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Legal news from Friday, March 10, 2006




Moussaoui judge denies immediate media access to trial records
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 8:21 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Leonie Brinkema [official profile] late Friday refused a media motion for immediate access to admitted documentary evidence and bench transcripts in the sentencing trial of accused September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, ruling that the court did not have the resources to provide such access and that it would undermine the integrity of the proceeding by increasing the chances of jury taint. The Associated Press, USA Today, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Hearst Corporation, NBC, CNN and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had disputed [memorandum in support, PDF] February court orders by Brinkema where she indicated that documentary evidence [order, PDF] and transcripts of bench conferences between herself and the lawyers in the trial would only be made available at the end of the trial.

In any event, Brinkema noted that the trial was already

one of the most visible federal criminal cases in history. It was one of the first, if not the first, federal criminal case to provide electronic access to the pleadings. As such, details about this case have been in the public forum to an unprecedented extent. Moreover, the trial is available to more potential viewers in multiple locations [by closed circuit TV hookup] than any other federal criminal trial has ever been.... The Court recognizes that there is great public interest in this case, however, the media and the public must respect the unique challenges such a case places on the personnel who have to manage and conduct the trial.
Read the full text of Judge Brinkema's order [PDF]. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia already provides an extensive online collection of materials on the Moussaoui case.





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ICTY approves return to politics of ex-Kosovo PM on tighter conditions
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 7:29 PM ET

[JURIST] An appeals panel of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [official website] ruled Friday that former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can return to politics in Kosovo during his provisional release pending trial for war crimes scheduled to begin in 2007 [JURIST report], but only on condition that any requests by him to appear in public and engage in public political activities be cleared by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website] with the advice of the prosecution, and that UNMIK must justify to the court and to the prosecution any permission granted.

Haradinaj returned to Kosovo last June when the Trial Chamber of the court first granted him provisional release [JURIST report]. After ICTY prosecutors who had objected to his resumption of political activity in the country appealed, the Trial Chamber ruled in October than his political activity was subject to UNMIK approval [JURIST report]. The Appeals Chamber subsequently stayed this ruling [JURIST report] in December pending its own decision. Friday's ruling added five conditions to the Trial Chamber's October 2005 terms, requiring UNMIK to pay greater heed to prosecution input on requests and imposing stricter reporting requirements on UNMIK in granting permission. Read the ICTY press release, and the full text of the decision [PDF] by the Appeals Chamber.






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ICTY approves return to politics of ex-Kosovo PM on tighter conditions
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 7:29 PM ET

[JURIST] An appeals panel of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [official website] ruled Friday that former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can return to politics in Kosovo during his provisional release pending trial for war crimes scheduled to begin in 2007 [JURIST report], but only on condition that any requests by him to appear in public and engage in public political activities be cleared by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website] with the advice of the prosecution, and that UNMIK must justify to the court and to the prosecution any permission granted.

Haradinaj returned to Kosovo last June when the Trial Chamber of the court first granted him provisional release [JURIST report]. After ICTY prosecutors who had objected to his resumption of political activity in the country appealed, the Trial Chamber ruled in October than his political activity was subject to UNMIK approval [JURIST report]. The Appeals Chamber subsequently stayed this ruling [JURIST report] in December pending its own decision. Friday's ruling added five conditions to the Trial Chamber's October 2005 terms, requiring UNMIK to pay greater heed to prosecution input on requests and imposing stricter reporting requirements on UNMIK in granting permission. Read the ICTY press release, and the full text of the decision [PDF] by the Appeals Chamber.






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ICTY approves return to politics of ex-Kosovo PM on tighter conditions
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 7:29 PM ET

[JURIST] An appeals panel of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [official website] ruled Friday that former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can return to politics in Kosovo during his provisional release pending trial for war crimes scheduled to begin in 2007 [JURIST report], but only on condition that any requests by him to appear in public and engage in public political activities be cleared by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website] with the advice of the prosecution, and that UNMIK must justify to the court and to the prosecution any permission granted.

Haradinaj returned to Kosovo last June after the Trial Chamber of the court first granted him provisional release [JURIST report]. After ICTY prosecutors who had objected to his resumption of political activity in the country appealed, the Trial Chamber ruled in October than his political activity was subject to UNMIK approval [JURIST report]. The Appeals Chamber subsequently stayed this ruling [JURIST report] in December pending its own decision. Friday's ruling added five conditions to the Trial Chamber's October 2005 ruling. Read the ICTY press release, and the full text of the decision [PDF] by the Appeals Chamber.






