May 2009 Archives


Sri Lanka refuses external probes into alleged human rights violations
Ximena Marinero on May 31, 2009 11:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama [official profile] on Sunday dismissed calls from Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] to publish the official death toll [AI press release] during the finals weeks of the armed conflict [JURIST news archive] that ended earlier this month. Bogollagama said that only Sri Lankan courts will be permitted [France 24 report] to investigate both alleged human rights violations and the number of civilian deaths that occurred during the final weeks of the conflict. AI has called for an independent investigation into the matter, while the UN Under-Secretary-General John Holmes [official profile] has said that it will be very difficult to accurately assess [Reuters report] such a number. Media sources have continued to decry the numbers circulated by Sri Lankan authorities and the United Nations as ranging as much as three times below the actual number of deaths.

The UN Human Rights Council [official website] adopted a resolution [text; JURIST report] last week that welcomed the end of the conflict but failed to call for an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed during the conflict. Aid workers and the international community have expressed concern over human rights violations during and after the Sri Lankan conflict. Despite a joint statement [text; JURIST report] issued by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa about allowing full humanitarian access to refugee or "welfare" camps, the Sri Lankan government has continued to restrict access alleging an ongoing security screening for any remaining rebels.






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G8 leaders to develop legal system for trying suspected pirates
Ximena Marinero on May 31, 2009 9:57 AM ET

[JURIST] Officials from the G8 countries [BBC backgrounder] on Saturday agreed to work toward establishing a system for trying pirates captured in African waters [JURIST news archive]. The recent increase in pirate activity has created problems for where to try captured pirates. If the pirates are tried in Europe, they may be able to bring successful asylum claims, and in Africa, poor governance and corruption place great obstacles in trying the pirates. The G8 ministers recognized the importance of aiding the region to fight drug trafficking cartels and improve their own judicial systems to effectively process and try captured pirates. The proposal will be presented at the upcoming G8 summit in L'Aquila [official website] in July.

Kenyan authorities have brought charges [JURIST report] against 18 Somali nationals who were captured by German and French forces over the past two months as a result of an agreement reached by the EU and the Kenyan government. There is a similar agreement [Reuters report] between the US and Kenya, through which other Somali nationals have been captured and turned over to Kenyan authorities. Earlier this month, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime [official website] obtained Kenyan support [VOA report] to launch a new plan to combat piracy by policing Horn of Africa waters.






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Australia to consider third US petition to accept Guantanamo detainees
Ximena Marinero on May 30, 2009 6:36 PM ET

[JURIST] Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith [official profile] confirmed on Friday that Australia is considering the Obama administration's request that Australia accept six of the Uighur Guantanamo detainees [JURIST news archive] who have already been cleared for release. Smith said that each case will be considered using the same guidelines that were used to consider the prior petition [JURIST report], congruent with Australian national interests and immigration rules. The opposition leadership in the Australian Parliament has spoken out against accepting [Sydney Morning Herald report] the Uighurs, citing the danger of released detainees renewing terrorist ties.

This is the US government's third request that Australia accept detainees, with two prior requests by the Bush administration being rejected. China continues to pressure the US to repatriate the Uighurs, who have been linked with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement [CFR backgrounder] separatist group. Also on Friday, the US government urged [JURIST report] the US Supreme Court to reject a petition for certiorari filed by 14 Uighur detainees appealing a lower court decision upholding the constitutionality of their continued detention. The US continues to actively petition [JURIST news archive] other countries to accept some of the Guantanamo detainees.






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Obama warns against partisanship in Sotomayor confirmation process
Matt Glenn on May 30, 2009 3:51 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] rebuked [text; video] Republicans who would oppose his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; LOC materials] for the US Supreme Court [official website] Saturday in his weekly address. The president predicted failure for "those in Washington who are attempting to draw old battle lines and playing the usual political games, pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor's record." Praising Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, Obama said:

Even as she has reached the heights of her profession, she has never forgotten where she began. She has faced down barriers, overcome difficult odds, and lived the American dream. As a Justice of the Supreme Court, she will bring not only the experience acquired over the course of a brilliant legal career, but the wisdom accumulated over the course of an extraordinary journey – a journey defined by hard work, fierce intelligence, and the enduring faith that, in America, all things are possible.
Obama said he recognize Sotomayor would face a rigorous confirmation process, but hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions [official website], the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], said Wednesday that he does not anticipate a filibuster [JURIST report] against Sotomayor's nomination. Obama announced [press release; JURIST report] Sotomayor as his nomination for the Court on Tuesday. If she receives Senate majority approval, Sotomayor, currently a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], would replace Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive] when he retires [JURIST report] at the end of the current term. She would be the first Latino and the third woman to serve on the Court. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans expressed their interests [JURIST report] in having a Supreme Court nominee who would impartially apply the law.





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US government urges Supreme Court to reject Uighur detainee appeal
Matt Glenn on May 30, 2009 2:29 PM ET

[JURIST] The Obama administration urged the US Supreme Court [official website] Friday to reject a petition for certiorari [text, PDF; JURIST report] filed by 14 Chinese Uighur Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] seeking their release. Taking the same stance as the Bush administration, the Obama administration argued in its reply brief [text, PDF] that although the Court has the power to order the release of detainees, it cannot order them released into the US. The Uighurs are no longer imprisoned, but they cannot leave Guantanamo Bay until the government finds a country willing to accept them. The government argues:

Petitioners’ continued presence at Guantanamo Bay is not unlawful detention, but rather the consequence of their lawful exclusion from the United States, under the constitutional exercise of authority by the political Branches, coupled with the unavailability of another country willing to accept them.
The Uighurs fear persecution if they return to China and have asked the Supreme Court to allow them into the US temporarily while the government finds a country that will accept them. In February the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the government did not violate the Constitution by refusing to release the Uighurs into the US. It is unclear when the court will decide whether to hear the case.

Earlier this month, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives [official website] proposed a bill [JURIST report] that, if passed, might block a proposed plan to accept up to seven Uighur detainees [JURIST report] into the US. In March, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced that the US would consider accepting all 17 detainees. February's decision by the DC Circuit overruled an October district court order [opinion and order, PDF; JURIST report] supporting the release of the Uighurs into the US. The US government has determined that the Uighurs are not unlawful enemy combatants [10 USC § 948a text; JURIST news archive], but have been linked with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder], a militant group that calls for separation from China and has been a US-designated terrorist group since 2002.





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Canada high court rules against property forfeiture in drug proceeding
Christian Ehret on May 29, 2009 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [judgment text] Friday that a convicted marijuana grower should not have to forfeit her house pursuant to a sentence since asset forfeiture may result in unequal treatment of convicted criminals. The court, reviewing a Court of Appeal for British Columbia [official website] ruling [judgment text], rejected the lower court's totality approach that combined terms of imprisonment and property forfeiture on the grounds that the result of such sentencing will unfairly advantage property owners over those who have no property available for forfeiture. Since a totality approach would likely allow those who own property available for forfeiture to trade those assets to avoid some or all of the imposed jail time, the court reasoned that such an approach would be unjust as it would "result in lengthier custodial terms" for those who do not own property available for forfeiture. The court found that asset forfeiture is discrete and distinct from other aspects of sentencing and should be considered separately.

At her trial, Craig pleaded guilty and was conditionally sentenced to 12 months and fined $100,000. Her home in which she maintained the grow operation was valued [CBC report] at $460,000.






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New York court rules family court lacks jurisdiction over same-sex child support
Christian Ehret on May 29, 2009 12:46 PM ET

[JURIST] A New York state appeals court ruled [opinion text] that a family court does not have jurisdiction over a child support claim against a same-sex partner with no legal or biological ties to the child. In an opinion released Tuesday, the court ruled that a family court of limited jurisdiction has not been specifically authorized to entertain such claims. Although the court cited precedent that recognizes a person who neither fathered nor adopted a child as a parent under an implied contract to support the child and equitable estoppel, the court pointed out that the doctrine of equitable estoppel is only applied in such cases to adjudicate a male as a father of a child and not for determining a child's mother.

State courts have recently struggled to apply traditional family law to cases involving children of same-sex couples. In April, a New York state appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that a same-sex partner lacks standing to assert parental rights over the biological child of her partner unless she has adopted the child. In November, a Florida court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that a ban on adopting children for same-sex couples was unconstitutional, allowing a couple to adopt two children. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] the same Florida statute in 2005 as being rationally related to protecting the interests of children, and the US Supreme Court declined to review [Washington Post report] that decision. In November, Arkansas voters approved [JURIST report] a ballot measure [JURIST report] prohibiting gays, lesbians, and other unmarried cohabiting couples from becoming either foster or adoptive parents.






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Spain prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for alleged Nazis
Andrew Morgan on May 29, 2009 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] A prosecutor from the Spanish National Court has asked that arrest warrants be issued for three accused Nazi prison guards [JURIST news archive] currently living in the US. Prosecutor Pedro Martinez Torrijos said [DPA report] that Johann Leprich [DOJ press release; JURIST report], Anton Tittjung [AP report] and Josias Kumpf [DOJ press release, PDF] are accomplices to genocide owing to their roles guarding prisoners at the Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, and Flossenburg camps during World War II. Torrijos said that Judge Ismael Moreno could hear the case under Spain's universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder] doctrine, which gives Spain jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism, and war crimes only if the case is not subject to the legal system of the country involved. Torrijos did not ask for a warrant for a fourth suspect, John Demjanjuk [JURIST news archive], who is currently awaiting trial as an accessory to murder [JURIST report] in Germany for his involvement at the Sobibor camp [Death Camp backgrounder].

The suit was initiated last June by the rights group Equipo Nizkor [advocacy website], which petitioned Spain's National Court [press release, in Spanish] to press charges against the four accused guards. Demjanjuk, 89, has fought a lengthy legal battle [AP timeline] over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. He was deported to Germany [JURIST report] earlier this month, after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied his stay of deportation [JURIST report].






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Conrad Black requests bail from Supreme Court
Christian Ehret on May 29, 2009 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Defense counsel for Canadian-born media mogul Conrad Black [CBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday submitted [docket] an application for bail [motion, PDF] pending appeal to Justice John Paul Stevens of the US Supreme Court [official website]. The application for bail follows the Supreme Court's recent grant of certiorari [JURIST report] in Black's case, appealing his fraud conviction. The appeal challenges the appellate court's interpretation of the "honest services" clause of 18 USC § 1346 [text], claiming that the clause does not apply where there is no finding that the defendant "reasonably contemplated identifiable economic harm" under mail and wire fraud law [18 USC § 1341 text]. Pursuant to 18 USC § 3143 [text], a defendant is entitled to bail if a judicial officer finds "by clear and convincing evidence that the person is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community" if released, if the appeal raises a "substantial question of law or fact" that is likely to result in the defendant's favor and if the request is not for the purposes of delay. In the motion, Black's lawyers stipulate that:

There was no dispute in the district court or the court of appeals that Mr. Black is unlikely to flee, that he poses no danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released on conditions, and that he pursues his appeal for a legitimate reason and not for purposes of delay. The district court found in Mr. Black’s favor on each point, by court of appeals. Accordingly, the sole issue is whether Mr. Black has “raise[d] a substantial question of law or fact” likely to result in at least a new trial should he prevail on that question.
Black's lawyers point out that co-petitioner John Boultbee was granted bail based on the same substantial question.

Black, former chairman of Hollinger International [NNDB profile], originally faced 17 counts of fraud, obstruction of justice, racketeering and tax evasion. He was accused [indictment, PDF] by the US government of diverting more than $80 million from the company and its shareholders [JURIST report] during Hollinger's $2.1 billion sale of several hundred Canadian newspapers. In 2007, Black was convicted [JURIST report] of mail fraud and obstruction of justice and sentenced [JURIST reports] to 78 months in prison. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] initially rejected Black's appeal, holding that § 1346 may be applied in a private setting [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] regardless of whether the defendant's conduct risked any foreseeable economic harm to the victim. The outcome of the Court's review may affect other high-profile corporate fraud cases [Toronto Star report] such as that involving Enron ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archive].





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SEC charges 10 brokers with mortgage-backed securities fraud
Andrew Morgan on May 29, 2009 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] on Thursday charged 10 brokers [complaint, PDF; press release] with fraud for misleading customers into investing in high-risk mortgage securities. According the SEC, brokers from the defunct Brookstreet Securities Corporation held out collateralized mortgage obligations (CMO) [SEC backgrounder], which the SEC says are highly sensitive to interest rate, market, and liquidity risks, "as safe, secure, liquid investments that were suitable for retirees, retirement accounts, and investors with conservative investment goals" in violation of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act [text]. The SEC alleges that the brokers received $18 million in commission and fees from 750 investors and borrowed heavily to finance CMO purchases, eventually resulting in more than $36 million in losses. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority [official website] also brought charges [press release] Thursday against six other former Brookstreet brokers alleging that they fraudulently marketed CMOs as being government-backed.

In September, the SEC filed similar charges [JURIST report] against two former brokers for Credit-Suisse [corporate website; JURIST news archive] with defrauding clients of $1 billion by selling subprime securities that they represented as being backed by government-guaranteed student loans. The SEC has also charged former NASDAQ [official website] chairman Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] and financier Allen Stanford [JURIST report] with defrauding investors of $50 billion and $8 billion, respectively.






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DOJ to appeal order to release detainee photos to Supreme Court
Christian Ehret on May 29, 2009 8:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Thursday requested [motion, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] to recall an earlier mandate requiring the government to release photos of alleged detainee abuse. The motion asks the court to recall their April ruling [JURIST report] because "the Solicitor General has determined that the government will file a petition for a writ of certiorari in this case, absent intervening legislation." Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 41 [text], such a motion is allowed if it shows that the petition for certiorari to the US Supreme Court [official website] presents a substantial question and good cause for stay. If the Supreme Court denies the petition, the federal rule requires the court of appeals to reissue the mandate immediately. The motion also points out that Congress is considering legislation [S 1100 materials] that would exempt the disclosure of certain photographs under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] in cases where the Secretary of Defense certifies that such disclosure would endanger US personnel. The proposed amendment to the FOIA, already agreed to [Senate record, PDF] by the Senate as an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Act [S 1054 materials, PDF], would apply to any photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 that involve the treatment of those "engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." In its motion, the government cites Second Circuit precedent to argue that:

[r]ecall of the mandate is warranted because the Solicitor General has determined that, if the aforementioned bill does not become law by the deadline for seeking Supreme Court review, the United States will file a petition for a writ of certiorari. As noted, the time for filing a petition for certiorari has not yet expired. Thus, the primary justification for the sparing use of the power to recall a mandate...is not implicated here.
The Second Circuit denied the government's petition to rehear the case en banc in March but later granted the government a 30-day stay to decide whether to file a petition for certiorari. The deadline for the government to file a writ of certiorari is June 9.

On Wednesday, former US Major General Antonio Taguba said that the photographs of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison depict acts of rape and sexual assault [JURIST report]. The Pentagon has denied [Reuters report] the allegations. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama decided to seek a delay [JURIST report] of the release of the photographs in question, contrary to a previous agreement by the DOJ to release them pursuant to a court order [order, PDF]. After Obama's decision to not release the photographs, the DOJ sent a letter [text, PDF] to district Judge Alvin Hellerstein saying that "the Government has decided to pursue further options regarding that decision, including, but not limited to the option of seeking certiorari." Last month, the DOJ had sent a letter [text, PDF] to Hellerstein saying that they would comply with his 2005 order to release 21 photos from Abu Ghraib. Hellerstein's order resulted from a Freedom of Information Act [text] challenge [ACLU materials] brought by the ACLU against the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website]. The DOD appealed the decision to the Second Circuit and lost [JURIST report].





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Federal court upholds pre-trial DNA collection
Andrew Morgan on May 29, 2009 8:40 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal court on Thursday upheld the constitutionality [opinion, PDF] of mandatory DNA collection for all persons arrested or detained under federal authority. Judge Gregory Hollows of the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] found that although the collection of DNA from those arrested on federal felony, sexual abuse, or violent crime charges does constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment [text], a person arrested based on probable cause "has a diminished expectation of privacy in his own identity." Likening the use of DNA to fingerprinting and photographing, Hollows held that

after a judicial or grand jury determination of probable cause has been made for felony criminal charges against a defendant, no Fourth Amendment or other Constitutional violation is caused by a universal requirement that a charged defendant undergo a “swab test,” or blood test when necessary, for the purposes of DNA analysis to be used solely for criminal law enforcement, identification purposes.
The case arose when the defendant, Jerry Albert Pool, was released on bail following a child pornography arrest but refused to consent to a DNA sample. Pool challenged the constitutionality of the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 [42 USC § 14135 text], which made DNA collection mandatory for certain arrestees, and amendments to the Bail Reform Act [18 USC § 1342 text], which made DNA collection a condition of pre-trial release.

Federal agencies began collecting DNA samples [JURIST report] in April, although they had been authorized to do so since 2006. About 1.2 million additional people could be added to the FBI's Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS) [official website; FBI backgrounder, PDF] every year under the expansion, although people who are not convicted can request the destruction [Washington Post report] of their DNA samples. In November 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that all convicted federal felons must provide DNA samples to a federal database available to police departments throughout the country. In 2005, the Third Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that a convicted bank robber had to submit DNA samples to CODIS.





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US must do more to prevent war crimes: UN rapporteur
Matt Glenn on May 29, 2009 8:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The US has failed to adequately prevent and prosecute war crimes and other abuses during its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston [oficial profile, DOC] said in a report [text, PDF] released Thursday. The report found, "Some aspects of the rule of law have been taken seriously during U.S. operations." Alston also warned, however, that:

there have been chronic and deplorable accountability failures with respect to policies, practices and conduct that resulted in alleged unlawful killings – including possible war crimes – in the United States’ international operations. The Government has failed to effectively investigate and punish lower-ranking soldiers for such deaths, and has not held senior officers responsible under the doctrine of command responsibility. Worse, it has effectively created a zone of impunity for private contractors and civilian intelligence agents by failing to investigate and prosecute them.
The report recommended forming a "commission of inquiry" to look into the causes and extent of these deaths. It further recommends hiring an independent special prosecutor.

Last week a jury in a federal court sentenced [JURIST report] former US soldier Steven Green [JURIST news archive] to life in prison for the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the murder of her family. A 2006 Washington Post report found [text] that homicide charges were rarely brought against US military members in Iraq and Afghanistan.





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Canada Supreme Court to rule on media blackout in terrorism trial
Matt Glenn on May 29, 2009 7:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Canada's Supreme Court [official website] agreed [docket] Thursday to review an Ontario court decision upholding media restrictions on the Toronto 18 [Toronto Star backgrounder] terrorism case. Under Canada's criminal code [text] the media may attend pre-trial hearings but in some instances may not report on them to prevent biasing potential jurors. The plaintiffs, which include the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CTV, the Toronto Star, and the Associated Press [media websites], argue that the law violates Canada's Charter on Human Rights and Freedoms [text]. The Ontario Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF; JURIST report] that while the statute is overbroad, it was properly applied in this case. The Court previously agreed to review [docket] a challenge to the same law after an Edmonton court released on bail a man accused of murdering his pregnant wife. The Court will hear both cases in November.

The Toronto 18 [JURIST op-ed], a group of adults and minors arrested in a 2006 anti-terrorism raid, have provoked intense reactions from detractors and supporters alike. Mosques were vandalized [NYT report] and the debate about Canadian security intensified in the wake of the group's arrest. Others contest the lawfulness [advocacy website] of the group's detention, and, despite the ban on press coverage, a 2008 documentary, Unfair Dealing [materials], was highly sympathetic to the accused. Last week one man was sentenced to time served and probation [JURIST report] and released. In September, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice [official website] convicted [JURIST report] one of the Toronto 18 terrorism suspects for participating in a group that allegedly plotted to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official website] while attacking parliament. The conviction was the first under Section 83 [Canadian DOJ backgrounder] of the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act [text], passed in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the US.






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Germany lower house passes measure to criminalize terrorist training camps
Christian Ehret on May 28, 2009 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] German legislators in the lower house of the Bundestag [official website, in German] Thursday approved a bill [text, PDF, in German] that criminalizes training in terrorist camps, among other provisions. Under existing law, prosecution of an individual for involvement in a suspected terrorist organization requires membership in the organization or support of it. The proposed legislation seeks to broaden the definition of those who can be prosecuted to include those residing in a training camp of a suspected terrorist group. The bill also broadens other aspects of punishable terrorist involvement to include financing and other means of support not previously covered. By encouraging early intervention into potential terrorist activity, the bill aims to reduce the threat of attacks against Germany and the international community. According to the text of the legislation, motivation for drafting the law stemmed from the arrest of three 9/11 [JURIST news archive] hijackers who lived in Germany before the attacks. The proposed legislation must still be passed by the upper house.

Last year, the lower house of the Bundestag passed [JURIST report] an anti-terrorism measure to expand the federal police power to include online and telephone surveillance. In February, 2008, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court [official website] ruled that a 2006 North-Rhine Westphalia [official website, in German] law authorizing intelligence agents to search personal computers, networks, and Internet communications was unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The court ruled [text, in German; press release, in German] that the law violated privacy rights, but said similar methods might be appropriate in limited, compelling circumstances, such as if a life was in danger or to prevent an immediate terrorist attack.






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ICJ denies Belgium request to force extraditon of Chad ex-president Habre
Andrew Morgan on May 28, 2009 2:51 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] on Thursday denied [order, PDF] Belgium's request to compel Senegal to extradite former Chadian president Hissene Habre [BBC profile]. Belgium had accused Senegal of violating international law, including Article 7 of the Convention Against Torture [text], by not trying Habre in Senegal, where he has lived under house arrest since 1990. In April, Belgium asked [JURIST report] the ICJ to force Habre's extradition under Belgium's universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder, PDF]. The ICJ found that assurances made by Senegal that Habre would remain in custody until trial were sufficient and that "the risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights claimed by Belgium is not apparent." Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade [official profile, in French] warned last year that he would need $27 million [HRW backgrounder] in order to prosecute Habre, and has asked the international community for that funding.

Belgium filed the suit [ICJ press release; JURIST report] in February asserting the ICJ must intervene because Belgium and Senegal were in dispute over Habre's prosecution. In October, lawyers for Habre filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) [official website] to prevent his trial for crimes against humanity in Senegal from moving forward. Fourteen citizens of Chad and Senegal filed complaints [JURIST report] with a Senegalese prosecutor in September alleging Habre committed war crimes and torture. In August, Chad convicted and sentenced Habre to death in absentia [JURIST report] for crimes against the state but did not seek extradition. Since 2005, Belgium and Senegal have been engaged in a legal battle over Habre because Senegal has long refused extradition [JURIST report].






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Japan court grants recognition to atomic bomb victims
Christian Ehret on May 28, 2009 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The Tokyo High Court [official website, in Japanese] granted an appeal Thursday to consider 30 people for official recognition as atomic bomb victims, ruling that 9 of the plaintiffs who were previously denied should receive the status. Officials said that the government will consider revising [AP report] the way it determines which atomic bomb survivors are to receive free medical care pursuant to the court order. Although the court rejected the plaintiffs' requests for damages of 3 million yen each, the ruling would provide monthly allowances, free medical care for ailments related to atomic bomb radiation, and funeral costs. Reasoning that the current standards for determining victim status may underestimate the effects of radiation, the court ruled that afflictions such as chronic pain from shrapnel, cirrhosis hepatitis and decreased thyroid activity should be recognizable ailments [Mainichi Daily News report]. The court rejected the claims of one of the 30 plaintiffs on the grounds that the ailments suffered were too attenuated from radiation exposure. High court Judge Tatsuki Inada criticized the government's criteria for being inflexible.

US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945 killed approximately 210,000 people and left many survivors with various radiation-related ailments. In 2006, the Hiroshima District Court ruled [JURIST report] that 41 survivors of the atomic bombings were incorrectly denied benefits as sufferers of radiation sickness although, like the recent plaintiffs, the victims were denied damages. In 2005, a Japanese high court held [JURIST report] that a survivor of the atomic bombings living abroad was entitled to the same benefits as survivors living in Japan without having to return to the country to file claims.






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Economic crisis increasing human rights violations: Amnesty annual report
Andrew Morgan on May 28, 2009 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] Secretary-General Irene Khan said Thursday that the global economic crisis is exacerbating [press release] the world's human rights failures, urging governments to "invest in human rights as purposefully as they are investing in economic growth." Khan spoke at the release of the 2009 Annual Report [text, PDF; materials], which says that wealthy nations have overlooked "massive human rights abuses, entrench[ed] poverty and endanger[ed] regional stability," while attempting to assemble economic recovery packages. The report noted that growing wealth inequality in many parts of the world has been widened by the economic crisis, and that "the numbers of people living in poverty and subjected to human rights abuse are likely to grow ... in a recessionary economic climate." Developments in the US, including the June 2008 ruling [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Boumediene v. Bush [Duke Law backgrounder] and a January decision by US President Barack Obama [official profile] to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility [JURIST report] tempered AI's continued criticism of human rights abuses resulting from the "war on terror."

Previous annual reports, including the 2008 report [JURIST report], have condemned human rights violations reported in the US "war on terror." The 2007 report [JURIST report] was critical of the US and other "Western democratic states" for attempts "to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights" in their efforts to fight terrorism. The 2006 report [JURIST report] reached similar conclusions, and suggested that Western powers had overlooked human rights violations due to a preoccupation with security. Concern for violence against women, persecution of human rights activists, the rights indigenous peoples and the use of the death penalty in criminal prosecutions also continue to be major themes in the Annual Reports.






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Federal judge sentences Islamic charity officials accused of funding terrorism
Christian Ehret on May 28, 2009 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] A US federal judge Wednesday sentenced [DOJ press release] the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) [ADL backgrounder; case materials] and five of its officials pursuant to their convictions of providing material support to Palestinian group Hamas [BBC backgrounder]. District Judge Jorge Solis sentenced Shurki Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh to prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years and reaffirmed the jury's $12.4 million judgment against the group. The parties were convicted [JURIST report] in November under the "material support" provision of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [text], which provides that money in the hands of a terrorist organization, even if for charitable purposes, supports the organization's terrorist objectives. Their convictions also included conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to impede and impair the IRS, and filing false tax returns. Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris said that the sentences "should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly provides financial support to terrorists under the guise of humanitarian relief." Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas' deputy political leader, claimed the ruling was politically motivated [AP report].

HLF, once the largest Muslim charity in the US, was shut down in 2001 by federal prosecutors who accused the group of financing international terrorism by supporting Hamas. The group and officials were originally charged [original indictment, PDF; JURIST report] in 2004 on 42 counts of conspiracy, dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist and various other charges. The group defended themselves on the grounds that the charity's funds were used solely to help Palestinians in need [JURIST report], but the prosecution maintained that the group was in place only to funnel money used to support Hamas through Palestinian schools and charities.






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UN Sri Lanka resolution does not include war crimes investigation
Andrew Morgan on May 28, 2009 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] adopted a resolution [text, DOC] Wednesday "welcoming the conclusion of hostilities" in Sri Lanka, but failing to call for an investigation into war crimes committed during the conflict. Adopted during the 11th special session on human rights [materials], the resolution condemned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] attacks on civilian populations and use of human shields, and acknowledged the Sri Lankan government's commitment to "provide access as may be appropriate to international humanitarian agencies." The resolution did not address allegations [press release] made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] and others that war crimes may have been committed by both sides of the 25-year civil war [BBC timeline], which resulted in more than 70,000 deaths. Sri Lankan Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka [official profile] said [press release] that the was "no rationale for this Special Session with a regular session just a few days away" except to appease those countries and commissioners who had accused the government of war crimes.

The international community has expressed concerns about human rights violations during and after the Sri Lankan conflict. On Saturday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] released a joint statement [text] granting humanitarian groups access to aid internally displaced persons, which Rajapaksa rejected [JURIST report] on Sunday. Last week, the Council of the European Union [official website] called for an independent inquiry [conclusions, PDF; JURIST report] into possible war crimes committed during fighting between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE. In March, the Sri Lankan Government denied [JURIST report] Pillay's allegation that 2,800 civilian deaths caused by recent military action against the LTTE may constitute war crimes. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] alleging that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are guilty of human rights violations. Earlier this year, Pillay condemned [press release; JURIST report] the deteriorating conditions of those trapped in the Vanni region, and called for investigations and prosecutions for the killings and other human rights abuses.






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Abu Ghraib photos depict rape, sexual assault: ex-US general
Christian Ehret on May 28, 2009 8:50 AM ET

[JURIST] The photographs of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] that US President Barack Obama [official website] does not want to release include depictions of rape and sexual assault, according to former US Major General Antonio Taguba on Wednesday. In an interview [text] with the Daily Telegraph, Taguba maintained support for Obama's decision [JURIST report] not to release the photos, maintaining that doing so would endanger US troops. In April, the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] agreed to release [JURIST report] at least 44 photographs of alleged detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan pursuant to a court order [order, PDF]. After lobbying from senior military officials and meeting with White house lawyers, Obama reversed the decision to release the photos based on concerns for the safety of US troops. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy group] criticized [press release] Obama's decision, claiming that it contradicted the administration's desire to restore transparency and moral standing. Taguba addressed the ramifications of releasing the photographs, saying:

I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan. The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.
Taguba investigated the alleged abuse in 2004 and reported his findings [text, PDF], which include sworn statements by 13 detainees whom he called "credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence." Taguba's 2004 report, while lacking information regarding photographs of rape, alleges detainee abuse that includes sodomizing with objects, beatings, humiliation, taking sexually explicit photographs, and threats of rape.

After Obama's recent decision to not release the photographs, the DOJ sent a letter [text, PDF] to district Judge Alvin Hellerstein saying that "the Government has decided to pursue further options regarding that decision, including, but not limited to the option of seeking certiorari." Last month, the DOJ sent a letter [text, PDF] to Hellerstein saying that they would comply with his 2005 order to release 21 photos from Abu Ghraib. Hellerstein's order resulted from a Freedom of Information Act [text] challenge [ACLU materials] brought by the ACLU against the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website]. The DOD appealed the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] and lost [JURIST report].

2:00 PM ET: The Pentagon has denied [Reuters report] that any of the photographs in question depict sexual abuse.





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Israel parliament considers criminalizing anti-Israeli statements
Andrew Morgan on May 28, 2009 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The Knesset [official website], Israel's parliament, on Wednesday approved 47-34 the preliminary reading of a bill that would punish public statements likely to "cause an act of hatred, scorn or disloyalty to the state" with one year in prison. Introduced by MK Zevulun Orlev [official profile] of the Habayit Hayehudi [party website, in Hebrew] party, the bill is aimed at criminalizing public statements that could threaten the Jewish and democratic nature of the country. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) [advocacy website] called the measure "draconian," saying [Jerusalem Post report] that the measure is one that "delegitimizes legitimate public debate, and whose goal is to silence free debate on important questions."

The measure is the latest in a series of controversial bills introduced by conservative members of the Knesset. ACRI also criticized [press release] a bill introduced by Israel Beytenu [party website] MK Alex Miller [official profile] and passed [press release] by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday that would criminalize marking Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning, a practice known as Nakba. Israel Beytenu also introduced a bill Sunday that would require all first-time ID card recipients to pledge a loyalty oath to a "Jewish, Zionist, and democratic" Israel. Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League [advocacy website], in an interview with the New York Jewish Week, said that the proposals were discriminatory [report].






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Disciplinary panel urges prompt impeachment of convicted US judge
Brian Jackson on May 28, 2009 7:56 AM ET

[JURIST] A disciplinary panel of judges ruled Wednesday that former US District Court judge Samuel Kent [official profile] engaged in conduct that constitutes grounds for impeachment [certification letter, PDF], and urged prompt action on the matter. Kent, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice [JURIST report] for lying about allegations of sexual harassment of two female assistants, had sought to retire on disability and retain his yearly salary [AP report]. The council denied that request. Under the plea agreement, Kent will serve 33 months in prison [JURIST report] and pay both a fine and restitution.

Kent's plea prevented him from becoming the first federal judge to go on trial for sexual harassment. He was indicted last August, and was initially charged with the sexual harassment of his former case manager. Charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of his secretary were added [ABA Journal report] in January. In 2007, the American Bar Association (ABA) [professional association] adopted new policies reforming the Model Code of Judicial Conduct [JURIST report], which for the first time included prohibitions against sexual harassment.






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Myanmar court rejects three Suu Kyi defense witnesses
Brian Jackson on May 28, 2009 7:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The Myanmar court hearing the trial of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has rejected the defense's request to call four witnesses. While the prosecution has been allowed to call 14 witnesses, Suu Kyi's lawyers will only be permitted one defense witness [BBC report], who is scheduled to testify Thursday. Suu Kyi's lawyers believe that the decision by the court indicates the end of the trial is near, merely nine days after it began [JURIST report]. If convicted of breaking the terms of her house arrest, Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison.

News of Suu Kyi's trial has been met with criticism from numerous agencies and governments around the world. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has called the charges [HRW report] against Suu Kyi, "trumped up." The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand [official website, in English] released a statement through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations calling for the immediate release of Suu Kyi [statement, PDF], a call echoed by US President Barack Obama [official statement].






