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Legal news from Saturday, September 23, 2006

Elite US unit in Afghanistan concealed abuse, killing of detainees: LA Times
Joshua Pantesco on September 23, 2006 5:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Special Forces team in Afghanistan allegedly abused and killed two detainees in their custody and then coordinated their stories so that superior officers in the chain of command never discovered the incidents, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. One detainee was allegedly shot to death after he was interrogated by Special Forces team members about an intense battle that the detainee witnessed but did not participate in. The other detainee, an 18-year-old Afghan soldier whose corpse showed signs of abuse, also died following a special forces interrogation. No formal charges have been filed in respect of either incident. Other Afghan detainees who were held at the Gardez base [Globalsecurity.org backgrounder] alleged they were beaten by Special Forces members. UPI has more.

In August, a federal jury sitting in Raleigh, North Carolina found CIA contractor David Passaro guilty of abusing a detainee in Afghanistan [JURIST report] who later died in US custody. Eleven US soldiers were charged in 2005 in connection with the deaths of two other prisoners within days of one another in December 2002. Of those, two pleaded guilty and served short sentences before being dishonorably discharged, one was convicted but spared a prison sentence, five were acquitted and three had the charges against them ultimately dropped [JURIST report]. Saturday's Times report said that the newspaper's review of thousands of pages of internal military records showed that "prisoner abuse by Special Forces units was more common in Afghanistan than previously acknowledged." The Los Angeles Times has more.

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Rights groups call for UN intervention in Sri Lanka conflict
Joshua Pantesco on September 23, 2006 4:29 PM ET

[JURIST] Human rights groups have called on the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to support an "independent international human rights monitoring mechanism" to guard against human rights violations and alleged disregard for civilian casualties in fighting between Sri Lanka government forces and the rebel Tamil Tigers that has claimed an estimated 1,500 lives since last November. The human rights groups, including Forum Asia, Pax Romana, INFORM and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) [advocacy websites], accused both actors in the conflict of failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets. A similar statement [text] was delivered by a CPA spokesperson to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last week.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [CFR backgrounder; faction website], or the "Tamil Tigers," have demanded that the government of Sri Lanka establish an independent ethnic state for Tamils within the current boundaries of Sri Lanka, a demand the government has rejected since the 1970s. Over 60,000 people are estimated to have died since the Tamil Tigers began an open rebellion in 1972. In August, US officials arrested eight Tamil Tigers [JURIST report] for allegedly attempting to buy weapons in the United States to use against the Sri Lankan military. AFP has more.

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HP braces for 'pretexting' hearing after board chair resigns
Joshua Pantesco on September 23, 2006 3:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Already braced for a Congressional hearing Monday on its admitted use of 'pretexting' [SEC filing], technology giant Hewlett Packard Co. [corporate website] announced Friday that Board Chairman Patricia Dunn will resign immediately [HP press release], rather than in January as previously scheduled [HP press release], and that CEO Mark Hurd will take her place [HP press release]. HP also announced that former US prosecutor Bart M. Schwartz [firm profile] will audit and recommend appropriate changes to HP's Standards of Business Conduct [PDF text], the ethical guidelines of the company.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website] has hearings scheduled for September 28 [materials] on "Hewlett Packard's Pretexting Scandal," for which the Subcommittee has requested the testimony of several key HP officers, including HP global security manager Anthony Gentilucci, senior counsel Kevin Hunsaker, and computer security investigator Fred Adler, as well as private investigator Joe Depante [Subcommittee letters]. Earlier in September, the Subcommittee requested documents from HP [letter], and requested the testimony of Dunn and General Counsel Ann O. Baskins [JURIST report], to be delivered during the September 28 hearing. 'Pretexting' is a fradulent investigative technique that involves an investigator posing as someone else to gain access to confidential or personal information. It appears to have been used during an internal investigation aimed at uncovering the source of leaked information which came from the HP board of directors. AP has more.

