[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] on Tuesday dismissed [text, PDF] a lawsuit against federal law enforcement officials by men who claim they were illegally detained after 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder]. The suit is Turkmen v. Ashcroft [CCR backgrounder]. The court dismissed the suit against former Department of Justice [official website] officials John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller and James Zigler, noting that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently state a claim that the officials had incurred any supervisory liability. However, the ruling does permit further proceedings against wardens and detention officials from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn [official website] based on the treatment the men received after they were detained, including preventing their contact with families and video-taping conversations with lawyers. The plaintiffs in the case have been represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website].
The Turkmen case has been winding its way through the federal court system for years. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in December 2009 that post-arrest detention is legal in cases where the detainees are reasonably detained. In November 2009, five men who claimed they were similarly illegally detained reached a settlement agreement [JURIST report] with the US government for $1.26 million. In 2007, a district court judge granted the government's motion to dismiss [text, PDF] a number of the claims, but refused to dismiss the abuse claims. Also in 2007, the government charged [JURIST report] several guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn official website], the location in which men were detained, with abusing prisoners.
[JURIST] Army Colonel Denise Lind, who is presiding over the prosecution of Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors must prove that Manning was aware that he was providing information to an enemy of the US when he leaked confidential documents to the website WikiLeaks [official website; JURIST news archive]. Manning has been charged [JURIST report] with 22 counts under the Espionage Act, including aiding the enemy, and could face life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors will introduce evidence [WP report] recovered from the compound of Osama bin Laden [JURIST news archive] to establish that he received some of the documents Manning provided to WikiLeaks. Lind ruled [AP report] that Manning may introduce evidence of his motive only to the extent that it shows he was unaware that providing information to WikiLeaks was tantamount to dealing with the enemy. Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, also argued in court on Wednesday that Manning's right to a speedy trial has been violated.
Since his arrest in 2010 Manning's case has been controversial with his supporters protesting [CNN report] the effort to prosecute him and calling him a courageous whistle-blower [advocacy petition]. Just last week, Lind ruled [JURIST report] that the pre-trial punishment of Manning, which included extended solitary confinement and use of suicide restraints, was illegal and excessive. In November Manning's partial guilty plea offer was accepted [JURIST report] by Lind. In June Manning's motion to dismiss the charges against him was denied after Manning was declared competent [JURIST reports] to stand trial in April.
[JURIST] The son of Libya's deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] appeared in court in Zintan, Libya, on Thursday. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is accused of transferring [Al Jazeera report] information related to Libya's national security to an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] delegation. He is also accused of insulting Libya's new flag and attempting to escape from prison. Saif al-Islam's trial was postponed [BBC report] until May because he was not represented by a lawyer at the hearing. One of Saif al-Islam's co-defendants in the case related to information on Libya's national security is his ICC-appointed lawyer Melinda Taylor.
Earlier this month the ICC asked Libyan officials to address reports that they plan to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi [BBC profile], the former intelligence chief for Gaddafi. Libya has refused to hand the two men over to the ICC and announced plans to try them [JURIST reports] in Libya. In October Libyan government lawyers urged [JURIST report] the ICC to allow them to be tried in Libya and promised that the trial would be fair. In August Saif al-Islam stated that he preferred to be tried by the ICC [JURIST report] out of fear that Libya would not try him fairly. In June four ICC staff members who traveled to Libya to speak with Saif al-Islam, including Melinda Taylor, were detained [JURIST report] by Libyan security forces and were in custody for nearly four weeks before being released.
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that members of the media do not have the right to report from, or take photos or video within, Pennsylvania polling places. While PG Publishing Company (PG) [corporate website], the appellant in the case, argued that a portion of the Pennsylvania Election Code [text] that limits access to polling places "infringes on the media's First Amendment [text; Cornell LII backgrounder] right to gather news," the circuit court disagreed, reasoning that the US Constitution [text] does not provide rights to the press broader than those covering the population at large. Said the court:
Appellants are ... correct in arguing that the First Amendment encompasses a right of access for newsgathering purposes. However, we decline to hold ... that the press is entitled to any greater protection under this right than is the general public. The Supreme Court's pronouncement on this issue is unequivocal. ... Thus, while the First Amendment does protect Appellant's right of access to gather news, that right does not extend to all information.
The three-judge panel further opined that although the process of American voting began as a "public affair," history shows a "long-standing trend away from openness, toward a closed electoral process." The court also recognized the possibility that the presence of reporters inside polling places "could concern, intimidate or even turn away potential voters." While the law does not allow anyone except election officials, registered poll watchers and voters within 10 feet of polling places, PG also unsuccessfully argued that this rule is "unevenly enforced," and plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court [official website].