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Sotomayor nomination met with mixed reactions
Christian Ehret on May 27, 2009 2:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions [official website], the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], said Wednesday that he does not anticipate a filibuster [AP report] against US Supreme Court [official website] nominee Sonia Sotomayor [official profile]. Sessions addressed [press release] the Judiciary Committee's process, stressing the importance of Sotomayor understanding that "the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one's own personal preferences or political views." The president of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) [advocacy website] expressed some concerns [press release] over Sotomayor's nomination and her "apparent embrace" of regulation through litigation. The ATRA pointed to remarks made by Sotomayor several years ago in which she said [Huffington Post report] that "it is the court of appeals where policy is made," and called for a thorough discussion of the judiciary's role in formulating policy. The National Senior Citizens Law Center [advocacy website] applauded the nomination [text], stating that Sotomayor's record shows that she will be a strong voice for enforcing safeguards for older Americans. American United [advocacy website], proponents of separation of church and state, stated [press release] that the Senate Judiciary Committee has an obligation to question Sotomayor thoroughly on her views of church and state separation because she has not written extensively on the issues.

US President Barack Obama [WH profile] announced [press release; JURIST report] Sotomayor as his nomination for the Court on Tuesday. If she receives Senate majority approval, Sotomayor, currently a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], would replace Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive] when he retires [JURIST report] at the end of the current term. She would be the first Latino and the third woman to serve on the Court. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans expressed their interests [JURIST report] in having a Supreme Court nominee who would impartially apply the law.






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Spain high court to hear challenge against terrorism judge Garzon
Andrew Morgan on May 27, 2009 12:45 PM ET

[JURIST] The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] announced Wednesday that it will accept a challenge [order, PDF, in Spanish] accusing Audiencia Nacional Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of knowingly giving an unjust verdict or resolution. The decision comes as the result of a complaint filed by Manos Limpias [group website, in Spanish], a union of public servants in Spain, which alleged that Garzon acted without jurisdiction in violation of Penal Code Article 446 [text, in Spanish] when he launched investigations [JURIST report] into Civil War-era crimes committed by the regime of General Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder]. In October 2008, Garzon ordered the exhumation of 19 mass graves in Spain, and ordered government agencies, the Episcopal Conference [church website, in Spanish], the University of Granada [academic website, in Spanish], and the mayors of four cities to produce the names of people buried in mass graves in order to assemble a definitive national registry [JURIST report]. Spanish prosecutors had objected to the probe on the grounds that it ran counter to the country's 1977 amnesty law, and its 2007 condemnation of the Franco dictatorship [JURIST reports].

Garzon is widely known for his high-profile investigations of terrorism and human rights abuses including cases against Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet and investigations into detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives]. In 2005, he called for the creation of a "truth commission" [JURIST report] to uncover Franco-era abuses. Estimates of the number of people killed during the 1936-39 Civil War and the subsequent Franco dictatorship range from 90,000 to 180,000






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Moldova court upholds ban on dual citizenship for parliament members
Christian Ehret on May 27, 2009 12:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Moldova [official website] has upheld a recent law barring certain government officials from holding dual citizenship. The controversial law no. 273 [backgrounder, PDF] was passed by the Communist Party in April 2008 and, among other provisions, requires citizens to relinquish foreign passports before taking a seat in parliament. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [decision, text] in November that the law violated the right to free elections mandated in Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. The case was referred [text] to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR and will be heard on September 16, 2009. According to the Central Election Commission [official website, in Romanian] of Moldova, about half [RFE report] of the non-Communist candidates who were elected to parliament in April hold dual citizenship.

The population of the area in which Moldova is located lost Romanian citizenship after being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. In April, the Constitutional Court ordered [JURIST report] the nation's Central Election Commission to conduct a recount of the controversial parliamentary election in which the Communist Party won a majority of seats. Later that month, the Constitutional Court validated the recount results [JURIST report]. Opposition groups claimed that falsified voter registration rolls allowed government officials to fabricate votes and boycotted the recount [Infotag report], opting instead to check voter lists for irregularities.






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Bush-Gore lawyers file Proposition 8 challenge in federal court
Andrew Morgan on May 27, 2009 11:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US solicitor general Ted Olson and prominent litigator David Boies [professional profiles] announced [video] Wednesday that they have filed suit [complaint, PDF; motion for injunction, PDF] challenging California's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive], Proposition 8 [text, PDF], on federal constitutional grounds. The complaint, filed Friday in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], seeks to enjoin enforcement of the ban on the grounds that California state officials, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Edmund Brown [official websites], would be liable under 42 USC § 1983 [text] for violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment [text] if they were to restrict civil marriages to those "between a man and a woman." The complaint alleges that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is a Fourteenth Amendment violation because it stigmatizes gay and lesbian couples by creating "separate but unequal" domestic partnerships designation, and because it "treats similarly-situated people differently by providing civil marriage to heterosexual couples, but not to gay and lesbian couples." Quoting the Supreme Court's landmark interracial marriage ruling in Loving v. Virginia [opinion], the complaint says that the:

Plaintiffs’ inability to have their relationship recognized by the State with the dignity and respect accorded to married opposite-sex couples has caused them significant hardship, including but not limited to the deprivation of rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and severe humiliation, emotional distress, pain, suffering, psychological harm, and stigma. Marriage is a supremely important social institution, and the "freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."
Olson and Boies, who brought the suit in conjunction with the American Foundation for Equal Rights [advocacy website], were opposing counsel in Bush v. Gore [opinion], which decided the outcome of the contested 2000 US Presidential election [JURIST backgrounder]. Olson represented then-Governor George W. Bush [official profile], while Boies served as lead counsel to then-Vice President Al Gore [personal website]. A group of gay rights and legal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, GLAD and Lambda Legal [official websites], have cautioned against pursuing federal court action [statement, PDF] because "the U.S. Supreme Court typically does not get too far ahead of either public opinion or the law in the majority of states."

The federal challenge was announced after the California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] Tuesday that state law challenges to the ban lacked merit. Proposition 8, approved by voters [JURIST report] in November, was a response to the California Supreme Court's decision last year striking down [JURIST report] a statutory ban on same-sex marriage as violating the equal protection and privacy provisions of the state constitution. The amendment has become a focal point for gay rights, prompting donors from across the US and several foreign countries to contribute $83 million in total for both sides of the issue, setting US fundraising records [JURIST report].





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Mexico forces arrest public officials for corruption related to drug trade
Christian Ehret on May 27, 2009 11:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Mexican security forces arrested 27 government officials in Michoacan Tuesday on corruption charges related to the illegal drug trade [Los Angeles Times backgrounder]. Those arrested include [Houston Chronicle report] 10 mayors, the chief adviser to the Michoacan attorney general, the director of the Michoacan police academy, and the top public security aide to Governor Leonel Godoy [official profile, in Spanish]. Michoacan is the home state of the La Familia drug cartel [NPR backgrounder] and has been the site of rival gang violence. Tuesday's arrests represent the largest number of elected officials [Los Angeles Times report] arrested for drug-related corruption offenses.

Last month, the Mexican Senate passed an amendment [JURIST report] to the country's constitution that would permit the government to seize property from suspected drug traffickers and other criminals prior to conviction. In October, reports indicated that both the Assistant Attorney General’s Office Specializing in Organized Crime (SIEDO) and the US Embassy in Mexico had been infiltrated [JURIST report] by a branch of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which paid officials to turn over confidential information. The chief of Mexico's Federal Preventative Police resigned [JURIST report] in connection to the investigation.






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Australia court rules Red Cross not required to accept blood from homosexual donors
Christian Ehret on May 27, 2009 9:50 AM ET

[JURIST] A Tasmanian anti-discrimination court Wednesday upheld [decision text] an Australian Red Cross [organization website] policy [text] to refuse blood donations from sexually active homosexual males. Petitioner Michael Cain tried to donate blood in 2004 but his offer was refused after he affirmatively answered an inquiry into whether he "had male-to-male sex" in the past 12 months. Cain challenged the policy before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal [official website], claiming that the Red Cross discriminated against him as a homosexual and in regards to his lawful sexual activity. The Red Cross maintained that homosexual sex is grounds for deferral because of the risk of an undiagnosed HIV infection. Cain argued that the risk of HIV transmission does not lie with homosexual sex but rather with unsafe sexual practices and that homosexual men in stable, monogamous relationships who practice safe sex should be allowed to donate. The tribunal held that Cain's complaint was unsubstantiated and that the conduct of the Red Cross did not amount to direct or indirect discrimination under the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998 [text].

Last year, Canadian prosecutors dropped charges [JURIST report] against former Canadian Red Cross national medical director Dr. Roger Perrault, who had been implicated in Canada's tainted blood scandal [CBC backgrounder]. The charges were related to the use of tainted blood products by the Canadian Red Cross in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, a public health disaster that infected more than 20,000 people with hepatitis C and more than 1,000 people with HIV. Perrault and three other defendants were acquitted [JURIST report] in October 2007 of charges associated with distributing the tainted blood.






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Tunisia prepared to accept 10 Guantanamo detainees
Andrew Morgan on May 27, 2009 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Tunisian Minister of Justice and Human Rights [official website, in French] Bechir Tekkari announced Tuesday that the country is prepared to accept the return of 10 Tunisians currently detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Tekkari said [AFP report] that Tunisia is capable of conducting fair trials and is "entirely happy to welcome [the detainees] and examine their penal situation according to legal procedures and under the principle of the presumption of innocence." The US has asked Italy to consider [AGI report] taking custody of two Tunisians currently held at Guantanamo and charged in Italy with connection to the Salifist Group for Preaching and Combat [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] rather than returning them to Tunisia. Italy has previously refused to accept [JURIST report] any Guantanamo detainees.

There has been some concern about the treatment the detainees would potentially face in Tunisia. In December, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) [advocacy website] release a report criticizing [JURIST report] worsening human rights situations in 12 Arab countries, including Tunisia. In June 2008, Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a report [text; press release] accusing Tunisia of committing wide-spread human rights abuses under overly-broad anti-terrorism legislation, and criticizing the US, European and Arab countries for turning over terror suspects to Tunisian authorities [JURIST report] despite allegations of torture. In February 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the deportation [text, DOC] of a former Tunisian terrorism suspect, finding he would likely be subjected to torture [JURIST report] if returned to Tunisia. In September 2007, Human Rights Watch released a report [text; press release] accusing Tunisian officials of mistreating two former Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] after they were returned to the country.






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Federal judge allows disclosure of Blagojevich tapes to Senate committee
Christian Ehret on May 27, 2009 8:33 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled [order, PDF] Wednesday that recorded conversations [transcript, PDF] between the brother of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive], Robert Blagojevich, and Illinois Senator Roland Burris [official profile] could be released to the US Senate Ethics Committee [official website] to be used in the committee's investigation into the appointment of Burris. The recordings, intercepted by the FBI in November during an investigation into Rod Blagojevich, capture Burris offering to write a check to Blagojevich's campaign and discussing how to do it in the name of a third party so as to not raise suspicion. Based on the committee's request, the government applied for authorization to disclose the recordings pursuant to federal law [18 USC § 2517]. Holding that the Ethics Committee members are investigative officers under the statute, the court ruled the disclosure to be proper.

Roland Burris was appointed to the Senate by former-Governor Blagojevich to replace Barack Obama. Democratic Senate leaders protested [Chicago Tribune report] Burris's seating, reasoning that anyone appointed by Blagojevich could not effectively serve the people of Illinois. Rod and Robert Blagojevich and four associates were indicted [JURIST report] on corruption charges in April by a federal grand jury. In January, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich is the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office.






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Jordan urged to restore rule of law by ending arbitrary detentions
Eszter Bardi on May 27, 2009 8:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Jordan should restore its rule of law by ending extrajudicial detentions of crime victims, personal enemies, and persons freed by the courts, according to a report [text] released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. Per the 1954 Crime Prevention Law [DOS backgrounder], which is currently in effect, government officials have the power to order administrative detentions on mere suspicions of improper behavior rather than on the showing of evidence that a crime has been committed. The report alleges that Jordan officials frequently employ this power to circumvent the judicial system under which potential defendants are afforded due process and also that the subjects of such extrajudicial detentions are often the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators themselves. For example, victims of domestic abuse have allegedly been detained for years under the pretext of protection from their aggressors. In addition, women suspected of immoral behavior are reportedly frequently detained in such extrajudicial manner. HRW asserts that the formulation and application of Jordan's Crime Prevention Law violates international standards as well as Articles 7 and 8 of the Jordan Constitution [text], which state that “Personal freedom shall be guaranteed,” and that “No person may be detained or imprisoned except in accordance with the provisions of the law." Although administrative detentions are not per se illegal under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text] and are permitted in situations of organized mass violence and emergency contexts, HRW analogizes Jordan's practices to the prolonged preventive detentions that took place under US auspices in Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], and which were found to be illegal, arbitrary, and contrary to the ICCPR by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website]. As a remedy, HRW proposes the examination of all administrative detentions and the unconditional "release all persons who are not suspected of having committed a criminal offense", followed by the absolute suspension of administrative detentions.

In May 2007, HRW urged the Jordanian government [press release] to free Dr. Ahmad Oweidi al-Abbadi [advocacy website], a former member of parliament and head of the Jordanian National Movement [party website], after a Jordan court sentenced him to two years in prison [JURIST report] for sending a slanderous e-mail to a US Senator. HRW argued that the court should not rely on laws that curb free speech and violate international human rights standards. Reporters Without Borders has also condemned [press release] Jordan for detaining al-Abbadi.






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Myanmar court hears testimony of democracy advocate Suu Kyi
Brian Jackson on May 27, 2009 7:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday told a Myanmar court that she did not violate the terms of her house arrest when an American man swam to her house. While Suu Kyi did not deny the fact that she allowed the man to stay after he swam to her house, she did deny responsibility [AP report], saying instead that the Myanmar authorities are responsible, because they are in charge of guarding her house. The contentious trial, which began on May 18th [JURIST report], has been opened to, and subsequently closed to journalists [JURIST reports] in the past week. If convicted, Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison.

Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. In 2007, the military government had implied that she might be released [JURIST report] after the country's new constitution was approved. In May 2008, the junta announced that Myanmar's draft constitution had been overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report], but the ruling junta at the same time extended Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year [JURIST report].






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Denmark court rules counterculture group lacks property rights to community
Eszter Bardi on May 27, 2009 7:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The Eastern High Court of Denmark [official website, in Danish] ruled Tuesday that the Copenhagen counterculture group Christiana [community website, in Danish] had not acquired permanent property rights [press release, in Danish] to the abandoned Copenhagen navy base and that the Danish government [official website] was within its rights to cancel the group's use of the property. The court found that from 1971 until the creation of the 1991 Framework Agreement, which specified the property rights of the self-governing community, Christiana had acquired rights of use, but no absolute ownership status of the property occupied by the community's 900 residents. Furthermore, since there existed a contractual agreement between the parties after 1991, no subsequent squatters' rights were accrued by the community. Conceding that the community had not acquired absolute ownership status, Christiana representatives nonetheless maintained that the 2004 Christiana Act [text, in Danish], which terminated the group's use of the specified land, was void and cited the government's long-standing acceptance of the community and the various extensions to the 1991 framework agreement as supporting evidence of their claim. The court ruled against the community because it determined that all formal agreements between the community and the government were for specifically limited periods, the agreements contained no safeguards against dismissal, and that the government gave ample notice to the community before terminating its rights of use in 2004. The businesses and residents affected by the ruling plan to appeal [Politiken report] the decision in the Denmark Supreme Court.

The Christiana community has become a cultural and touristic attraction within Copenhagen, and a symbol of counterculture. The Danish government tolerated the existence of the community until intensifying its efforts to combat the illicit drug trade in 2004. No cars are allowed within the boundaries of the community and the community also serves as a center for gay rights activism.






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Five percent of Guantanamo detainees have returned to terrorism: Pentagon
Brian Jackson on May 27, 2009 6:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The Pentagon said Tuesday that it has evidence that confirms that 27 released Guantanamo Bay detainees [fact sheet, PDF] have engaged in combat or terrorism against the US. The evidence, implicating five percent of ex-detainees, includes "fingerprints, DNA, and reliable, verified, or well-corroborated intelligence reporting." The five percent who have been confirmed is less than the fourteen percent of detainees, or 74 overall, who are suspected to have returned to the battlefield, according to the US Department of Defense [official website].

The Pentagon has made numerous claims regarding the number of former detainees that engage the US in combat or terrorist activities following release. In January, the Pentagon reported that 61 former detainees had returned to terrorism [Telegraph report]. In June 2008, the Pentagon reported that seven percent [fact sheet, PDF] of released detainees were suspected of or confirmed to have returned to combat. Earlier this month, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [official profile] said that the US is considering sending Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation [JURIST report] as part of the efforts to close the prison facility, despite reports that two former prisoners have joined al Qaeda in Yemen. In January, a spokesperson for the DOD said that the US would not change its policy [JURIST report] on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia.






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Sweden high court rules government may extradite Rwandan Hutu
Christian Ehret on May 26, 2009 3:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Sweden [official website, in Swedish] ruled [judgment, PDF, in Swedish] Tuesday that the Swedish government would have the final authority on granting extradition of an alleged Rwandan war criminal. The Republic of Rwanda requested extradition of Hutu Sylvere Ahorugeze for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1994 genocide [HRW backgrounder]. Ahorugeze argued that Swedish extradition law [text, PDF] and Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [text] prevented his extradition based on the danger of persecution, his refugee status in Denmark, poor health conditions, and the shortcomings of Rwanda's justice system. He maintained that he would be denied a fair trial in Rwanda due to the likely difficulty in obtaining witnesses for his defense. The court found that such extradition was allowed under both domestic and international law and that Rwanda's justice system, while flawed, has been continuously improving in recent years.

Ahorugeze had been living in Denmark for several years as a refugee before being arrested in Sweden. Last week, a Rwandan Hutu was convicted [JURIST report] under Canada's new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF]. In April, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) [official website] called on the Rwandan government to investigate reports of killings [JURIST report] during and after the uprising by the Rwandan Patriotic Army to end the 1994 genocide. In March, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile; JURIST news archive] pledged his ongoing support [JURIST report] for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [JURIST news archive] (ICTR) and stressed that the international community must continue to combat genocide.






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Pakistan Supreme Court lifts election ban on opposition leader Sharif
Andrew Morgan on May 26, 2009 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Tuesday lifted a ban [judgment, PDF] preventing opposition politician and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif [JURIST news archive] from participating in politics. The Supreme Court had barred [JURIST report] Sharif from holding elected office in Pakistan because of an earlier criminal conviction for "hijacking." Sharif was convicted of the offense for attempting to divert a plane carrying Army commander Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive] during a 1999 coup against Sharif that ultimately succeeded. The ruling was suspended in March [JURIST report] after the government of Sharif's political rival and current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] petitioned the court to review the decision [JURIST report].

Earlier this year, Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] led a protest march [JURIST report] against Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] as part of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [JURIST news archive]. In March, Zardari formed a parliamentary committee [JURIST report] to review key terms of the Pakistani Constitution, and reinstated [JURIST report] Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], who was ousted in 2007 after then-president Musharraf declared a state of emergency rule.






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Egypt court overturns defamation sentence for rights activist
Christian Ehret on May 26, 2009 2:15 PM ET

[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Monday overturned the conviction of dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim [professional profile] on charges related to defaming Egypt. Ibrahim, founder of the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies [academic website], has been a prominent human rights activist and outspoken critic of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [BBC profile]. A dual US and Egyptian citizen, he was accused of defaming Egypt by criticizing its human rights practices and politics, left the country, and was tried and convicted in absentia. The court held [Al Arabiya report] that the charges were without merit, reasoning that the charges should have been filed by the attorney general since they related to the country's international political standing and reputation. The decision overturns a two-year jail sentence [JURIST report] imposed against Ibrahim and will allow him to return to Egypt to see his family.

Last year, the US State Department [official website] criticized [JURIST report] Egypt's sentencing of Ibrahim and advocated the protection of civil and political rights. In October 2007, two journalists were convicted of libel in absentia [JURIST report] for writing a story about an illegal land transaction involving the Ministry of Religious Endowments at a secret auction. Under Egyptian law, citizens may file lawsuits against individuals who make statements that harm society, and the accused can face criminal punishment if found guilty. Mubarak previously pledged to decriminalize press offenses [JURIST report] in Egypt, but has yet to do so.






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Liberia truth commission delegates recommend war crimes tribunal
Andrew Morgan on May 26, 2009 1:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Delegates to Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) [official website] have recommended that a war crimes court be established to try individuals accused of committing atrocities during the country's 1989-2003 civil war. Thirteen representatives from each of Liberia's 15 counties met with the TRC during week-long Regional County Consultations to allow the committee an opportunity to gather popular feedback. In a press release [text] issued Friday, the delegates called for granting amnesty to children and others forcibly conscripted to fight and for "perpetrators who made full disclosures during the TRC Public Hearings of their actual roles in the conflict." The TRC, which was established [TRC mandate text] by the peace accord that ended the 14-year civil war to document and investigate human rights violations during the civil war, also endorsed the creation of a war crimes court [JURIST report] in January.

The TRC held its first public session in January 2008, after beginning its work in October 2006 and stalling [JURIST reports] due to lack of funding in June 2007. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [JURIST news archive] is currently on trial in the The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] for crimes against humanity. In January, Taylor's son, Charles Arthur Emmanuel, was sentenced [DOJ press release; JURIST report] to a 97-year jail term by a US federal district court for committing torture in Liberia.






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California Supreme Court rejects challenges to Proposition 8
Christian Ehret on May 26, 2009 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that constitutional challenges to Proposition 8 [text, PDF], which amended the California Constitution [text] to prohibit same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive], lacked merit and that the amendment stands as lawful. The proposition, which took effect in November, 2008 after voter approval [JURIST report], amends the California Constitution by stipulating that "[o]nly marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Article II § 8 [text] of the state constitution provides that, in addition to a proposal by two-thirds of each legislative house, a constitutional amendment may be proposed by "an initiative petition signed by voters numbering at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the last gubernatorial election." Once an amendment is proposed, Article XVIII § 4 [text] provides that an amendment becomes part of the state constitution if it is approved by a majority of voters. At issue was whether the amended language qualifies as a constitutional revision, which could not be lawfully proposed or adopted as liberally as an amendment. In making this determination, the court looked to the historical background of the amendment and revision provisions as well as the subsequent case law defining it. Drawing on this precedent, the court held that it must examine the meaning and scope of the constitutional change and the qualitative and quantitative effect that the change will have on the basic governmental framework in the preexisting provisions of the state Constitution. In applying that analysis, the court held that:

Taking into consideration the actual limited effect of Proposition 8 upon the preexisting state constitutional right of privacy and due process and upon the guarantee of equal protection of the laws, and after comparing this initiative measure to the many other constitutional changes that have been reviewed and evaluated in numerous prior decisions of this court, we conclude Proposition 8 constitutes a constitutional amendment rather than a constitutional revision. ... As a qualitative matter, the act of limiting access to the designation of marriage to opposite-sex couples does not have a substantial or, indeed, even a minimal effect on the governmental plan or framework of California that existed prior to the amendment.
The court also rejected claims that the amendment violated the state constitution's separation of powers provisions and that "inalienable rights" embodied in the constitution are not subject to abrogation by an amendment lacking a compelling state interest. Additionally, the court ruled that the amendment does not retroactively affect the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages performed before the amendment was passed.

Proposition 8 was a response to the California Supreme Court's decision last year striking down [JURIST report] a statutory ban on same-sex marriage as violating the equal protection and privacy provisions of the state constitution. The amendment has become a focal point for gay rights, prompting donors from across the US and several foreign countries to contribute $83 million in total for both sides of the issue, setting US fundraising records [JURIST report]. Several other states have recently taken up the issue of same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, the New Hampshire House of Representatives rejected [JURIST report] a same-sex marriage bill after it was amended to gain the governor's approval. Recently, the New York State Assembly passed a bill [JURIST report] that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the state. That bill will now go before the state senate. Earlier this month, Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage [JURIST report] when Governor John Baldacci [official website] signed a same-sex marriage bill into law. Last month, Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports] as the other states that allow same-sex marriage.





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Supreme Court overrules right to counsel precedent
Andrew Morgan on May 26, 2009 11:20 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] issued three opinions on Tuesday. In Montejo v. Louisiana [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court decided 5-4 to overturn [opinion, PDF] its 1986 decision in Michigan v. Jackson [text], which found that the Sixth Amendment required that police cease interrogations after a suspect had invoked his right to counsel, ruling that the Fifth Amendment provides adequate protection. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia found that under other precedent:

a defendant who does not want to speak to the police without counsel present need only say as much when he is first approached and given the Miranda warnings. At that point, not only must the immediate contact end, but “badgering” by later requests is prohibited. ... [I]t is hard to see why it would not also suffice to protect that same choice after arraignment.
The Court rejected the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Louisiana [official website] that Jackson required defendants to affirmatively assert their right to counsel, and remanded the case to allow Montejo to seek exclusion of inculpatory statements made after a hearing to appoint counsel under the Fifth Amendment protections in United States v. Edwards. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion in Jackson, filed a dissenting opinion to which Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer joined. Breyer also filed separate dissenting opinion.

The Court also ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Haywood v. Drown [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that New York Correction Law § 24 [text], which prevents state trial courts from hearing claims for money damages against prison employees whether based on federal or state law, was a violation of the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Writing for the majority, Stevens said:
That New York strongly favors a rule shielding correction officers from personal damages liability and substituting the State as the party responsible for compensating individual victims is irrelevant. The State cannot condition its enforcement of federal law on the demand that those individuals whose conduct federal law seeks to regulate must nevertheless escape liability.
Saying that the law "is effectively an immunity statute cloaked in jurisdictional garb", the Court struck down the decision [opinion, PDF] of the Court of Appeals of New York [official website]. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, which Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia joined, and which Justice Samuel Alito joined in part.

Finally, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Abuelhawa v. U.S [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a defendant who used a cellphone for the misdemeanor purchase of cocaine cannot be charged with a felony for using a "communication facility" to facilitate the distribution of an illegal drug under 21 USC § 843(b) [text]. The Court reasoned that the government's interpretation of "facilitate" exposed a first-time buyer using a phone "to punishment 12 times more severe than a purchase by a recidivist offender and 8 times more severe than the unauthorized possession of a drug used by rapists," and was clearly not in line with Congress' intent, since it conflicts with the classification of the drug sale itself as a misdemeanor.





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Obama nominates Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court
Christian Ehret on May 26, 2009 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [WH profile] on Monday announced [press release] Sonia Sotomayor [official profile] as his nomination for the US Supreme Court [official website]. Sotomayor, currently a justice for the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], would replace Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive] when he retires [JURIST report] at the end of the current term, if she receives Senate majority approval. Obama said that after "deep reflection and careful consideration," the decision to nominate Sotomayor was based a variety of qualities including intelligence, recognition of judicial limitations and experience. Highlighting the importance of respecting precedent, Obama defined the judicial role as that of interpreting law and not making it. Obama also stressed the importance of Sotomayor's varied experience as a corporate litigator, prosecutor, and trial judge, quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in saying "the life of law has not been logic, it has been experience." Discussing the importance of bipartisanship, Obama pointed out that Sotomayor was originally appointed as a judge by George H. W. Bush and then appointed to the Second Circuit by Bill Clinton. Sotomayor addressed the press, saying:

I find endless challenges in the complexities of the law. I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation of all our lives. For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by the achievement of our Founding Fathers. They set forth principles that have endured for more than two centuries. Those principles are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before. It would be a profound privilege for me to play a role in applying those principles to the questions and controversies we face today
If approved by the Senate, Sotomayor will be the first Latino and the third woman to serve on the Court.

Earlier this month, Senate Republicans expressed their interests [JURIST report] in having a Supreme Court nominee who would impartially apply the law. Sotomayor was one of five women that were reportedly being considered [JURIST report] by Obama earlier this month. When news of Souter's retirement first became public earlier this month, Obama said [JURIST report] he would, "seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity."





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Supreme Court to hear Vioxx fraud case
Andrew Morgan on May 26, 2009 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday granted certiorari [orders list, PDF] in Merck & Co. v. Reynolds [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which the Court will decide when the statute of limitations begins to run in a securities fraud case under the "inquiry notice" standard. Investors brought a class action suit against the drug maker Merck & Co. [corporate website] in November 2003, alleging that it had deliberately concealed information about the safety record of its painkiller Vioxx [JURIST news archive]. The case was dismissed by US District Court Judge Stanley Chester in April 2007 after he determined that investors were on "inquiry notice" of the alleged fraud in September 2001 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] released a warning letter [text] about the painkiller. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case [opinion, PDF] in September 2008, finding that Chester had "acted prematurely in finding as a matter of law that [the investors] were on inquiry notice of the alleged fraud."

Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. The price of Merck stock jumped by almost 10 percent following news of the class action dismissal.






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US military lawyers petition Afghan court to seek release of Guantanamo detainee
Christian Ehret on May 26, 2009 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] US military lawyers for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Mohammed Jawad [ACLU materials, JURIST news archive] asked the Supreme Court of Afghanistan [official website] Monday to demand his release from the facility. The lawyers have petitioned the Afghan high court because the planned closure of Guantanamo [JURIST news archive] has allegedly delayed the case [AP report] in the US. Jawad's lawyers argue that his Guantanamo imprisonment is illegal because Afghan law did not allow for his extradition, and they hope that their court petition creates enough political pressure to elicit a response from the US. The military lawyers have also found new information regarding Jawad's age, maintaining that he is even younger than previously thought. Although there are no documents to prove either assertion, Jawad's lawyers have maintained that he was only 16 or 17 at the time of his imprisonment while the US government has stated that Jawad was 18. The new information suggests that Jawad may have been born in 1991, which would have made him 11 years old at the time of the alleged attack on US troops in 2002.

The delay of Jawad's case has been contested before. In April, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that Jawad's habeas petition should not be delayed. The judge based the ruling on the Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF] decision, which calls for the prompt adjudication of Guantanamo detainees' habeas cases. The US Court of Military Commission Review (USCMCR) [official website] in February granted [order, PDF; JURIST report] a government request [motion, PDF] for a 120-day continuance on an intermediate appeal in its case against Jawad. Jawad's trial was initially delayed [JURIST report] in December to give prosecutors more time to appeal the exclusion of his confession, which was deemed to have been coerced. The original military prosecutor of the case quit the military commission in September citing conscience reasons. Jawad has been charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury for his alleged role in a December 2002 grenade attack in Kabul that injured two US soldiers and an Afghan translator. In May 2008, Jawad moved [JURIST report] to have all charges against him dismissed, alleging that he has been tortured in US custody and subjected to the so-called "frequent-flier program," in which certain inmates are moved between cells at two to four hour intervals in an attempt to cause physical stress through sleep deprivation.






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Fiji government plan to issue law licenses raises international concern
Andrew Morgan on May 26, 2009 8:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Representatives of the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) [official websites] said Monday that the Fijian government's plan to take over the issuance of legal licenses threatens to disrupt the rule of law in the country. In a decree [text, PDF] issued Friday, the government of Fijian Prime Minister Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said that licenses to practice law in Fiji would be granted by the chief registrar of the court, a government employee, rather than by the Fijian Law Society [official website], an independent bar association that had been issuing licenses for 12 years. NZLS President John Marshall called the move "very disturbing" [press release] because:

An independent legal profession is a vital element of the rule of law. The legal profession represents individuals in claims against the State and defends them in criminal cases brought by the State. Lawyers must be independent of State interference to be able to represent clients freely and fearlessly. ... We are very concerned to learn that the Fiji Government, through the Chief Registrar, will now decide who should hold a practising certificate.
LCA President John Corcoran said [press release] that he was "concerned that this could be the first step in the Fiji Government’s attempts to control the country’s legal profession by not allowing lawyers who oppose the regime to practise law." Both organizations said that they would monitor the issuance of practicing certificates once the registrar takes over in June to determine if they are granted in a way that threatens legal independence.

Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo [official profile] in April reappointed Bainimarama as prime minister, suspended the constitution [JURIST reports], and revoked the appointment of all judicial officers. The move came as a response to a Court of Appeals of Fiji ruling [JURIST report] that held in a case brought by ousted Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] that the appointment of a military government following a 2006 coup [JURIST report] was illegal. The Fiji Law Society urged judges deposed by the suspension to remain in office [JURIST report] and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Iloilo to reinstate the deposed judges [JURIST report]. Concerns about the constitutional suspension have also been expressed [statement text] by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US State Department [official website] spokesperson Richard Aker, who said that it was a step backwards [press release] for the country, and called on Fiji to continue to recognize rights outlined in the suspended constitution.





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Russia Duma passes bill limiting autonomy of Constitutional Court
Jay Carmella on May 25, 2009 6:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] passed a bill on Friday that would end the ability of the country's Constitutional Court [official website] to select its president and double the length of the court president's term. The bill was approved in its third reading by a final vote of 352-57 [St. Petersberg Times report]. Under the legislative amendments [JURIST report], the president of the court would be chosen by the Russian Federation Council [official website, in Russian], or upper house of parliament, instead of by members of the court. Critics of the legislation have argued [Telegraph report] that the move is an attempt by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website] to limit potential challenges in the Constitutional Court should he try to run for another presidential term.

