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Legal news from Wednesday, February 21, 2007




Proposed South Dakota abortion ban fails in state Senate committee
Leslie Schulman on February 21, 2007 7:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The South Dakota Senate State Affairs committee [official website] rejected a bill [House Bill 1293 materials] in an 8-1 vote on Wednesday that would have criminalized most abortions in the state with exceptions for rape, incest and life-threatening conditions to the mother. According to the bill,

the state has a right and duty to protect the life of the unborn child, and to protect the life, health, and well-being of any pregnant woman within its jurisdiction, and it is therefore necessary to reasonably balance these interests to allow abortions only in [these] certain circumstances.
Several senators who voted against the measure said they considered it patently unconstitutional given Roe v. Wade and doubted it would survive a court challenge.

The bill passed the House State Affairs committee last week [JURIST report] and would have been placed on the ballot of the next state general election had it passed in the Senate. Last year, the South Dakota legislature passed [JURIST report] a law banning most abortions [text, PDF] in the state, but voters rejected it [JURIST report] at the polls in November. AP has more. The Rapid City Journal has local coverage.





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Rhode Island to recognize some Massachusetts same-sex marriages
Leslie Schulman on February 21, 2007 7:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Rhode Island [official website] will recognize same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] of state employees performed in Massachusetts, according to Attorney General Patrick Lynch [official profile] in a letter [text, PDF] sent to the Commissioner of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education [official website]. The letter said same-sex employee partners married in Massachusetts would be granted the same benefits as heterosexual married couples; it was sent in response to a letter earlier this month from the Commissioner to the Office of the Attorney General asking for an official opinion on whether Rhode Island should recognize state employees' same-sex marriages.

Responding to Tuesday's letter, Michele Granda, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders [advocacy website], said in a press release [text]: “It’s terrific news for state employees . . . It’s our hope that other Rhode Island employers will follow suit." Last week, New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner [official profile] also announced [JURIST report] that New Jersey would similarly recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. AP has more.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in Microsoft patent infringement case
Jaime Jansen on February 21, 2007 7:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Wednesday in Microsoft Corp. v. AT&T Corp. [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 05-1056, where the court must decide whether Microsoft [corporate website] should be held liable for patent infringement in Windows software sold abroad. AT&T [corporate website] claimed that Microsoft allows foreign computer manufacturers to replicate master discs of its Windows software. The discs contain computer codes patented by AT&T, and AT&T argued that the process infringes their patent under a federal law [text] prohibiting US companies from shipping "components" of products to foreign manufacturers that use them to manufacture products that infringe US patents. In July 2005 the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld [text, PDF] a district court decision favoring AT&T, finding that the Windows software could be considered a "component" of a patented invention and that Microsoft "supplied" the component to overseas manufacturers.

Justice Breyer [Oyez profile] expressed skepticism Wednesday about AT&T's argument, stating that it could pave the way for extensive patent infringement allegations whenever US patented products are copied overseas. Conversely, Justice Kennedy [Oyez profile] questioned the difference between the master discs supplied by Microsoft and the subsequently copied discs distributed to foreign manufacturers for installation on their computers, while Justice Alito [Oyez profile] noted that the ease of copying the discs abroad renders Microsoft's distinction "artificial." Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. [Oyez profile] recused himself at the start of oral arguments; according to his financial disclosure form [PDF], Roberts owns between $100,001 and $250,000 worth of Microsoft stock. CNET has more.






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Mexico to lobby US for immigration reform
Katerina Ossenova on February 21, 2007 4:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Arturo Sarukhan [Wikipedia profile], Mexico's newest ambassador to the US, says his country is launching an intensive lobbying effort to secure an immigration reform agreement between the two nations. The plan includes negotiations between Mexican consulates and US state and federal lawmakers, business chambers and civic organizations concerned with immigration reform [JURIST news archive]. Mexico would like the US to create a guest worker program and to provide a legal foundation to the millions of illegal Mexican immigrants in the US. AP has more.

