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Legal news from Wednesday, August 30, 2006




UK judge lets police hold air terror suspects one more week without charge
Alexis Unkovic on August 30, 2006 9:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Scotland Yard [official website] received a final one-week extension from a High Court judge in London Wednesday, permitting British police to detain and question five British Muslim men suspected in connection with an alleged terror plot [JURIST report] to blow up US-bound planes over the Atlantic for an additional seven days before they must either charge the suspects with a crime or release them. The extension marks the longest detention [JURIST report] yet of suspected terrorists under the Terrorism Act of 2006 [text], which grants the British government the authority to detain and question suspected terrorists without charge for up to 28 days, up from the previous 14-day limit. Reuters has more.

British police charged [JURIST report] three other terror suspects Tuesday with conspiracy to murder and planning to smuggle "component parts of improvised explosive devices" onto airplanes in conjunction with the plot, bringing to 15 the number of suspects formally accused.






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UN humanitarian chief accuses Israel of 'immoral' use of cluster bombs
Alexis Unkovic on August 30, 2006 8:32 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland [official profile] condemned Israel [UN press conference summary] Wednesday for its "immoral" use of cluster bombs [FAS backgrounder; Cluster Munition Coalition advocacy website] in the most recent Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive]. Egeland based his criticism on UN officials' recent discovery of 359 separate sites of cluster bomblets, saying that 90% of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict when a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution was pending. Cluster munitions are considered by many human rights activists to be illegal [backgrounder] under multiple provisions of Protocol I [text] of the Geneva Conventions (1977) as they are notoriously inaccurate weapons that spread damage indiscriminately. Israel has previously denied [JURIST report] unauthorized uses of cluster munitions in Lebanon, and has insisted that its weaponry conforms with international standards. BBC News has more.

Last week, the US State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls [official website] initiated an investigation [JURIST report] to determine whether Israel violated prior US-Israeli agreements during the Middle East conflict by targeting Lebanese citizens cluster munitions. In February, Belgium became the first country in the world to ban the manufacture and use of cluster bombs [JURIST report].






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Marines accused in Hamdania killing face preliminary hearings
Alexis Unkovic on August 30, 2006 7:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Marine Corps [official website] Wednesday held separate hearings preliminary to possible court-martial at Camp Pendleton [official website], California, for two of the eight American soldiers, including seven Marines and one Navy corpsman, charged [JURIST report] with the April 26 murder and kidnapping of an Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania. The eight men allegedly dragged the man out of his home, shot him, and then placed an AK-47 rifle and a shovel near his body to make him look like he was burying a roadside bomb. As military prosecutors sought to build a case against the two Marines, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda and Pfc. John Jodka, one defense attorney denounced the pretrial hearing as "a rubber stamping process" and both defense attorneys said they doubt their clients will be able to receive a fair trial. Reuters has more.

So-called Article 32 [JAG backgrounder; USMJ text] proceedings held under the Uniform Code of Military Justice resemble civil grand jury proceedings. If convicted, the soldiers could receive the death penalty.






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Japan court rejects World War II sex slaves lawsuit
Alexis Unkovic on August 30, 2006 7:12 PM ET

[JURIST] A district court in Tokyo Wednesday dismissed an action filed on behalf of eight Chinese women who claim they were forced to act as sex slaves, or "comfort women" [SFCU backgrounder; JURIST report], for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The plaintiffs, teenagers during the war, sought both monetary compensation and an apology from the Japanese government, and their lawyers said they plan to appeal the district court's ruling. The Japanese courts have dismissed most similar claims filed by other women seeking damages, though two cases are still pending in Japan's Supreme Court. Reuters has more. The Japan Times has local coverage.

In June 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] rejected [JURIST report] a similar lawsuit [PDF text] filed against the Japanese government by 15 women from the Philippines, Taiwan, China, and South Korea, who claimed Japanese soldiers had held them as sex slaves during World War II.