In January, amendments [JURIST report] to the Russian Constitution [materials, in Russian] extending term limits for the president and members of parliament officially took effect. The amendments extending presidential terms from four to six years and terms for parliament members from four to five years were signed into law [JURIST report] by Medvedev in December. Medvedev proposed the changes in his first state of the nation [text; JURIST report] address in November. Critics fear the extension of presidential terms was designed to afford a longer third term for Putin should Medvedev step aside. Kremlin officials contend the amendments strengthen the political system.






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New Mongolia president pledges to fight corruption, redistribute mining wealth
Jay Carmella on May 25, 2009 4:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Mongolia Democratic Party [party website, in Mongolian] presidential candidate Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj [Taipei Times profile] on Monday defeated current president Nambar Enkhbayar [official website, in Mongolian] in the country's general election. Educated in the US, Elbegborj ran on a platform of fighting corruption [Xinhua report] and redistributing profits from the country's mining operations to Mongolian residents. Enkhbayar's Communist Party had originally refuted claims that Elbegdorj had won the election, but later accepted the results [BBC report]. Elbegdorj was briefly Prime Minister in 1998 and again in 2004 [BBC report]. Mongolian police have said they are on alert for any potential violence linked to the election results.

Last year, Enkhbayar declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] following protests against the results of parliamentary elections in the country. At least five people were killed and more than 700 people were detained as a result of the protests. The Democratic Party had called for new elections [Reuters report] because of alleged fraud, but Enkhbayar has said that both parties have agreed to address the riots under established law [Xinhua report].






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Former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic renews ICTY immunity claim
Adrienne Lester on May 25, 2009 12:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic [ICTY materials; JURIST news archive] on Monday filed a motion [text, PDF] renewing his claim that that International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] should drop charges against him because of a deal he made with former US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke [PBS profile]. Karadzic has claimed that Holbrooke promised him immunity [JURIST report] from prosecution if he voluntarily left power in 1996. Karadzic alleged there were two first hand witnesses to the agreement, former Bosnian Serb assembly speaker Momcilo Krajisnik [ICTY backgrounder; JURIST report] and foreign minister Aleksa Buha, and asked the court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter. He also argued that even if Holbrooke lacked actual authority to make the deal, that Karadzic reasonably relied on his apparent authority to do so, and that it should be honored. 

In April 2009, the appeals chamber of the ICTY upheld a December 2008 ruling that there was no valid immunity deal [JURIST report] between Karadzic and Holbrooke, and that even if such an agreement had existed, it would not be valid under international law. Holbrooke has denied Karadzic's allegations and prosecutors say they have found no documents that verify any such deal existed. Karadzic has twice refused to enter pleas [JURIST report] to 11 charges against him, including genocide, murder, persecution, deportation, and "other inhumane acts," for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Karadzic was originally indicted [indictment text] by the ICTY in 1995, but had been in hiding under an assumed identity until his arrest last year [JURIST report].






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UN SG condemns North Korea nuclear test, Security Council to hold emergency meeting
Adrienne Lester on May 25, 2009 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] and other world leaders on Monday condemned [statement text] a North Korea [JURIST news archive] nuclear weapon test held earlier in the day. The test violates a 2006 UN Security Council [official website] ban on nuclear or missile tests [Resolution 1718 text; JURIST report] by the country, and the body announced [UN News Centre report] Monday that it would immediately hold a meeting to discuss the test. In statement by Ki-moon's spokesperson, he said he was "deeply concerned" by the tests and urged North Korea to restart talks to end its nuclear program:

The Secretary-General strongly deplores the conduct of an underground nuclear test by the Democratic People[']s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in clear and grave violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned that this act will negatively affect regional peace and stability as well as the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The Secretary-General reiterates his conviction that differences should be resolved in a peaceful manner through dialogue. He urges the DPRK to refrain from taking further actions that would increase tensions in the region. He also insists that the DPRK comply with its obligations in full and restart dialogue with the parties concerned without delay, including the early resumption of the Six-Party Talks.
In April 2009, North Korea ordered UN nuclear inspectors out [press release] of the country. In October 2008, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [official website] head Mohamed ElBaradei [BBC profile] said he wants North Korea to return [JURIST report] to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [text, PDF; IAEA backgrounder] after a five-year absence. In 2007, North Korea agreed that it would end its nuclear weapons program [JURIST report] in exchange for aid as part of a multi-stage initiative by the Six Party Talks [CFR backgrounder].





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UK military to again consider allowing women in combat roles
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 24, 2009 4:05 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Armed Services Minister Bob Ainsworth [official profile] said Sunday that the British military is again considering whether to change a policy that prohibits women from serving in "close combat" positions. The review, mandated every eight years by a European Union Equal Treatment Directive [text] barring discrimination in the workplace, last took place in 2002 and resulted in a policy that bars women from "close combat" but permits other military activities.  Ainsworth said that a study into the policy was also prompted [BBC report] by the military's interest in the effect having female soldiers in combat roles would have. Proponents of the restriction have argued that mixed-sex combat units could be less effective. 

The 2002 report [MOD report, PDF] maintained the existing policy, but said that gender restrictions might be repealed if there were "direct evidence" that permitting women to serve in combat would not effect morale. The European Court of Justice, in Sirdar v. The Army Board [judgment text], has held that women can be excluded from the special forces without violating the EU directive because concerns over unit safety.






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Cancer patient commits physician-assisted suicide under Washington law
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 24, 2009 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] A Washington State woman who was diagnosed with terminal cancer has become the first person to commit physician-assisted suicide under the state's Death with Dignity Act [text, PDF]. Linda Fleming had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and on Thursday took barbiturates prescribed by a doctor, dying approximately half an hour later. In a statement [text, PDF] issued through Washington advocacy group Compassion and Choices [official website] Fleming said:

I am a very spiritual person, and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death. And I knew I would have to increase them. I am grateful that the Death with Dignity law provides me the choice of a death that fits my own personal beliefs.
Washington voters passed the law [JURIST report] in November, and it took effect in March. Under the law, people diagnosed with a terminal illness and with less than six months to live are eligible to receive the medication. According to the Washington Department of Health, at least six other people in the state have received [Peninsula Daily News report] the required prescription for barbiturates. Washington is the second state in the country, after Oregon, to pass a right-to-die [JURIST news archive] law. A court in Montana ruled [JURIST report] in December that terminally ill patients have right to physician-assisted suicide.





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Sri Lanka president rejects full access to Tamil displacement camps
Ximena Marinero on May 24, 2009 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] on Sunday rejected calls for his government to provide full humanitarian access to Tamil displacement camps in the country, saying the camps still needed to be screened for rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) [SIG backgrounder] insurgents. On Saturday, Rajapaksa had issued a joint statement [text] with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] which said that aid agencies would be given access to internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the camps:

With regard to IDPs, the United Nations will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs now in Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies. The Government will expedite the necessary basic and civil infrastructure as well as means of livelihood necessary for the IDPs to resume their normal lives at the earliest. The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government expressing its intention to dismantle the welfare villages at the earliest as outlined in the Plan to resettle the bulk of IDPs and call for its early implementation.
Rajapaksa's remarks came in response to urging by Ki-moon [UN News Centre report] and aid agencies [Oxfam press release] to grant full and immediate access to camps, which they say lack food and proper sanitation.

Last week, the Council of the European Union [official website] called for an independent inquiry [conclusions, PDF; JURIST report] into possible war crimes committed during fighting between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE. In March, the Sri Lankan Government denied allegations [JURIST report] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] that 2,800 civilian deaths caused by recent military action against the LTTE may constitute war crimes. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] alleging that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are guilty of human rights violations. Earlier this year, Pillay condemned [press release; JURIST report] the deteriorating conditions of those trapped in the Vanni region, and called for investigations and prosecutions for the killings and other human rights abuses.





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Iraq PM to further restrict amnesty law
Ximena Marinero on May 24, 2009 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said Saturday that he will seek to amend a 2008 amnesty law [JURIST report] because its application has allowed too many accused of corruption and terrorism to be released. Speaking before both Shia and Sunni leaders, al-Maliki said the law had been inappropriately changed from the version originally drafted by the government. He blamed a recent increase in violence [CSIS report] on some of those released under its current version, which he said allowed terrorists who did not directly commit a killing to receive a pardon. Al-Maliki has also said that a recent US release [AFP report] of more than 3,200 detainees has contributed to the rise in violence.

The Iraqi legislature passed the General Amnesty Law [text, HTM, in Arabic] in February 2008 as part of al-Maliki's effort to draw disaffected Sunnis into the national reconciliation and reconstruction process. In May 2008 Iraq's Council of Ministers amended the law [JURIST report] to exclude prisoners who had committed certain types of serious crimes, including terrorist activities against the state. In June 2008, a spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council said the law had resulted in charges being dropped [JURIST report] against over 75,000 people with some 20,000 others being ordered freed from detention.






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South Korea ex-president targeted by bribery probe dies in apparent suicide
Matt Glenn on May 23, 2009 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] Former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] apparently committed suicide Saturday by leaping off a 30-foot cliff. Roh and members of Roh's family were under investigation [UPI report] by the Republic of Korea's Supreme Prosecutor's Office [official website] for allegedly accepting bribes while in office. A spokesperson for South Korea's Ministry of Justice [official website] announced [Korea Times report] that the investigation would not continue following Roh's death. Roh left a note [Korea Herald report] stating he did not want to burden the lives of those around him. Current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak [official website] offered his condolences [press release] to his predecessor's family.

Earlier this month Roh's brother Roh Gun-pyeong was fined [Korea Herald report] and sentenced to four years in jail for bribery. Two other Roh associates were found guilty at the same trial. Both were fined, and one received a three year sentence while the other received a three year suspended sentence. On April 30 prosecutors questioned [Korea Times report] the former president, suspecting him of having taken up to $6 million in bribes from Park Yeon-cha, a financial supporter who is also CEO of a shoe manufacturing company. Roh admitted that his wife had received $1 million from Park, but said the money was a loan rather than a bribe. Roh became president in 2003 after campaigning heavily against corruption.






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Canada court sentences and releases first of 'Toronto 18' convicted for terrorism link
Ximena Marinero on May 23, 2009 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The first person convicted under Canada's post-9/11 terrorism law [JURIST report] was sentenced Friday to 36 months in prison, and released by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice [official website] in consideration of the time he has already served in prison since his arrest in 2006. The yet-unnamed man will be on three-year probation and placed under a ten-year weapon ownership ban, and will have to submit a DNA sample. He was convicted in September 2008 of participating in the activities of the so-called "Toronto 18" [Toronto Star backgrounder; advocacy website] which allegedly planned a series of violent attacks on civilians, public officials, and government buildings. The media cannot name the man until one month after the sentencing when he has had the chance to appeal his conviction in order to preserve jurors from potential prejudice, as determined by a January 3-2 decision [JURIST report] by the Ontario Court of Appeal finding that the Canadian criminal statute [text] allowing defendants to request a media blackout is applicable in this instance because he was still a minor when arrested in 2006.

The 21-year-old's conviction was the first under Section 83 [Department of Justice Canada backgrounder] of the Anti-Terrorism Act [text], passed in late 2001. The law allows the Canadian federal government, subject to judicial approval, to arrest and jail citizens to prevent terrorism. Although little information was released about the minors arrested among the Toronto 18, the charges eventually laid against the 12 adult males included participating in a terrorist group, receiving training from a terrorist group, training terrorists, and importing weapons and ammunition for terrorism.






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DC Circuit affirm rulings against deceptive tobacco marketing
Christian Ehret on May 22, 2009 3:21 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] on Friday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a district court ruling [JURIST report] that tobacco manufacturers conducted a scheme to deceive American consumers as to the health effects of their products through a pattern of mail and wire fraud. The US brought the initial action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [18 USC § 1961–1968] which criminalizes the conduction or participation in the affairs of an enterprise that affects interstate or foreign commerce through a pattern of racketeering activity. The affirmed ruling will require tobacco manufacturers to issue public statements to correct messages it had put out which denied the health hazards of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking, the dangers of second-hand smoke and the manufacturers' manipulation of cigarette design to ensure optimum nicotine delivery. The companies will also be required to cease using any express or implied health terminology such as "light" or "low tar." While the appellate court affirmed many of the district court's remedial injunctions, they rejected a remedy that would require tobacco manufacturers to effectively force retailers to display large freestanding displays to convey the corrective messages, reasoning that the district court did not consider the rights of innocent persons as required [18 USC § 1964] by RICO. The court refused to order the manufacturers to forfeit profits gained as a result of past deception.

In April, the US House of Representatives [official website] passed [JURIST report] the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [HR 1256 text] which would give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] the authority to regulate the market for tobacco products. In March, the Supreme Court dismissed a writ of certiorari [JURIST report] in Philip Morris USA v. Williams [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. In November, Saudi Arabia renewed a $34 billion suit against tobacco companies [JURIST report].






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Rwandan Hutu first to be convicted under Canada war crimes act
Ingrid Burke on May 22, 2009 2:39 PM ET

[JURIST] Rwandan Hutu Desire Munyaneza [Trial Watch profile] was convicted [judgment, DOC] by the Superior Court of Quebec [official website] Friday on seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes under Canada's new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF]. Munyaneza is the first person to have been charged under the act, which Canada ratified in 2000 in order to fulfill its obligations to the International Criminal Court [ICC] (official website). The court's decision heavily emphasized the nation's obligation as a signatory to the Rome Statute [text, PDF] of the ICC to prosecute crimes against humanity when they would otherwise go unprosecuted. The decision also focused heavily on the macabre nature of the crimes committed:

Desire Munyaneza specifically intended to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare and in the surrounding communes. To that end, he intentionally killed Tutsi, seriously wounded others, caused them serious physical and mental harm, sexually assaulted many Tutsi women and generally treated Tutsi inhumanely and degradingly.
Munyaneza moved to Toronto in 1997. Upon his arrival, he sought refugee status in Canada due to his belief that persecution at the hands of Rwanda's Tutsis would be certain were he to return to Rwanda. His request for refugee status was denied due to his suspected involvement in the 1994 genocide [HRW report] in Rwanda. He was initially charged [JURIST report] under the war crimes act in October 2005. The trial, which was briefly postponed [JURIST report] after Munyaneza was beaten by a fellow inmate in prison, lasted two years and spanned multiple nations.





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South Korea high court upholds right to die
Christian Ehret on May 22, 2009 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The South Korean Supreme Court [official website, in Korean] on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling allowing a brain-damaged patient the right to die [JURIST news archive]. The patient, a 76-year old woman on life-support at a Yonsei University medical center [hospital website], is brain-dead [Hankyora report] and unable to survive without the use of a respirator. Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon reasoned that, since revival of the patient is impossible and death is imminent without a respirator, extending life-support could impose on the dignity of her life. The judge held that, for future cases, doctors should make efforts to confirm patients' wishes to die with dignity and that such determinations can be deduced from an analysis of different factors. Korean Minister of Health Jeon Jae-hee [official profile] spoke out against the ruling, claiming that legalization of the right to die should be passed as a law complete with public hearings. Medical professionals have supported the ruling but also expressed a desire to see it backed up by legislation.

The Supreme Court appeal was brought by the Yonsei Severance Hospital after an appellate court in February ruled [JURIST report] in favor of the patient's family. Several courts and governments have recently approached the legal issues surrounding the removal of life support, food and treatment from persons in a persistent vegetative state. Also in February, Italian lawmakers indicated that they would proceed with a vote on right-to-die legislation despite the death of comatose patient Eluana Englaro [JURIST reports] after the removal of her feeding tube. In November, the Mexican Senate approved a law [JURIST report] that would allow terminally ill patients to refuse medical treatment. In 2005, the Terri Schiavo case [JURIST report] highlighted similar issues in the US.






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Federal jury sentences ex-US soldier to life in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
Christian Ehret on May 22, 2009 12:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Former US soldier Steven Green [JURIST news archive] was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenage girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in Mahmudiya. A federal jury in the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website], which convicted [JURIST report] Green earlier this month, was instructed [proposed jury instructions, PDF] to decide "whether justice requires imposition of the death penalty or life imprisonment without any possibility of release." The jurors deliberated [AP report] over the sentencing for two days and could not reach a unanimous decision. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty [JURIST report], but Green's defense maintained that he did not deserve capital punishment due to the highly stressful combat situation he was in and a lack of sufficient leadership. The jury had to consider both aggravating and mitigating factors [18 USC § 3592] in contemplation of the death penalty.

Green faced a civilian jury due to being discharged for a psychiatric disorder before the charges were brought. He was one of six soldiers [JURIST report] charged with involvement in the rape and murders. Three other soldiers pleaded guilty in court-martial proceedings and a fourth was convicted. Spc. James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez were sentenced to 90 and 100 years respectively, while Pfc. Bryan L. Howard [JURIST reports], who stayed at the checkpoint and had prior knowledge of the plans, was sentenced to 27 months in jail. The fourth, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman [JURIST report], was convicted by a military jury and sentenced to 110 years. Prosecutors dropped charges of dereliction of duty against the sixth member, Sgt. Anthony Yribe, who was other than honorably discharged.






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Spain judge reinstates charges against US soldiers for journalist's death in Iraq
Ingrid Burke on May 22, 2009 12:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Spanish National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz Gomez [JURIST news archive] reinstated charges [indictment, PDF, in Spanish] Thursday against three US soldiers for their involvement in the death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso [advocacy website, in Spanish], which occurred when the soldiers opened fire on a Baghdad hotel frequented by Western journalists in 2003, allegedly without provocation. The homicide charges initially filed against Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp [Trial Watch profiles] were dropped in 2007 due to a lack of evidence sufficient to prove that shots taken by the soldiers were unprovoked. According to Gomez, the testimony of three journalists provided evidence sufficient to support the initial homicide allegations. Gomez emphasized the journalists' assertion that the morning on which the attack occurred had been relatively calm and that prior to the US soldiers' attack on the hotel, there had been 45 minutes without any such disturbances. Testimony detailing the morning's calmness, evidenced by the fact that Couso was standing at the hotel's window when he was killed, stands in direct contrast to the US soldiers' previously claimed justification of self defense.

Gomez initiated investigations [JURIST report] into the incident in June 2005. In October of that year, he ordered [text, in Spanish; JURIST report] the soldiers' arrest. The order was reversed by a panel of judges for the National Court in 2006. This reversal was then overturned by Spain's Supreme Court, resulting in arrest warrants being reissued [JURIST report] in January 2007. The soldiers were indicted [JURIST report] in April of that year, but charges were soon dropped due to a lack of evidence.






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Bolivia Senate to hold impeachment trial for high court chief justice
Ingrid Burke on May 22, 2009 10:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The Bolivian Senate [official website, in Spanish] announced Thursday that an impeachment trial for Chief Justice Dr. Eddy Walter Fernandez Gutierrez [official profile, in Spanish] of the Bolivian Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] will be held on June 3. The Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish], Bolivia's lower congressional house, impeached Fernandez and suspended his title earlier this month after convicting him on the charge of "retardation of justice" [Los Tiempos report, in Spanish]. Fernandez denounced his impeachment as a politically motivated endeavor to clear room in the Supreme Court for a justice more likely to represent the interests of Bolivian president and leader of the Socialist Movement (MAS) [party website, in Spanish] party Evo Morales [official profile, in Spanish; JURIST news archive].

The "retardation of justice" charge was attributed to public discontent [Los Tiempos report, in Spanish] over Fernandez's refusal to hear a case against former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada [Trial Watch profile] arising from the "Black October" [AI Backgrounder] killings of 2003. Five days after Fernandez's title was suspended, the Supreme Court announced their intention to try Lozada [JURIST report]. The riots leading up to the Black October killings occurred when military forces clashed with indigenous farmers, coca growers, students, and unionists who protested Sanchez de Lozada's attempts to open up the country to free trade with the US and to export gas and other natural resources. The protests were led by Morales.






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Cheney defends Bush-era interrogation policies as lawful and necessary
Christian Ehret on May 22, 2009 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US vice president Dick Cheney [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday defended national security policies [speech transcript] of the Bush administration. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) [organization website], Cheney criticized many of the security policies of President Barack Obama [official profile] and described how the 9/11 terrorist attacks affected subsequent decisions to defend the country. Maintaining that accurate intelligence is necessary to any strategy, Cheney defended the use of force to obtain timely information as being granted by Article II [text] of the US Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force [text]. The former vice president discussed the highly contested enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive] used on suspected terrorists, stating that such techniques were the only way to obtain information necessary to the safety of the country and that he remains a "strong proponent" of the practice. He maintained that the use of the controversial interrogations "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people." Shifting his focus to the current administration's handling of Bush-era policies, Cheney criticized the recent release of interrogation documents [JURIST report], stating that:

when ... the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.
Additionally, Cheney expressed dismay at the possible prosecution [JURIST news archive] of those who approved the techniques, criticizing the criminalization of a previous administration's policies. He also said that the attention directed at the interrogations will only distract from the government's duty to protect the country and that banning such techniques in the future is a matter of "recklessness cloaked in righteousness." Cheney went on to discuss the planned closing [JURIST news archive] of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, saying that the decision came with little deliberation and expressing concern for releasing the detainees into the US for trial and imprisonment.

Also Thursday, Obama delivered a national security speech [transcript; JURIST report] in which he reaffirmed his commitment to closing Guantanamo Bay and his plans to try the detainees in US federal courts. Obama also addressed growing concerns about accepting detainees from the detention facility into the US, stating that federal super-max prisons are sufficiently secure. Cheney and Obama's speeches came a day after the US Senate passed an amendment [JURIST report] eliminating $80 million intended to be used for the closure of Guantanamo until the president provides a "comprehensive, responsible plan" to do so. In April, Obama said that the memos that Cheney and others have urged him to release [Washington Post report], to show the results of enhanced interrogation techniques, do not prove [JURIST report] that the American people are any safer.





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France Internet piracy law faces constitutional challenge
Christian Ehret on May 22, 2009 8:18 AM ET

[JURIST] A French Internet piracy law [text, in French; JURIST news archive] has been challenged on constitutional grounds by the opposition Socialist party [party website, in French] in front of the Constitutional Council [official website, in French]. The bill, introduced by cultural minister Christine Albanel and supported by President Nicholas Sarkozy [official websites, in French], is aimed at reducing illegal downloads of protected works and was approved by the French Senate [France 24 report] earlier this month by a 189-14 vote. The bill proposes an escalating series of responses for users that are caught, beginning with two warnings followed by suspension of Internet access. The suspension of services would be at the discretion of the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet [materials, in French], an administrative authority bestowed with judicial power, which is one of the stipulations contested by the Socialists and others. Internet subscribers could also be held responsible for others using their connections to download pirated materials. The Socialists maintain that the bill fails to find the balance [press release, in French] between the rights of Internet users and those of copyright holders and argue [presentation, PDF, in French] that freedom to access the Internet is a fundamental principle that should be guaranteed for everyone, only to be limited by the courts. The council has one month to issue a ruling on the challenge, filed Tuesday. If the law is found to be constitutional, it could take effect shortly after that.

The controversial bill was defeated [JURIST report] last month by the National Assembly [official website, in French] but was later approved [JURIST report]. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [organization website], representing the worldwide recording industry, has welcomed the legislation [press release], while it has been opposed [press release, in French] by French consumer interest group UFC-Que Choisir [advocacy website, in French] as well as cable and internet providers [French 24 report]. The assembly began considering the bill [JURIST report] in March after it passed through the French senate in October 2008.






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Taiwan ex-president Chen dismisses lawyers to protest prosecution
Matt Glenn on May 22, 2009 7:26 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] dismissed his defense lawyers Thursday and announced he would not call any witnesses in protest of what he sees as a politically motivated prosecution [Taipei Times report]. Chen, who was indicted [JURIST report] in December, faces possible life in prison on charges of embezzlement, receiving bribes, forgery, and money laundering. Chen and his former lawyers claim that the decision to keep Chen in detention while he awaited trial was politically motivated and they argue that the government violated [China Post report] Chen's human rights by giving him substandard medical attention while detained. Chen has long argued that current Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou [official website; JURIST news archive] is using Chen's trial to distance himself from Chen's anti-China views. The judge assigned Chen a public defender [AFP report], but Chen has said he will not discuss the case with the public defender. Chen will remain in detention for at least two more months.

Chen called the proceedings against him "political persecution" when his trial began [JURIST report] in March. Chen has staged three hunger strikes [JURIST report] in protest of the charges against him, and in January he unsuccessfully appealed [JURIST report] his pretrial detention. In February, Chen's wife, Wu Shu-Chen, pleaded guilty to charges [JURIST reports] of money-laundering and forgery, but denied charges that she embezzled from the presidential state affairs fund. Chen's sister-in-law has also pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges that she had forged documents and transferred money to bank accounts upon orders from Chen and Wu. Chen has asserted that he was unaware of Wu's actions. In September 2008, Chen was cleared [JURIST report] of separate defamation charges.






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Myanmar authorities again close Suu Kyi trial
Andrew Morgan on May 21, 2009 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in Myanmar on Thursday closed the trial of pro-democracy advocate and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] after briefly opening it to 30 foreign diplomats [JURIST report] Wednesday. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon [official website] said Wednesday that he plans to visit Myanmar "as soon as possible" to urge the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. In an interview with CNN [video], Ban said that he was "deeply concerned" about the detention of "an indispensable patron for reconsidering the dialogue in Myanmar." Suu Kyi went on trial [JURIST report] Monday for violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam across a lake [NYT report] to her home. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has condemned Myanmar's actions, calling the charges "trumped up" [HRW report] and seeking international support for her release.

Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. In 2007, the military government had implied that she might be released [JURIST report] after the country's new constitution was approved. In May 2008, the junta announced that Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] had been overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report], but the ruling junta at the same time extended Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year [JURIST report].






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US embassy bombing suspect to be tried in federal court
Christian Ehret on May 21, 2009 2:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that accused bomber and Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani [GlobalSecurity profile] will be prosecuted in a US federal court for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder] in Kenya and Tanzania. The announcement follows the ordered review of all Guantanamo detainees pursuant to plans to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive]. Ghailani was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with several terrorism-related counts in March, 2008 under the Military Commissions Act [text, PDF]. Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] stressed the importance of prosecuting Ghailani, stating that doing so will:

ensure that he finally answers for his alleged role in the bombing of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. This administration is committed to keeping the American people safe and upholding the rule of law, and by closing Guantanamo and bringing terrorists housed there to justice we will make our nation stronger and safer.
President Barack Obama [official profile] said Thursday in a speech on national security [transcript; JURIST report] that preventing Ghailani from coming to the US would prevent his trial and conviction and that it is time to see that justice is served.

Ghailani was initially indicted in 1998 by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York and currently faces 286 different counts against him. He was captured in 2004 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006. In January, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] denied a request to rehear [JURIST report] a case against Wadih El-Hage [GlobalSecurity profiles], who was convicted for his involvement in the embassy bombings. In November, the Second Circuit upheld [JURIST report] the convictions of El Hage, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali [GlobalSecurity profiles] for their involvement in the bombings, holding that the US government did not violate their constitutional rights.





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Obama defends Guantanamo closure plan, urges commitment to rule of law
Andrew Morgan on May 21, 2009 1:33 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Thursday reaffirmed [speech transcript] his commitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility while upholding the rule of law by trying some detainees in federal courts and others in modified military commissions [JURIST news archives]. In a speech focusing on national security issues at the National Archives [official website], Obama said that Guantanamo detainees who are charged with violating American criminal law should be tried in federal courts "whenever feasible." Citing the terrorism convictions of Ramzi Yousef [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], Zacarias Moussaoui, and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri [JURIST news archives] in American courts, Obama said that "our courts and our juries, our citizens, are tough enough to convict terrorists." Detainees who are accused of violations of the laws of war would be better tried by military commissions, Obama said, after the commissions are brought "in line with the rule of law" by a series of bipartisan reforms [JURIST report]. Still other detainees would be transferred to other countries [JURIST report] for continued detention or released as ordered by US courts. Turning to what he called the "toughest single issue we will face," Obama proposed a detention system where those who cannot be tried, but nonetheless pose a "clear danger to the American people," could be detained without trial subject to judicial and congressional oversight:

Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture, like other prisoners of war, must prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. And that's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law.

We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. [There] must be fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.
Rejecting criticism that incarcerating Guantanamo detainees in American prisons would pose a threat to the public [JURIST report], Obama pointed out that "[n]obody has ever escaped from one of our federal super-max prisons which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists" and called "the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees ... not rational." Obama also addressed his recent decision not to disclose photographs of detainee abuse, saying that it was consistent with his April decision to release CIA interrogation memos [JURIST reports]. Obama said that the information in the memos was widely available to the public, while the photographs would "inflame anti-American opinion and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning, and inaccurate brush, thereby endangering them in theaters of war." Saying that he "had to strike the right balance between transparency and national security," Obama clarified that he would not "protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government."

Obama's speech comes a day after the US Senate passed an amendment [JURIST report] eliminating $80 million intended to be used for the closure of Guantanamo until the president provides a "comprehensive, responsible plan" to do so. In a March interview [CBS interview transcript] with 60 Minutes, Obama reiterated [JURIST report] his position that US policies governing the detention and interrogation of Guantanamo detainees should comport with due process and international law requirements. In January, Obama issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] directing the military prison be closed "as soon as practicable and no later than one year from the date of this order."





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New Hampshire House rejects amended same-sex marriage bill
Christian Ehret on May 21, 2009 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] The New Hampshire House of Representatives [official website] on Wednesday rejected a same-sex marriage bill [text] after it was amended [text] at the request [JURIST report] of Governor John Lynch [official website]. The bill was defeated by a 186-188 vote [roll call vote] after a religious liberty protection clause was added to gain Lynch's approval. The amended bill, which specified that religious groups will not be required to perform or recognize the unions, was approved by the Senate [docket text] by a 14-10 vote earlier Wednesday. Representative Steve Vaillancourt (R) [official profile], a supporter of same-sex marriage, voted against the religious liberty amendment on the principle that the House should not be "bullied" [Reuters report] by the governor. Lynch has previously opposed same-sex marriage in the state, saying that the New Hampshire civil union law [JURIST report] passed in 2007 provides the same legal protections for same-sex couples.

The previous version of the bill was approved by the House [JURIST report] by a 186-179 vote in March. Recently, the New York State Assembly [official website] passed a bill [JURIST report] that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the state. That bill will now go before the state senate. Earlier this month, Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage [JURIST report] when Governor John Baldacci [official website] signed a same-sex marriage bill into law. Last month, Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports] as the other states that allow same-sex marriage.






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Italy CIA rendition trial to continue despite excluded evidence
Christian Ehret on May 21, 2009 11:52 AM ET

[JURIST] An Italian judge ruled Wednesday that the trial of 26 Americans and seven Italians [JURIST news archive] involving the 2003 abduction of Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr by the CIA will proceed despite excluded evidence. Judge Oscar Magi of the Fourth Chamber of the Court of Milan [official website, in Italian] determined that the case will continue despite a ruling [Reuters report] by Italy's Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] that excluded certain evidence on the grounds of national security [JURIST report]. The excluded evidence includes defense witnesses [AP report] Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian] and former prime minister Romano Prodi as well as prosecutorial evidence [Repubblica report, in Italian] stemming from the classified identities of members of Italy's Military Intelligence and Security Service [official website, in Italian] and their relation to the CIA. The exclusion of the evidence was described by defense lawyers as a fatal blow for the prosecution.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives, then allegedly transferred to Egypt and tortured by Egypt's State Security Intelligence before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. The trial has been delayed many times throughout its course. In December, Magi delayed the trial for three months [JURIST report] after the government said the testimony could compromise Italy’s national security.






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Obama signs financial fraud legislation to create investigatory commission
Christian Ehret on May 21, 2009 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Wednesday signed into law [press release] the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act [S 386 materials], which aims at expanding the federal government's authority to prosecute acts of financial fraud. Obama said [press release] that the legislation would "ensure that the problems that led us into this [economic] crisis never happen again." The bill, approved by the House of Representatives on Monday [JURIST report], seeks to improve the enforcement of fraud resulting from mortgages, securities and commodities, financial institutions, and federal assistance and relief programs and to recover funds lost to such fraudulent activities. The bill establishes a "financial crisis inquiry commission" made up of 10 people with subpoena power appointed by both the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House. The commission will examine "the causes of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States," as well as "the causes of the collapse of each major financial institution that failed." The Act requires "any department, agency, bureau, board, commission, office, independent establishment, or instrumentality of the United States" to give the commission any information related to their inquiries, including confidential information. Obama also approved the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act [S 896 materials] on Wednesday, a legislative attempt at stabilizing and reforming US financial and housing markets.

In April, the House approved a bill [HR 1664 materials, JURIST report] which allows the Treasury Department to ban certain types of compensation at companies which receive federal bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In March, the House passed a bill [HR 1586 materials, JURIST report] that would tax bonuses given to employees of companies that received money from government stimulus programs at 90 percent. The bill was drafted and voted on in reaction to large bonus payments made to employees of American International Group (AIG) [corporate website]. Attempts to gain control over the disrupted credit markets and possible widespread bank insolvencies have included the passage in September of a $700 billion financial rescue bill [JURIST report], creating the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which provided economic assistance to at-risk financial institutions.