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US Interior Secretary Norton resigns, leaving legal problems behind
Joshua Pantesco on March 10, 2006 3:16 PM ET

[JURIST] US Interior Secretary Gale Norton [official profile] resigned from the Bush cabinet Friday after a five-year run, and will officially leave office at the end of March. In her resignation letter [DOI press release], the former Colorado Attorney General told the President that her decision was motivated by a desire to return home to Denver.

While notorious in some quarters for leading the push [JURIST report] to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [official website] to oil drillers, Norton was also involved in an ongoing lawsuit brought by American Indian plaintiffs [Indian Trust website] alleging that the Interior Department grossly mismanaged trust funds earmarked for compensating American Indians for land use. In an incendiary opinion [text] last year, the presiding judge in that case required the Norton-led Interior Department to apologize to the plaintiffs [JURIST report], and to admit that information being provided to them regarding outstanding lost royalties on earnings from Indian land may be unreliable. Norton's name also surfaced during recent investigations into indicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST website], who has been accused of stealing millions from American Indian tribes who hired him to push the Interior Department [official website] for favorable decisions on casinos. MSNBC has more.






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Military contractor fined $10 million for defrauding US administration in Iraq
Joshua Pantesco on March 10, 2006 2:48 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury has found private military contractor Custer Battles [corporate website] guilty of 37 fraudulent acts against the US Coalition Provisional Authority [official website] in the first application of the federal False Claims Act [text] against an Iraq war contractor. The jury found the company guilty of establishing shell companies, forging invoices, inflating charges, and stealing equipment in an attempt to loot millions of dollars and awarded more than $10 million in damages to be divided between the US government and two former employees, Robert Isakson and William Baldwin, who acted as whistleblowers and filed the suit [JURIST report]. The Civil War-era False Claims Act allows private citizens to sue on behalf of the government and to receive a portion of any money recovered. The US Justice Department allowed the suit to go ahead but declined to join it directly.

Lawyers for Custer Battles say their appeal will focus on whether the provisional authority in Iraq was a US agency subject to US law. During the trial, key Custer Battles employees blamed the discrepancies on subordinates, and contended that the company lost money on the $21.4 million contract to help distribute the new Iraqi currency. The Los Angeles Times has more.






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Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal selection process underway
Joshua Pantesco on March 10, 2006 12:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Both the UN and Cambodia have submitted "short lists" of possible judges for the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal [task force website, in Cambodian; Yale CGP materials] that will be probing crimes against humanity by the Cambodian communist regime that allegedly killed millions in the 1970s and 80s. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday sent Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [official profile] a list of 12 candidates [UN press release] for positions including two international judgeships in the trial chamber, three international judgeships in the appeals chamber, and two more in the pre-trial chamber. Meanwhile, a Cambodian spokesperson has said that the body's Cambodian prosecutors and ten judges will be finalized by the country's Supreme Council of Magistracy in a month or two. While a start date for the tribunal has not been set, officials hope to begin proceedings by 2007 [JURIST report].

In 2001, Cambodia passed a statute [text] authorizing the creation of a war crimes court. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot passed away in 1998, but other key leaders are still living as free men, including second-in-command Nuon Chea, ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary [Wikipedia profile]. Two other top officials currently jailed and charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are Ta Mok [Trial Watch profile], the 78-year-old military chief known as "the Butcher" for his alleged role in mass killings, and Duch [Trial Watch profile], age 59, who ran an interrogation and torture center. Last month, a UN administrator urged a quick start to the trial [JURIST report], citing concerns that the health of several key defendants is deteriorating. Reuters has more.






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War crimes court finds Croats who leaked witness name in contempt
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [official website] at The Hague Friday convicted two Croatians - a journalist and a former security official [ICTY case summary] - for contempt [ICTY indictment, PDF] in disclosing the name of a protected witnesses in the 1997 war crimes trial of Croatian Army general Tihomir Blaskic [ICTY case summary]. The identity and testimony of Johannes van Kuijk, a Dutch army officer, was first leaked by Ivica Marijacic, editor of a Zagreb weekly, to Markica Rebic, the former head of Croatia's security service, and was then republished in a 2004 article by Marijacic.