Mexico's attempts to address the needs of "undocumented workers" often directly conflict with US government efforts to discourage immigrants from entering the US illegally. Mexico's decision in January 2007 to provide illegal immigrants with tools [JURIST report], such as satellite tracking devices [Sunday Telegraph report] meant to ensure their successful flight to America, is the latest development in a strained US-Mexico relationship. In October 2006, US President George W. Bush signed legislation authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence [JURIST news archive] along the Mexican border.






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Spain court asks to transfer naval officer charged with genocide to Argentina
Katerina Ossenova on February 21, 2007 3:51 PM ET

[JURIST] A Spanish judge requested permission from Mexico Wednesday to extradite former Argentine naval officer Ricardo Miguel Cavallo [TrialWatch profile] back to Argentina. Cavallo was extradited from Mexico to Spain and has been in Spanish custody since 2003. In January 2006, he was charged with genocide [JURIST report], organized terrorism and crimes against humanity for crimes committed during Argentina's "dirty war" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. If convicted, Cavallo faces a prison term theoretically amounting to 17,000 years. Spain's High Court ruled in December 2006 that it does not have jurisdiction [JURIST report] to try Cavallo and offered to send him back to Argentina. Madrid's government held that Cavallo can only be transferred to Argentina once his appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court is resolved and Mexico gives its authorization. Even though Cavallo has said he would not oppose his extradition to Argentina, his Supreme Court appeal could take several more months. AP has more.

Starting in 1976, Argentina's "dirty war" was a seven-year campaign by the Argentine government against suspected dissidents. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were forcibly kidnapped or "disappeared" following the 1976 Argentine military coup, including approximately 600 Spanish citizens. Just under 9,000 people ar known to have been killed. In April 2005, a Spanish court convicted another former Argentine naval officer [JURIST report], Adolfo Scilingo [TrialWatch profile], of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 640 years in prison after finding him to have been aboard planes from which 30 people were thrown to their deaths during Argentina's military rule.






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UK court upholds school Islamic headscarf ban
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK High Court [official website] on Wednesday denied an application for judicial review stemming from a 12-year old Muslim girl's challenge to a public school policy that prevented her from wearing her full-face veil (niqab) [Wikipedia backgrounder; JURIST news archive] at school. Mr. Justice Silber found the policy appropriate, on the grounds that the veil would dampen teacher interaction with students as the teacher would not be able to read facial expressions. In addition, Silber found that the policy fosters a sense of equality among students and could prevent an unwanted visitor from using a veil as a disguise to enter the school undetected by administrators. Parents of the student had sought a judicial review to grant an injunction against the school dress policy. BBC News has more.

A UK teacher's aide last October planned to appeal a lower UK court's decision [JURIST report] rejecting her discrimination claims against her school for refusing to let her wear a niqab in the classroom. In February, press reports claimed that a panel of senior UK judges had approved new as-yet-unreleased courtroom rules that would ban full Islamic veils in the courts [JURIST report].






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France to try 17 Pinochet associates linked to disappearances of French nationals
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 3:31 PM ET

[JURIST] A French judge on Wednesday signed a 191-page indictment against 17 former associates of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], charging them with abduction and torture in connection with the disappearance of four French nationals [JURIST report] in Chile during Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990. The 17 are thought to be living in Chile and Argentina, and will likely be tried in absentia, facing potential life sentences. AFP has more.

Pinochet died of a heart attack [JURIST report] last December, thwarting numerous attempts to bring the former dictator to justice. Pinochet had enjoyed general immunity from prosecution under the 1980 Chilean Constitution [official translation, PDF], but was incrementally stripped of that immunity [BBC report] in light of charges brought against him. Last November, on the occasion of his 91st birthday, Pinochet publicly assumed full political responsibility [JURIST report] for the actions of his former regime.