 Op-ed: Built to Last? Corporate Governance at Hewlett-Packard

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Critics denounce Republican compromise on detainees
Alexis Unkovic on September 23, 2006 12:11 PM ET

[JURIST] A range of rights groups, military lawyers and legal scholars Friday ripped into the deal [JURIST report] on military commissions legislation [JURIST news archive] reached Thursday between top Senate Republicans and the White House. American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] spokeperson Caroline Fredrickson called on legislators to reject the so-called compromise [press release], arguing that it whittles away at fundamental guarantees of due process and the protection of Common Article 3 [text] of the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], adding that

under the proposal, the president would have the authority to declare what is - and what is not - a grave breach of the War Crimes Act, making the president his own judge and jury. This provision would give him unilateral authority to declare certain torture and abuse legal and sound.
Center for Constitutional Rights [official website] president Michael Ratner sharply criticized [press release] Senators John McCain (R-AZ), John Warner (R-VA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for allegedly giving in to "political pressure", suggesting that:
The compromise allows President Bush to issue his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions by executive order and immunizes CIA and military personnel from prosecution for past violations of the Geneva Conventions. Most importantly for the many men currently in US custody, the compromise bill would eliminate the right of detainees to challenge the legality of their detention through habeas corpus - a fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution.
University of Houston law professor Jordan Paust meanwhile wrote in a JURIST Forum column that the "compromise"
does not provide proper legal guidance to US interrogators and adherence merely to its standards would place the United States in violation of common Article 3 and other provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (such as Articles 1, 146-147 of the Geneva Civilian Convention), not to mention similar provisions in several other international treaties and instruments and customary international law. Those who would authorize, abet, or implement the “compromise” language in violation of common Article 3 (for example, CIA or US military personnel) would be subject to criminal and civil sanctions outside the United States in any foreign forum and in certain international courts.
Several military lawyers also spoke out against the legislation, less than two weeks after top military counsel controversially signed letters supporting aspects of the White House version of the military commissions bill [JURIST report]. To this point, however, Congressional Democrats have not expressed much vocal opposition. Votes on the revised bill are expected next week in the both the House and Senate. The Los Angeles Times has more. McClatchy Newspapers has additional coverage.

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North Dakota faces first execution in over 100 years
Alexis Unkovic on September 23, 2006 11:13 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury in North Dakota sentenced a man convicted of kidnapping and murdering a college student to the death penalty [JURIST news archive] Friday after almost two days of deliberation. Convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was originally charged [indictment, text] under federal law in the US District Court for the District of North Dakota [official website] for taking Dru Sjodin over state lines. The state of North Dakota abolished the death penalty in 1973, though it can result in federal cases [CDN backgrounder]; Rodriguez's execution would mark the first in the state since a hanging in 1905 [SCND backgrounder].

Following the announcement of the jury's decision, several elected officials said the federal sentence may prompt the North Dakota legislature to consider reviving the death penalty, last debated in the state Senate in 1995. Gov. John Hoeven (R-ND) [official profile] described the verdict as a "just sentence" [press release] and reportedly said he would support a death penalty proposal but does not plan to include one in his 2007 budget. AP has more.

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Nepal parliament formally strips king of army control
Alexis Unkovic on September 23, 2006 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The Parliament of Nepal [JURIST news archive] passed a law Friday that formally divests King Gyanendra [official profile; BBC profile] and the royal family [official website] of power over the Nepalese Army. Friday's legislation affirmed parliament's proclamation [JURIST report] of May 18 in which the newly-reinstated legislature stripped the king of all of his privileges and powers, including the title of supreme army commander.

Opposition political parties in Nepal conducted three weeks of pro-democracy protests [JURIST news archive] in April until King Gyanendra agreed to reinstate parliament [JURIST report] and give up direct control of the government, which he assumed after dismissing civilian authorities in February 2005. PTI has more.

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For more legal news check the Paper Chase Archive...


Unprecedented Notice of Warrantless Wiretapping in a Closed Case
Ramzi Kassem
CUNY School of Law

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