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Slovakia Constitutional Court finds anti-corruption court unconstitutional
Andrew Morgan on May 21, 2009 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Slovakia [official website] ruled [press release, PDF, in Slovak] Wednesday that the Special Court, established to try corruption and organized crime cases, violates the Slovak Constitution [text, PDF]. The Constitutional Court found that the ability of the National Security Authority (NBU) [official website] to revoke the security clearances of Special Court judges without clear rules rendered the Special Court insufficiently independent of the executive branch, violating the constitution's separation of powers principle. While effectively dissolving the Special Court, the Constitutional Court said that the tribunal's past rulings would remain in effect, including several high profile public corruption and organized crime convictions. The Constitutional Court also found that the compensation paid to Special Court justices was excessive, a major point of contention among the 46 members of parliament who brought the suit. Justice Minister Stefan Harabin [official profile], who has opposed the court since its inception, welcomed [Slovak Spectator report] Wednesday's decision. Prime Minister Robert Fico [official profile, in Slovak] said in a press conference [SITA report, in Slovak] that the decision was "unpleasant for us because we will have a lot of work to [do]," but emphasized that he will respect the decision of the Constitutional Court.

Public corruption and organized crime have been a consistent concern in European Union (EU) member and candidate countries Eastern Europe. In January, European Commission (EC) [official website] President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] said that Romania needed to show more results [JURIST report] in its fight against corruption. The EC has express similar concerns [EC report] about Bulgaria, who ascended to the EU at the same time as Romania. Albania's accession to the EU has been hindered by concerns over corruption and the influence of organized crime, such as the February shooting [JURIST report] of an Albanian Supreme Court [official website] judge outside of his home.






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Obama issues preemption directive limiting Bush regulatory overrides of states
Christian Ehret on May 21, 2009 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Wednesday directed [memorandum] heads of executive departments and agencies that a sufficient legal basis is required to preempt state laws and that any legitimate state prerogatives should be fully considered, marking a departure from Bush administration policy. The memo directs against the inclusion of preemption provisions in federal regulations except where they would be justified under legal principles of federalism such as those listed in Executive Order 13132 [text, PDF]. The memo also directs heads of executive departments and agencies to review regulations issued in the past 10 years that attempt to preempt state law to determine if such preemption is justified and, if it is not, to take remedial actions which may include amending the regulations. The policy is a change from the Bush administration's use of federal regulations to undercut state protections [AP report] of health, safety, and the environment. Obama maintained that while the federal government's role in regulation is critical, state and local governments have frequently protected general welfare and individual liberties more aggressively and that:

Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our Federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values.
The American Association for Justice [advocacy group] applauded the memo [press release], stating that the policy allows the rule of law to "once again prevail over the rule of politics."

Preemption of state law occurs when federal law conflicts or is inconsistent with existing state law. The Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution [Article VI, text; LII backgrounder] states that federal law "shall be the supreme Law of the Land." In March, the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that drug labeling requirements under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) [text] did not preempt state products liability laws. In December, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act [text] did not preempt state law claims based on allegedly deceptive cigarette advertising.





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Canadian held in US pleads guilty to supporting al Qaeda
Andrew Morgan on May 21, 2009 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] A Canadian man pleaded guilty [press release] Wednesday to one count of conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] before a federal court. Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, a Canadian citizen of Somali descent, was charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support [18 USC § 2339B] to al Qaeda, one count of providing material support to al Qaeda, and three counts of making false statements to the FBI. As part of a plea agreement, the government agreed to drop the remaining charges in exchange for Warsame's admission of guilt, which carries a statutory minimum sentence of 15 years. The charges stem from his attendance of an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000, and his continued involvement with al Qaeda operatives through 2003 after his relocation to Canada and Minneapolis. Warsame has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest and indictment [JURIST report] in 2004.

Warsame is the latest terrorism suspect to plead guilty in US federal courts. Earlier this month, al Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri [NYT profile; JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to an identical conspiracy charge. Al-Marri was charged [JURIST report] in February, after President Barack Obama issued an executive order [press release; JURIST report] directing a review of his case. Also in February, US citizen Christopher Paul was sentenced [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison for conspiring with other al Qaeda members to use a weapon of mass destruction to bomb European tourist sites and US military and government facilities oversea. Two other men connected to Paul, Iyman Faris [Global Security profile] and Nuradin Abdi, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related conspiracy charges in 2003 and 2007 [JURIST reports], respectively.






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FBI director says releasing Guantanamo detainees into US could harm national security
Devin Montgomery on May 21, 2009 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] FBI Director Robert Mueller [official profile; JURIST news archive] told the US House Judiciary Committee [hearing schedule] Wednesday that the transfer of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] detainees to the US could pose a threat to national security, even if they remain in maximum security facilities. He said that they could either participate in terrorist activities [AP report] directly or finance or organize others to do so, even from prison. Mueller also testified that changes the agency has made since 2001 have made it better prepared to address national security [opening statement, PDF] and other concerns. He said that the agency's top three priorities are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber security, but that they are also focused on financial and other domestic and international crimes. Mueller said that to address these issues, the agency has changed the way it collects and shares intelligence, has employed new technologies, and has improved the way in which it uses agents:

the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [has] undergone unprecedented transformation in recent years, from developing the intelligence capabilities necessary to address emerging terrorist and criminal threats, to creating the administrative and technological structure necessary to meet our new mission as a national security service.

Today, the FBI is a stronger organization, combining greater intelligence capabilities with a longstanding commitment to protecting the American people from criminal threats. We are also mindful that our mission is not just to safeguard American lives, but also to safeguard American liberties.
The two areas in which the FBI has drawn the most attention recently are in its counterterrorism and financial fraud prevention efforts. Earlier this month, a Department of Justice report [text, PDF] concluded that the FBI was failing to maintain [JURIST report] an accurate terrorist watchlist. In September 2008, the agency defended broader investigation guidelines, which had been criticized [JURIST reports] as allowing ethnic profiling and the violation of civil liberties. In March, Mueller admitted that an increase in financial fraud investigations had drawn resources away [JURIST report] from other investigations, after FBI Deputy Director John Pistole [official profile] said in February that the financial fraud investigations were taking an increasingly important role [JURIST report] at the agency.





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House passes Senate version of credit card holders' 'bill of rights'
Brian Jackson on May 21, 2009 7:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Wednesday voted 361-64 [roll call] to pass the Senate version of the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights [text, PDF]. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) [official website] called the bill historic, and a stern rebuke to credit card companies that, "have unfairly profited at the expense of responsible, hardworking Americans who pay their bills on time, and manage their household finances sensibly. The bill passed the Senate 90-5 [JURIST report] on Tuesday. American Bankers Association [official website] President Edward Yingling called the Senate version of the bill a device that may shrink the availability of credit for consumers [press release]. It is believed that President Obama will sign the bill before Memorial Day.

The House also passed a controversial amendment [roll call] to the bill introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) [official website] that would allow visitors to National Parks to carry firearms [press release]. While the NRA applauded the amendment's bi-partisan passage [press release], Speaker Pelosi condemned the Senate for wasting time, offering, "unrelated amendments that undermine our nation’s gun safety laws."






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UN rights investigator to continue Gaza Strip mission despite Israel objections
Devin Montgomery on May 21, 2009 6:03 AM ET

[JURIST] UN rights investigator Richard Goldman [appointment release; JURIST report] said Wednesday that his fact-finding mission into possible human rights violations during the recent Gaza Strip conflict [JURIST news archive] will continue despite objections by Israel. Goldman said that he plans to travel to the region in June and will hold public hearings to collect testimony about the alleged abuses. He also said that he hopes to visit both Israel and the Palestinian Territory during the trip, but that Israel has not responded to a request to enter the country. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Wednesday that the country objects to the mission [AP report] because it was originally commissioned only to investigate those abuses allegedly committed against Palestinians during the conflict. Goldman has since broadened the scope to cover potential abuses on both sides, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] said Wednesday that he hopes both sides cooperate [UN News Centre report] with the investigation. Goldman is due to deliver a report on his findings to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] by August 4.

Israel originally said in April it would not comply with the investigation after criticizing its mandate [JURIST reports] earlier that month. The probe was a result of a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk [appointment release] that criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Both Israel and the US condemned [JURIST report] the report as biased.






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Myanmar opens Suu Kyi trial to journalists and diplomats
Andrew Morgan on May 20, 2009 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in Myanmar on Wednesday granted 39 foreign diplomats and journalists limited access to the trial of pro-democracy advocate and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Suu Kyi met briefly with representatives of Thailand, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); Russia, the current president of the UN Security Council [official websites]; and Singapore during the third day of her trial at Rangoon's Insein prison [BBC backgrounder]. British Ambassador to Myanmar Mark Canning [official profile], who did not meet privately with Suu Kyi, said in a BBC interview [transcript] that it was not clear whether Myanmar would continue to grant access to the trial:

this was billed as a concession and I think the view of it is it’s better to have access of the sort we had today than not to have it. But I don’t think anyone would be taken in by the fact that this does not change the fundamental realities of what is going on. But, that said it was good that we were allowed in. Whether ... there will be a repeat of that, I’m not so sure.
Suu Kyi went on trial [JURIST report] Monday for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American man who swam to her home [NYT report] to stay with her. On Monday, Suu Kyi's lawyer said [AP report] that the court had rejected a request to open the trial up to the media and the public for security reasons. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned Myanmar's actions, calling the charges "trumped up" [HRW report] and seeking international support for her release.

Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. In 2007, the military government had implied that she might be released [JURIST report] after the country's new constitution was approved. In May 2008, the junta announced that Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] had been overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report], but the ruling junta at the same time extended Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year [JURIST report].





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Spain congress urges limits to universal jurisdiction claims
Christian Ehret on May 20, 2009 2:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Spain's Congress of Deputies [official website], the lower house of the Spanish parliament, passed a non-binding resolution Tuesday aimed at limiting the exercise of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder] over foreign nations in Spanish courts to those cases in which there is no current domestic investigation underway and where there exists a clear connection to Spain. The requisite connection to the country would include cases against Spanish citizens or people physically in Spain or cases involving Spanish victims. The call for such a limit reflects pressure from some foreign governments [Reuters report] including Israel and the US whose officials have been targeted by Spanish investigations. The resolution was originally proposed by the opposition Popular Party (PP) but is also supported by the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) [party websites, in Spanish] and is likely to result in legislation [NYT report]. Human rights groups have spoken out against the resolution [AFP report], maintaining that this will only result in more impunity.

Universal jurisdiction gives Spain jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism and war crimes if the case is not subject to the legal system of the country involved. Earlier this month, a Spanish judge said that he would ask the US [JURIST report] about possible plans to prosecute six former US government lawyers for their alleged contributions to acts of torture at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] before deciding whether to proceed with his own investigation. The judge had taken the case over [JURIST report] from Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who opened an additional investigation into alleged torture in Guantanamo based on complaints by four former detainees. Another Spanish judge recently ordered investigations to continue [JURIST report] into alleged crimes against humanity committed in a 2002 Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip that implicates former Israeli defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer [official profile] and six soldiers. Israel responded [text, PDF] to the Spanish investigation, claiming that it was fully capable of conducting its own investigations into alleged violations of national and international law. The Spanish courts previously invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction to indict former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive].






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Military judge grants government motion to delay Guantanamo case
Christian Ehret on May 20, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge on Tuesday granted a government motion to postpone hearings [ruling, PDF] for Saudi Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi [DOD materials]. Chief judge for military commissions Colonel James Pohl granted the government's motion for a continuance until September 24, 2009, reasoning that such a delay will permit the government to implement changes, complete the Detention Policy Review, and finish reviewing individual cases in a way that will serve the interests of justice. The delayed hearing was originally scheduled for May 27, following a previously granted continuance [ruling, PDF] in February. The hearing will address al-Darbi's claims that statements he made while detained were elicited through torture and therefore should be excluded from the case against him. The hearing would be the first to be held since US President Barack Obama [official profile] suspended the commission system in January. Obama announced last week that he was reviving the military commission system [JURIST report] with some procedural changes to afford defendants more rights.

Earlier this month, Pohl rejected a motion [JURIST report] for continuance brought by al-Darbi's lawyers, stating that the defense had been given enough time to prepare and that the hearing was necessary in order for al-Darbi's trial to begin. Al-Darbi is the brother-in-law of Khalid al Mihdhar, one of the September 11 hijackers who crashed a jet into the Pentagon. In March 2008, the US Department of Defense confirmed [press release; JURIST report] that al-Darbi had been charged [JURIST report] for his alleged role in a plan to bomb a ship off the coast of Yemen or in the Strait of Hormuz. He is accused of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism under Sections 950v(b)(28) and (25) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF]. Al-Darbi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and has attempted to boycott his trial [JURIST report].






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Senate passes amendment delaying Guantanamo closure funds
Andrew Morgan on May 20, 2009 12:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Members of the US Senate [official website] on Tuesday voted 90-6 [roll call] to approve an amendment [S AMDT 1133 materials] eliminating $80 million from pending legislation intended to fund the closure of the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention facility. Introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) [official websites] and co-sponsored by five Republican senators, the measure prohibits using any funding provided by the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 [HR 2346 materials] to "transfer, relocate, or incarcerate Guantanamo Bay detainees to or within the United States." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said during a press conference [transcript] that release of the funding would depend on the availability of a detailed plan from President Barack Obama [official profile], and does not need to be considered with the supplemental appropriations bill:

This is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] introduced a separate amendment [S AMDT 1136 materials] which would require Obama to submit periodic reports to Senate leaders providing a "threat assessment" of all detainees then held at Guantanamo Bay. McConnell has been criticized [JURIST report] Obama's plan to close the detention facility, saying that the administration "doesn't know what to do with" the 240 detainees currently being held there. A cloture vote on the appropriations bill is expected by Thursday.

In January, Obama issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] directing the military prison be closed "as soon as practicable and no later than one year from the date of this order." Last month, top US officials met with European counterparts to discuss the transfer [JURIST report] of many of the detainees to other countries before the facility closes. The European Parliament called on its member countries to accept [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees, and Lithunia, Ireland, Germany, and Portugal [JURIST reports] have expressed willingness to accept them.





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Turkish government urged to make judicial reforms for EU accession
Christian Ehret on May 20, 2009 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] A council for the European Union (EU) [official website] on Tuesday said that Turkey should do more [press release, PDF] in terms of judicial reform, protection of citizens' rights, and various other efforts in order to further their request to be granted accession to the EU [criteria materials]. The 47th meeting of the EC-Turkey Association Council was held in Brussels on Tuesday to review relations between Turkey and the EU. The EU acknowledged the Turkish government's progress and commitment to reaching the accession requirements but maintained that reforms and substantial efforts are still needed in the areas of:

judicial reform, anti-corruption strategy, effective protection of citizens' rights, full implementation of the policy of zero tolerance of torture and ill-treatment, ensuring freedom of expression and of religion in law and in practice for all religious communities, respect for property rights, respect for and protection of minorities and strengthening of cultural rights, women's rights, children's rights and trade union rights, and the civilian authorities' control of the military.
The EU expressed hope that Turkey would increase its efforts to implement the reforms and measures required for accession.

Earlier this month, secular judges in Turkey warned [JURIST report] the ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] that proposed constitutional amendments were going too far in promoting an Islamic agenda. Constitutional reforms are an issue for Turkey's accession to the EU since its constitution was written under military rule and limits freedom of expression and religion. Earlier this year, a report [text, PDF, in Turkish] by advocacy group Tesev [advocacy website] argued that Turkish property rights still fell short [JURIST report] of those required to join the EU. Last year, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso [official profile] addressed the Turkish parliament [JURIST report] to applaud the government's efforts to reform a controversial provision of the Turkish penal code [JURIST report] but stressed that further efforts would be necessary.





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Federal judge dismisses Iraq war legality lawsuit
Andrew Morgan on May 20, 2009 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court of New Jersey [official website] dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit Tuesday brought by the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at the Rutgers School of Law [academic website] alleging that former president George W. Bush [official profile] violated Congress's constitutional power [Article I § 8 text] to declare war by initiating a preemptive war against the nation of Iraq. Granting the government's motion to dismiss the suit for lack of jurisdiction, Judge Jose Linares found that the issue should be resolved by the government's political branches:

Rather than leaving to Congress the issue of whether to declare war and thereby invoke various corresponding obligations, Plaintiff's would have this Court second-guess Congress's decision to authorize something short of "war." This is plainly not the judiciary's role. ... Congress is fully-equipped to analyze the treaties, policy considerations, and accompanying obligations that would follow from a declaration of war and to choose a separate path accordingly. The fact that the United States is engaged in military action absent a declaration of war does not automatically invite the judiciary's analysis as to whether that action is "constitutionally sanctioned."
Linares also found that the plaintiffs, New Jersey Peace Action [advocacy website] and three private citizens, did not have standing under Article III [text] of the Constitution to challenge the validity of the invasion of Iraq.

The suit was filed [JURIST report] last May, seeking a declaratory judgment of the war's illegality. In July, the National War Powers Consortium [official website], a group headed by former secretaries of state James Baker and Warren Christopher [group profiles], released a report calling for a new law [JURIST report] requiring the president to consult with Congress before going to war. In April 2008, the Law Lords, Britain's highest court, denied a similar request [JURIST report] by two mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq for a public inquiry into the legality of UK's decision to go to war in Iraq.





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Democratic Party fundraiser convicted for campaign finance violations
Eszter Bardi on May 20, 2009 9:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Disgraced Democratic Party fundraiser Norman Hsu [JURIST news archive] was convicted Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on charges of violating the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) [text]. Hsu was accused of making illegal campaign contributions in other peoples' names in violation of the FECA. According to the indictment [text; JURIST report], Hsu also allegedly pressured clients to donate to his preferred democratic candidates and threatened to cut them off if they did not comply with his wishes. Sentencing was scheduled [Los Angeles Times report] for August 19.

In September 2007, New York prosecutors charged [JURIST report] Hsu with orchestrating a $60 million Ponzi scheme in connection with the same events. Hsu pleaded guilty [NYT report] to those fraud charges last week. 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, 2007. Hsu formerly raised funds for political candidates, including Sen. Hillary Clinton. Clinton agreed to return $850,000 she received from Hsu when news of the charges became public.






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Colombia senate approves referendum on extending presidential term limits
Andrew Morgan on May 20, 2009 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] The Colombian Senate [official website] on Tuesday approved [press release, in Spanish] a proposal to hold a referendum on amending the country's constitution [text, in Spanish] to allow for a third presidential term. Passed by a vote of 62-5, the measure would allow current two-term Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile; JURIST news archive] to seek a third presidential term in 2010, although a similar proposal passed [Colombia Reports report] in the House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] last year would require Uribe to postpone a third term until 2014. The two proposals must be reconciled in a conference committee and be approved by the Constitutional Court [official website] before the referendum can take place.

Uribe was elected to a second term in 2006 after a similar referendum, approved by Congress in December 2004 [NYT report] and the Constitutional Court in October 2005 [JURIST report], lifted the original one-term limit. Last June, the Colombian High Court [official backgrounder] ruled [AP report] that a legal inquiry should be held into the election after it found that a legislator had been bribed to help push through the constitutional changes. In response, Uribe called for a referendum [JURIST report] on the election.






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Federal judge rejects new government standard for Guantanamo reviews
Christian Ehret on May 20, 2009 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday on the limits of detaining terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] who are not actual members of terrorist groups under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) [text, PDF], rejecting the Obama administration's "substantial support" standard. The opinion rejected the government's argument that an individual who "substantially supports" a terrorist organization such as the "Taliban, al Qaeda or an associated force" but is not a member can be detained pursuant to the AUMF. The court also found that the government's detention authority does not extend to individuals who have only "directly supported hostilities," holding that such a detention power would be inconsistent with the law of war although evidence of such support could be used to determine whether an individual had "committed a belligerent act." Bates limited the scope of the government's detention authority over individuals who merely support terrorism groups, stating:

the Court rejects the concept of "substantial support" as an independent basis for detention. Likewise, the Court finds that "directly support[ing] hostilities" is not a proper basis for detention. In short, the Court can find no authority in domestic law or the law of war, nor can the government point to any, to justify the concept of "support" as a valid ground for detention.

Detention based on substantial or direct support of the Taliban, al Qaeda or associated forces, without more, is simply not warranted by domestic law or the law of war.
Bates said that, despite rejecting "substantial support" as an independent basis for detaining an individual, evidence of such support may be factored into a functional test to determine if an individual is part of a terrorist organization. If so, then the government will have the authority to detain that individual indefinitely.

The US Supreme Court [official website] acknowledged in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld [opinion, PDF] that the district courts would have to address and define the scope of the government's detention authority "as subsequent cases are presented to them." Other federal judges in the District of Columbia have upheld the "substantially supported" standard proposed by the Obama administration. Earlier this month, Judge Gladys Kessler applied the "substantially supported" standard [JURIST report] for reviewing habeas petitions filed by detainees, making no reference to the "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] classification used previously. Last month, Judge Reggie Walton adopted [JURIST report] the "substantially supported" standard for authorizing and reviewing detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo. Rights advocates had lobbied aggressively [JURIST comment] to move away from the "enemy combatant" classification, which was effectuated as part of the current administration's general review of US detention policies, put in motion by a series of executive orders [JURIST report] issued in late January.





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Israel high court orders state funding for non-Orthodox conversion classes
Brian Jackson on May 20, 2009 8:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli High Court of Justice [official website] on Tuesday ordered the government to fund non-Orthodox conversion institutions. The decision, handed down by a three-judge panel, breaks the monopoly [Jerusalem Post report] that Orthodox conversion institutions hold over public conversion funding. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism [advocacy website] applauded the decision [press release], with Associate Director Mark Pelavin saying is, "ends one of the longstanding manifestations of government discrimination against non-Orthodox Judaism." The Israeli Religious Action Center [advocacy website] also expressed hope [press release] that the verdict would, "lead to a change in government policy and put an end to the exclusion of the Reform movement by the State."

While Tuesday's decision allots equal funding for orthodox and non-Orthodox conversion institutes, non-Orthodox converts still face difficulties [ADL backgrounder] integrating into Israeli society. In Israel, Orthodox conversion is the officially recognized conversion of the government [official website], and it is believed that many non-Orthodox converts to Judaism are not recognized as Jewish by religious law [Haaretz report].






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Senate passes credit card holders' 'bill of rights'
Brian Jackson on May 20, 2009 7:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Tuesday voted 90-5 [roll call] to pass the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights [text, PDF]. Among the provisions included in the bill are restrictions on retroactive interest rate increases, a mandatory 45-day notice for all proposed interest rate increases, and a requirement that credit card companies mail a billing statement to the consumer 21 days before the bill due date. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) lauded [press release] the bill's passage, saying that the Senate, "stood up for consumers and stood up to abusive credit card companies." The House and Senate versions of the bill must be reconciled before the bill can be submitted to President Barack Obama.

It is expected that the president will quickly sign the bill, as credit card reform has been one of the administration's priorities since the presidential campaign [campaign website]. Last week, at a town hall meeting [transcript] in New Mexico, Obama called for, "strong, reliable protection for our consumers." The bill, sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) [official website], passed the House of Representatives in April, 357-70 [roll call].






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White House proposes tighter national vehicle emissions standards
Christian Ehret on May 19, 2009 1:48 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Tuesday announced plans [press release] for national fuel efficiency requirements. The policy is aimed at increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is projected to conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce emissions by an approximate 900 million metric tons. The estimated effect of the emissions reduction [press release] is equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal plants. The standards cover model years from 2012 to 2016 and, by 2016, will require an average 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg), surpassing Congress's previous goal of reaching 35 mpg by 2020. Obama addressed consumer fears [press release] of higher automobile costs by stating that, over the life of a vehicle, an average driver would save about $2,800 in fuel costs. Automakers have backed [AP report] Obama's plan since they would not have to face multiple emission requirements in the future and would have more certainty in developing new vehicles. CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers [trade website] Dave McCurdy applauded the president [press release] for bringing automotive manufacturers and environmental groups together and stressed the importance of a national policy in avoiding conflicting standards from different regulatory agencies. Obama addressed the importance of the policy, stating that it:

represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.
Obama said that by using less oil, producing less pollution and creating new jobs, his policy will help the economy run more efficiently.

The new policy addresses the growing concern of inconsistent emission standards developing across the states. California has been attempting to obtain EPA permission [materials] to set its own vehicle emissions standards. The request was initially denied [text] in March 2008 on the grounds that the regulations were aimed at addressing global climate change and that the Clean Air Act "intended to allow California to promulgate state standards" to "address pollution problems that are local or regional." The EPA reconsidered [JURIST report] California's request earlier this year after being directed [memorandum; JURIST report] by Obama to do so. In May 2008, a report by the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that the Bush White House had influenced the March 2008 decision and that the administration later refused to turn over requested documents [JURIST reports] concerning the decision to the committee, citing executive privilege. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia seek to adopt standards similar to California's. The Clean Air Act provisions on state standards [text] prohibits states from "adopt[ing] or attempt[ing] to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines" without first obtaining a waiver.





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Bolivia ex-president goes on trial in absentia on genocide charges
Andrew Morgan on May 19, 2009 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Bolivian Supreme Court of Justice [official website, in Spanish] on Monday opened the trial of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada [TrialWatch profile] in connection with the deaths of 63 anti-government protesters [AI backgrounder] in October 2003. Sanchez de Lozada and 17 other former government officials face genocide charges related to incident, for which he faces 30 years in prison if convicted. Nine of the defendants were tried in absentia, including Sanchez de Lozada, who fled to the US after resigning from office in 2003. The Court issued arrest warrants [Latin American Herald Tribune report] for the missing defendants after declaring them to be in contempt of court. In November, Bolivian officials requested extradition [JURIST report] of Sanchez de Lozada and two other defendants from the US to face trial under a 1995 extradition treaty [text, PDF].

The 2003 riots [BBC report] occurred when military forces clashed with predominantly indigenous farmers, coca growers, students, and unionists who protested Sanchez de Lozada's attempts to open up the country to free trade with the US and to export gas and other natural resources. The protests were led by his former political rival and current Bolivian President Evo Morales [official profile; JURIST news archive].






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DC Circuit rules White House not required to release e-mail records
Andrew Morgan on May 19, 2009 11:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the White House Office of Administration (OA) is not required to release Bush administration e-mails under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text]. A three-judge panel found that since OA is not an "agency" within the meaning of FOIA, it is not obligated to respond to FOIA requests, including those filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archives (NSA) [advocacy websites] seeking information regarding missing Bush administration emails. Relying on judicial interpretations of the 1974 amendments to FOIA, the court concluded that OA, "provided to the President only operational and administrative support. Where that is the purpose and function of the unit, it lacks the substantial independent authority we have required to find an agency covered by FOIA." Pointing to OA's long history of responding to FOIA requests, CREW's chief counsel Anne Weismann urged [press release] the Obama administration to grant access to OA as a matter of policy.

The controversy over lost emails began in 2002 [NSA chronology], when the White House dismantled its automated e-mail archiving system, and arose throughout the Bush administration, first during the CIA leak investigation and again during the US Attorney firing scandal [JURIST news archives]. In February 2008, CREW urged then-US Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special counsel [JURIST report] to investigate whether the White House had violated the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act [texts] in failing to preserve White House e-mails. CREW and NSA originally brought their suits in May 2007 and November 2007 [complaints, PDF], respectively. CREW has publicly alleged that White House officials may have deliberately lost or tampered with e-mail records to hide illegal conduct.






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Turkish court rules president should stand trial on corruption charges
Christian Ehret on May 19, 2009 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] A Turkish court ruled on Monday that President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile] should face trial for corruption allegations stemming from a previous misappropriation of treasury funds. The Sincan High Criminal Court in Ankara held [Hurriyet report] that Gul should face trial despite his immunity as president and the previous dismissal of proceedings by the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office. Former justice minister Hikmet Sami Turk has said that, while Gul can not currently face judgment due to presidential immunity, he will be able to be tried after his term ends. Gul's present immunity is unclear although some legal scholars argue that presidential immunity should not apply for personal acts that are not related to presidential duties. The alleged acts of fraud stem from accusations against the Welfare Party regarding misappropriation of treasury funds after the party was banned in 1997. Other members of the party were later convicted of fraud. Former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of the party, was found guilty but was pardoned last year by Gul. Monday's ruling is still subject to appellate review [BBC report].

The court's decision may be an example of the existing tension between pro-secularists and the ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) [official website, in Turkish], of which Gul was a cofounder. Earlier this month, secular Turkish judges warned [JURIST report] that amendments to the Turkish Constitution [text] proposed by the AKP that would result in the restructuring of the Constitutional Court [official website, in Turkish] were going too far in promoting an Islamic agenda. In July, the Constitutional Court narrowly rejected a bid to ban the AKP [JURIST report] for ignoring the secular principles of the Turkish constitution. The court did not dissolve the party but ordered that the state treasury reduce the party's funding by half.






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Supreme Court to hear Conrad Black fraud appeal
Christian Ehret on May 19, 2009 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website, JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari in Black v. United States [docket], appealing the fraud conviction of Canadian-born former media mogul Conrad Black [CBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The Court will determine whether the "honest services" clause of 18 USC § 1346 [text] applies in cases where there is no finding that the defendant or defendants "reasonably contemplated identifiable economic harm" in cases of mail and wire fraud under § 1341 [text]. In 2007, Black was convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice and sentenced [JURIST reports] to 78 months in prison. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] initially rejected Black's appeal, holding that § 1346 may be applied in a private setting [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] regardless of whether the defendant's conduct risked any foreseeable economic harm to the victim. Black's lawyers argued [cert. petition, PDF] that:

the government could not remotely meet its burden of proving harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt given the virtual certainty that the jury relied on a seriously flawed instruction that would have been instructional error in at least five other circuits.

Consistent with the language of the information and the case law in several circuits, petitioners sought an instruction that would have precluded the jury from convicting of "honest services" fraud unless it found that the alleged scheme contemplated gain to petitioners at the expense of the purported victim.
Black's lawyers also argued that the circuit courts are deeply divided on whether or not the honest services clause applies to purely private activity since such fraud has usually dealt with public corruption by government actors. The outcome of the Court's review may affect other high-profile corporate fraud cases [Toronto Star report] such as that involving Enron ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archive].

Black, former chairman of Hollinger International [NNDB profile], originally faced 17 counts of fraud, obstruction of justice, racketeering and tax evasion. He was accused [indictment, PDF] by the US government of diverting more than $80 million from the company and its shareholders [JURIST report] during Hollinger's $2.1 billion sale of several hundred Canadian newspapers. Last year, Hollinger International agreed to pay $21.3 million [JURIST report] to settle claims by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] that it violated securities law by failing to disclose to investors payments and other transactions that benefited the executives to the detriment of the company.





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EU urges Sri Lanka war crimes investigation
Andrew Morgan on May 19, 2009 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The Council of the European Union [official website] on Monday called for an independent inquiry [conclusions, PDF] into possible war crimes committed during the Sri Lanka [JURIST news archive] civil war. Meeting in Brussels, the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) [official profile] said that it was "appalled by the loss of innocent lives as a result of the conflict and by the high numbers of casualties, including children" and urged both the Sri Lankan Government [official website] and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive] to "fully respect their obligations under international ... law." Describing the LTTE as a "terrorist organisation," the Council called on them to lay down their arms and renounce violence "once and for all," while cautioning the Government "that fighting terrorism must be done in full respect for the rule of law and Human Rights." Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [personal website] declared victory [BBC report] in the country's 26-year civil war which has resulted in over 70,000 deaths after LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran [BBC obituary] was found dead on Monday.

In March, the Sri Lankan Government denied allegations [JURIST report] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] that 2,800 civilian deaths caused by recent military action against the LTTE may constitute war crimes. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] alleging that both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are guilty of human rights violations. Earlier this year, Pillay condemned [press release; JURIST report] the deteriorating conditions of those trapped in the Vanni region, and called for investigations and prosecutions for the killings and other human rights abuses. HRW has repeatedly accused both sides of violations, and since 2007 has also criticized the government's de facto internment centers and its role in the increase in unlawful killings and other human rights violations [JURIST reports].






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Sudan rebel leader appears before ICC
Andrew Morgan on May 19, 2009 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Sudanese rebel leader Bahr Idriss Abu Garda [case materials] appeared before the International Criminal Court [official website] on Monday to deny his responsibility for war crimes committed in Darfur [JURIST news archive]. Abu Garda is accused [press release] of orchestrating a September 2007 attack [BBC report] on peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) [official website] at Haskanita. The ICC alleges that the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) [official website], under Abu Garda's command, killed 12 and wounded eight AMIS soldiers. Abu Garda, the first suspect to appear before the ICC in regards to the Darfur investigation, voluntarily surrendered [JURIST report] to the court on Sunday, and called on [AP report] Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to do the same.