The ICTY Trial Chamber found that the disclosure of van Kuijk's name had actually done him no harm, but nonetheless fined the two Croatians 15,000 Euros each (roughly $10,000), saying that the "public confidence in the effectiveness of the Tribunal’s protective measures is vital to the success of its work." The charge could have brought up to seven years imprisonment. Read the ICTY press release and the full text of the ruling [ICTY summary also available]. The court has not yet ruled on the cases of four other Croatian journalists [JURIST report] accused of leaking the name of another protected witness in the Blaskic trial. Reuters has more.






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Zimbabwe police arrest 15 for plotting Mugabe overthrow
Joshua Pantesco on March 10, 2006 11:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwean police have arrested 15 members of the opposition group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] after reportedly uncovering a collection of stockpiled weapons connected to the clandestine Zimbabwe Freedom Movement (ZFM) [manifesto], a group established in 2003 for the sole purpose of overthrowing the regime of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile]. The 15 suspects are being charged with "possession of weapons of banditry in a plot to overthrow the government by illegal means." While governmental officials say the MDC has strong ties to the ZFM, the link has been denied by MDC representatives, who called the arrests "a state plot to destabilise us ahead of our congress next week."

Zimbabwean police have arrested MDC MP and former Zimbabwean National Army officer Giles Mutsekwa and MDC regional treasurer Brian James, and have called former MP Roy Bennett [Wikipedia profile] in for questioning regarding the alleged coup attempt. The Telegraph has more. SW Radio Africa has local coverage.






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China creates special intellectual property court
Joshua Pantesco on March 10, 2006 11:50 AM ET

[JURIST] China has established a Judicial Court of Intellectual Property to handle piracy and intellectual property cases nationwide, according to a court spokesman speaking Friday at a Beijing news conference held during the annual meeting of the parliamentary National People's Congress. Read a press release on the court [in Chinese].The announcement comes amidst continuing complaints from other nations [US DOJ report] that the Chinese government has not done enough to prevent the illegal copying of DVD's, CD's, and other media produced by foreign companies, and on the heels of an announcement Thursday by China's Ministry of Commerce [official website, English version] of a series of new copyright laws [press release]. Sun Huapu added that China [JURIST news archive] has also created a website to bring unwanted publicity to defendants in high-profile piracy cases. According to Chinese governmental statistics, 741 people were convicted in 505 criminal piracy cases last year, along with 16,453 civil intellectual property rights cases, which was a 20 percent caseload increase from 2004.

Also at the news conference Friday, Jiang Zhipei [IHT report; personal website, in English], currently the Chief Justice of the Intellectual Property Rights Tribunal of the Supreme People's Court [official website in Chinese], dismissed the complaints of foreigners critical of China's intellectual property safeguards, noting that it was their responsibility to bring cases to court, yet only 5 percent of all Chinese IP cases last year were brought by foreign companies. AP has more.






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Port security legislation still looms after Dubai company withdrawal from deal
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 11:17 AM ET

[JURIST] New legislation aimed at improving security at American ports remained very much on the policy agenda of Republican and Democratic lawmakers Friday even in the wake of an announcement [JURIST report] from United Arab Emirates-owned Dubai Ports World [corporate website], read out by Sen. John Warner on the Senate floor Thursday, that it would transfer its newly-acquired operating rights over six US ports to a US firm, effectively avoiding further political controversy [JURIST new archive] and a legislative confrontation [JURIST report] between the Congress and President Bush. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters that "The problem of the political moment has passed, but the problem of adequate port security still looms large," while Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) noted in a press statement that "There are gaping holes in cargo and port security that need to be plugged." AP has more.

Meanwhile TIME magazine has reported that another Dubai-owned firm - Inchcape Shipping Services [corporate website] - provides piloting, tug and stevedoring services in 12 US ports as well as security services to the US Navy.






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Milan prosecutors call for corruption indictment of Italian PM Berlusconi
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors in Milan announced Friday that after an investigation [JURIST report] they have formally asked a judge to issue an indictment against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile; BBC profile] and his former lawyer, British barrister David Mills, for corruption in connection with false testimony that Mills allegedly gave at two trials in 1997 and 1998 involving Berlusconi broadcasting company Mediaset [corporate website]. Italian media claim that in return for the testimony, Berlusconi funneled some $600,000 to Mills. Under Italian law the prosecutor's request now goes to a judge who has 20 days to consider it, during which time defense lawyers can file objections. Berlusconi has already dismissed the case against him [JURIST report] as "baseless", but its timing is problematic because Berlusconi is deep into a re-election campaign with a national vote scheduled for April 9. BBC News has more.