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Romania commission reports no official cooperation with CIA rendition program
Katerina Ossenova on February 21, 2007 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] A Romanian parliamentary commission announced Wednesday that it had found no evidence that Romania cooperated with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] in operating illegal secret prisons and extraordinary rendition flights [JURIST news archives] in Europe, or that secret facilities ever existed in Romania. Norica Nicolai [official profile, in Romanian], head of Romania's senate commission, said the conclusion came after a year-long investigation. The commission's report will be debated by the Romanian parliament [official website] next week, before it is sent to European legislators.

The European Parliament (EP) [official website] voted [JURIST report] last week to approve [press release] a report [text] condemning the European countries who allowed the CIA to forcibly remove terror suspects [JURIST report] from within their borders, including the UK, Germany and Italy, and criticized those nations and others for not cooperating with the EP investigation into the CIA's activities in Europe. The existence of secret CIA prisons [JURIST report] in Europe was first reported by the New York Times in November 2005, and in December that year the EP launched an investigation [JURIST report] into the alleged secret prisons. President Bush publicly acknowledged that secret prisons existed [JURIST report] in September 2006, and in January 2007 the UK admitted its prior knowledge of a CIA prison network [JURIST report]. Spain conceded in September 2006 that CIA planes transporting detainees to secret prisons in Europe may have stopped over on its soil [JURIST report] and earlier this month, Portugal opened a probe [JURIST report] into allegations that CIA planes landed in Portugal en route to Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], among other destinations. Reuters has more.






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European Commission sets record antitrust fine for elevator companies
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission (EC) [official website] on Wednesday levied a record-breaking antitrust fine [press release] against the four biggest elevator and escalator manufacturers in Europe after finding them guilty of restrictive business practices in violation of Article 81 of the EC Treaty [text]. Otis, KONE, Schindler and ThyssenKrupp [corporate websites] were fined €992 million for fixing prices related to installing and maintaining elevators and escalators in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The companies have the right to appeal the fine to the Court of First Instance (CFI) [official website] and then to the Court of Justice of the European Communities [official website] in Luxembourg. Bloomberg has more.

Microsoft received a then-record fine of €662 million [JURIST report; text, PDF] from the EC in 2004 for "deliberately restricting interoperability between Windows PCs and non-Microsoft work group servers." The EC subsequently imposed an additional €357 million fine [JURIST report] when Microsoft failed to provide to competitors the information necessary to develop software compatible with the Windows operating system as required by the 2004 decision.






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Zimbabwe police ban political rallies in capital for three months
Katerina Ossenova on February 21, 2007 2:52 PM ET

[JURIST] Police imposed a three-month ban on political rallies and protests Wednesday in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare after a political rally held Sunday by opposition group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [official website]. Despite a court order [Reuters report] instructing police not to interfere with the rally, police used tear-gas and water cannons [JURIST report] to break up the crowd gathered to see Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile] begin his presidential campaign. Opposition group members said police chased and beat people and made several arrests. The police force said the ban was necessary to prevent further disorder. BBC News has more.

Political tensions have run high in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] especially since President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] announced in December that he planned to extend his presidency from 2008 to 2010 to correspond with the parliamentary elections. Earlier this month Mugabe indicated that he would not hesitate to use force [Reuters report] against opposition protests. Mugabe has been in office since the nation's liberation from Britain in 1980, and has become the target of growing criticism as unemployment and poverty rates soar and food shortages become more severe. In May 2006, police arrested opposition leader Arthur Mutambara [BBC backgrounder] and 70 supporters for allegedly campaigning [JURIST report] in violation of Zimbabwe’s Public Order and Security Act [text], which makes it illegal to hold a political meeting of any size without written approval from police four days in advance. Zimbabwe police, who are tightly controlled by Mugabe’s administration, often use the act to stifle dissent, shut down independent newspapers, and arrest protesters.