In March, the ICC issued at an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, which he derided [JURIST reports] as a Western attempt to re-establish colonial power in the country. The controversial arrest warrant [JURIST news archive] had been sought by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile], who in July filed preliminary charges [text, PDF; JURIST report] against Bashir alleging genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the Darfur region in violation of Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Rome Statute [text]. In May 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants [JURIST report] for former Sudanese Minister of the Interior Ahmed Muhammad Harun and former militia leader Ali Kushayb [TrialWatch profiles].






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House approves financial fraud legislation to create investigatory commission
Christian Ehret on May 19, 2009 8:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Monday approved the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act [S 386 materials], which creates a commission to investigate the cause of recent economic turmoil [JURIST news archive] and allocates more resources for federal prosecutors to pursue financial fraud cases. The measure, already approved by the Senate, was passed in the House by a vote of 338-52 [roll call vote] and now needs the approval of President Barack Obama [official profile] to become law. The bill seeks to improve the enforcement of fraud resulting from mortgages, securities and commodities, financial institutions, and federal assistance and relief programs and to recover funds lost to such fraudulent activities. The bill establishes a "financial crisis inquiry commission," made up of 10 people with subpoena power appointed by both the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House. The commission will examine "the causes of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States," as well as "the causes of the collapse of each major financial institution that failed." The bill appropriates $165,000,000 for investigation, prosecution and civil and administrative proceedings for each of the next two fiscal years, dividing the allotment between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Attorneys office and the Department of Justice [official websites]. The bill appropriates additional funds to other governmental agencies for purposes related to fraud investigations and proceedings. The legislation also amends the False Claims Act [31 USC § 3729 text] to "reflect the original intent of the law" through the clarification of stipulations and definitions set out in the original Act.

In April, the House approved a bill [HR 1664 materials, JURIST report] which allows the Treasury Department to ban certain types of compensation at companies which receive federal bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In March, the House passed a bill [HR 1586 materials, JURIST report] that would tax bonuses given to employees of companies that received money from government stimulus programs at 90 percent. The bill was drafted and voted on in reaction to large bonus payments made to employees of American International Group [corporate website]. Attempts to gain control over the roiling credit markets and possible widespread bank insolvencies have included the passage in September of a $700 billion financial rescue bill [JURIST report], creating the TARP, which provided economic assistance to at-risk financial institutions.






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Bangladesh government urged to investigate torture and killings
Eszter Bardi on May 19, 2009 7:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The new Bangladesh government [official website; JURIST news archive] should investigate torture, illegal detentions, and extrajudicial killings allegedly conducted by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) [official website] and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) [official website], according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF] released Monday. The report alleges that these Bangladesh intelligence and military agencies have tortured and executed persons held in custody. A vivid eyewitness account, among other case studies, describes the methods of torture employed. HRW criticized the government for condoning thousands of extrajudicial killings since 1971 as well as providing for constitutional immunizations [Bangladesh Constitution text] from holding government officials accountable. According to the report, illegal torture methods and lack of accountability are tantamount to grave human rights violations contrary to the UN Convention Against Torture [text] and to international legal standards. HRW recommends that the DGIF and the RAB be disbanded and that the country's legal provisions protecting government officials from prosecution be amended.

In April, the Bangladesh government announced [JURIST report] that it is working with the UN to organize war crimes [JURIST news archive] prosecutions for alleged violations stemming from the country's 1971 War of Independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Pakistan [JURIST news archive] and that is considering trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive]. Bangladesh encountered a difficult political transition with the election of its new Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [official profile] in 2008, ending two years of military rule. After the election, Bangladeshi Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shafique Ahmed [official website] declared [JURIST report] his government's desire to restore Bangladesh's 1972 constitution [text, PDF].






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Lawyers who authored interrogation memos should be disbarred: coalition
Andrew Morgan on May 18, 2009 4:13 PM ET

[JURIST] A coalition of progressive organizations Monday filed disciplinary complaints with five state bar associations seeking the disbarment [materials] of 12 former US government officials associated with the legal rationales behind the Bush administration's use of enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive]. Complaints filed by the Velvet Revolution [advocacy website] with the bar associations of New York, Pennsylvania, California, Texas, and the District of Columbia allege that former attorneys general John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archives], former Office of Legal Council [official website] lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, former vice presidential chief of staff David Addington [JURIST news archives], former Pentagon official Douglas Feith [personal website], and other government officials violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by advocating the use of torture and should be disbarred as a result. The group said [AP video] that the recent release of CIA memos [JURIST report] authorizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques "clearly demonstrate[s] that these attorneys conspired to violate laws against torture and that their actions resulted in torture and death."

Last week former JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen told [JURIST report] an audience at the University of Nebraska College of Law [official website] that the lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] who had authorized the use of enhanced interrogation techniques had "disgraced not only their country but their profession." Last month, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile; JURIST news archive], Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] renewed his call [JURIST report] for the formation of a non-partisan "truth commission" to investigate torture allegations. Also last month, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] insisted that under international law the US must prosecute [JURIST report] DOJ lawyers who drafted the memos. President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers who authored the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report].






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Myanmar court begins trial of jailed democracy advocate
Christian Ehret on May 18, 2009 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Pro-democracy advocate and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] went on trial Monday in Myanmar for violating the terms of her house arrest. Suu Kyi allegedly violated these terms earlier this month by allowing an American man who swam across a lake [NYT report] to stay with her and faces up to five years imprisonment. Her arrest was controversial and highly criticized [JURIST report] by the international community. Myanmar riot police surrounded Insein prison [BBC backgrounder] to protect it from protesters. One of Suu Kyi's laywers told the media [AP report] that the court rejected a request to open the trial up to the media and the public for security reasons. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned Myanmar's actions, calling the charges "trumped up" [HRW report] and seeking international support for her release.

Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. In 2007, the military government had implied that she might be released [JURIST report] after the country's new constitution was approved. In May 2008, the junta announced that Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] had been overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] but the ruling junta at the same time extended Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year [JURIST report].






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Supreme Court remands Ashcroft immunity case
Andrew Morgan on May 18, 2009 3:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal [JURIST report] that a complaint filed against former US Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller [official profiles] and other officials by a terrorism suspect failed to adequately state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 [text] and the Court's 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report]. Pakistani national Javaid Iqbal, captured during a terrorism "sweep," alleged mistreatment by the FBI based on religious and ethnic bias during his detention in a Brooklyn maximum security jail, and that Ashcroft and Meuller became complicit in the discrimination when they approved the policy that resulted in his detention.

Without ruling on the substance of the allegations, the Court remanded the case to the Second Circuit Court of appeals [official website] so that it may decide whether to allow Iqbal an opportunity to amend his complaint. The Court also declined to rule on Ashcroft and Mueller's assertion of qualified immunity, except to note that the denial of a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity "can fall within the narrow class of appealable orders despite 'the absence of a final judgment'" and that the Second Circuit therefore had proper interlocutory jurisdiction over the case. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. Souter, joined by Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, dissented.






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Somali pirate suspects go on trial in Netherlands court
Christian Ehret on May 18, 2009 2:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Five Somalians suspected of piracy [JURIST news archive] went on trial Monday before a Dutch court in Rotterdam. The men are accused of attempting to hijack [NRC Handelsblad report] a Dutch Antilles freighter in the Gulf of Aden in January. The Danish navy seized the Somalians in February and handed them over to Dutch authorities. While at least one of the men has admitted an intention to hijack the ship, he and others maintain that they abandoned the notion of hijacking it after experiencing engine problems and that the crew of the freighter attacked them first, setting fire to their boat with a molotov cocktail. One of the accused admits his guilt and is seeking the court's sympathy for what his lawyer calls an act of despair. All of the accused claim to be poor fishermen who were acting out of poverty and debt due to the poor financial and political situation in Somalia. The prosecutor responded [DutchNews report] that, regardless of the country's poverty, not every Somalian is resorting to piracy.

In April, a US Coast Guard chief called for the enforcement of international piracy laws [JURIST report], citing the importance of entering Somali waters to combat the problem. In March, the European Union (EU) [official website] announced an agreement with Kenya [JURIST report] to transfer suspected pirates captured by EU counter-pirate operations into Kenyan custody for prosecution. In October, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1838 [text, PDF; press release], condemning all acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, and calling on states to "deploy naval vessels and military aircraft to actively fight piracy on the high seas off the coast of Somalia." Although maritime piracy is increasingly widespread, Somalia's coast has been ranked as the most dangerous in the world [BBC report] due to a surge in attacks on ships carrying traded goods or humanitarian aid [NPR report].






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UK court rules European human rights laws apply to soldiers in Iraq
Andrew Morgan on May 18, 2009 1:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) on Monday ruled [judgment text] that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) [text] applies to UK troops serving abroad. The court found that the UK's obligation under the Human Rights Act of 1998 [text], which implemented the ECHR in the UK, extends in some cases beyond territorial jurisdiction, including foreign service by military personnel. Writing for the court, Sir Anthony Clarke noted that Ministry of Defence (MOD) [official website] did not challenge the exercise of jurisdiction when soldiers were on base, but wrote:

it seems to us to make no sense to hold that there is a distinction between a person inside and outside premises controlled by the UK, whether he or she is a consul or a soldier. The distinction raises questions such as whether the soldier or consul is protected in a vehicle or an ambulance. If in a hospital, why not in an ambulance? If in a British base or consulate, why not in a British army vehicle? If in a vehicle, why not when the soldier gets out of the vehicle?
The case arose from a coroner's inquiry into the June 2003 death of Territorial Army [official website] Private Jason Smith in Basra. The Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire Andrew Walker [BBC profile] found that Smith's death came as a result of "a serious failure to recognise and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty that he had in adjusting to the climate," prompting Smith's family to file suit against the MOD.

The Court upheld an April 2008 ruling [JURIST report] by the High Court that British service members are entitled to legal protection of their human rights "wherever they may be." In September, the MOD admitted to abusing [JURIST report] nine Iraqi detainees, but denied that the HRA or ECHR applied to "Camp Breadbasket," the aid distribution center where the abuse occurred. Four soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to prison [JURIST reports] in connection with the abuse. In October, US State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III [JURIST news archive] told the Guardian newspaper that UK troops were refusing to detain suspected insurgents [JURIST report] for fear that they would be liable for their actions under UK and European human rights law.





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Supreme Court rules against retroactive application of pregnancy discrimination law
Andrew Morgan on May 18, 2009 10:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that companies do not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) [EEOC backgrounder] by failing to award employees credit for maternity leave taken before the act's effective date. The Court found that although the method of calculating benefits used by AT&T would be prohibited on gender discrimination grounds if enacted today, the act does not apply retroactively and therefore overruled a 2007 decision [opinion, PDF] by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website], which found that the pension plan was discriminatory. The Court also rejected Hulteen's claim that the payment of benefits accrued under the pre-PDA plan marks a new instance of discrimination under the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 [S.181 materials; JURIST report], finding that, because the initial decision was not itself discriminatory, Hulteen has not been "affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice" within the meaning of the statute. Justice David Souter delivered the Court's opinion. Justice John Paul Stevens concurred. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, dissented, finding that AT&T "committed a current violation of Title VII when, post-PDA,it did not totally discontinue reliance upon a pension calculation premised on the notion that pregnancy-based classifications display no gender bias."






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Supreme Court takes Conrad Black, separation of powers, employment cases
Christian Ehret on May 18, 2009 10:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in four cases. In Black v. United States [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider the appeal of former media mogul Conrad Black [CBC profile; JURIST news archive] to determine whether the "honest services" clause of 18 USC § 1346 [text] applies in cases where there is no finding that the defendant or defendants "reasonably contemplated identifiable economic harm" in cases of mail and wire fraud under § 1341 [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] held that § 1346 may be applied in a private setting [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] regardless of whether the defendant's conduct risked any foreseeable economic harm to the victim, rejecting Black's appeal. The courts of appeals are divided on the issue. Black was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007, sentenced to 78 months in prison [JURIST reports], and ordered to pay $125,000 and forfeit another $1 million.

In Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead and Watts, LLP v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 [GPO materials] violates Constitutional separation of powers by affording members of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) [organization website] executive power while removing any presidential authority to control the exercise of such power. The law was passed to reform business practices [NYT report] and prevent corporate fraud by overseeing the accounting industry and punishing corrupt auditors. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] held that the Act is constitutional [opinion, PDF] because Congress is able to restrict the president's removal power in any way it "deems best for the public interest" and because the constitutional authority to appoint implies the authority to limit, restrict, and regulate the removal of such appointments.

In Lewis v. City of Chicago [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether the 300-day filing period for an equal employment opportunity complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] begins after the announcement of the discriminatory practice or after the employer's use of the discriminatory practice. In this case, African-Americans seeking employment as firefighters in Chicago sued the city over an allegedly disparate racial impact resulting from a written test administered to job applicants. The original complaint was filed 420 days after the notice of the test results were sent out but within 300 days of the hiring of applicants based on the test results. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled in favor of the city of Chicago [opinion, PDF], holding that the "statute of limitations begins to run upon injury (or discovery of the injury) and is not restarted by subsequent injuries." The plaintiffs contend that the hiring of applicants by reliance on the test results constituted a new violation that allows their complaint to fall within the statute of limitations.

In Beard v. Kindler [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider if a state procedural rule is inadequate under the adequate state grounds doctrine because the rule is discretionary rather than mandatory. The adequate state grounds doctrine bars Supreme Court jurisdiction of cases decided by a state court based on both federal and non-federal law if the state ground for the decision is adequate to support the judgment and is independent of federal law. The Pennsylvania courts applied the state's fugitive forfeiture rule and concluded that Kindler waived his right to seek appellate review, dismissing his appeal without reaching the merits of his claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] affirmed the district court's grant of federal habeas relief [opinion, PDF], rejecting the argument that Pennsylvania's fugitive waiver rule was an adequate and independent state ground for precluding such relief.






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Foreign intelligence surveillance warrants decline in 2008: DOJ report
Christian Ehret on May 18, 2009 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Friday reported to Congress [text, PDF] that 2,083 wiretap and search requests for investigating terrorism suspects were granted in 2008 through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive], a decline from 2,370 in 2007. This was the first decrease in warrants since the 9/11 terror attacks [JURIST news archive] in 2001. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official backgrounder] approves applications for electronic and physical surveillance warrants in regards to foreign powers or agents thereof and, in 2008, denied only one warrant application and modified two. FISA is aimed at addressing the government's need to obtain foreign intelligence information in light of privacy concerns for citizens. Obtainment of such a warrant requires probable cause to believe that a person, acting for or on behalf of a foreign power, is engaged in activities that involve or may involve a violation of criminal law. This is a lower standard [text, PDF] than is needed in ordinary criminal investigations.

In January, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review made public [JURIST report] a ruling [opinion, PDF] from August 2008 that upheld the Protect America Act [text], a 2007 amendment to FISA that allows warrantless wiretaps of international phone and e-mail communications. After the amendment, warrants are still required to monitor purely domestic communications. In November, Judge Henry Kennedy of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ordered [order, PDF] the DOJ to release legal memoranda [JURIST report] relating to the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. In July, the Senate voted to approve a bill amending FISA to grant retroactive immunity [JURIST report] to telecommunications companies participating in the NSA warrantless surveillance program.






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Federal judge dismisses US-Mexico border fence challenge
Andrew Morgan on May 18, 2009 8:50 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Friday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] that sought to block construction of a fence along the US-Mexico border. The Texas Border Coalition [advocacy website], a group of Texan officials and business owners, filed suit [JURIST report] last year challenging the condemnation of land for the construction of the fence and the compensation paid to landowners for access to conduct surveys under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 [text], the Administrative Procedure Act [text, PDF], and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment [text]. Judge Reggie Walton of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] found that the Coalition did not have standing to bring the suit because it was "unclear from the complaint whether any of the property owned by the plaintiff's members will actually be condemned," saying that:

It would make little procedural sense, and, indeed, thwart congressional will, to allow the plaintiff's members to preemptively challenge an anticipated condemnation when the Department's decision to pursue this course has not yet been rendered.
Walton also granted the government's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [text] because there was insufficient legal basis for the injunctive relief sought by the Coalition.

The 700-mile US-Mexico border fence [JURIST news archive] was authorized [JURIST report] in 2006 by President George W. Bush [official profile]. Former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff [official profile] used controversial legal waivers, authorized under Title I sec. 102 of the Real ID Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], to circumvent local and environmental laws which had slowed construction of the fence, including an October 2007 waiver overriding a federal district court ruling that halted construction [JURIST report] on environmental grounds. In September, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) [official website] officials told Congress [hearing materials] that legal challenges and technological problems led to cost increases and delays in fence construction.





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Senate Republicans want Supreme Court nominee to apply law impartially
Safiya Boucaud on May 18, 2009 7:28 AM ET

[JURIST] US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] said Sunday that he wants the Supreme Court [official website] nominee who will replace retiring Justice David Souter [JURIST report] to be someone who will apply the law without bias. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, McConnell said [transcript]:

what we are looking for, we meaning Republicans in the Senate ... is a nominee who will apply the law without partiality. Each federal judge takes an oath to apply the law to both the rich and the poor. Their personal views ought to be irrelevant. I think Chief Justice Roberts had it right during his confirmation hearings. He said the - a judge ought to be like an umpire - call the balls and strikes but don’t make the rules. That's the kind of individual we're looking for. We know it will be someone of the political left. But a number of leftist judges have been able to put aside their personal views and call it like they see it.
McConnell also said that he will not rule out the possibility of filibustering President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

Last week, White House officials disclosed six potential nominees [JURIST report] that Obama is considering. The list includes five women. Also last week, conservative Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was chosen by Senate Republicans to replace [JURIST report] newly-declared Democrat Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) as ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official websites]. Sessions will play a key role in questioning Obama's nominee. Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] has said that he hopes to have a replacement for Souter confirmed [JURIST report] by the beginning of the Court's 2009 term in October. When news of Souter's retirement first became public earlier this month, Obama said [JURIST report] he would, "seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity."





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Sudan rebel leader to appear before ICC
Christian Ehret on May 17, 2009 11:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Sudanese war crimes suspect and rebel leader Bahr Idriss Abu Garda on Sunday surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Abu Garda is accused [press release] of committing three crimes against the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) [official website] during a September 2007 attack. The ICC alleges that the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) [official website], under Abu Garda's command, along with other troops, killed 12 and wounded eight AMIS soldiers. Based on his willingness to appear, the court issued a summons for Abu Garda rather than issuing an arrest warrant. ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] addressed the violence against peacekeepers [press release] in Darfur, stating:

By killing peacekeepers, the perpetrators attacked the millions of civilians who those soldiers came to protect. They came from Senegal, from Mali, from Nigeria, from Botswana, to serve and protect. They were murdered. Attacking peacekeepers is a serious crime under the [Rome] Statute and shall be prosecuted.

Such attacks ... have a direct impact on the delivery of vital services and thereby exacerbate the suffering of vulnerable groups. They impact on the lives of thousands.
Abu Garda is the first suspect to appear before the ICC in regards to the Darfur investigation.

After opening the investigation into violence against peacekeepers in Darfur in December 2007, Moreno-Ocampo stated that "such attacks can constitute war crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction." Abu Garda is the fourth person set to be prosecuted by the ICC in regards to the Darfur investigation. The court is also pursuing cases against Ahmad Harun, Ali Kushayb, and President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. In March, al-Bashir scoffed at the ICC warrant [JURIST report] issued for his arrest. The controversial arrest warrant [JURIST news archive] had been sought by Moreno-Ocampo, who in July filed preliminary charges [text, PDF; JURIST report] against Bashir alleging genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the Darfur region in violation of Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Rome Statute [text].





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Malawi court bars ex-president Muluzi from upcoming elections
Christian Ehret on May 17, 2009 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] A Malawi court on Saturday barred former president Bakili Muluzi [BBC profile] from participating in the upcoming election. The court held [AP report] that the Malawi Constitution [text] prohibits Muluzi from running for office after serving two consecutive five-year terms beginning in 1994. Article 83 of the Malawi Constitution provides that the president, vice president and second vice president "may serve in their respective capacities a maximum of two consecutive terms," although the language is unclear on whether this bars someone from serving a third, non-consecutive term. The court's decision came after Muluzi appealed a nomination rejection by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) [official website, EISA backgrounder] in March. President Bingu wa Mutharika [official website] urged the MEC [Nyasa Times report] to reject Muluzi's nomination. Article 76 of the Malawi Constitution provides that the High Court holds judicial review power over the electoral commission. Muluzi is now backing John Zenus Ungapake Tembo [Nyasa Times report] for the office.

In January, a court in Malawi held that Muluzi could be investigated [JURIST report] for alleged theft of international aid money. Both Muluzi and Mutharika have been accused of corruption [JURIST report] in the past. Mutharika defected from Muluzi's Democratic Front party to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website].






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Canada AG proposes changes to fingerprinting practices
Eszter Bardi on May 17, 2009 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Canadian Attorney General Rob Nicholson [official website] introduced legislation Friday into the Canadian House of Commons [Parliament website] to amend the Identification of Criminals Act [statute text]. If the proposed amendment passes, it would provide for the fingerprinting [press release] of those arrested but not yet charged as well as other changes in response to the evolving needs of the Canadian criminal justice system. Nicholson hopes:

This bill will increase the effectiveness of the justice system in a number of ways, including giving peace and public officers greater access to warrants relating to search and seizure, and helping address the issue of those who evade justice by travelling to other jurisdictions.
The Canadian government saud it is continually working with its provinces to respond to the needs of the justice system, including issues surrounding flight offense, telewarrants, expert witness evidence, the use of agents, prize fighting, and the pari-mutuel betting system. Opponents are concerned that this specific amendment to the act will be misused[Globe and Mail report].

In March, the European Court of Human Rights [official website] unanimously ruled [judgment text; JURIST report] that the British practice of keeping the fingerprints and DNA profiles of people arrested but not convicted of crimes was against privacy rights and should not continue. Earlier this month, the UK Home Office [official website] released new proposals [press release] to amend [JURIST report] its controversial DNA and fingerprint database [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that would remove the information of innocent people in response to the court ruling.





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Eleventh Circuit denies Alabama ex-governor request for en banc review
Eszter Bardi on May 17, 2009 8:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Friday denied the petition of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman (D) [official profile; JURIST news archive] and former HealthSouth [corporate website] CEO Richard Scrushy [JURIST news archive] for an en banc rehearing of their convictions on charges of corruption. The petitioners cited as grounds [petition, PDF] for rehearing the court's alleged misinterpretation of 18 USC § 1512(b)(3) [text]. Specifically, petitioners asserted that questions of exceptional importance exist in evaluating:

Whether the word "explicit," in the "explicit promise or undertaking" element of proof in alleged bribery cases involving campaign or issue- advocacy contributions, means what the word means in ordinary usage, i.e., expressly communicated, the opposite of implicit – or whether (as the panel concluded) an implicit quid pro quo linkage counts as "explicit," so long as there was a particular action that was implicitly to be exchanged for the contribution.
The court, however, rejected the request for review. Siegelman and Scrushy now plan to appeal [AP report] to the US Supreme Court [official website].

In March, a three-judge panel upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the 2006 convictions [DOJ press release; JURIST report] of Siegelman and Scrushy on federal bribery and corruption charges. The appeals court reversed two counts of mail fraud against Siegelman based a lack of evidence, but upheld the remaining five charges. All of the charges against Scrushy were upheld. Last week, Alabama's Jefferson County Circuit Court [official website] began hearing a $2.6 billion derivative lawsuit brought by HealthSouth shareholders against Scrushy for his role in the accounting fraud scheme at the company.





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Myanmar disbars lawyer seeking to represent jailed democracy advocate
Tere Miller-Sporrer on May 16, 2009 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Myanmar has disbarred a lawyer who sought to represent jailed democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in her upcoming trial. The government cited Aung Thein's previous four-month jail term for contempt of court [IANS report] as the reason for the disbarment. Aung Thein was jailed for allowing his clients, student activists and members of the National League for Democracy, to criticize the court. The disbarment comes as Myanmar faces harsh international condemnation for last week's arrest of Suu Kyi [JURIST report]. Suu Kyi, whose house arrest is set to expire on May 27, was arrested when an uninvited US citizen swam to her house and stayed on the property.

Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 12 of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. In 2007, the military government had implied that she might be released [JURIST report] after the country's new constitution was approved. In May 2008, the junta announced that Myanmar's draft constitution [JURIST news archive] had been overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] but the ruling junta at the same time extended Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year [JURIST report].






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CIA director says agency did not mislead Congress on interrogation techniques
Tere Miller-Sporrer on May 16, 2009 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] Leon Panetta [official profile] on Friday defended information the CIA gave to Congress on the use of interrogation techniques during the Bush administration. In response to statements made by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) [official website], in which she claimed to have been misled [JURIST report] by the CIA, and the subsequent media reaction to those statements, Panetta issued a statement [press release] to his employees urging them to "ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission." In the statement, Panetta said:

Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.” Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.
On Thursday, Pelosi claimed that the CIA misled Congress on use of harsh interrogation techniques, just one day after Wednesday's hearing [materials; JURIST report] before the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts [official website] on whether Bush administration interrogation techniques constituted torture. The recent release of four CIA interrogation memos [JURIST report] has renewed calls for the criminal prosecution of the memos' authors. US President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report].





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Rights group urges US to respect laws of war to prevent Afghan civilian deaths
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 15, 2009 3:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday called on the US government [press release] to make "fundamental changes to reduce civilian casualties" in Afghanistan after attacks last week reportedly left more than 140 civilians dead. HRW said that a review announced by chief of the US Central Command General David Petraeus [official profile] must result in "measures that genuinely minimize civilian loss of life." HRW called on the US to heed international laws of war, under which attacks cannot be indiscriminate or cause disproportionate civilian loss.
On Friday, US Marine Corps Commandant General James Conway said that the investigation will show [AP report] that the Taliban [JURIST news archive], not US air strikes, are responsible for the civilian deaths.

Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga [official website], the lower house of the Afghan parliament, on Monday demanded that restrictions be placed on foreign forces to avoid further civilian casualties before recessing in protest of recent air strikes. Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi said that parliament has given the government one week to come up with a plan to regulate US and other foreign troops [Reuters report]. Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] also called for an end to US air strikes [CNN report] last week. US President Barack Obama's national security adviser retired Gen. James Jones told ABC Sunday that the US would not end air strikes [interview transcript].






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US releases Guantanamo detainee Boumediene to France
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 15, 2009 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] US officials said Friday that Algerian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Lakhdar Boumediene [BBC profile] has been released and sent to France [DOJ press release]. Boumediene was the named plaintiff in the US Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], in which the Court held that Guantanamo detainees could challenge their imprisonment in federal court through the use of habeas corpus motions. Last week, the French government confirmed that it would accept Boumediene after French President Nicholas Sarkozy told US President Barack Obama [official profiles] at an April meeting that the country would accept one Guantanamo prisoner as part of a symbolic measure [JURIST report] to assist in the closing of the facility. The framework for the agreement was established at the first meeting between the two heads of state, at which Sarkozy congratulated Obama on his January decision to order the closure of Guantanamo [executive order; JURIST report].

Obama's order directed that the military prison be closed "as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order." The order did not specify where detainees would go upon release, but did call for diplomatic efforts with foreign states in order to facilitate the closure of the facility. Last week, a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry [official website, in German] said that the US has asked Germany to take in up to 10 detainees [JURIST report]. In April, UK Minister of Justice Jack Straw reiterated his country's willingness to accept Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] in order to speed the closure of the facility. In March, top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders from the European Union (EU) [official website; JURIST news archive] to discuss plans to transfer [JURIST report] Guantanamo Bay detainees to European countries. Individual member states have also indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Lithuania, Ireland, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain, while Italy [JURIST reports] and the Netherlands [AFP report] have said they will not accept detainees.






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Obama administration reviving military commission system with changes
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 15, 2009 1:41 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] announced Friday that he is reinstating the controversial military commission system [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] to try some Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. Obama said that there will be changes to the system to increase defendants' rights, including barring statements obtained under harsh interrogation methods and making it more difficult to introduce hearsay evidence. The administration will also seek a 90-day continuance of pending proceedings to implement the new rules, ask Congress to make changes to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to give defendants expanded rights. Obama said [statement text]:

Today, the Department of Defense will be seeking additional continuances in several pending military commission proceedings. We will seek more time to allow us time to reform the military commission process. The Secretary of Defense will notify the Congress of several changes to the rules governing the commissions. The rule changes will ensure that: First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial. Second, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability. Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel. Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify. And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.

These reforms will begin to restore the Commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law. In addition, we will work with the Congress on additional reforms that will permit commissions to prosecute terrorists effectively and be an avenue, along with federal prosecutions in Article III courts, for administering justice. This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decried [press release] the move as, "a striking blow to due process and the rule of law." The Constitution Project [advocacy website] called the announcement "troubling" [press release], saying, "[m]ilitary commissions are designed to provide lesser due process protections for terrorism suspects than our federal courts do."

Earlier this week, rights groups harshly criticized plans to revive the military commissions process [JURIST reports]. This is the second time this week Obama has drawn criticism from liberal supporters. On Wednesday, White House officials announced that Obama had decided to seek a delay of the release of photographs [JURIST report] depicting the allegedly abusive treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing an earlier decision.





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UN rights chief urges US to hold Bush-era officials accountable for 'torture'
Benjamin Hackman on May 15, 2009 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] urged the US [NYT op-ed] Wednesday to hold accountable those accused of committing torture under the Bush administration. Pillay welcomed the US as a new member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] and lauded decisions by US President Barack Obama [official website] to ban torture and close CIA prisons [JURIST report] and to review detentions [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], but said that the US should hold accountable anyone who committed human rights abuses:

Although much more needs to be done, President Obama's determination to resolve the untenable situation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, ban C.I.A. prisons and implement the prohibition on torture in compliance with international standards is highly welcome. The U.S. should also shed light into the still opaque areas that surround capture, interrogation methods, rendition and detention conditions of those alleged to have been involved in terrorism, and ensure that perpetrators of torture and abuse are held to account.
Pillay said the US can benefit the UNHRC if it supports international human-rights standards and said the US has the responsibility of approaching human rights in a way that sets an example for the rest of the world.

After announcing in April [JURIST report] that it would seek a seat on the UNHRC, the US was elected [JURIST report] to the 47-member council for the first time Tuesday. In anticipation of the election, the State Department [official website] released its set of human-rights commitments and pledges [text, PDF]. When the UNHRC was created [JURIST report] in 2006, the Bush administration declined to seek a Council seat or participate in its proceedings due to a perceived anti-Israeli sentiment by the UNHRC. Last month, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] insisted that under international law the US must prosecute Department of Justice lawyers who drafted recently released memos [JURIST reports] detailing harsh interrogation techniques. Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos.





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Fourth Circuit rules insurer not liable for alleged Iraq abuses by military contractor
Benjamin Hackman on May 15, 2009 10:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the insurance company for defense contractor CACI International’s [corporate website] has no duty to defend or indemnify CACI against claims of torture at Iraq prisons such as Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive]. CACI conceded that its insurance policy from St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. generally covered the intelligence contractor only in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico but argued that its policy covered some claims involving CACI employees who were abroad for a "short time" on business. The Fourth Circuit affirmed a district court decision [opinion, PDF], writing that St. Paul would have a duty to defend CACI from lawsuits "if there is any potential that the policies would cover the claims alleged in the underlying complaints." The court determined that abuses and injuries alleged in Iraq in two complaints filed against CACI did not occur in the territory CACI's policy covered because "it is the location of the injury — not of some precipitating cause — that determines the location of the event for purposes of insurance coverage." The court also determined that the complaints' allegations "make it difficult to infer that those engaged in [repetitive] activities were present in Iraq only for a few days." Thus, the complaints' allegations "foreclose the possibility of coverage under the territorial provision or 'short time' exception of the policies."

In 2003, CACI contracted with the US government to provide intelligence services in Iraq. CACI agreed to interrogate prisoners at Abu Ghraib. CACI took out an insurance policy with St. Paul that indemnified CACI for up to $2 million. In 2004, two groups of former Iraq detainees sued [JURIST report] CACI. One complaint alleged CACI engaged in a conspiracy to commit torture, and the other complaint alleged CACI engaged in a "multi-year pattern of criminal conduct." CACI has faced several lawsuits from detainees. In March, a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled [order, PDF] that CACI is not immune from a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought in 2008 by Abu Ghraib detainees, denying CACI's motion to dismiss.






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Germany lawmakers drop paintball ban proposed after school shooting
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 15, 2009 10:29 AM ET

[JURIST] German Social Democratic Party (SPD) [party website, in German] lawmakers said Thursday that they will not support a recently proposed bill that would ban paintball in response to a March school shooting that left 16 dead [BBC report], including the 17-year-old gunman. The move came just two days after they had agreed on the proposal along with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) [party website, in German]. Instead, lawmakers may conduct an inquiry into changing age requirements [AFP report] or placing other restrictions on the activity. Current German law requires that participants be at least 18 years of age. Supporters of the ban have argued that paintball promotes gun violence [DW report] by simulating killing, while opponents have argued that it is just a sport. Lawmakers plan to continue working on other measures [Local report] designed to strengthen gun control.