This would not be the first indictment against Berlusconi; in September 2005 he was cleared of false accounting charges [JURIST report] and in June 2005 he was acquitted on bribery charges [JURIST report].

The case has also drawn wide attention in the United Kingdom [Telegraph report], in large part because David Mills is the husband of British Culture Minister Tessa Jowell [official profile]. A UK government inquiry has already cleared Jowell of any wrongdoing in the corruption scandal [Telegraph report; Blair statement], but she and her husband have since separated. Mills has denied the allegations against him [Mills statement].






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Iraq says closed Abu Ghraib would not house detainees; Red Cross seeks access
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 8:18 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iraqi Justice Ministry official responding to a US military statement that the US will eventually close its operation [JURIST report] at Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] in Baghdad and hand the facility back to Iraqi authorities said Friday that the Ministry would use the buildings as a storage location but not as a place to house detainees. Abd al-Hussein Shandel said Abu Ghraib was too difficult to secure [Star and Stripes report], and that the Justice Ministry had already transferred some 2400 criminals it had held there to other locations. Abu Ghraib was a notorious torture center under the Saddam Hussein regime and returned to notoriety [New Yorker report] during the American occupation after public disclosure of photographs showed detainees being abused by US personnel. Reuters has more.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross [advocacy website] in Geneva said Friday that when the US moves its detainees out of Abu Ghraib they should be relocated where the Red Cross has access [ICRC backgrounder] to them. The Red Cross has not had access to Abu Ghraib since January 2005 because the area where the prison is located is deemed too dangerous. Dorothea Krimitsas emphasized, however, that it was the treatment of the detainees rather than their location that was most important. Reuters has more.






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Hariri tribunal preparations almost complete
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 6:41 AM ET

[JURIST] Preparations for the establishment of an international tribunal to try those accused of killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive] and others in a Beirut bombing in February 2005 are almost complete, according to a Lebanese minister meeting UN officials in New York Thursday. Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh [profile] said, however, that funding details for the court still needed to be ironed out, and that "a significant Lebanese presence" on the panel had to be ensured since it had been agreed that it would not be headed by a Lebanese judge. To preserve its impartiality and security it will also sit outside of Lebanon, just as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sits in Arusha, in neighboring Tanzania. The exact location of the Hariri court has not yet been announced. Hamadeh, himself a survivor of an assassination attempt in October 2004, also reiterated that approval for the tribunal would need to be provided by a resolution from the UN Security Council.

Hamadeh's visit follows a January meeting of UN officials with Lebanese leaders in Lebanon, and visits of two Lebanese judges to New York for consultations with UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel [official profile]. The new head of the UN probe into Hariri's assassination [UN backgrounder], former Belgian and International Criminal Court prosecutor Serge Brammertz, is scheduled to submit an updated a report to the Security Council on March 15. Top Syrian security officials are suspected of having been involved in the murders. The UN has been authorized to help Lebanon establish a tribunal under UN Security Council Resolution 1644 [official PDF text]. Reuters has more.






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Moussaoui judge warns prosecutors not to base death penalty case on failure to act
Bernard Hibbitts on March 10, 2006 6:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Presiding US District Judge Leonie Brinkema [official profile] Thursday warned prosecutors in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui [JURIST news archive] against making any indication to jury members that Moussaoui was obligated to tell FBI agents about his terrorist connections after his arrest in August 2001 for violating immigration laws, less than a month before the September 11 attacks. Brinkema labeled such action as "shaky legal territory" and questioned the validity of implying that "failure to act is sufficient for the death penalty as a matter of law." Her warnings came as she ruled against a defense motion for a mistrial.

Prosecutors have been trying to argue that at least one death on September 11 could have been prevented if Moussaoui had not lied to federal authorities. Moussaoui's court-appointed defense attorneys have countered that requiring Moussaoui to have actually confessed his links to al-Qaida and his alleged plans to fly a plane into the White House [JURIST report] would infringe on his Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination. The FBI maintains [AP report] that Moussaoui's misdirections resulted in "wild goose chases" that delayed the apprehension of other al-Qaida agents. Moussaoui aroused suspicion after a Minneapolis flight school informed the FBI of an inexperienced foreign student training to fly a Boeing 747-400. He was arrested on August 16, 2001. He is the first and only prisoner to be charged in the US with involvement in the al-Qaida attacks on the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center. AP has more.






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