changes as insufficient to protect privacy because they do not allow travelers to view the assessments made against them. DHS maintains that larger changes would hinder the system’s ability to prevent terrorists from entering the country. Recent US negotiations with the European Union over an airline passenger data-sharing agreement [JURIST report] almost failed over European concerns that profile data passed to DHS would be inappropriately shared with other US agencies. Under the new agreement, EU citizens will be permitted to seek compensation and redress for any breach pursuant to the US Privacy Act [text; JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Bangladesh ends ban on indoor political activity
Katerina Ossenova on September 10, 2007 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bangladeshi interim government lifted the complete ban on all indoor political activity Monday, ahead of scheduled voting reforms talks between the country's election commission [official website] and its political parties. The ban [JURIST report] was issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in March 2007, extending the January 11 state of emergency [JURIST report] order by President Iajuddin Ahmed [official profile] which prohibited street protests and public gatherings but not "indoor political activities." Fakhruddin Ahmed [official profile], head of the military-backed interim government, said electoral reforms would only be introduced after talks with the political parties, and promised to try to hold elections before a December 2008 deadline.

The new interim government has arrested over 150 high-profile citizens since declaring a state of emergency over concerns that fraud would ruin scheduled national elections. Last week, Bangladeshi officials arrested [JURIST report] former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [UN profile] and her son on corruption and misuse of power charges. Zia's rival, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed [party profile; JURIST news archive] has also been charged by Bangladesh's anti-corruption commission [governing statute, PDF] with six counts of murder, corruption, and, most recently, bribery [JURIST reports]. The special courts set up by the interim government to try corrupt leaders have so far sentenced more than a dozen former officials and their families. AFP has more.






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Japan PM threatens resignation if anti-terror law not renewed
Katerina Ossenova on September 10, 2007 9:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [official website, in Japanese; JURIST news archive] said Sunday that he would resign if parliament refuses to extend a special anti-terrorism law. Abe faces opposition from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) [party website], which has criticized Abe's ability to function and have threatened to veto [press release] the renewal of the legislation. The Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [text], originally passed in 2001 and extended annually [MOFA press release] since, is currently slated to expire November 1. Among other things, it allows Japan to refuel allied ships in the Indian Ocean for operations relating to Afghanistan. While Abe announced he would step down if the law is not extended, US officials expressed concern at losing Japanese support in the Middle East.

Japan's involvement in Afghanistan has caused a rift between Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LPJ) [party website] and the DPJ. DPJ president Ichiro Ozawa [party profile] has voiced his opposition to Japan acting abroad in operations not sanctioned by the United Nations. The Financial Times has more.






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Canada PM criticizes electoral ruling allowing voters to wear Muslim veil
Katerina Ossenova on September 10, 2007 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile] Sunday voiced his disapproval of an administrative decision allowing Muslim women to wear veils and burqas while voting in upcoming by-elections in the province of Quebec. Elections Canada [official website], an independent body that oversees national elections, announced Thursday that Muslim women will be allowed to wear [press release] traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas [JURIST news archives] and will not be required to show their faces [JURIST report] to vote so long as they are able to sufficiently prove their identity with photo IDs or other documentation. Harper said the decision contradicted a unanimous vote in the House of Commons [official website] this past spring to make visual identification mandatory when casting a ballot. Harper noted that unless Elections Canada reconsiders its decision, parliament will have to find a way to make sure the House's ruling takes effect. Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said Monday that there was nothing in Bill C-31 [text] on voting procedures that required voters to show their faces.

The issue came to a head in an election in March when Quebec's chief electoral officer [official website] refused to allow Muslim women to vote without showing their faces [CBC report], a move criticized as offensive to their religion by Muslim rights groups. Traditional Muslim face-covering garb and other religious dress [JURIST news archive] have recently become controversial as lawmakers struggle to balance an individual's right to practice their religion with security concerns. AP has more. CTV has local coverage. The Globe & Mail has additional coverage.






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Noriega staying in US prison until extradition appeals exhausted
Jaime Jansen on September 10, 2007 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] will remain in a US federal prison until all appeals relating to an extradition request by France have been exhausted, despite his originally-scheduled September 9 release date [BOP materials; JURIST report], the US Department of State said Friday. Ultimately, the State Department will issue the final order on France's extradition requests. US District Judge William Hoeveler Friday rejected [ruling, PDF; JURIST report] arguments by Noriega's lawyers that his extradition to France would violate his prisoner of war status, lifting a stay of extradition he had imposed Wednesday. US government lawyers had told Hoeveler they were satisfied that France would effectively treat Noriega as a prisoner of war [JURIST report] even if it has not formally asked France to declare him such, and France itself has formally declined to do so. The State Department concluded from informal talks with France that Noriega will retain the same extra benefits in French custody that he enjoyed during his 17 years in US federal prisons, including nicer quarters, and telephone and television privileges. Hoeveler's ruling allowing the extradition has now been taken before the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals; it could several more weeks until the appeal process is concluded. State Department officials say, however, that they expect the extradition to go ahead.