Less than a week after the March shooting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel [official profile] said in a radio interview [transcript, in German] that the German government must more strictly enforce its gun-control laws [JURIST report]. Under German law, stored guns must be locked [DW report] in safes. Merkel asked parents and educators to be vigilant in keeping guns out of children's hands and mentioned the possibility of random checks to make sure weapons are properly stored. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble [BBC profile] said last week that tightening Germany's gun-control laws would not eliminate youth gun violence [Reuters report]. Schaeuble called Germany's gun-control laws among the world's strictest [Reuters report].






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Russia proposes changes to suspended Europe arms treaty
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 15, 2009 8:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Russian Foreign Ministry [official website, in Russian] spokesperson Andrei Nesterenko said Thursday that Russia has proposed changes [statement, in Russian] to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) [text; backgrounder]. The 1990 treaty restricts the number of troops and heavy weapons that can be stationed between the Atlantic coast and Russia's Ural mountains. Russia suspended [JURIST report] its responsibilities under the CFE in November 2007 amid tensions between the US and Russia over US plans for an anti-missile defense shield in central Europe. Nesterenko said, "Russia believes that the chances of returning to the viability of the Treaty remain." He said that Russia has proposed negotiating revisions to the treaty with the US and that other NATO countries were also welcome to join in the talks.

In 1999, a newer version of the CFE was signed, but it was never ratified by NATO countries. In April 2008, then-president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] said that Russia would resume participation in the CFE [JURIST report] if Western nations ratified the 1999 version. The NATO-Russia Council has urged [statement] Russia to end its moratorium on the CFE and pledged to address the country's national security concerns.






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New Hampshire governor asks legislature to amend same-sex marriage bill
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2009 4:27 PM ET

[JURIST] New Hampshire Governor John Lynch [official website] said Thursday that he is willing to sign [statement] a same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] bill [text] into law, but only if the legislature amends it to make it clear that religious groups will not be required to perform or recognize the unions. The New Hampshire legislature gave final approval to the bill last week after the House and Senate [JURIST reports] approved differing versions. Lynch said that if his proposed amendments are made, he will sign the bill. If not, he will veto the legislation. Lynch said:

This new language will provide the strongest and clearest protections for religious institutions and associations, and for the individuals working with such institutions. It will make clear that they cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply held religious principles. ... We can and must treat both same-sex couples and people of certain religious traditions with respect and dignity. I believe this proposed language will accomplish both of these goals and I urge the legislature to pass it.
The legislature is expected to adopt [Boston Globe report] Lynch's proposed amendments.

Earlier this week, the New York State Assembly [official website] passed a bill [JURIST report] that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the state. That bill will now go before the state senate. Last week, Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage [JURIST report] when Governor John Baldacci [official website] signed a same-sex marriage bill into law. Last month, Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports] as the other states that allow same-sex marriage.





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Spain cabinet approves draft bill expanding abortion rights
Matt Glenn on May 14, 2009 3:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Spain's Cabinet [official website, in Spanish] approved a draft bill [press release, in Spanish] Thursday that would liberalize Spanish abortion law. The new bill, which must now be approved by Parliament, would give women the right to an abortion any time during the first fourteen weeks of pregnancy. During the next eight weeks an abortion would be allowed only if two doctors determined that there is a serious risk [El Pais report, in Spanish] to the woman's health or a serious risk of fetal malformation. After 22 weeks an abortion would be allowed only if a panel of doctors agree that the fetus faces severe health hazards. Parts of the new bill mirror the March proposals [JURIST report] of a panel of legal and medical experts. Under current Spanish law, abortions are illegal except in cases of rape, fetal malformation, or danger to the mother's health. Spain's bill comes one day after Germany's parliament approved a bill [JURIST report] heightening requirements for late-term abortions.

The panel's proposals sparked protests [JURIST report] in Madrid in March. The panel tasked with investigating changes to Spanish abortion law was formed in September [JURIST report] at the request of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as part of a series of social reforms including the legalization of same-sex marriage [JURIST report] and streamlined divorce proceedings. Since the committee was formed, the conservative Popular Party [party website, in Spanish] has repeatedly expressed the opinion [El Pais report, in Spanish] that relaxed abortion laws would stand in opposition to Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution [text, in Spanish], which guarantees the right to life.






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House speaker claims CIA misled Congress on use of harsh interrogation techniques
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2009 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Speaker of the US House of Representatives [official website] Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) [official website] said Thursday that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] misled Congress about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive] during the Bush administration. Pelosi, the former top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee [official website], said that CIA officials had explicitly said that they were not using [AP report] the controversial waterboarding [JURIST news archive] technique. Pelosi did concede that she had learned in 2003 that harsh techniques were being employed but defended her decision not to speak up over security concerns. Pelosi renewed calls for an independent "truth commission" [Reuters report] to investigate alleged abuses committed during the Bush administration.

On Wednesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts [official website] held the first hearing [materials; JURIST report] on whether Bush administration interrogation techniques constituted torture. The recent release of four CIA interrogation memos [JURIST report] has renewed calls for the criminal prosecution of the memos' authors. Last month, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] said that the US must prosecute [JURIST report] DOJ lawyers who drafted the memos. US President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report].






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Myanmar government criticized over arrest of democracy advocate
Matt Glenn on May 14, 2009 2:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive] received widespread international criticism after jailing democracy advocate and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Thursday for violating the terms of her house arrest. Myanmar's military junta arrested Suu Kyi after a US man swam across a lake [NYT report] to the compound in which she was confined and spent at least one night on the property. Suu Kyi's lawyer says Suu Kyi asked the man to leave and considered alerting the guards to his presence, but took pity on him because he was suffering from exhaustion. The Czech Presidency of the EU [official website] on behalf of the EU urged Myanmar to release [statement] Suu Kyi immediately. US State Department [official website] spokesperson Ian Kelly also said Suu Kyi should be released immediately [transcript] during the daily press briefing. Many international observers noted that Suu Kyi's arrest came only two weeks before her house arrest was supposed to end and suggested that Suu Kyi's arrest was an attempt to keep her out of elections scheduled for next year. Suu Kyi's trial is scheduled to begin Monday. If she is found guilty, Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison.

In March, the UN Human Rights Counsel (UNHRC) [official website] passed a resolution [JURIST report] denouncing Myanmar for human rights abuses and calling on the military junta to desist from politically motivated arrests and release nearly 2,100 political prisoners. This came a week after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] said [press release and opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi violates Myanmar's 1975 State Protection Law [text] and pressed for her immediate release. In February, the military government of Myanmar granted amnesty to 23 political detainees and more than 6,300 other prisoners, said Thailand-based human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) [advocacy website]. These grants were in response to increasing international pressure on the military junta to end its persecution of political dissidents. In January, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text, PDF; JURIST report] to the government, urging it to cease targeting its Rohingya Muslim minority [BBC profile]. In December, the UN General Assembly [official website] adopted a resolution [press release; JURIST report] denouncing the nation's alleged human rights violations. In June, the UNHRC criticized the government of Myanmar [JURIST report] for its continued human rights abuses and refusal to cooperate with humanitarian groups.






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Germany parliament approves late-term abortion restrictions
Christian Ehret on May 14, 2009 12:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The German Bundestag [official website, in German] voted Wednesday in favor of heightened requirements for late-term abortions including a three-day waiting period and a mandatory psychological evaluation. Current law in Germany outlaws abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy [text, PDF, in German] except in circumstances in which the mental or physical health of the mother is threatened or when the fetus is severely affected and may not be viable. The amendments to the Conflicts of Pregnancy Act [materials, in German], approved by a vote of 326-234, require doctors to counsel pregnant women seeking a late-term abortion about possible medical and psychological consequences and impose a three-day consideration period between the counseling session and the procedure. The legislation is aimed at reducing the number of late-term abortions currently being sought by encouraging pregnant women to change their minds. Doctors failing to impose the new regulations may be fined [Local report]. Some members of the Social Democratic Party [party website, in German] urged for a more flexible waiting period [DW report] that could be determined on a case-by-case basis. The new regulations will go into effect in 2010.

Abortion laws in Europe vary, with most countries allowing the procedure to be performed up to twelve weeks [BBC backgrounder] into pregnancy. In March, Spain proposed changes to liberalize their abortion laws, sparking widespread protests [JURIST reports]. In 1992, the US Supreme Court approved a 24-hour waiting period [opinion text] imposed by Pennsylvania for obtaining an abortion, holding that such a requirement was not an undue burden on the pregnant woman.






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Russia plan would shift appointment of Constitutional Court chief to parliament
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2009 11:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Speaker of the Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] Boris Gryzlov said Wednesday that a proposal by President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] to allow parliament to select the head of the Constitutional Court will be supported by the parliamentary majority. Under the proposed legislative amendments [Moscow Times report], the 19 members of the court would no longer have the authority to elect their own president to serve a three-year term. Instead, the president of the court would be chosen by the Russian Federation Council [official website, in Russian], the upper house of parliament. Gryzlov said the proposed changes are in line with the practices of other countries [Itar-Tass report], citing the US system in which the president nominates all members of the Supreme Court. Critics have said [Telegraph report] that the move appears to be an attempt by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website to make it easier for himself to run for president before he is eligible in 2012 by limiting potential challenges in the Constitutional Court.

In January, amendments [JURIST report] to the Russian Constitution [materials, in Russian] extending term limits for the president and members of parliament officially took effect. The amendments extending presidential terms from four to six years and terms for parliament members from four to five years were signed into law [JURIST report] by Medvedev in December. Medvedev proposed the changes in his first state of the nation [text; JURIST report] address in November. Critics fear the extension of presidential terms was designed to afford a longer third term for Putin should Medvedev step aside. Kremlin officials contended the amendments would strengthen the political system.






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Obama considering five women for Supreme Court nomination: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2009 10:02 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] is considering six possible nominees for the US Supreme Court [official website] to replace retiring Justice David Souter [JURIST report], including five women, the Associated Press reported [AP report] Thursday. This six names disclosed by White House officials are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, US Appeals Court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Pamela Wood, and California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno [official profiles]. Other candidates are reportedly also being considered. Obama met with several Senators Wednesday and told them that he would review candidates over the weekend [Washington Post report], which has led to speculation that an announcement of a nominee could come early next week.

Last week, conservative Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was chosen by Senate Republicans to replace [JURIST report] newly-declared Democrat Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) as ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official websites]. Sessions will play a key role in questioning Obama's nominee. Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] has said that he hopes to have a replacement for Souter confirmed [JURIST report] by the beginning of the Court's 2009 term in October. When news of Souter's retirement first became public earlier this month, Obama said [JURIST report] he would, "seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity."






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Italy lower house approves bill increasing penalties for illegal immigration
Christian Ehret on May 14, 2009 9:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian], the lower house of parliament, on Wednesday approved legislation [materials, in Italian] that would increase the penalties for illegal immigration by a vote of 297-255. The controversial legislation provides that an alien who enters or resides in Italy in violation of existing immigration laws shall be fined between 5,000 and 10,000 euros. Landlords who knowingly lease to illegal immigrants [AP report] may now face up to three years in prison. The legislation is aimed at lowering crime associated with illegal immigrants and would allow for the formation of civilian anti-crime patrols [EUobserver report]. Opponents of the legislation have criticized it as xenophobic, but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian] has defended [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] it as important for public safety. The measure still needs to be approved [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] by the Senate [official website, in Italian].

Illegal immigration is an increasing problem [BBC report] in Italy that resulted in approximately 36,000 people arriving by boat last year, mostly from Africa. Last week, the Italian government sent 227 migrants back to Libya [AFP report] without asylum hearings in violation of the UN Refugee Convention [text]. The UN Refugee Agency [official website] urged Italian authorities [text] to reconsider their position, pointing out that Libya is not a member of the UN Refugee Convention and is lacking a functional asylum system. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized the actions [HRW report], maintaining that returning the migrants to Libya put them at risk for harm and inhumane treatment. In November, UN human rights experts expressed concern [JURIST report] for Italy's treatment of detained migrants and asylum seekers.






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Bybee declines Senate committee request to testify on interrogation memos
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 14, 2009 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Former head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] and federal judge Jay Bybee [official profile], who signed off on memos detailing the legal rationale for enhanced interrogation techniques, has declined an invitation to testify [JURIST report] before the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] said [testimony] Wednesday. Leahy made the announcement during a hearing [materials; JURIST report] before the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts [official website] on whether Bush administration interrogation techniques constituted torture. Leahy offered no explanation why Bybee chose not to testify, but said:

Since Judge Bybee, through his lawyers, has declined to testify before the Committee at this time about his role in the drafting and authorization of memoranda from the Office of Legal Counsel that permitted torture, I can only presume that he has no exonerating information to provide. Judge Bybee must know that the presumption in our civil law is that when a person fails to come forward with information in his possession that is relevant to a matter, it is presumed to be because the information is negative and not helpful to his cause.

Testifying voluntary before the Judiciary Committee about these now-public memoranda is one way in which Judge Bybee could have helped complete the record of what happened and why but he refused. This is especially inappropriate given that Judge Bybee has hardly maintained silence about these matters. He has talked to friends and employees, he has communicated to the press and he has communicated through his lawyers to the Justice Department regarding the Office of Professional Responsibility's review of his actions while a government employee in the Office of Legal Counsel. Apparently the only people he will not explain his actions to are the people who granted him a lifetime appointment to the Federal bench -- the American people through their elected representatives in Congress.
As former head of the OLC, Bybee signed off on a recently released [JURIST report] memo [text, PDF] authorizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Leahy called for Bybee's resignation [AFP report] from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] after the memo was released. Bybee also signed off on a previously released controversial memo [text, PDF] that 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."





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European Commission fines Intel €1.06 billion for antitrust violations
Matt Glenn on May 13, 2009 4:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] fined [EC press release] computer chip maker Intel Corp. [corporate website] €1.06 billion Wednesday for violating European Union antitrust laws and ordered Intel to cease engaging in the anti-competitive behaviors. The EC announced that Intel violated the laws [Article 82 backgrounder] by giving computer companies rebates to purchase nearly all of their supplies from Intel and paying companies not to use products made by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate website], Intel's main competitor. The EC has indicated that the fine must be paid within three months and that the 542-page decision will be published soon [EC press release]. AMD president and CEO Dirk Meyer hailed the ruling [AMD press release] as "an important step toward establishing a truly competitive market." Intel announced [Intel press release] that it would appeal the decision but would comply with it in the meantime.

Intel has faced numerous antitrust suits [JURIST news archive]. Last June, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] opened a probe against Intel [JURIST report] for anti-competitive behavior. Last year, the Korean Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) [official website] fined Intel nearly $26 million [JURIST report] after a KFTC probe [JURIST report] found that the company had engaged in anti-competitive practices. The state of New York opened an antitrust probe [JURIST report] into Intel's actions and AMD also filed [JURIST report] a civil suit [complaint, PDF; Intel response] against the company last year.






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Bush-era interrogation techniques discussed at Senate panel hearing
Matt Glenn on May 13, 2009 2:54 PM ET

[JURIST] In the first hearing [materials] on whether Bush administration interrogation techniques constituted torture, one witness before the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts [official website] on Wednesday called memos on enhanced interrogation methods "an ethical train wreck" and another witness claimed that the methods were not effective. Georgetown law professor David Luban [academic profile] testified [testimony]:

Unfortunately, the interrogation memos fall far short of professional standards of candid advice and independent judgment. They involve a selective and in places deeply eccentric reading of the law. The memos cherry-pick sources of law that back their conclusions, and leave out sources of law that do not. They read as if they were reverse engineered to reach a pre-determined outcome: approval of waterboarding and the other CIA techniques.
Ali Soufan, who interrogated terrorists, called the enhanced interrogation methods [testimony] "ineffective, slow and unreliable." Former Counselor of the Department of State and executive director of the 9/11 Commission Phillip Zekilow testified [testimony, PDF] that although he was unable to determine whether Justice Department lawyers acted unethically or improperly in writing the memos, he believed that "some of their legal opinions on this subject were unsound, even unreasonable." St. Mary's law professor Jeffrey Addicott [academic profile] testified [testimony] that none of the enhanced interrogation techniques meet the internationally accepted definition of torture. Addicott recently wrote on the topic for JURIST [JURIST op-ed]. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] stated [text] that federal judge Jay Bybee [official profile] had declined Leahy's request [JURIST report] to testify at the hearing.

The recent release of four CIA interrogation memos [JURIST report] has renewed calls for the criminal prosecution of the memos' authors. Last month, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] said that the US must prosecute [JURIST report] DOJ lawyers who drafted the memos. US President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report].





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Federal judge adopts new standard in ordering release of Guantanamo detainee
Benjamin Hackman on May 13, 2009 2:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Judge Gladys Kessler of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] has released an opinion [text] to accompany last week's order [text, PDF; JURIST report] granting the habeas corpus petition of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed. In the heavily redacted opinion, released Monday, Kessler adopted a "substantially supported" standard for reviewing the habeas petitions filed by detainees, which makes no reference to the "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] classification upon which the previous standard was based. Kessler wrote that the government failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Ahmed was "part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." According to the opinion, the government failed to prove that Ahmed participated in fighting, received military training, or substantially supported al Qaeda or the Taliban. At least four witnesses on whose statements the government based its case against Ahmed were speculative, vague, or not credible [Washington Post report]. Ahmed denied he ever engaged in terrorist activities.

Ahmed was picked up [DOD materials, PDF] in an al Qaeda safe house in 2002 in Pakistan. The government had argued that Ahmed's detention was justified under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) [text]. Kessler noted that the Obama administration relies on the AUMF rather than Article II of the US Constitution as a source of authority for detaining terrorism suspects but no longer uses the term "enemy combatant" as a criterion for ordering such detentions. Last month, another district judge for the District of Columbia adopted [JURIST report] the "substantially supported" standard for authorizing and reviewing detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo proposed by the Department of Justice [official website].






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Obama seeking delay of detainee photos release
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2009 1:51 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] has decided to seek a delay of the release of photographs depicting the allegedly abusive treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing an earlier decision, White House officials said Wednesday. Last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] agreed to release [JURIST report] at least 44 photographs pursuant to a court order. The photos were scheduled to be released May 28. Obama reversed that decision after meeting last week with White house lawyers, citing concerns over retribution against US troops serving overseas. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also wrote to Obama last week to urge him to fight the release of the photos [press release]. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during a Wednesday press briefing [transcript]:

The President does not believe that the strongest case regarding the release of these photos was presented to the court, and that was a case based on his concern of what the release of these would do to our national security. He believes that the release of these photos could pose a threat to the men and women we have in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and doesn't believe that we made - doesn't believe that the government made the strongest case possible to the court and asked the legal team to go make that case.
Obama later said [statement]:
Now, let me be clear: I am concerned about how the release of these photos would be - would impact on the safety of our troops. I have made it very clear to all who are within the chain of command, however, of the United States Armed Forces that the abuse of detainees in our custody is prohibited and will not be tolerated. ... Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] decried [press release] Wednesday's announcement, saying, "The Obama administration's adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president's stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government."

In a letter [letter, PDF] sent last month to Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], the DOJ said it would comply with his 2005 order [text, PDF] to release 21 photos, taken by an investigator at Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] prison and later provided to the Army's Criminal Investigative Division [official website] after the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] lost a challenge to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request brought by the ACLU. The DOD subsequently appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], and lost [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. In the letter to Hellerstein, the DOJ informed him that they would not appeal their case to the Supreme Court, but instead would comply fully with the FOIA request.

8:30 PM ET - The DOJ has sent a new letter [text, PDF] to Hellerstein, saying that "the Government has decided to pursue further options regarding that decision, including, but not limited to the option of seeking certiorari.





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Ninth Circuit upholds dismissal of suit against gun maker for 1999 shooting
Benjamin Hackman on May 13, 2009 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] Monday that tort claims against a federally licensed gun maker and gun dealer stemming from a 1999 California shooting must be dismissed under a federal statute enacted in 2005. The court concluded that Congress intended the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) [text, PDF], which protects federally licensed gun makers and sellers from civil liability for injuries criminals inflict when using their products against others, to preempt general tort-law claims. The PLCAA requires dismissal of pending civil suits seeking damages for injuries a third party caused using a firearm. The plaintiffs argued the statute is unconstitutional, but the Ninth Circuit determined that the statute, though retroactive, is constitutional because it is in accord with separation-of-powers doctrine, withstands rational-basis review, and does not deprive the plaintiffs of procedural due process. The court also ruled that the PLCAA does not apply to plaintiffs' claims against defendant manufacturer China North [AP report] because China North does not have a federal firearms license. The plaintiffs have not decided if they will appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision.

In 1999, white supremacist Buford Furrow [NYT backgrounder], who illegally possessed at least seven guns, shot and injured five people at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, California. Later that day, Furrow shot and killed postal worker Joseph Ilteo. The shooting victims and Ileto's widow sued gun makers, marketers, distributors, sellers and importers, including Glock Inc. [corporate website] and a Seattle gun dealer, "under California common law tort statutes for foreseeably and proximately causing injury, emotional distress, and death through knowing, intentional, reckless, and negligent conduct." Plaintiffs claimed the defendants intentionally made, marketed, distributed and sold "more firearms than the legitimate market demands in order to take advantage of re-sales to distributors that they know or should know will, in turn, sell to illegal buyers." The district court dismissed the suit in 2002 for failure to state a claim under state law, but the Ninth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs stated cognizable state-law negligence claims regarding the guns Furrow actually used in the shootings. Three years later, after Congress passed the PLCAA, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' suit.






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Turkish secular judges warn ruling Islamic party against constitutional reforms
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2009 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Secular Turkish judges have warned that amendments to the Turkish constitution [text; materials] proposed by the country's ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] that would include restructuring the Constitutional Court [official website, in Turkish] are going too far to promote an Islamic agenda. Head of the Council of State [official website, in Turkish], the country's high administrative court, Mustafa Birden said Saturday that an amendment that threatened secularism would violate both international and domestic law [Hurriyet report]. Birden called for a consensus among political parties [Today's Zaman report] on constitutional amendments. On Monday, chief judge of the Court of Appeals [official website, in Turkish] Hasan Gerceker, said that conditions are not right for constitutional amendments [Gercek Gundem report, in Turkish] at the moment and that the judiciary must maintain its independence and should not be chosen by political parties.

The judges' recent comments are the latest examples of tension between pro-secularists and the AKP. In July, the Constitutional Court narrowly rejected a bid to ban [JURIST reports] the AKP, which was accused of ignoring the secular principles of the country's constitution. Six of the 11 judges on the court favored dissolving the party, but seven would have been required to successfully pass the ban. The court agreed that the party violated the constitution's secular principles, but only ordered that the state treasury reduce the party's funding by half in response. Constitutional reforms are currently an issue as Turkey seeks European Union (EU) [official website] accession [criteria materials]. The EU has told Turkey to amend its constitution that was written under military rule and limits freedom of expression and freedom of religion.






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New York State Assembly approves same-sex marriage bill
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 13, 2009 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The New York State Assembly [official website] on Tuesday passed a bill [text; materials] that would allow same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] to be performed in the state. The legislation, which was introduced last month [press release; JURIST report] by New York Governor David Paterson [official profile], passed by a vote of 89-52. The assembly passed a similar measure [JURIST report] in 2007, and five members who voted against that bill voted in favor [NYT report] of Tuesday's bill. Gay rights group the Empire State Pride Agenda [advocacy website] applauded [press release] Tuesday's vote, and called on the New York State Senate [official website] to pass the legislation as well. The bill now goes before the Senate, where its future is uncertain. The 2007 measure was defeated in the Senate. The proposed legislation is strongly opposed by conservative groups such as New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and the Alliance Defense Fund [advocacy websites], as well as the Conservative Party of New York State [party website], which has threatened to end support for any politician who votes for the bill.

If the Senate were to approve the bill, New York would become the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Last week, Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage [JURIST report] when Governor John Baldacci [official website] signed a same-sex marriage bill into law. Last month, Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports] as the other states that allow same-sex marriage. A same-sex marriage bill is currently before the New Hampshire [JURIST report] governor.






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Former high-value CIA detainee dies in Libya prison
Adrienne Lester on May 13, 2009 7:55 AM ET

[JURIST] A former high-value US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] detainee died in a Libyan prison Tuesday. Ali Mohamed Abdelaziz al Fakhiri, also known as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi [Newsweek backgrounder], apparently committed suicide [Reuters report] in his cell at al Saleem prison. The Bush administration cited al-Libi as the source of the flawed pre-Iraq war intelligence that Saddam Hussein provided weapons training to members of al Qaeda [JURIST news archives]. Al-Libi later claimed he fabricated the allegations because he was abused by Egyptian interrogators. Al-Libi was also a commander of the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan [JURIST news archive] and was named as a potential witness for the defense in US terrorism trials. However, since he was formerly part of the US secret extraordinary rendition program [JURIST new archive], it was never officially confirmed he was in Libyan custody. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has called for an investigation [HRW press release] into al-Libi's death.

The circumstances of al-Libi's death renew concerns [Reuters report] about US links to nations with questionable human rights records, especially concerning the custody of high-value detainees facing terrorism charges. Libya has a mixed human rights record in recent years. Under international pressure, they released two political prisoners [JURIST report] convicted of a plan to overthrow the government of Libya. Relations between Libya and the US are improving, though the State Department recently criticised [JURIST report] Libya for its continued detention of political prisoners [JURIST report] in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials]. In 2008, the US and Libya reached an agreement to settle all pending lawsuits [JURIST report] brought by US terror victims against Libya. In 2004, the US lifted the remaining sanctions [JURIST report] against Libya as a reward for its agreement to dismantle its weapons programs. At the same time, Libya faced international criticism [JURIST report] for its treatment of six foreign medics [JURIST news archive] accused infecting hospital patients with HIV in 2007.






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France lower house approves amended internet piracy bill
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2009 3:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The French National Assembly [official website, in French] on Tuesday approved an amended version of a controversial internet piracy bill [materials, in French] that would cut off internet access for those who repeatedly illegally download copyrighted material by a vote of 296 to 233. The bill, which was defeated last month when only a few lawmakers were present to vote after it won preliminary parliamentary approval [JURIST reports], is supported by French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French]. The bill proposes a "three strikes" plan in which any internet user tagged by an ISP as downloading the material would initially receive two warnings, followed by up to a one-year ban for the third offense. Users would be responsible for controlling the use of their own connections, and the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet [materials, in French], referred to as "Hadopi" by local media, would use discretion in determining whether to ban offending users. The bill will go before the Senate [official website, in French] on Wednesday, where it is expected to be approved [AP report].

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [organization website], representing the worldwide recording industry, has welcomed the legislation [press release], while French consumer interest group UFC-Que Choisir [advocacy website, in French] has denounced it [press release, in French] as ineffective. The assembly began considering the bill [JURIST report] in March after it passed through the French senate in October 2008.






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US elected to UN rights council seat for first time
Adrienne Lester on May 12, 2009 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The US was elected [press release] to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] for the first time Tuesday. The US received 90 percent of the votes from the UN General Assembly [official website]. In total, 18 countries were elected to the 47-member council responsible for the global promotion of human rights. Countries with questionable human rights records such as China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia [JURIST news archives] were re-elected under criticism [AP report] from human rights groups. Former Czech president Vaclav Havel on Sunday called the elections a "farce" [NYT op-ed], saying the lack of competition - only 20 countries running for 18 seats - "ensur[es] there is no opportunity to choose the best proponents of human rights each region has to offer."

In April, the US State Department [official website] released [press release; JURIST report] its commitments and pledges [text; PDF] to human rights in anticipation of Tuesday's election. The US announced its intent to seek a seat on the council [JURIST report] in early April, hoping to affect more change by working from inside the council than by boycotting the effort. The UNHRC was created [JURIST report] in 2006, at which time the Bush administration declined to seek a Council seat or participate in its proceedings due to a perceived anti-Israeli sentiment by the UNHRC.






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Russia, Japan to renew talks on WWII peace treaty at G8 summit
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2009 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] said Tuesday that President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso [official websites] will discuss a possible peace treaty between the two nations at a G8 summit in Italy in July. Putin spoke at a news conference [Interfax report] following talks with Japanese officials during his visit to Japan [materials]. A dispute over the control of an island chain, known as the Kurils Islands in Russia and the Northern Territories [Japan MOFA materials] in Japan, has led to the absence of a formal peace treaty [JURIST report] ending World War II hostilities between Japan and Russia. Putin said that Russia and Japan would explore every option [Kyodo News report] for resolving the dispute. Putin also said Tuesday that he hopes to resolve the dispute by strengthening economic ties [RIA Novosti report] between the two countries.

In 2007, then-Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said that no formal peace treaty would be concluded [JURIST report] between Japan and Russia until Russia relinquishes control of the islands it has occupied since the end of World War II. Possession of the island chain was first transferred from Russia to Japan in 1855 under a friendship treaty. It remained under Japanese control until Russian troops seized the islands during the last days of World War II, an act in violation of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact [text], signed by both nations on April 13, 1941. Abe and Putin discussed the return of the islands [Kyodo News report] during an economic summit in 2005, but no agreement was reached.






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Former Nuremberg prosecutor King dies at age 89
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2009 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] US Nuremberg trials [Yale trial materials] prosecutor Henry King Jr. [academic profile] died [NYT obituary; CWRU press release] Saturday from cancer at the age of 89. King, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law [university website] and a JURIST Forum [website] commentator on war crimes issues, was one of the last three surviving Nuremberg prosecutors, and at 29 was the youngest US prosecutor at Nuremberg at the time of the trials. King was later instrumental in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website], the new international tribunal that now prosecutes suspected war criminals.

Writing in JURIST in 2006, King denounced [JURIST op-ed] the US military commissions at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] as a departure from principles of fair adjudication developed at Nuremberg under the guidance of American chief prosecutor (and later Supreme Court justice) Robert Jackson:

The Military Commissions Act...contains questionable provisions that violate our constitutional arrangements of separation of powers and, arguably, violations of the laws and customs of armed conflict. The stepping away of these legal principles and the loss of our moral high ground is the ultimate challenge to the legacy of Nuremberg so carefully laid down by the principled leadership of Justice Jackson.

With this loss of moral leadership the hard work of a decade of modern international jurisprudence is threatened by politics and a questionable unilateral withdrawal of the world’s only superpower from the norms of international law. With the echo of “the rules have changed” ringing in our ears, America enters the 21st Century under a dark and ominous cloud. The law has been twisted to ensure a type of amnesty for past war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Americans in the “war on terror”, as well as ones that might be committed in the future. Additionally, the role of our courts, a co-equal branch of government, has been carved out of most of the process. Regardless of its constitutionality, the appearance of unfairness is there for the whole world to see.

It would sadden Justice Jackson, and others who were at Nuremberg, to see their government pressing so hard for torture, loss of habeas corpus relief, secret and long term unaccounted for detention, and no judicial involvement in a very questionable legal process. Their hard earned legacy was to try those who committed such acts above.
King was also well-known for his championing of closer legal ties between the US and Canada (Globe & Mail report) as longtime head of the Cleveland-based Canada-United States Law Institute [official website].





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Alabama court begins hearing shareholder lawsuit against ex-HealthSouth CEO
Devin Montgomery on May 12, 2009 10:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Alabama's Jefferson County Circuit Court [official website] on Monday began hearing a $2.6 billion derivative lawsuit brought by HealthSouth [corporate website] shareholders against company founder and former CEO Richard Scrushy [defense website; JURIST news archive] for his alleged role in an accounting fraud scheme at the company. The shareholders claim that Scrushy encouraged others to purposefully inflate company profits [Birmingham News report] in order to qualify himself and other executives for bonuses, directed company contracts towards other companies he owned, traded the company's stock based on insider information, and misused other company resources for his own benefit. Lawyers for Scrushy argue that he did not know [Birmingham News report] that profits were being inflated by other executives and denied other allegations of wrongdoing. In 2006, shareholders won an unjust enrichment lawsuit [opinion, PDF] against Scrushy, recovering some of the bonuses paid to him and others based on the erroneous earnings reports.

In 2007, the US Securities and Exchange Commission settled its accounting fraud claims [press release; JURIST report] against Scrushy for $81 million. In 2005 Scrushy was acquitted [JURIST report] of criminal charges of wire and mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in relation to scheme. Scrunchy was, however, convicted in 2006 [JURIST report] of unrelated federal bribery and fraud charges for paying campaign debts of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman [official profile] in exchange for a seat on a state-operated review board that regulates Alabama hospitals. In March, a three judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that conviction.






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Accused Nazi guard deported to Germany to face accessory to murder charges
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2009 9:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Accused Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] arrived in Germany Tuesday to face accessory to murder charges [JURIST report] for his alleged involvement at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp after being deported [DOJ press release] by the US. Demjanjuk was deported after exhausting his appeals when US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Justice John Paul Stevens denied [JURIST report] an application for stay of deportation [text, PDF] last week. Also, on Monday a German court rejected an appeal of a ruling [JURIST report] by a Berlin court that denied a request to block his deportation. Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer said:

The removal to Germany of John Demjanjuk is an historic moment in the federal government’s efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. ... Mr. Demjanjuk, a confirmed former Nazi death camp guard, denied to thousands the very freedoms he enjoyed for far too long in the United States. Now, finally, Mr. Demjanjuk has been held accountable in one small way for his part in one of the most horrific chapters in history.
Demjanjuk, 89, has fought a lengthy legal battle [AP timeline] over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. In 2008, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey [order, PDF; JURIST report], ending the appeals process for his deportation order. Demjanjuk was appealing a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by then-US Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy which ordered his deportation. Demjanjuk had previously lost his appeal to the BIA. In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court which found that he was a notorious guard from Treblinka nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible." The sentence was vacated by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993, and Demjanjuk returned to the US.