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Russia high court orders retrial for Yukos security chief convicted of contract killings
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 2:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Russian Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday agreed to overturn the 24-year sentence [JURIST report] given to former Yukos [corporate website; JURIST news archive] security chief Alexei Pichugin [Wikipedia profile] for organizing a series of contract killings, including the 1998 murder of Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of Nefteyugansk [official website]. Prosecutors appealed the sentence, arguing that Pichugin's crimes warranted a lifetime sentence. The charges were filed [JURIST report] in April 2005. The 24-year sentence included a 20-year sentence [JURIST report] Pichugin received after a 2005 conviction for murder and assassination.

Pichugin argued at trial that the charges were a politically motivated effort to connect Leonid Nevzlin [Forbes profile], a former Yukos executive, to the deaths. Nevzlin lives in exile in Israel, and Russia requested his extradition last year. Observers suggest the new trial could allow prosecutors to find new evidence against Nevzlin. The Financial Times has more. AP has additional coverage.






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France Senate ducks Armenian genocide bill
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawmakers in the French Senate have buried a draft bill [text, in French] that would have criminalized any denial that the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I [ANI backgrounder] constituted genocide. The bill has been taken off the Senate agenda, and as presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for April through June, the new National Assembly [official website, in French] would have to hold a second vote on the bill to place it back on the agenda. EUobserver has more.

French lawmakers first tried to pass the bill [JURIST report] last May, but the legislative session ended before parliament could agree on its terms. When the debate came up again in October, the Turkish parliament [official website, in Turkish] threatened [JURIST report] to pass a similar bill [JURIST report] labeling the colonial killings of Algerians [JURIST report] by French authorities as genocide and making it illegal to deny France's culpability. The National Assembly eventually passed the bill [JURIST report]. France, home to thousands of Armenians, has already recognized the 1915-1919 killings as genocide. Turkey denies the genocide label [JURIST comment], saying the killings were part of a partisan war in which many Muslim Turks died as well.






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Canada-Afghanistan detainee agreement allows torture: rights groups
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] Two human rights groups have called on Canada's Federal Court to review the legality of terrorism detainee transfer procedures under the Canada-Afghanistan Detainee Agreement [text]. Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy websites] filed an application for judicial review Wednesday, alleging that the transfer of terrorist suspects from the custody of the Canadian Forces to Afghanistan may violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text; fact sheet] and various international human rights obligations. The groups allege that Afghanistan tortures detainees.

Amir Attaran [official profile], a law professor at the University of Ottawa, wrote an opinion letter [PDF] last April, concluding that:

[t]he Arrangement fails to meet the minimum standards of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to the care that Canadian Forces must take under Canada’s constitution to prevent detainees from being tortured after they are transferred to Afghanistan or another country. This problem is serious, and probably would result in the Arrangement being declared unconstitutional if it were judicially reviewed in a Canadian court.
Lawyers for the advocacy groups say the judicial review will raise significant legal issues, such as whether the Geneva Conventions apply when Canadian forces assert that terrorists are not "enemy combatants" under the Conventions, and whether the Charter extends due process rights to such combatants. Similar issues were raised by the US Supreme Court case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [opinion PDF; JURIST report], where the Court held in part that Article 3 [text] of the Geneva Conventions applies even though the US is at war with al Qaeda, which is not a signatory to the Conventions. The US military subsequently reversed its Article 3 policy [JURIST report] and decided that the Article 3 safeguards apply to all detainees in US custody. The Globe and Mail has more. Read the Amnesty International Canada press release.





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DOJ unveils religious discrimination education initiative
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unveiled [transcript; press release] the First Freedom Project (FFP) [official website] Tuesday afternoon, a new Department of Justice initiative aimed at stricter enforcement of laws against religious discrimination and educating the public about their rights in this area. The DOJ will hold training seminars [DOJ materials] across the US in conjunction with the program, and the FFP website includes instructions on how to file a religious discrimination complaint with the DOJ [DOJ materials]. The program was prompted by a DOJ report [text], also released Tuesday, that describes how the DOJ's Civil Rights Division [official website] has "dramatically increased enforcement" of religious discrimination laws between 2001 and 2006.