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Federal judge rejects $50 million Vioxx award as 'grossly excessive'
Jaime Jansen on August 30, 2006 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday threw out a jury verdict holding Merck [corporate website] liable for $50 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report] to a retired FBI agent who claimed Merck's painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive] caused his heart attack. Fallon called the jury award "grossly excessive" and ordered a new trial [PDF text] to determine damages for Gerald Barnett. The new trial will only consider the issue of damages, and under precedent from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website], the new jury will also reconsider the $1 million punitive damages award. The original New Orleans jury found Merck negligent for failing to warn doctors about the risks associated with taking Vioxx and found that Merck knowingly misrepresented the risks involved, and Fallon did not overturn those findings.

The Barnett verdict was the ninth Vioxx trial to reach a verdict out of more than 16,000 pending lawsuits. AP has more.






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Bolivia constitutional convention stalls on key vote over powers
Jaime Jansen on August 30, 2006 1:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A Bolivian constitutional convention [official website, in Spanish] championed by President Evo Morales [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile] has delayed voting on a motion that would allow the assembly to create a constitutional framework without having to answer to Congress or the judiciary. Tuesday's delay results from disputes between delegates from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS) [party website, in Spanish; Wikipedia backgrounder], but a vote could occur later in the week. The constitutional assembly opened earlier in August [JURIST report] with MAS promoting constitutional changes designed to benefit the majority indigenous Indian population [JURIST report] and consolidate greater state authority to benefit poor Bolivians. Though a vote will still occur, opponents say that giving the assembly unsupervised control of drafting the constitution [current text] violates the assembly's own bylaws.

Morales' party failed to win the two-thirds majority [JURIST report] necessary to control the constitutional assembly and opposition from wealthier provinces within Bolivia [JURIST news archive] seeking autonomy presents a hurdle to the vote. The 255 elected delegates will have up to one year to rewrite the existing constitution, which was adopted in 1967. AP has more. From La Paz, La Razon has local coverage.






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Pinochet judge removed from tax evasion case for alleged bias
Jaime Jansen on August 30, 2006 1:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The Santiago Court of Appeals [Chilean judiciary website, in Spanish] has temporarily removed Judge Carlos Cerda from presiding over a probe into the finances of former Chile dictator Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], after hearing arguments that Cerda has a "personal bias" against Pinochet. Pinochet's lawyer had argued that Cerda demonstrated his bias towards Pinochet by voting against Pinochet in a previous tax evasion case [JURIST report]. Tuesday's decision to remove Cerda effectively halts the trial temporarily because a replacement judge will have to spend a significant amount of time reviewing prior court documents accumulated by Cerda. The Santiago court may choose to reinstate Cerda if it decides the bias accusations are not true. While Pinochet and his family claim that Pinochet's estimated $28 million came from savings, investments and donations, prosecutors argue that Pinochet took bribes from arms sales.

In the previous tax evasion case [JURIST report], Cerda issued arrest warrants for Pinochet, his wife, four of his children, daughter-in-law, former attorney and secretary following the release of indictments that all filed false tax returns [JURIST report]. Pinochet also faces multiple human rights charges [JURIST report] stemming from his 1973-1990 rule. AP has more.






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ICTY finds Croatian journalist guilty of contempt for publishing court transcripts
Joshua Pantesco on August 30, 2006 10:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday found Croatian journalist Josip Jovic guilty of contempt of the Tribunal for publishing transcripts of a closed court session and revealing the identity of a witness, current Croatian President Stipe Mesic [official profile], who testified in the Tihomir Blaskic case [ICTY case backgrounder]. Jovic, editor of Slobodna Dalmacija [media website, in Croatian], had pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the contempt of court charges [indictment text; JURIST report], and on Wednesday was fined 20,000 Euros by the Tribunal.

Read the ICTY's summary of the judgment and press release.