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Federal judge sentenced for lying in sexual harassment investigation
Devin Montgomery on May 12, 2009 9:27 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Samuel Kent [official profile] was sentenced Tuesday to 33 months in prison for obstruction of justice [18 USC § 1512(c)(2) text] for lying to a judicial panel [Fifth Circuit materials] investigating sexual harassment allegations against him. Kent was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $6,550 in restitution as part of a plea agreement [text, PDF; JURIST report] in which prosecutors dropped additional charges against Kent and limited the amount of jail time he could have faced. Despite the sentence, Kent technically retains a pension for his judgeship, though US House Judiciary Committee members John Conyers (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) [official websites] have said they will seek his impeachment [Houston Chronicle report] if he does not resign and forfeit the pension.

Kent's plea prevented him from becoming the first federal judge to go on trial for sexual harassment. He was indicted [text, PDF] last August, and was initially charged with the sexual harassment of his former case manager. Charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of his secretary were added [ABA Journal report] in January. In 2007, the American Bar Association (ABA) [professional association] adopted new policies reforming the Model Code of Judicial Conduct [JURIST report], which for the first time included prohibitions against sexual harassment, although some advocacy groups believe these changes do not go far enough [AP report].






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New York lawyer pleads guilty in $400 million investment scheme
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 12, 2009 8:30 AM ET

[JURIST] New York lawyer Mark Dreier pleaded guilty Monday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to fraud charges for perpetrating a scheme that cost investors more than $400 million. Appearing before Judge Jed Rakoff, Dreier pleaded guilty [WSJ report] to charges of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, admitting that he knew that what he was doing was illegal. Rakoff said that Dreier was a disgrace to the legal profession [AP report]. Despite arguments from the prosecution that Dreier should be immediately incarcerated, Rakoff allowed Dreier to remain under house arrest at his Manhattan apartment until sentencing in two months. The guilty plea was not pursuant to any plea agreement, and Dreier faces up to life in prison.

Dreier, the founder and managing partner of New York-based law firm Dreier LLP, was arrested [DOJ press release] in New York in December after being arrested and then released in Canada. He was charged with one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. A superseding indictment [DOJ press release] filed in March charged him with one count of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, five counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering. Dreier's arrest came shortly before the arrest of financier Bernard Madoff [JURIST report], who was accused of perpetrating a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Madoff pleaded guilty to securities fraud charges [JURIST report] in March.






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Cambodia genocide court denies second bail request of ex-Khmer Rouge official
Ximena Marinero on May 11, 2009 3:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [official website] on Monday denied [press release] a second request for release on bail by former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Thirith [JURIST news archive]. Ieng was Minister of Social Action in the Democratic Kampuchea regime, and is currently under investigation for charges of crimes against humanity. In Novermber 2007, investigating judges ordered her arrest [JURIST report] and provisional detention. The order was extended for another year in November 2008. The decision on Monday also dismissed Ieng's appeal against the extension, finding that:

provisional detention still remains a necessary measure to prevent the Charged Person from exerting pressure on witnesses or destroying evidence. Furthermore, the Pre-Trial Chamber deems detention necessary in order to ensure the presence of the Charged Person during the judicial proceedings and to preserve public order.
Ieng's lawyer said that they will further pursue the issue at trial. Ieng maintains that another former Khmer Rouge official, Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report], was responsible for the crimes for which she has been charged.

The ECCC is in the midst of the first trial of a former Khmer Rouge leader, Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch backgrounder, JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch." In late April, Kaing admitted to training prison staff to use torture [JURIST report] to obtain confessions from prisoners, after he accepted responsibility [JURIST report] for the deaths of 12,000 Cambodians in the S-21 prison camp [backgrounder]. Kaing's trial is the first of eight [JURIST report] that the ECCC hopes to hear against former members of the Khmer Rouge, which has been accused of murdering 1.7 million Cambodians during its nearly four-year reign.





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Afghanistan parliament calls for regulation of foreign forces in wake of air strikes
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2009 3:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga [official website], the lower house of the Afghan parliament, on Monday demanded that restrictions be placed on foreign forces to avoid further civilian casualties before recessing in protest of recent air strikes. Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi said that parliament has given the government one week to come up with a plan to regulate US and other foreign troops [Reuters report]. Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] also called for an end to US air strikes [CNN report] on Friday after attacks last week reportedly left more than 140 civilians dead. US President Barack Obama's national security adviser retired Gen. James Jones told ABC Sunday that the US would not end air strikes [interview transcript].

On Saturday, the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Afghan government issued a joint statement admitting that civilians were killed [AFP report] in last week's attacks. No numbers were released, as the statement said it was impossible to tell how many civilians and how many Taliban [JURIST news archive] members were killed. On Sunday, the US replaced its top commander [Guardian report] in Afghanistan General David McKiernan with Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal after McKiernan had spent only 11 months on the job.






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Indigenous Sami people file suit against Sweden for violating land use rights
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2009 1:50 PM ET

[JURIST] The Swedish Sami Association (SSR) [advocacy website, in Swedish] on Monday brought a lawsuit against the Swedish government [press release, PDF, in Swedish; backgrounder, PDF, in Swedish] claiming that the state is violating the hunting rights [application summary, PDF, in Swedish] of the indigenous Sami people, also known as Lapps. The SSR filed the lawsuit in the Gallivare District Court seeking to resolve a dispute over mountainous land in northern Sweden. Swedish law gives the Sami people the right to herd reindeer, hunt, and fish in the area, but since 2007, all European Union (EU) citizens have been permitted to hunt and fish in the mountains. Chairman of the SSR Per Gustav Idivuoma said:

We have a legal uncertainty. This must be sorted out so that all concerned know what is applicable for the future. ... We think we have good chances to win such a process. It would mean that [the government] recognizes the right of the Sami hunting and fishing in the mountains.
The Sami were traditionally reindeer herders. Today there are about 20,000 Sami in northern Sweden, as well as in Russia, Norway, and Finland. In August, the Swedish government told the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that racial discrimination against the Sami continues to be a problem [report summary] in the country. In 2007, the Swedish Sami gained some control over their traditional land [Reuters report] when the Sami parliament [official website, in Swedish], previously just an advisory panel, was given authority over local reindeer herding issues.





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Iran court releases US journalist after suspending sentence
Ximena Marinero on May 11, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] US journalist Roxana Saberi [advocacy site; JURIST news archive] was released from an Iranian prison Monday after an Iranian court of appeals on Sunday reduced her eight-year sentence for espionage to two years and then suspended the sentence. According to statements from Saberi's lawyer, the court determined that the espionage charge was not valid [RFE report] since the US is not an enemy government, but could not ignore that the nature of Saberi's actions had posed a threat to Iranian national security. Saberi had appealed her conviction for espionage [JURIST reports] in late April, and she had been on a hunger strike in protest of her imprisonment.

Saberi was originally arrested [NYT report] in March after buying a bottle of wine, as alcohol consumption is illegal under Iranian law. It was believed that the charges against Saberi would be working without Iranian press credentials, but the Iranian government charged her with espionage [JURIST report], accusing her of passing classified information to US intelligence services. Saberi had been in jail since January and her trial was held in mid-April behind closed doors. Her detention and conviction provoked much international outcry [CPJ letter], and heightened tension in US-Iranian relations [DOS report].






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DOJ to reverse Bush administration antitrust policies
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2009 12:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Monday that it is reversing Bush administration antitrust policies [press release] that made it difficult to act against large companies that harm the interests of smaller companies. In a speech [materials] before the Center for American Progress [advocacy website], Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division [official website] Christine Varney said that the DOJ is withdrawing a September report [PDF text; DOJ materials] entitled "Competition and Monopoly: Single-Firm Conduct Under Section 2 of the Sherman Act," because it "raised too many hurdles to government antitrust enforcement and favored extreme caution and the development of safe harbors for certain conduct within reach of Section 2." Varney said:

Withdrawing the Section 2 report is a shift in philosophy and the clearest way to let everyone know that the Antitrust Division will be aggressively pursuing cases where monopolists try to use their dominance in the marketplace to stifle competition and harm consumers. ... The Division will return to tried and true case law and Supreme Court precedent in enforcing the antitrust laws. ... The recent developments in the marketplace should make it clear that we can no longer rely upon the marketplace alone to ensure that competition and consumers will be protected.
When the report was released in September, three of the four sitting US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website; JURIST news archive] members denounced it [JURIST report] as "a blueprint for radically weakened enforcement" of federal antitrust law. The report explored single entity violations of Section 2 of the Sherman Act [text], in which a competitor seeks or maintains monopoly power which harms consumers.





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Rights groups decry Obama military commissions revival plan
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2009 10:47 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Saturday harshly criticized [press release] the Obama administration's reported consideration of reviving [JURIST report] the military commissions system to try Guantanamo Bay detainees [JURIST news archives]. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero called the plans "fatally flawed," saying the "military commissions are built on unconstitutional premises and designed to ensure convictions, not provide fair trials." The Policy Director for Counterterrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] wrote [WSJ op-ed] in Monday's Wall Street Journal, "[s]hould the president decide to abandon a campaign pledge to 'reject' the Military Commissions Act, he will be breathing life into a court system with the fewest rights for suspects of any court in the Western world." On Thursday, AI urged [press release] that, "[a]ny trials of Guantanamo detainees should be conducted before US federal civilian courts in trials that meet international standards."

On his first day in office in January, Obama directed [motion, PDF; JURIST report] military prosecutors to pursue a 120-day continuance in the military commission proceedings against five alleged 9/11 co-conspirators [DOD materials], and then ordered [JURIST report] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to implement a halt to the proceedings [DOD press release] pending a comprehensive review of all Guantanamo detentions under the supervision of Attorney General Eric Holder. That suspension is set to expire May 20. Rights groups have long criticized military commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions. In March 2008, the president of the American Bar Association expressed grave concern over the military commissions process [JURIST report], noting that hearsay testimony and coerced confessions were admitted even when obtained through now-illegal advanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. As a presidential candidate, Obama declared that he would "reject the Military Commissions Act" [speech text], but since assuming the presidency has not definitively ruled out the system. During a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing [video; JURIST report] earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that military commissions are "still on the table."






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Iceland parliament to consider EU accession
Devin Montgomery on May 11, 2009 10:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Iceland Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir [official profile; personal website, in Icelandic] said Sunday that the country's parliament will consider applying [press release] to join the European Union (EU) [official website] by holding a referendum when it meets on May 15. Sigurdardottir made the announcement shortly after constituting the cabinet of the country's new Social Democratic [party website, in Icelandic] and Left Green [party website] coalition government [press release]. The two parties are split [Iceland Review report] on whether to join the EU, but Sigurdardottir said that joining the Union and adopting the Euro would help stabilize the country's economy, which has recently suffered significant declines [BBC backgrounder].

If Iceland decides to seek EU accession [criteria materials], it would become one of several countries currently doing so including Turkey, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia, though it will likely face fewer obstacles. Earlier this year, a report [text, PDF, in Turkish] by advocacy group Tesev [advocacy website] argued that Turkish property rights still fell short [JURIST report] of those required to join the EU, and the European Commission (EC) [official website] has said that Romania must do more to fight corruption [report, PDF; JURIST report] before it can join. The EC has also said that Serbia may be eligible to join the Union [JURIST report] if it takes the appropriate steps, and Croatia has sought to create special courts [proposal, DOC, in Croatian; JURIST report] targeted at organized crime in their accession efforts.






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US judge rejects delay of first military commission hearing since suspension order
Devin Montgomery on May 11, 2009 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Military judge Colonel James Pohl has rejected a motion to delay a military commission [JURIST news archive] hearing for Saudi Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi [DOD materials], according to a Sunday report [text] by the Miami Herald. The hearing, scheduled for May 27, would be the first to be held since US President Barack Obama suspended [motion, PDF; JURIST report] the commission system in January. It will address al-Darbi's claims that self-incriminating statements he made while being detained were elicited through torture and should be excluded from the case against him. Lawyers for al-Darbi had sought additional time to prepare for the hearing, but Pohl rejected the request, saying that had been given enough time to prepare and that the hearing was necessary in order for al-Darbi's trial to begin. It is not yet clear whether or not the Obama administration will continue the use of the military commission system [JURIST report].

Al-Darbi is the brother-in-law of Khalid al Mihdhar, one of the September 11 hijackers who crashed a jet into the Pentagon. In March 2008, the US Department of Defense confirmed [press release; JURIST report] that al-Darbi had been charged [text, PDF; JURIST report] for his alleged role in a plan to bomb a ship off the coast of Yemen or in the Strait of Hormuz. He is accused of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism under Sections 950v(b)(28) and (25) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF]. He also allegedly attended and worked at an al Qaeda terrorist training camp and traveled to various locales in Pakistan, the UAE, and Qatar to buy materials and recruit help. Al-Darbi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and has tried to boycott [JURIST report] his trial.






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FBI failing to maintain accurate terrorist watchlist: DOJ report
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 11, 2009 8:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The FBI [official website] has failed to maintain an accurate and effective terrorist watchlist [FBI FAQ] by failing to include known terrorism suspects and to remove records of people that have been cleared, according to a report [text, PDF] by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official websites]. The report, released last Wednesday, contains the results of an audit conducted in 2008, which found, "that the FBI failed to nominate many subjects in the terrorism investigations that we sampled, did not nominate many others in a timely fashion, and did not update or remove watchlist records as required." The audit also found that, "several persons with names matching the subjects who were not watchlisted or who were untimely watchlisted attempted to cross U.S. borders during the period the names were not watchlisted." The report contained 16 recommendations, which include:

establishing timeframe requirements for headquarters units to process watchlist nominations, modifications, and removals; creation of a process to modify and remove known or suspected terrorists placed on the watchlist by CJIS and Legal Attachés; and re-evaluation of the watchlist records that are not sourced to a current terrorism case.
FBI Assistant Director John Miller [official profile] responded [press release] that the FBI "remain[s] committed to improving our watchlist policy and practices to ensure the proper balance between national security protection and the need for accurate, efficient and streamlined watchlisting processes."

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] said [press release] that the terrorist watchlist is too large [JURIST report], contains inaccuracies, and should include more safeguards to prevent the unnecessary targeting of passengers for additional security screenings. In March 2008, the OIG issued a report [text, PDF] saying that FBI had submitted inaccurate information to the list [JURIST report], that the information was rarely reviewed before its submission, and even if discrepancies become apparent they were often left unchanged. In response to the audit, Miller said that the agency was working with the DOJ and other partner agencies [press release] to "ensure the proper balance between national security protection and the need for accurate, efficient, and streamlined watchlist processes."





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Lawyers who authorized torture 'disgraced profession': JFK counsel Sorensen
Andrew Morgan on May 10, 2009 11:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Ted Sorensen, former special counsel to US President John F. Kennedy, said in a commencement address [Lincoln Journal Star report] at the University of Nebraska College of Law [official website] Saturday that lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] who authorized the use of enhanced interrogation techniques had "disgraced not only their country but their profession." Addressing law school graduates, Sorensen focused on the legal rationales put forward by Bush administration lawyers to justify the decisions of other officials, saying that "[i]n a country based on the rule of law, in which no man is above the law, whatever his rank or title, no man can undertake, authorize or immunize unlawful conduct." Sorensen argued that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques eroded the "moral high ground" of the US, weakened US standing with allies and promoted the recruitment efforts of terrorist organizations, thereby weakening national security:

Virtually every lawyer worth his diploma knows that the United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions on War Crimes and the 1984 Convention Against Torture; that waterboarding is torture and that torture is illegal, regardless of pieces of paper from Justice Department lawyers who disgraced not only their country but their profession, a fact of which their respective Bar Associations should take note. Those lawyers apparently thought in 2003-04 that their client was the President and later his Attorney General. Wrong. Their client was the American people who had a right to expect that their lawyers would know the law and uphold it, not attempt to redefine it or interpret it away...

A few years ago the American Bar Association established a Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession. I had the privilege to be named Honorary Co-Chairman. The Commission reminded all members of the Bar of their obligations to do justice, to obey the law, to defend the Constitution and to insist that our country observe international law in concert with other law-abiding. That’s what lawyers do.

That’s what many brave members of the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps did when they had the courage and integrity to stand up for the law and protest those fraudulent legal justifications for torture emanating from a Justice Department that they realized was spouting injustice.

Too many other American lawyers remained silent while our Constitution was being violated, while the rule of law was being flouted. Silent. But as Martin Luther King said: “There comes a time when silence means betrayal.” Those military lawyers deserve medals.
Sorensen reminded the graduates of the challenge faced in the darkest days of the Kennedy administration. Referring once again to the so-called 'torture memos", he noted that
One apologist for those mindless Justice Department opinions authorizing and justifying torture said by way of excuse: “Remember it was a time of high danger.”

High danger? Almost 47 years ago, the President of the United States learned that the Soviet Union had suddenly, secretly rushed nuclear intermediate-range missiles onto the island of Cuba, 90 miles from our shores, with the apparent intent of using them for either nuclear obliteration or nuclear blackmail; and we entered a period that historians have subsequently called the most dangerous 13 days in the history of mankind. President Kennedy did not seek or claim extraordinary emergency legal authority. He did not order the imprisonment, much less the torture, of all Communists or Cubans in our country, nor have their telephones tapped without a warrant. Mindful of international law, he took America’s case to the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and he redesigned a proposed blockade of Cuba into quarantine against offensive weapons, carefully balancing deterrence and defense with dialogue and diplomacy, thereby avoiding both nuclear war and a diminution of our security or our adherence to international law.
Sorensen, now 81, is the latest prominent public figure to denounce the involvement of US authorities in alleged torture of detainees held at US facilities, including Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Base [JURIST news archives], after the April release of four CIA interrogation memos [JURIST report]. Last month, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile; JURIST news archive] , Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] renewed his call [JURIST report] for the formation of a non-partisan "truth commission" to investigate torture allegations, including those against Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee [JURIST news archives]. Also last month, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] insisted that under international law the US must prosecute [JURIST report] DOJ lawyers who drafted the memos. President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report].





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Bangladesh foreign minister begins 13-year corruption sentence
Andrew Morgan on May 10, 2009 11:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bangladeshi foreign minister Morshed Khan began serving as a 13-year sentence on Sunday, after surrendering to a Dhaka court. Khan, who served from 2001 to 2006 under former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [profile] was convicted [Reuters report] last September of illegally amassing nearly $250,000 by the country's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) [governing statute]. Khan fled the country following the January 2007 state of emergency declaration [JURIST report] suspended democratic rights throughout the country. The trial court denied Khan's request for bail in compliance with a directive from the High Court of Bangladesh. Three other Zia officials were jailed [JURIST report] in November. Zia herself was arrested on suspicion of corruption [JURIST report] in September 2007.

Khan was one of nearly 200 former government officials charged with corruption by the interim military government of former-President Iajuddin Ahmed. In April, prosecutors dropped [JURIST report] some of the corruption charges against current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [official profile]. Hasina served as prime minister from 1996-2001 and was re-elected in December after Ahmed lifted the state of emergency [JURIST report]. In May 2008, Hasina was indicted [JURIST report] after the ACC accused her of receiving about $440,000 in illegal kickbacks from a power-plant deal during her prior tenure as prime minister, accusations which she denies [JURIST report]. Bangladesh's anti-corruption crackdown began after the declaration of emergency in February 2007 as eight former Bangladeshi ministers were accused of corruption and 13 other former ministers and senior politicians were arrested in raids on their homes [JURIST reports].






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UN adds new dangerous chemicals to treaty blacklist
Amelia Mathias on May 9, 2009 10:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Environment Programme [official website], meeting in Geneva on Saturday, decided to add nine chemicals [press release] to its list of banned chemicals under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) [official website]. Not all the added chemicals will be banned immediately [Houston Chronicle report], however, as some will need to be phased out over time and others will be permitted in limited use where there are no alternatives currently available for their purpose. The Convention also reached an understanding on the use of DDT [EPA materials], one of the original "dirty dozen" POPs, acknowledging that some countries rely on the chemical to reduce malaria-bearing mosquitoes and other pests. The nine chemicals that have been banned are all proven to cause immune system damage or death in humans, or cause severe developmental problems in infants. Several of the newly-banned chemicals, including lindane [FDA materials] and hexabromobiphenyl, are already no longer widely in use.

The UN Environment Programme is the environmental arm of the UN established in 1972 under the original Stockholm Convention. Its goals [organization profile, PDF] include conserving endangered species, controlling the movement of hazardous wastes, and conserving reversing the depletion of the ozone layer. The Stockholm Convention on POPs was adopted in 2001 and ratified in 2004, and originally banned twelve chemical substances - ten pesticides (including DDT) and two industrial chemical compounds.






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Canada government to appeal ruling mandating efforts to repatriate Khadr
Ingrid Burke on May 9, 2009 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] An official for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs [official website] Friday confirmed the government’s intention to appeal a Federal Court ruling [text; JURIST report] directing the government to firmly push for the repatriation of Canadian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials, JURIST news archive]. In a brief statement [Toronto Star report] obtained by the Toronto Star, the official emphasized Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s belief that the severity of the crimes allegedly committed by Khadr call for a judicial rather than a political process. Khadr's case has attracted a great deal of international attention due to his status as the only citizen of a Western nation [Human Rights Watch letter] currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, and his status as one of of two detainees being held at the US prison camp for crimes allegedly committed when he was a minor [Human Rights First backgrounder]. Khadr's lawyers have insisted that as signatories to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict [text], both Canada and the US are prohibited from treating a juvenile soldier as a member of enemy forces.

In last month's ruling, Justice James O'Reilly found that Khadr's rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] were infringed by the Canadian government's refusal to request his return. Section 7 provides that "[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." Khadr has allegedly admitted to throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan and was charged [JURIST reports] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.






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US military contractor gets probation after pleading guilty to shooting Afghan detainee
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 8, 2009 2:50 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military contractor who pleaded guilty [press release; JURIST report] in February to voluntary manslaughter for the 2008 shooting of an Afghan detainee was sentenced in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] Friday to five years probation and a $12,500 fine. Don Ayala had been charged with second-degree murder for shooting and killing detainee Abdul Salam in retaliation for Salam's earlier attack on Ayala's fellow contractor Paula Lloyd [HTS in memoriam profile]. At the time of the incident, Ayala was stationed in Afghanistan as a contractor for Strategic Analysis [corporate website] as part of the US Army's Human Terrain System [official website] program. Ayala was prosecuted under Section 3261 of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) [text], which allows criminal charges to be brought against military contractors overseas.

Crimes committed by military contractors abroad have also occurred in Iraq and are considered to be the impetus behind provisions in the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement [PDF text; JURIST report] that give Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over contractors working there. Earlier this week the security company known formerly as Blackwater Worldwide [corporate website] concluded its operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] as its contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq expired. The decision by the Iraqi government not to renew the contract was motivated in part by the alleged killing of 17 civilians by Blackwater guards [JURIST report] in September 2007. In January, five Blackwater guards pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, and weapons charges. A sixth guard pleaded guilty [text, PDF] to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same incident.






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Obama administration to keep Bush-era rule on polar bear global warming protections
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 8, 2009 1:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] will maintain [press release] a controversial Bush-era rule [text, PDF; DOI backgrounder] that limits how polar bears are protected from global warming [JURIST news archive], Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] announced Friday. Salazar had received special permission from Congress to amend the rule, which prevents the use of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [text, PDF] to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Polar bears are protected under the ESA, and environmentalists have argued that the release of greenhouse gases has contributed to global warming, which is destroying the polar bear's arctic habitat. Salazar said:

We must do all we can to help the polar bear recover, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change. However, the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions. Instead, we need a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts – including the loss of sea ice. Both President Obama and I are committed to achieving that goal.
Still, some environmentalists argue that the rule is harmful to polar bears. Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy website] criticized [press release] the decision to maintain the rule, saying it, "made no sense under the Bush administration and it certainly makes no sense for the Obama administration."

The rule was put in place in December after the polar bear was listed [press release] as threatened on the endangered species list last May. The DOI made the designation more than two years after the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council [advocacy websites] petitioned to protect the polar bear under the ESA. Shortly after that, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin [official profile] announced that her office would launch a court challenge [press release; JURIST report] to the listing of the polar bear on the endangered species list. Palin argues that the designation of the polar bear as "threatened" has a negative impact on development in Alaska.





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White House proposes elimination of illegal alien incarceration program
Brian Jackson on May 8, 2009 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Thursday proposed $17 billion in cuts to the fiscal year 2010 federal budget, including cutting $400 million [proposals, PDF] from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) [program website]. SCAAP is a program that subsidizes state and local governments for the costs of incarcerating illegal aliens who commit crimes, and Obama's proposed cut would effectively eliminate the program. The White House said the cut was made because the $400 million could be better spent by the federal government to enhance federal immigration programs, specifically:

In place of SCAAP, the Administration proposes a comprehensive border enforcement strategy that supports resources for a comprehensive approach to enforcement along the Nation's borders that combines law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts to investigate arrest, detain, and prosecute illegal immigrants and other criminals. The initiative also enhances the Department's ability to track fugitives from justice, combat gunrunners and illegal drug traffickers.
Cutting the SCAAP budget is the latest action from the Obama administration aimed at altering US immigration policy. In April, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appointed former federal prosecutor Alan Bersin [JURIST report] as assistant secretary for international affairs and special representative for border affairs to oversee illegal immigration and anti-crime efforts along US borders. These changes may be related to two recently released reports, one by the Associated Press that the US is detaining a record number [JURIST report] of illegal immigrants and a second by the Cardozo School of Law that summarized the Bush administration immigration policies as ineffective [JURIST report].





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Croatia lawmaker convicted of war crimes in death of Serbian civilians
Brian Jackson on May 8, 2009 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Croatian parliament member Branimir Glavas [TrialWatch backgrounder] was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison [Javno report] for the killing of Serbian civilians during the Croatian war of independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Glavas stood accused of ordering the torture and death of Croatian Serbs in the town of Osijek in 1991, a charge he denied. As a safety precaution, Glavas was not in court to hear the verdict. His son was present and, like his father, blamed Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader [Javno report] for the trial and verdict. Glavas is the first Croatian lawmaker to be sentenced for war crimes related to the Croatian war of independence.

In 2008, Glavas had his parliamentary immunity stripped [JURIST report] after winning re-election in November 2007. That 2007 victory restored the immunity that the Croatian Parliament had originally taken away in 2006 after he was arrested [JURIST report] and an investigation began into his potential role in war crimes committed during the Croatian war for independence.






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Federal jury convicts ex-US soldier in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 8, 2009 9:48 AM ET

[JURIST] A jury in US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] on Thursday convicted former Pfc. Steven D. Green [JURIST news archive] of the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive], and the murder of her family in Mahmudiya. Prosecutors had previously elected to seek the death penalty [JURIST report] against Green, one of six soldiers [JURIST report] who was initially charged with the various crimes resulting from the rape and murders. Prosecutors painted Green as the ringleader [JURIST report], saying he had raped the girl, burned her body, and bragged about it later. Green's lawyer had argued [Reuters report] that his client was suffering from extreme stress from combat, and was unable to distinguish friend from foe. Green, who was discharged honorably pursuant to a psychiatric disorder diagnosis before the Army knew of the incident, had been diagnosed with having "homicidal tendencies" [JURIST report] before the rape and murder by Army mental health workers. Sentencing is scheduled for next week. Under federal law, the fact-finder must consider aggravating and mitigating factors [18 USC § 3592] being sentencing someone to death.

Green is the only one of the five soldiers to be tried in federal court because he had been discharged prior to the trial. Three others pleaded guilty in court-martial proceedings, and a fourth was convicted. Spc. James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, were sentenced to 90 and 100 years respectively [JURIST reports], while Pfc. Bryan L. Howard [JURIST reports], who stayed at the checkpoint and had prior knowledge of the plans, was sentenced to 27 months in jail. The fourth, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, was convicted by a military jury and sentenced to 110 years. Prosecutors dropped charges of dereliction of duty against the sixth member, Sgt. Anthony Yribe, who was other than honorably discharged.






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Specter to chair Senate judiciary crime and drugs subcommittee
Bhargav Katikaneni on May 8, 2009 8:49 AM ET

[JURIST] Newly-declared Democratic Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) [official website] was appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs [official website] on Thursday. Specter received [press release] that post from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official website] who voluntarily gave up his position as chairman and is expected to head a newly created subcommittee on human rights and the law [press release]. For his part, Specter, a former Philadelphia District Attorney, now has "jurisdiction over the Department of Justice, the US Sentencing commission, federal programs under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, criminal justice and victim's rights legislation, and oversight of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Secret Service." Specter formerly served as ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website].

After his switch from the Republican party to the Democrats, Senate Republicans appointed [JURIST report] conservative Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] to serve as ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Sessions, a former US attorney whose 1986 nomination to a federal court post was blocked [Washington Post report] because of allegations of racism, is expected to play a leading role in the upcoming Supreme Court nomination hearings to replace retiring Justice David Souter [JURIST report]. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] has said that he hopes to have the new Supreme Court justice confirmed [JURIST report] before the start of the Court's October 2009 term.






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New Jersey high court bars sex offender residence restrictions
Lucas Tanglen on May 8, 2009 8:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that local ordinances prohibiting convicted sex offenders (CSOs) from living near schools, playgrounds, and other public areas were preempted by the state's Megan's Law [text] and, therefore, invalid. The court affirmed a July 2008 decision [JURIST report] in the Appellate Division of Superior Court of New Jersey [official website], in which the "all-encompassing" nature of the registry system was cited in reaching the conclusion that the local ordinances were preempted. The New Jersey Supreme Court noted the "present, stark language" of Megan's Law, under which CSOs must register their location with state officials. The ruling is expected to affect ordinances in more than 100 New Jersey communities.

Courts in other states have also overturned or restricted laws seeking to limit housing options for registered sex offenders. In May 2008, the Indiana Court of Appeals [official website] overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a 2006 state law that prohibited sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, public park, or youth center. In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] unanimously overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a state law that prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, and other areas where children gather. In February 2007, a federal judge ruled that California's Proposition 83 [JURIST news archive], which prohibited California sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any place where children regularly gather, could not be applied retroactively [JURIST report] to more than 90,000 paroled sex offenders because there was nothing in the measure to indicate that intent.






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House Republicans propose bill to let states refuse to take Guantanamo detainees
Lucas Tanglen on May 8, 2009 7:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday announced [press release] the "Keep Terrorists Out of America Act," which would require approval from a state's governor and legislature before Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees could be transferred or released into it. Under the the proposed measure, the federal government would be required, at least 60 days before any such action, to certify to the state that a specific detainee does not pose a security risk. The executive branch would be required to assure Congress that any release or transfer would not impede the detainee's detention or prosecution. House Minority Leader John Boehner [R-OH] said legislative action is necessary because President Barack Obama [official website] has not announced a plan to handle the roughly 240 detainees still housed at Guantanamo since deciding to close the facility [JURIST report]. Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] testified [video] to the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee [official website] that the administration would not endanger Americans in its handling of the remaining Guantanamo detainees.

If successful, the Republican proposal might block a US plan to accept a group of Uighur Muslims [JURIST report] who have been cleared for release. Last week, Holder said that the US had cleared 30 Guantanamo Bay detainees for release and would begin formally requesting [JURIST report] that European countries accept them within weeks. In March, top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders from the European Union (EU) [official website] to discuss preliminary plans to transfer [JURIST report] Guantanamo Bay detainees to European countries. Individual member states have also indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Lithuania, Ireland, Germany, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain, while Italy [JURIST reports] and the Netherlands [AFP report] have said they will not accept detainees.






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Supreme Court justice rejects stay of deportation for accused Nazi guard
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2009 3:36 PM ET

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Justice John Paul Stevens on Thursday denied an application for stay of deportation [text, PDF] filed by accused Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive]. Demjanjuk faces deportation to Germany, where in March a Munich district court charged [JURIST report] him with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder for his alleged involvement at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp. Demjanjuk could choose to file an application with another justice [Plain Dealer report]. Also Thursday, lawyers for Demjanjuk said that he has appealed [AP report] a Wednesday ruling [JURIST report] by a Berlin court that rejected a suit seeking to block his deportation.

Demjanjuk has fought a lengthy legal battle over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. In 2008, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey [order, PDF; JURIST report], ending the appeals process for his deportation order. Demjanjuk was appealing a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by then-US Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy which ordered his deportation. Demjanjuk had previously lost his appeal to the BIA. In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court which found that he was a notorious guard from Treblinka nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible." The sentence was vacated by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993, and Demjanjuk returned to the US.