In 2008 the US District Court for the District of Minnesota [official website] granted a request [AP report] by news organizations to block a state law that would have kept exit pollsters at least 100 feet away from polling places on Election Day. Brought by several AP members, the suit alleged [JURIST report] that the law, titled "Lingering near polling place," violated their First Amendment rights to report and gather news. Similarly, in 2006, the US District Court for the Southern District of Floridastruck down [JURIST report] a state law prohibiting exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place on grounds that it violated free speech and freedom of the press. Members of the AP were also responsible for filing that lawsuit.
[JURIST] Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange [official website] on Tuesday asked [cert. petition] the US Supreme Court [official website] to overturn a recent decision striking down provisions of Alabama's controversial immigration law [HB 56, PDF]. Alabama is appealing a decision [JURIST report] issued last August by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] which struck down [opinion, PDF] several provisions of both Alabama's HB 56 as well as a recent Georgia immigration law [HB 87 text]. The petition for certiorari only asks the court to consider the constitutionality of a provision regarding the harboring or transporting of illegal immigrants without mention of other vacated provisions, including one which required public schools to check the immigration status of students and another which made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to solicit work. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) [advocacy website], which represented many of the plaintiffs in the suit contesting HB 56, responded to the news [statement] saying they are "deeply disappointed by the state's continued efforts to defend this immoral and reprehensible anti-immigrant law."
Immigration laws [JURIST backgrounder] have became a hot button issue over the past few years when many states, Arizona being the first, passed laws giving their state and local officials more power to crack down on illegal immigration. Last month a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website] lifted a preliminary injunction [JURIST reports] blocking part of a Georgia immigration law that allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in criminal investigations. In November a judge for the US District Court for the District of South Carolina [official website] upheld [JURIST report] part of South Carolina's controversial immigration law [SB 20 materials] that permits law enforcement officials to detain motorists on the side of the road for a "reasonable amount of time" while the officer checks the driver's immigration status. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] in September denied a request for a new injunction against a controversial provision of Arizona's immigration law [SB 1070, PDF] which requires law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of persons they stop or arrest if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the US illegally. In August the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] again heard arguments [JURIST report] on two anti-illegal immigrant laws enacted in 2006 by the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, which deny permits to businesses that employ illegal immigrants and fine landlords who extend housing to them.
[JURIST] Pakistan's top anti-corruption official on Thursday refused to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] for corruption charges pursuant to a court order. Chief of the National Accountability Bureau, Fasih Bokhari, argued [WP report] that there was insufficient evidence against Ashraf to arrest him for allegations of accepting bribes for approving power generation projects during his tenure as Minister for Water and Power. He also noted that additional time was needed for further investigation. In response, the country's Supreme Court [official website] questioned Bokhari's motive behind the argument given that the case was initiated a year ago. The court demanded later Thursday that Bokhari produce the case files to determine whether the evidence is in fact insufficient, but Bokhari claimed that would be impossible due to the short notice. The arrest order was issued [JURIST report] by the country's Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Ashraf's brief term as Prime Minister has been fraught with conflict and tension between the executive and the judiciary. Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was forced out as prime minister last June after the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt [JURIST report] for failing to pursue a corruption case against the president. In July, only a month after Ashraf became prime minister, the Supreme Court ordered him to reopen the investigation [JURIST report] against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] within three weeks. The National Assembly of Pakistan [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] to shield senior officials from contempt of court proceedings, which was widely seen as an attempt to exempt Ashraf from possible claims of contempt for failing to follow the order. When Ashraf did not do as the court requested, the Supreme Court granted him [JURIST report] another two weeks to comply with its order. When in early August Ashraf still did not reopen the investigation, the court ordered [JURIST report] him to appear and explain his refusal to comply with the July orders. After his appearance in court, the Supreme Court then granted Ashraf an additional three weeks [JURIST report] to reopen the corruption case. Finally, in mid-September, Ashraf agreed to allow the corruption case to be reopened [JURIST report].
[JURIST] Human rights group Freedom House [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] on Wednesday detailing the state of democracy in the world. The report tracks improvements and declines in the levels of democracy in governments. While Freedom House reports that 26 countries experienced overall declines in freedom while only 16 experienced gains, the report details trends in certain regions that are illustrative of "freedom's trajectory in 2012."
According to the report, the Middle East and North Africa experienced intense civil strife, yet still managed to achieve significant gains. While Israel remains the only fully free country in the region, important improvements in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt [JURIST news archives] were encouraging, with Freedom House improving them all to "Partly Free." Libya, labeled one of the most improved countries so soon after the recent revolution [JURIST Feature], came as the biggest surprise to Freedom House. On the other hand, countries like Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq [JURIST news archives] have reportedly experienced heavy declines in freedom over the last year and have been down graded to "Not Free."