Noriega is wanted in France on charges of money laundering through French banks. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [AP report] to 10 years in jail in 1999, but France has agreed to hold a new trial if he is extradited. Noriega's lawyers had argued that France's request was superseded by his status as a US prisoner of war and that under the Geneva Conventions the US must return him home to Panama upon his release. AP has more.






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Israeli police arrest neo-Nazi gang members
Jaime Jansen on September 10, 2007 7:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Israeli police have arrested a gang of neo-Nazis [JURIST news archive] accused of attacking foreigners, homosexuals and Jewish people last month, according to weekend media reports. Each member of the gang, comprised of eight young men between the ages of 16-21, are Israeli citizens who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union under the Law of Return [text], a law that allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to become an Israeli citizen. Israeli police arrested the gang members after a year-long investigation triggered by the vandalism of a synagogue [Jerusalem Post report] in Petah Tikva, a predominantly Jewish Orthodox city, depicting Nazi swastikas and Adolf Hitler's name. Searches of the homes of the gang members discovered Nazi uniforms, portraits of Hitler, knives, guns, TNT and video footage [BBC video] of the gang's attacks on Israeli citizens and foreigners. On Sunday, the Interior Ministry [official website, in Hebrew] said they are considering revoking each gang member's Israeli citizenship, while lawmakers suggested changing the Law of Return to prevent neo-Nazis from becoming citizens. BBC News has more. Haaretz has local coverage.

Israel has dealt with alleged domestic neo-Nazis in the past. In 2005, Israeli police detained a group of 20 young neo-Nazi immigrants from the former USSR after arresting a young neo-Nazi serving in the Israeli army [JURIST reports]. The soldier was arrested on drug charges, but police found neo-Nazi material on his computer and a Nazi tattoo on his arm.






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Pakistan deports former PM Sharif to Saudi Arabia after attempted return
Jaime Jansen on September 10, 2007 7:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan Monday deported former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile] to Saudi Arabia shortly after Sharif's attempted return from exile. Sharif was arrested on corruption and money laundering charges [JURIST report] shortly after landing in the country on a flight from London. He chose detention over continued exile but then was put on an airplane back to Saudi Arabia despite his wishes. Sharif was first sent to Saudi Arabia seven years ago under a deal with then coup leader and now president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] to stay out of the country for 10 years. Over the weekend, security officials detained more than 2,000 supporters [JURIST report] of Sharif anticipating his return to Pakistan, where he was expected to challenge Musharraf's re-election bid.

In August, the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] ruled that Sharif had an "inalienable right to enter and remain in the country" [JURIST report] as a citizen of Pakistan, notwithstanding his earlier agreement to a 10-year exile with Musharraf's government to avoid charges. Musharraf has seen his popularity decline since he attempted a failed bid to remove Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] from office in March for alleged judicial misconduct. Musharraf's critics have alleged that Chaudhry's attempted dismissal was an attempt to preemptively quash legal objections to Musharraf's re-election bid. AP has more.






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Iran rejects US court ruling on 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing
Jaime Jansen on September 9, 2007 3:57 PM ET

[JURIST] Iran Sunday dismissed a ruling [JURIST report] by a US federal judge requiring Iran to compensate the families of 241 US military personnel killed in the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut [Washington Post backgrounder], calling the ruling "baseless" and "politically motivated." On Friday, US District Judge Royce Lamberth awarded [opinion, PDF] $2.65 billion in compensation to the victims' families, the largest such judgment ever awarded by a US court against a foreign country. An Iranian spokesman said the US court ruling lacks legal value because it was issued unilaterally, and that the court should not have issued the opinion "without listening to the other side's views...and issue verdicts against Iran that are not legally defendable [sic]."

Iran has been blamed for supporting Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder], the militant group behind the bombing, but the country has always denied responsibility. State acceptance of liability for terrorist acts is not totally unprecedented; in 2003, Libya agreed to accept responsibility [US DOS press release] for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight 103 [Wikipedia backgrounder] over Lockerbie, Scotland, and compensate victims' families. AP has more. IRNA has local coverage.






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California officials order thousands of sex offenders to move to legal housing
Jaime Jansen on September 9, 2007 3:01 PM ET

[JURIST] California officials have finished notifying 2.741 paroled sex offenders [JURIST news archive] residing in California that they must move pursuant to Proposition 83 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], a law prohibiting California sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any place where children regularly gather, such as schools and parks. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] notified all of the offenders four days before a department-imposed deadline, giving the sex offenders 45 days to find legal housing or be sent back to prison for parole violations. In February, a federal judge ruled that Proposition 83 could not be applied retroactively [JURIST report] to more than 90,000 paroled sex offenders because there was nothing in the measure that indicated that intent.

Proposition 83 was approved last November by 70 percent of California voters [results, CA Secretary of State; Yes on 83 advocacy website]. It faced an immediate legal challenge [JURIST report] from unidentified registered sex offenders, and a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order [JURIST report] to prevent the enforcement of the law's residency requirements pending a ruling on the merits. Critics have argued that the bill would create enforcement problems [CACJ statement, PDF] and have encouraged registered sex offenders not to report their addresses. AP has more.






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