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South Dakota governor blocks execution pending new lethal injection law
Jaime Jansen on August 30, 2006 10:26 AM ET

[JURIST] South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds [official website] on Tuesday ordered a last minute reprieve [press release] for death row inmate Elijah Page [SD AGO backgrounder], calling the 1984 state lethal injection law [text] outdated and expressing concern that state officials slated to perform the execution were at risk of violating the state statute. The South Dakota statute requires a combination of two drugs for lethal injection, but prison officials planned to follow several other states and use a three-drug combination for Page's execution. Rounds granted the execution reprieve for Page until July 1, 2007, to allow time for the state legislature to hammer out new lethal injection protocols.

Concerned that lethal injection causes excessive pain for the inmate, several states have recently questioned the standard three-drug lethal injection cocktail. Missouri is working on new lethal injection protocols [JURIST report] under the guidance of US District Judge Fernando Gaitan to ensure that Missouri's lethal injection method does not cause unconstitutional pain and suffering, while Ohio recently executed its first inmate under revised lethal injection protocols [JURIST report]. Similarly, a federal judge in California in February ordered the state to implement new lethal injection procedures [JURIST report] that do not cause excessive pain. South Dakota has not executed a death row inmate since 1947. AP has more.






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Navy lawyer charged with leaking secret Guantanamo Bay detainee names list
Joshua Pantesco on August 30, 2006 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] A staff attorney with the US Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps [official website] was charged Tuesday with relaying secret national defense information to a person outside the government "with intent or reason to believe that the said information was to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation." Lt. Cmdr. Matthew M. Diaz, who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] for six months, allegedly printed and transmitted to an outside person names and information related to Guantanamo detainees between December 2004 and March 2005, months before AP forced the DOD to release detainee lists [JURIST report] through Freedom of Information Act requests. If convicted, Diaz faces more than 36 years in prison.

The leak was discovered when the recipient of the information, who has not been identified, notified federal authorities about the transmission. AP has more.






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Ex-State Department official admits leaking Plame identity to press: NYT
Joshua Pantesco on August 30, 2006 9:42 AM ET

[JURIST] A lawyer involved in the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive] said Tuesday that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage [official profile] has identified himself as the "initial and primary source" for the Robert Novak column that revealed Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA affiliation. The New York Times also learned from lawyers close to the case that Armitage learned of Plame's CIA affiliation from a memo that did not mention her undercover status, and that he subsequently passed the information on to Novak. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald [official website], the prosecutor who led the investigation into the leak of Plame's identity, never brought charges against any official under statutes prohibiting the willful disclosure of CIA officers.

Former vice-presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense profile] was charged last year with obstruction of justice and perjury [PDF indictment; JURIST report] in connection with Fitzgerald's investigation. Libby has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] and has requested a one-month delay in his trial [JURIST report], which is now scheduled to begin in February. Critics have said that Libby may have told reporters about Plame's identity in retaliation for statements made by her husband that undermined the Bush administration's position that Iraq was seeking uranium for their nuclear weapons program. Columnist Robert Novak revealed Plame's CIA affiliation eight days after Wilson went public with his allegations. The New York Times has more.






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Federal appeals court upholds EPA pesticide rule despite treaty
Joshua Pantesco on August 30, 2006 9:13 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a pesticide rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website], saying that the regulation does not violate the Clean Air Act [EPA materials] even though it may conflict with an international environmental treaty signed by the US. In December 2004, the EPA issued a rule [PDF text] identifying the once-popular pesticide methyl bromide [EPA backgrounder] as falling under the "critical use" exemption from the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer [PDF text; JURIST report], an environmental treaty signed by the US that phases out the use of methyl bromide by 2005. The National Resources Defense Council [advocacy website] sued, arguing that the "EPA has permitted too much new production and consumption of methyl bromide, which will result in more emissions, which will increase ozone depletion, which will adversely affect the health of NRDC's members," and that the EPA rule is in direct conflict with the Montreal Protocol. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [PDF text] that the EPA was not bound by "postratification side agreements" reached at the Montreal Protocol because these agreements "are not 'law' within the meaning of the Clean Air Act and are not enforceable in federal court."

Chemical manufacturers hailed the decision as beneficial to farmers who are struggling to phase out use of the pesticide. Reuters has more.






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