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Second Circuit releases developer of World Trade Center 7 from liability

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that developers of the 7 World Trade Center (7WTC) Building were not liable for the damages caused by the collapse of the 7WTC several hours after the twin towers were destroyed in the 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder] terrorist attack. The owner of the electrical substation that was destroyed during the collapse sued the defendants for negligence. In the 2-1 decision, the Second Circuit affirmed the decision of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], which dismissed the case but on a different ground. The court held that even if there was negligence on part of the defendants, it was not the cause-in-fact of 7WTC's collapse. Although defendants owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the court reasoned that "given the unprecedented nature and sheer magnitude of the events of September 11, the alleged negligence on the part of defendants was not the cause-in-fact of the collapse of 7WTC." The court rejected plaintiff's argument that different designs could have prevented the collapse, reasoning that "[i]t is simply incompatible with common sense and experience to hold that defendants were required to design and construct a building that would survive the events of September 11, 2001."

The trial against the accused 9/11 plotters is still ongoing, with significant controversy. Earlier this month, a US military judge issued an order [JURIST report] allowing defense attorneys for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to photograph the scars on the ankles and wrists of their client. The photos will be taken to provide evidence that Mohammed was tortured at CIA black sites before being imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder]. Mohammed faces charges of of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft and terrorism. He could face the death penalty if convicted. Last month US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] stated [JURIST report] at an unrelated press conference that the slow pace of the trial of Mohammed would have been avoided had he been tried before a federal civilian court. In January the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] announced that it would not withdraw charges of conspiracy [JURIST report] against the five accused plotters, after the chief Guantanamo prosecutor asked the DOD's appointee to dismiss the prosecution charge in order to avoid uncertainty that could delay the case. Four years ago, Holder announced a plan [JURIST report] to try the defendants in federal court in lower Manhattan. However, in 2011 Holder referred the cases to the DOD after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US.

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