Gonzales made the following remarks during a Wednesday meeting of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention [church website]:

The Department of Justice has actively pursued cases involving religion not just in access to education and public facilities, but in equal access to housing, lending, and employment as well. Over the past six years, we have had many successes. We've launched scores of investigations involving religious discrimination in education and housing, a sharp and marked increase in the Justice Department's enforcement of these important federal protections. We have fought to maintain and make clear the crucial distinction between improper government speech endorsing religion and constitutionally protected private speech endorsing religion.

Why should it be permissible for an employee standing around the water cooler to declare that 'Tiger Woods is God,' but a firing offense for him to say 'Jesus is Lord'? These are the kinds of contradictions we are trying to address...

As part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen and preserve religious liberty in this country, I am unveiling today a new initiative: the First Freedom Project. Under this program, the Department will build on our extensive record of achievement in this area and commit to even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans.
AP has more.





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UN reviewing Khmer Rouge tribunal after corruption allegations
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 11:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Development Programme [official website] ordered an audit [AFP report] Wednesday of the human resources practices of the Extraordinary Chamber of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website], the international tribunal established to try former Khmer Rouge officials, in response to reports of corruption. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) [advocacy website], which helped train ECCC judges, publicized the corruption allegations [press release] last week, saying that "Cambodian court personnel, including judges, must kick back a significant percentage of their wages to Cambodian government officials in exchange for their positions on the court." In response, a tribunal official severed all ties with the OSJI. AP has more.

The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [PDF text] to investigate and try those responsible for the 1975-79 Cambodian genocide that led to the deaths of at least 1.5 million Cambodians by execution, forced hardship or starvation. To date, no top Khmer Rouge officials have faced trial and questions have been raised concerning exactly how many of the Khmer Rouge's top officials will face the tribunal, as several of those responsible for the genocide have recently died [JURIST report] and others are in failing health. The prosecutors nonetheless face significant administrative, legal and linguistic obstacles in preparing cases for trial; their formal investigations only began in July [JURIST report] of last year.






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Federal judge lets discovery proceed in domestic spying class action lawsuit
Joshua Pantesco on February 21, 2007 11:12 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker issued an order [PDF] Tuesday imposing a limited stay on discovery in a class action lawsuit [EFF case backgrounder; JURIST report] challenging the legality of the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive], despite the government's request [PDF text] to stay discovery pending the outcome of an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The order permits the plaintiffs to "propound a limited and targeted set of interrogatories," and if such motion describes "why the discovery will not moot the issues on interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit," Walker will "entertain plaintiffs’ motion to lift the stay for the purpose of requiring a response." AFP has more.

Also on Tuesday, Judge Walker denied a media request to unseal documents [PDF order; EFF press release] filed in the case, including internal AT&T documents and a declaration from a retired AT&T telecommunications technician.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) [advocacy website] brought the class action wiretapping lawsuit against AT&T [corporate website] in January, alleging that the company had unlawfully provided the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] with access to its facilities and resources to unconstitutionally spy on "millions of ordinary Americans." The US Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to dismiss the case in July, citing "state secrets" among other concerns. Walker, however, denied the motion [JURIST report] and ruled [order, PDF] instead that the case can proceed safely because broad media coverage of the surveillance program had neutralized any danger of disclosing state secrets. In early November, the Ninth Circuit agreed to hear an appeal [JURIST report] of the decision.