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Blackwater security firm ends Baghdad operations as contract expires
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2009 1:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The security company known formerly as Blackwater Worldwide [corporate website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday concluded its operations in Baghdad as its contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq ended. A spokesperson from the US Embassy in Iraq [official website] said that the company, nos called XE [corporate website], will remain in southern Iraq [AP report] until the summer. Virgina-based Triple Canopy [corporate website] will take over [CNN report] operations. The US State Department [official website] announced in February that the Blackwater contract would not be renewed [JURIST report] when it expired in May. The decision not to renew the contract was made after the Iraqi government invoked its rights under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [full text; CFR materials] by refusing to renew [JURIST report] Blackwater's operating license.

The decision by the Iraqi government was motivated in part by the alleged killing of 17 civilians by Blackwater guards [JURIST report] in September 2007. In January, five Blackwater guards pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, and weapons charges. A sixth guard pleaded guilty [text, PDF] to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same incident. In November, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified [JURIST report].






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France to take Algerian Guantanamo detainee
Andrew Gilmore on May 7, 2009 12:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The French government on Wednesday confirmed that it will accept Algerian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Lakhdar Boumediene [BBC profile] after his release from the detention center. Boumediene was the named plaintiff in the US Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], in which the Court held that Guantanamo detainees could challenge their imprisonment in federal court through the use of habeas corpus motions. The French agreement [Reuters report] to take in Boumediene comes after French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official profile] told US President Barack Obama [official profile] at an April meeting that the country would accept one Guantanamo prisoner as part of a symbolic measure [JURIST report] to assist in the closing of the facility. The framework for the agreement was established at the first meeting between the two heads of state, at which Sarkozy congratulated Obama on his January decision to order the closure of Guantanamo [executive order; JURIST report].

Obama's order directed that the military prison be closed "as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order." The order did not specify where detainees would go upon release, but did call for diplomatic efforts with foreign states in order to facilitate the closure of the facility. Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry [official website, in German] said that the US has asked Germany to take in up to 10 detainees [JURIST report]. In April, UK Minister of Justice Jack Straw reiterated his country's willingness to accept Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] in order to speed the closure of the facility. In March, top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders from the European Union (EU) [official website; JURIST news archive] to discuss plans to transfer [JURIST report] Guantanamo Bay detainees to European countries. Individual member states have also indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Lithuania, Ireland, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain, while Italy [JURIST reports] and the Netherlands [AFP report] have said they will not accept detainees.






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UK proposes changes to national DNA database to remove innocent people
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2009 11:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] on Thursday released new proposals [press release] for a controversial DNA database [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that would remove the DNA information of innocent people. The Home Office said that DNA information could still remain in the database [official website] for six to 12 years in cases of "serious violent or sexual crimes." The new proposals are in response to a December ruling [judgment text] by the European Court of Human Rights [official website] that the British practice of keeping the fingerprints and DNA profiles of people arrested but not convicted of crimes was against privacy rights [JURIST report] and should not continue. UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith [official profile] said:

It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. The DNA database plays a vital role in helping us do that and will help ensure that a great many criminals are behind bars where they belong. ...

We will ensure that the most serious offenders are added to the database no matter when or where they were convicted. We also know that the database has provided matches for a significant number of serious crimes as well as providing thousands of matches for less serious crimes that cause great concern to victims, such as burglary, which is why we are proposing to keep some profiles for six years.
Civil rights groups have criticized [BBC report] the new proposals, claiming they do not go far enough to comply with the ECHR ruling. Director of GeneWatch UK [advocacy website] Dr. Helen Wallace said, "[t]his is a long time for innocent people to wait to have their records wiped."

In November, the House of Lords ruled that the DNA database rules needed to be amended [Register report] to allow those not convicted to have their profiles deleted. That decision, along with the human rights court ruling, came just months after a proponent of the database called for it to be expanded [JURIST report] to include all citizens and visitors of the country. The Home Office has denied [JURIST report] any plans to create such a database.





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Czech Republic senate ratifies EU reform Treaty
Andrew Gilmore on May 7, 2009 11:26 AM ET

[JURIST] The Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic [official website] voted Wednesday to approve the European Union (EU) reform treaty, also known as the Lisbon Treaty [EU materials; text], sending the document to Czech President Vaclav Klaus [official website] for ratification. If the treaty is ratified, Ireland will be the only remaining EU country not to have ratified it. Klaus has indicated that he will not approve the ratification [AFP report], saying [statement] that the Czech senators "turned their back on the long-term interests of the Czech Republic." Klaus also said that he would wait [Prague Post report] to sign the Senate approval until after the country's Constitutional Court rules on the treaty and the results are known from the second round of an Irish referendum on ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

In March, the resignation of then-prime minister Mirek Topolanek [official website; JURIST news archive] cast doubt on the future of Lisbon Treaty ratification in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic's Chamber of Deputies [official website], or lower house of parliament, in February approved [press release; JURIST report] the Lisbon Treaty. Beyond challenges in the Czech Republic, the treaty still must pass a referendum in Ireland where voters had earlier rejected [JURIST reports] the treaty in a June 2008 referendum, prompting Polish President Lech Kaczynski [official website] to refuse [JURIST report] to sign, calling it "pointless." In November, Sweden became the 24th EU state to ratify the charter [JURIST report]. In 2005, a proposed European constitution [JURIST news archive] failed when voters in France and the Netherlands [JURIST reports] rejected the proposal in national referenda.






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DOJ not recommending prosecution of CIA interrogation memo authors: report
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2009 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] investigators have concluded that three former Bush administration lawyers responsible for authoring controversial CIA interrogation memos [JURIST news archive] should not face criminal prosecutions, according to Wednesday media reports. A draft report from the investigation has concluded that while no criminal prosecution should be conducted, professional sanctions [AP report] could be appropriate. The report suggests that two Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] lawyers, John Yoo and Jay Bybee [JURIST news archives], should be subject to some disciplinary action. The report also concludes that the third lawyer, Steven Bradbury [JURIST news archive] did not engage in behavior that warrants disciplinary action.

The recent release of four CIA interrogation memos [JURIST report] has renewed calls for the criminal prosecution of the memos' authors. Last week, chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official profile] invited [press release and letter; JURIST report] Bybee to testify before the committee. Leahy wants Bybee to explain apparently contradictory statements in which Bybee expressed regret [Washington Post report] for signing the memos and then defended [NYT report] his actions. Last month, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC] said that the US must prosecute [JURIST report] DOJ lawyers who drafted the memos. US President Barack Obama has said that he would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting [transcript; JURIST report] lawyers responsible for authoring the memos. Obama had previously said that he would not pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators [statement], a pledge which drew sharp international criticism [JURIST report].






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UK court to reconsider redacting ex-Guantanamo detainee ruling
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2009 10:14 AM ET

[JURIST] London High Court judges Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones agreed Wednesday to reconsider a February decision [JURIST report] to redact information from a ruling about former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Binyam Mohamed [Reprieve profile; JURIST news archive]. Several media groups had challenged the decision [AP report] not to publicize information redacted from an August 2008 ruling [JURIST report] that the UK Foreign Office must turn over evidence essential to Mohamed's defense. The groups argued that the judges' decision was based on comments from the previous administration of former US president George W. Bush, and not on discussions with the Obama administration. Mohamed's lawyers have also encouraged the judges to reconsider their decision [BBC report], arguing that the redacted information contains important evidence about Mohamed's treatment in custody. An Obama administration official reportedly sent a letter to the UK government that was shared with the judges, arguing that publicizing the redacted information could still harm national security interests of both the US and the UK.

Mohamed was returned to the UK [JURIST report] in February after being held for nearly seven years. Mohamed was arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004 on suspicion of war crimes in connection with his alleged involvement with al Qaeda attacks on the US. The charges against him were dismissed [JURIST report] last October. Mohamed asserts that after he was arrested in Pakistan and turned over to US officials, he was then transferred to Moroccan agents who tortured him.






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DOJ drops appeal seeking second court-martial for Iraq war objecter
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 7, 2009 8:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday granted a Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites] request to drop its appeal in the case of Iraq war objector 1st Lt. Ehren Watada [advocacy website; JURIST news archive]. In October, a federal judge ruled [order, PDF] that Watada could not face a second court-martial [JURIST report] on all charges for which he already faced court-martial. The judge had granted an injunction [JURIST report] against the second court-martial in November 2007 in order to resolve the double jeopardy dispute. The controversy over Watada's second court-martial concerns the declaration of a mistrial [JURIST report] in the original proceedings after the military judge rejected a Stipulation of Fact by Watada and the government, conceding that Watada was guilty of the charge of Missing Movement when he missed a flight that would have flown him to his post in Iraq. Watada could still face a court-martial for two other counts [Seattle Times report] of conduct unbecoming an officer that were not dismissed by the federal court.

The district court had already stayed court-martial proceedings, scheduled to begin in October 2007, and later extended the stay, after Watada asked [JURIST reports] the US District Court for the Western District of Washington for relief while an appeal was pending with the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [official websites]. Watada, a Honolulu native who is the first commissioned officer in the US military to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, has refused to be classified as a conscientious objector because he does not object to war in general, just to the "illegal" war in Iraq. He offered to serve in Afghanistan, but the US Army refused. His vocal protests and participation in rallies by Veterans for Peace and Courage to Resist [advocacy websites] led to the charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and the original charge of contempt toward officials.






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Mumbai terror attack suspect pleads not guilty
Andrew Gilmore on May 6, 2009 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Alleged Mumbai terror attack [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] suspect Mohammed Ajmal Kasab pleaded not guilty Wednesday in an Indian court to 86 charges stemming from his participation in the November 2008 attack. Kasab, a Pakistani citizen, was formally charged [BBC report] at a special court in Mumbai in front of Judge M.L. Tahiliyani, where he denied any involvement in the attacks. Indian authorities have accused Kasab of attacking commuters at the Mumbai central train station during the attack. The charges against Kasab [Times of India report] include "waging war against India," which is punishable by death, "causing terror," destabilization of the government, murder, kidnapping, robbery, and the smuggling of illegal weapons and explosives. Two Indian defendants linked to the Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] also pleaded not guilty [AFP report] to conspiracy charges related to the charges against Kasab.

Last month, Tahiliyani removed a defense lawyer [JURIST report] from Kasab's case, citing a conflict of interest. Kasab first appeared [JURIST report] before Tahiliyani via video in March. In February, Pakistan officials conceded [JURIST report] that the attacks were partially planned in their country. Pakistan also stated that the perpetrators traveled by ship [NYT report] from southern Pakistan to Mumbai, where they launched the attack from inflatable boats using outboard engines purchased in Karachi, Pakistan. One scholar suggested that an international tribunal be formed [JURIST op-ed] to prosecute persons involved in Mumbai attacks in order to avoid further complications to the already unstable relationship between Pakistan and India. The attacks in Mumbai, which claimed at least 170 lives, were carried out at ten locations across the city including the landmark Taj Mahal Palace hotel.






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Iran stays execution of men sentenced to death as teens: report
Andrew Gilmore on May 6, 2009 2:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian authorities issued stays of execution [AFP report] Wednesday for two teens sentenced to death for crimes committed as juveniles. The two individuals facing the death penalty, Amir Khaleqi and Safar Angooti, were scheduled to be executed Wednesday morning after being convicted of murder committed while the were under the age of 18. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on Iran to halt the executions [AI press release] Tuesday. According to reports [Guardian report], Khaleqi was convicted of killing a man while drunk at the age of 16, while Angooti was convicted of killing a rival suitor at the age of 17. The lawyer for the two condemned inmates, Mohammad Mostafai, told AFP that he believes the executions will be stayed for a month.

Wednesday's stays of execution come as various rights groups criticized Iran [JURIST report] for the Friday execution of a 23-year-old woman, Delara Darabi, convicted of murder while a juvenile. Darabi was the second person this year to be executed for a crime allegedly committed while she was a minor. As there were seven such executions last year, and as there are reportedly approximately 130 juvenile convicts currently on death row [HRW reports] in Iran, the country has received a great deal of criticism [JURIST report] for failing to adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [text], to which Iran is a party. Last October, Iran banned the execution of minors for drug related crimes [JURIST report]. In both September [JURIST report] of last year and in June of 2007, HRW called for Iran to stop using the death penalty for juveniles [JURIST report; HRW press release] convicted of serious crimes.






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Maine governor signs same-sex marriage bill into law
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2009 1:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Maine Governor John Baldacci [official website] on Wednesday signed into law [press release] a bill [text] that will allow same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] to be performed in the state, making Maine the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the Maine House of Representatives [official website] voted 89-57 in favor of the legislation, which followed last week's approval by the Maine Senate [JURIST reports]. The legislation got final approval by the legislature Wednesday before going before the governor. Baldacci said:

In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage. Article I in the Maine Constitution states that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against." This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State. It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.
The signing of the legislation came the same day the New Hampshire legislature gave final approval to a bill [HB 436 text] permitting same-sex marriage. Last week, the New Hampshire Senate [official website] voted 13-11 to approve [JURIST report] the bill. The New Hampshire House of Representatives [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in March by a vote of 186-179. The two differing versions of the bill were reconciled Wednesday and will now be presented to the governor. If approved, Rhode Island would be the only New England state that does not allow same-sex marriage.

Last month, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage and the first to do so through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports] as the other states that allow same-sex marriage.





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Spain judge seeks Guantanamo 'torture' prosecution plan from US
Andrew Morgan on May 6, 2009 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] A Spanish judge has said that he will ask the US if it plans to prosecute six US officials for allegedly contributing to torture at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST report] before deciding whether to open an investigation in Spain. Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain's Audiencia Nacional on Monday requested [text, TIFF, in Spanish] information from the US about potential charges against six former government lawyers, including David Addington, John Yoo, and former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, for their role in creating the legal definition of torture adopted by the administration of former US president George W. Bush. Velasco is considering whether to admit a complaint [text, PDF, in Spanish] under Spain's universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder] statute, which gives Spain jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism, and war crimes only if the case is not subject to the legal system of the country involved. Velasco said that the nationality and location of the suspects and the ability to gather more complete evidence make the US a better venue [El Pais report, in Spanish] for the prosecution, but suggested that he would be willing to exercise universal jurisdiction if the US did not investigate the claims.

Velasco took over [JURIST report] the case from Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURST news archive], who opened a separate investigation [JURIST report] in April related to detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Also in April, Spanish Attorney General Candido Conde Pumpido [official profile, in Spanish], responding to a request [JURIST report] from Garzon, said that he would not recommend trying any of the named defendants. In February, Spain announced that it is considering legislation to limit [JURIST report] the the scope of universal jurisdiction to those cases that have a substantial link to the country or its citizens.






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Zimbabwe court orders bail for rights activist Mukoko
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2009 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday released on bail 15 human rights activists, including activist and journalist Jestina Mukoko [advocacy website, JURIST news archive], who had been ordered back into custody [JURIST report] Tuesday. Mukoko is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) [advocacy website]. The indicted activists were accused of planning a coup against President Robert Mugabe [JURIST news archive], but were released on bail [JURIST report] in March after three months of detention by presidential authorization. However, the court in Harare found Tuesday that under the Zimbabwe Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [text PDF], the grant of bail is automatically reversed and the activists must remain in custody until their trial in June. The activists were released [AFP report] Wednesday after the judge reversed her Tuesday ruling on the orders of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [official website]. Three other activists ordered into custody Tuesday were denied bail [AP report].

The indictment highlights the tension between Mugabe and Tsvangirai as well as the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Mukoko was held without charges from December through March and was allegedly subjected to torture. Mukoko was hospitalized [Zimbabwe Times report] for the treatment of injuries sustained during her detention and remained under medical care after her release from police custody. While in prison, it was reported that Mukoko was forced to ingest poison [JURIST report], an allegation that has sparked a world-wide protest against Zimbabwean police methods. During her detention, Mukoko was denied bail [JURIST report] by Zimbabwean lower courts, but another court ruled that Mukoko could appeal her detention [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe under the Zimbabwe Constitution [text, PDF].






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Germany court rejects Demjanjuk bid to block extradition from US
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2009 11:28 AM ET

[JURIST] A German court on Wednesday rejected an emergency suit filed by accused Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive] seeking to block his deportation from the US. Demjanjuk faces deportation to Germany, where in March a Munich district court charged [JURIST report] him with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder for his alleged involvement at the Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp. The Berlin court ruled [AP report] Wednesday that the decision whether to stay deportation is one for US courts. Also Wednesday, lawyers for Demjanjuk filed an appeal [stay application, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website], seeking to overturn last week's decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] to deny a stay of deportation [order, PDF]. The Sixth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that deporting him to Germany at age 89 would constitute torture.

Demjanjuk has fought a lengthy legal battle over his alleged involvement with Nazi death camps during World War II. In 2008, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey [order, PDF; JURIST report], ending the appeals process for his deportation order. Demjanjuk was appealing a 2005 ruling [JURIST report] by then-US Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy which ordered his deportation. Demjanjuk had previously lost his appeal to the BIA. Additionally, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied Demjanjuk's petition for review [text, PDF] in January 2008. In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court which found that he was a notorious guard from Treblinka nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible." The sentence was vacated by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993, and Demjanjuk returned to the US.






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US defense secretary considering sending Yemeni Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2009 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [official profile] said Wednesday that the US is considering sending Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation as part of the efforts to close the prison facility. Gates told reporters [Reuters report] in Saudi Arabia that while no official decisions have been made, he has been impressed with the country's rehabilitation program. Gates spoke after meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Many of the 241 inmates still at Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals who were captured after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The US is reluctant to return the detainees to Yemen for fear that they would rejoin terrorist groups.

In January, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] said that the US would not change its policy [JURIST report] on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia, despite reports that two former prisoners have joined al Qaeda in Yemen. A US counterterrorism official had confirmed that two of the nine alumni of the Saudi rehabilitation program who were arrested [NYT report] were in fact former Guantanamo prisoners, but this revelation was unlikely to affect the new policy of transferring detainees to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation. The Saudi program, an effort to deprogram Islamic extremism, was designed with input from psychiatrists, sociologists, and Muslim clerics. The Saudi Minister of Interior [official website] reports that 218 men have completed the program, with only nine being arrested again.






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Greece court invalidates first same-sex marriages performed in country
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 6, 2009 9:37 AM ET

[JURIST] A Greek court ruled Tuesday that same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] performed in the country are invalid. Two same-sex couples were married last year [Reuters report] by a local mayor on a small Aegean island, as the 1982 Greek civil marriage law [text, PDF, in Greek; backgrounder] simply saying that marriages must be between two "persons" without specifying that one party must be a man and the other a woman. A local prosecutor had petitioned the court in Rhodes to have the marriages declared void, and the court granted the prosecutor's request, finding that Greek law does not explicitly permit [Kathimerini report] same-sex marriage. The lawyer for the couples said they plan to appeal within the Greek judicial system and then to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], if necessary.

After the couples were married last June, the Greek Minister of Justice quickly condemned the marriages as legally "non-existent" [JURIST report]. The ceremonies united the couples despite preliminary warnings from top Greek prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas that such marriages are not permissible under Article 21 of the Greek Constitution [text] and that charges would be brought if the mayor allowed the wedding. Earlier last year, the Ministry of Justice established a group [JURIST report] to investigate recognizing same-sex marriages after the Greek National Commission for Human Rights [official website, in Greek] proposed legislation to allow same-sex marriage, but no further action has been taken in Greece on the national level. The influential Greek Orthodox Church [official website, in Greek] is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage.






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ICTY increases sentence for officer convicted of Vukovar killings
Adrienne Lester on May 6, 2009 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Tuesday increased the sentence [judgment, PDF; judgment summary, PDF] of Veselin Sljivancanin [BBC profile; ICTY materials] from five to 17 years. Sljivancanin was convicted of aiding and abetting the killings of over 200 Croatian prisoners of war near Vukovar [BBC backgrounder; ICTY backgrounder, PDF] in 1991. Prosecutors appealed the sentences [JURIST report] imposed on Mile Mrksic and Sljivancanin as grossly inadequate for the crimes committed. Both Mrksic and Sljivancanin appealed the convictions, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support the decisions against them. The ruling also upheld the sentence of Mrksic [BBC report].

Then-chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] had expressed immediate disapproval of the verdicts for being too lenient. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader [official website] also criticized [JURIST report] the ICTY for the judgments and addressed [press release] the UN General Assembly to call for justice for the Vukovar massacre. In addition, 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 2006, the Serbian Supreme Court ordered a retrial in the case of 14 former members of Serb militias who were originally convicted [JURIST reports] 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.






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DC council again votes to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 2:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The Council of the District of Columbia [official website] voted Tuesday to recognize same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] performed outside of Washington, DC. The bill, proposed by DC Councilman Phil Mendelson [official website], was approved by a 12-1 vote. The dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Marion Barry [official website]. The legislation was given preliminary approval [JURIST report] last month. The measure must now be approved by the mayor and then by Congress under the Home Rule Act [text, PDF].

The DC Council's vote comes on the same day that the Maine House of Representatives [official website] approved [JURIST report] a bill [text] that would allow same-sex marriage in the state. The vote follows last week's approval by the Maine Senate [JURIST report]. Also last week, the New Hampshire Senate [official website] voted 13-11 to approve [JURIST report] a bill [HB 436 text] permitting same-sex marriage. The New Hampshire House of Representatives [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in March by a vote of 186-179. The two differing versions of the bill must now be reconciled. Last month, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage and the first to do so through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports].






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Maine House of Representatives passes same-sex marriage bill
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 2:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The Maine House of Representatives [official website] voted 89-57 Tuesday in favor of a bill [text] that would allow same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the state. The vote follows last week's approval by the Maine Senate [JURIST report]. The proposed legislation now faces one more vote before the Senate and the House before it goes before Governor John Baldacci [official website], who has yet to take a public position [Bangor Daily News report] on the issue.

Last week, the New Hampshire Senate [official website] voted 13-11 to approve [JURIST report] a bill [HB 436 text] permitting same-sex marriage. The New Hampshire House of Representatives [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in March by a vote of 186-179. The two differing versions of the bill must now be reconciled. Last month, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage and the first to do so through a vote of the legislature, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa [JURIST reports].






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Zimbabwe court orders activist Mukoko back to prison
Adrienne Lester on May 5, 2009 2:18 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ordered back into custody 18 human rights activists, including activist and journalist Jestina Mukoko [advocacy website, JURIST news archive] and freelance journalist Andrison Manyere. Mukoko is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) [advocacy website], and Manyere is a former aid to Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [official website]. The indicted activists were accused of planning a coup against President Robert Mugabe [JURIST news archive], but were released on bail [JURIST report] after three months of detention by presidential authorization. However, the court in Harare found that under the Zimbabwe Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [text PDF], the grant of bail is automatically reversed and the activists must remain in custody until their trial in June. Attorneys representing the accused argue the courts disregarded the previous bail agreement, and will petition the High Court for bail [Zimbabwe Times report].

The indictment highlights the tension between Mugabe and Tsvangirai and the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Mukoko was held without charges from December through March and was allegedly subjected to torture. Mukoko was hospitalized [Zimbabwe Times report] for the treatment of injuries sustained during her detention and remained under medical care after her release from police custody. While in prison, it was reported that Mukoko was forced to ingest poison [JURIST report], an allegation that has sparked a world-wide protest against Zimbabwean police methods. During her detention, Mukoko was denied bail [JURIST report] by Zimbabwean lower courts, but another court ruled that Mukoko could appeal her detention [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe under the Zimbabwe Constitution [text, PDF].






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US religious freedom report adds Iraq, Nigeria to countries of particular concern
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 1:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) [official website] has released [press release; materials] its annual report on worldwide religious freedoms, elevating Iraq and Nigeria to its list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC) and adding six new countries to its "watch list." The other CPC are Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. The six new countries on the second level "watch list" are Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela, which join Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, and Indonesia. Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and Sri Lanka are "closely monitored." According to the report, released Friday:

Despite the efforts of the Commission, the State Department, and Congress, individuals and communities around the world continue to suffer severe violations of their human rights on account of their religious beliefs or because they hold no beliefs. As it has done with prior administrations, the Commission will continue to engage the President and other U.S. government leaders, providing recommendations and raising public and private concerns about issues affecting respect for freedom of religion or belief. While much has been accomplished in the past decade, the Commission, as well as U.S. international religious freedom policy, still has a great deal to accomplish.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized [press release, in Mandarin] the report as "unfounded" and "biased."

The USCIRF is composed of 10 members appointed by the president and congress. If the president adds the 13 recommended countries to the list of CPC, the secretary of state would be required to enter into negotiations with those governments and could subject them to sanctions. In 2007, Iraq was added to the "watch list" [JURIST report] for the first time since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. That same year, the Chinese government rejected the report [JURIST report] as prejudiced.





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UK publishes list of people banned from country for 'fostering extremism'
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 11:41 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] on Tuesday published a list [press release] of individuals who are prohibited from entering the country "for fostering extremism or hatred between October 2008 and March 2009." The list names 16 individuals, including religious preachers, white supremacists, gang leaders, and controversial US radio host Michael Savage [personal website]. Six additional individuals whose names were not disclosed have also been banned. UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith [official profile] said:

Coming to the UK is a privilege and I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life. Therefore, I will not hesitate to name and shame those who foster extremist views as I want them to know that they are not welcome here.

The government opposes extremism in all its forms and I am determined to stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country. This is the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour.
Smith also announced Tuesday that as of June 1, the UK government will be able to ban European nationals and their families where the home secretary decides that the individual poses a threat to national security or public safety.

The UK Home Office has had the power to ban people from entering the country [BBC report] since 2005. Between August 2005 and March 2009, 101 individuals have been excluded. In October, Smith proposed stricter rules [text] for determining who could enter the UK, including a presumption in favor of exclusion.





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Webby Awards announce Law category winners
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 10:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The annual Webby Awards [awards website] in Law and more than 100 other subject categories were announced in New York Tuesday as the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences [profession website] honored excellence in interactive design, creativity, usability, and functionality on the Internet in 2009. Women's advocacy site WomensLaw.org [website] took the judges' Webby, and the People's Voice [website] award, decided by online popular vote, went to legal resource site GetLegal [website]. JURIST has been nominated for a Webby three times in the past four years, and won the Webby People's Voice award in 2006 [JURIST report].






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Iran judiciary to hear appeal of US journalist next week
Amelia Mathias on May 5, 2009 10:08 AM ET

[JURIST] Spokesperson for the Iranian judiciary Alireza Jamshidi said Tuesday that the appeal of US journalist Roxana Saberi [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] will be heard next week. Saberi was convicted [JURIST report] of spying for the US and sentenced to eight years in jail in Evin, an Iranian jail noted for its population of dissidents and political prisoners. Saberi reportedly began a hunger strike [BBC report] on April 21 in protest of her conviction, and her family reports that she has recently been hospitalized and fed intravenously [CNN report], though Jamshidi denied that she was on a hunger strike at all. Reporters in Paris and New York have gone on hunger strikes in solidarity [WashingtonTV report] with Saberi, protesting outside Iran Air offices and the UN respectively.

On Sunday, the Iranian foreign minister vowed that Saberi's appeal would be handled fairly [JURIST report]. Iran's treatment of Saberi has provoked a great deal of international criticism. Last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] emphasized her disappointment [press release] in Iran's judiciary for their treatment of the case. Also last month, Amnesty International [advocacy website] urged [press release] the necessity of Saberi's release based on the assertion of her position as a "prisoner of conscience," serving as "a pawn to the ongoing political developments between Iran and the USA." Saberi was originally arrested [NYT report] in March after buying a bottle of wine, as alcohol consumption is illegal under Iranian law. Although it was initially believed Saberi would be charged with working without Iranian press credentials, the Iranian government charged her with espionage [JURIST report], accusing her of passing classified information to US intelligence services.






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Senate Republicans pick conservative to take senior Specter slot on judiciary committee
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 9:48 AM ET

[JURIST] US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was chosen Monday by Senate Republicans to replace newly-declared Democrat Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) as ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official websites]. Sessions will play a key role in questioning President Barack Obama's nominee to replace retiring Justice David Souter [JURIST report] on the US Supreme Court [official website]. Obama did not call Sessions Monday to discuss potential nominees for the post [NYT report], but did call former ranking Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) [official website], who cannot be reappointed because of term limits. Sessions, a conservative senator and former US attorney, was nominated as a federal judge in 1986 by then-president Ronald Reagan, but his confirmation was blocked by the Judiciary Committee [Washington Post report] over allegedly racist remarks.

On Sunday, Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said in an interview [transcript] with ABC that he hopes to have a replacement for Souter confirmed [JURIST report] by the beginning of the Court's 2009 term in October. Leahy also implied that that he would like to see a nominee who was not a current federal judge. Rumors of Souter's retirement began to circulate late Thursday, and were confirmed by the end of the day Friday. Souter has submitted a letter of resignation [text, PDF], and the Supreme Court has issued a press release [text, DOC] confirming his retirement. The eight other justices also issued statements [text, DOC] about Souter's retirement. Obama interrupted a press briefing [text] Friday to speak about the impending retirement [JURIST report], saying he would, "seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity." Souter, 69, was nominated to the Supreme Court by then-president George H.W. Bush and was seated in October 1990. He previously served on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Souter was viewed as one of the more liberal justices, often siding with Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.






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Federal judge orders release of Yemeni Guantanamo detainee
Amelia Mathias on May 5, 2009 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge Gladys Kessler of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ordered [text, PDF] Monday the release of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed. Ahmed has been held in Guantanamo for seven years after he was picked up in a al Qaeda safehouse [DOD materials; PDF] in 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan where he had been staying for four months. Though he has tangential connections to al Qaeda and the Taliban, Ahmed was never in Afghanistan and never fought for either organization. Kessler granted Ahmed a writ of habeas corpus and ordered the government to take diplomatic steps to release Ahmed [AP report]. The government must report back on their progress by June 15.

Last week, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said that the US has cleared 30 Guantanamo Bay detainees for release and will begin formally requesting [JURIST report] that European countries accept them within weeks. In March, top officials from the Obama administration met with leaders from the European Union (EU) [official website] to discuss preliminary plans to transfer [JURIST report] Guantanamo Bay detainees to European countries. Individual member states have also indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Lithuania, Ireland, Germany, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain, while Italy [JURIST reports] and the Netherlands [AFP report] have said they will not accept detainees.






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Obama administration announces plans to curb overseas tax havens
Jaclyn Belczyk on May 5, 2009 8:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of the Treasury [official website] on Monday announced reforms to the US tax code [press release] to curb overseas tax havens and end tax incentives for companies to create jobs out of the country. In a joint press conference [video] with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile], President Barack Obama [official website] said [transcript]:

For years, we've talked about ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs here in America. That's what our budget will finally do. We will stop letting American companies that create jobs overseas take deductions on their expenses when they do not pay any American taxes on their profits. And we will use the savings to give tax cuts to companies that are investing in research and development here at home so that we can jump start job creation, foster innovation, and enhance America's competitiveness.

For years, we've talked about shutting down overseas tax havens that let companies set up operations to avoid paying taxes in America. That's what our budget will finally do.
US business leaders have already sharply criticized the plan [Los Angeles Times report], saying it would actually harm the US economy. Foreign governments, such as the Netherlands, have reacted with surprise [Radio Netherlands report] at being named by Obama as a corporate tax haven, along with Ireland and Bermuda.

The US government is currently negotiating with the government of Switzerland, another country criticized as a tax haven, to revise the tax treaty [text, PDF] between the two countries. Last week, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice [official website] filed a brief [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] arguing that a lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official websites] seeking information on 52,000 UBS [corporate website] account holders suspected of tax evasion violates its national sovereignty as well as Swiss banking law. The Swiss government also expressed concern over the potential ramifications of the lawsuit on the tax treaty negotiations.





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Sierra Leone war crimes court denies Taylor motion to acquit
Safiya Boucaud on May 4, 2009 4:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Judges for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday rejected [press release, PDF] a motion for acquittal of all charges filed by lawyers for former Liberian president Charles Taylor [case materials; JURIST news archive]. The Rule 98 motion for acquittal [materials], which was submitted [JURIST report] last month following the close of the prosecution's case, maintained that the prosecution failed to provide evidence linking Taylor to any of the charges. In denying the motion, the court found that there was evidence that Taylor had participated in the crimes. Reading the court's decision, Justice Richard Lussick said:

it is not necessary for the purposes of Rule 98 to evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence in relation to each mode of liability and that it is sufficient if there is evidence capable supporting a conviction on the basis of one of those modes. ... In relation to the alleged participation of the accused, the Trial Chamber finds that there is evidence that the accused participated in the joint criminal enterprise.
Taylor's trial will resume in June.

Taylor is charged with 11 counts [indictment, PDF] of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions [materials], and other violations of international humanitarian law, to which he pleaded not guilty. In February, officials announced [JURIST report] that they expected the court to render a verdict by 2010, despite the SCSL's ongoing financial troubles. After complaints [JURIST report] of prejudice in 2007, the SCSL increased [JURIST report] Taylor's defense funding to $100,000 a month. Taylor claims to be indigent, but, in June 2007, a five-member UN investigatory panel found [JURIST report] that he retains control over millions of dollars hidden in African banks.





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