Sub-Saharan Africa reportedly experienced some modest gains while also dealing with coups and civil strife. Ivory Coast [JURIST news archive] has been upgraded to "Partly Free" from "Not Free" just one year removed from civil war. Guinea and Malawi [JURIST news archives] were also similarly upgraded. Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Senegal [JURIST news archive] all improved to "Free" with Sierra Leone and Lesotho both holding free and fair elections. However, Mali [JURIST news archive] dropped from "Free" to "Not Free" amid intense civil conflict. Nigeria, Central African Republic, the Gambia [JURIST news archives] and Guinea-Bassau all declined from "Partly Free" to "Not Free."
In Eurasia, the report suggests Russia's declines have pulled the region down as a whole. According to Freedom House, President Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive] has "ushered in a new period of accelerated repression" to the detriment of the region making it the least free region in the world. Specifically, Ukraine declined for the second year in a row on account of it continuing to hold political prisoners, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [JURIST news archives]. There was some improvement in Georgia [JURIST news archive] through its first ever democratic transfer of power.
Asia also displayed mixed results. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] continued its gains through allowing the main opposition party to freely campaign for parliament. Even though it is still "Not Free," Freedom House says such actions are steps in the right direction. This has moved Myanmar passed China in terms of political and civil rights. China [JURIST news archives] also experienced modest gains in making improvements in the ability for citizens to challenge injustice. The Maldives and Sri Lanka [JURIST news archives] have both experienced notable declines.
The report focused on Venezuela [JURIST news archive] in the Americas region. While Chavez's opposition was allowed to freely campaign, the report claimed that the election process was far from fair. Ecuador, Paraguay and Suriname [JURIST news archives] all experienced declines. Suriname, in particular, declined as a result of passing a law [JURIST report] granting immunity to a former president on trial for murdering his opposition.
Finally, the report detailed trends in Western Europe and North America. Declines in Greece [JURIST news archive] have largely come about as a result of economic hardships. These concerns have increased anti-immigration sentiment which has effected representation in the EU, thus bringing the region's rating down. The UK has been forced to deal with the fallout from the phone hacking scandal. US anti-terrorism policies have also been questioned, specifically the use of drone strikes [JURIST news archives]. Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] was also endorsed by President Barack Obama.
[JURIST] Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre [BBC backgrounder] will stand trial next month for alleged crimes against humanity, Senegal's Justice Minister Aminata Toure confirmed Tuesday. Senegal's national assembly adopted a law in December allowing Senegal to create a special tribunal [JURIST report] with the African Union (AU) [official website], which has already been offered financial support by Belgium. The trial is expected to start in early February. Habre's accusations include torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during his eight-year rule from 1982 to 1990.
Habre fled to Senegal after being deposed in 1990 and denies charges of killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents after coming to power in a bloody coup in 1982. The AU began talks with Senegal to come up with a plan for Habre's trial after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in July that Senegal must either try Habre promptly or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The court's legally binding order also noted that Senegal had failed to make serious efforts to prosecute Habre, who has been been under house arrest there since 2005. In March lawyers for the Belgian government asked [JURIST report] the ICJ to force Senegal to bring Habre to trial in Belgium. In July 2011 Senegal reversed its decision to deport Habre [JURIST report] back to Chad after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] warned of possible torture. That month Pillay issued the plea [JURIST report] to stay Habre's deportation to Chad after the nation's courts sentenced him to death in absentia.
[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] signed 23 executive actions Wednesday and called on Congress to pass stricter gun-control laws. Most of the executive actions are intended to strengthen existing gun laws during what the president called an "epidemic of violence," while the other orders address issues of mental health and school safety. Obama urged Congress [remarks] to act to "make a real and lasting difference," calling on lawmakers to "require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun." Additionally, Obama urged Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to restrict ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds. "This time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids," the president said, referring to December's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut [WSJ backgrounder].
"This is how we will be judged."
This story is the latest development in the Second Amendment and gun control debate [JURIST comment] in the US. Earlier this week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation intended to impose tighter restrictions [JURIST report] on gun and ammunition sales. In December the National Rifle Association (NRA) restated its objection [JURIST report] to reinvigorated calls for an assault weapons ban following the Newtown shooting. In July Florida Governor Rick Scott announced that his state would appeal [JURIST report] the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] ruling that struck down a Florida law that barred doctors from discussing the dangers of gun ownership with patients. In July 2010 the Chicago City Council unanimously approved a new gun control law that bans gun shops in the city and prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes, including porches and garages, with a handgun. Shortly thereafter a group of Chicago citizens, supported by both the NRA and the National Association of Firearm Retailers, filed suit against the city [JURIST report] claiming the new ordinance infringes on their constitutional rights. In June 2010 the US Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago [opinion; JURIST report] that the Second Amendment applies to states and municipalities as well as the federal government, thereby overturning Chicago's ban on handguns and raising considerable uncertainty about what amount of regulations of firearms was permissible.
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