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Supreme Court rules in false arrest, bankruptcy cases
Jeannie Shawl on February 21, 2007 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down decisions in two cases Wednesday, including Wallace v. Kato [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], where the Court held that the two-year statute of limitations for a false arrest action under under 42 USC 1983 [text] begins accruing at the time of arrest. Andre Wallace was arrested without probable cause in 1994, convicted, and released from prison in 2002 after an Illinois court reversed the conviction. He subsequently filed a civil rights lawsuit against the police officers involved, but his case was dismissed because he did not file the lawsuit within the two-year statute of limitations. Wallace argued that two-year period began accruing when he was released from prison, but the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that false arrest claims accrue at the time of arrest. The Supreme Court upheld this decision, holding "that the statute of limitations upon a §1983 claim seeking damages for a false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, where the arrest is followed by criminal proceedings, begins to run at the time the claimant becomes detained pursuant to legal process." Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Scalia, along with a concurrence [text] from Justice Stevens and a dissent [text] from Justice Breyer.

In Marrama v. Citizens Bank of Massachusetts [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court ruled 5-4 that a debtor's right to convert a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to a case under Chapter 13 [texts] is not absolute. Marrama initially filed a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 7 but then attempted to convert his case to a Chapter 13 petition in order to preserve his interest in an $85,000 piece of property. Citizens Bank challenged the conversion, and the bankruptcy court refused to allow the conversion due to Marrama's bad faith. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision [PDF text] from the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, concluding "that the courts in this case correctly held that Marrama forfeited his right to proceed under Chapter 13." The Court wrote:

Nothing in the text of either §706 or §1307(c) (or the legislative history of either provision) limits the authority of the court to take appropriate action in response to fraudulent conduct by the atypical litigant who has demonstrated that he is not entitled to the relief available to the typical debtor. On the contrary, the broad authority granted to bankruptcy judges to take any action that is necessary or appropriate "to prevent an abuse of process" described in §105(a) of the Code, is surely adequate to authorize an immediate denial of a motion to convert filed under §706 in lieu of a conversion order that merely postpones the allowance of equivalent relief and may provide a debtor with an opportunity to take action prejudicial to creditors.
Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Stevens, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Alito.





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UN probe reveals high number of extra-judicial killings in Philippines
Brett Murphy on February 21, 2007 7:41 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines is critically high, according to UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston [NYU Law profile], who on Wednesday reported on his 10-day investigation into the surge of political murders in the Philippines [JURIST news archive]. Alston said that many of the killings were committed by the Philippine military, and that the existence of such killings is "corrosive" and "severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country." Alston called upon the military to begin its own legitimate probe into the killings, and that in doing so, "its reputation and effectiveness will be considerably enhanced."

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] sent Alston to investigate claims [JURIST report] by human rights organizations that more than 800 political activists, human-rights workers, trade union officials, lawyers and judges have been murdered throughout the country since Philippines President Gloria Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] came to power in 2001. The Philippines government pledged to cooperate fully [JURIST report] with Alston's investigation into the alleged extra-judicial killings upon his arrival in the country February 12. Reuters has more.






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US returns 7 more Guantanamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia
Brett Murphy on February 21, 2007 7:28 AM ET

[JURIST] Seven Saudis formerly detained at Guantanamo Bay arrived in Saudi Arabia [JURIST news archives] on Wednesday after US authorities granted their release earlier this week. The Saudi Press Agency reported their return, and noted that Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz "expressed his appreciation at the level of co-operation with the US authorities, hoping that this step will pave the way to free all remaining Saudis soon". The former detainees will remain in custody in Saudi Arabia until the government has finished its investigation into any possible link the men may have with militant organizations.

In December, Saudi Arabia freed [JURIST report] eighteen former Guantanamo Bay detainees "after meeting necessary legal conditions." Earlier in December, sixteen Saudis [JURIST report; DOD press release] were released from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian government was holding that group of transferees [JURIST report] to investigate whether they have ties to terrorist groups. A total of 60 Saudi detainees have now been released from Guantanamo Bay, according to AP statistics, with another 67 remaining in custody. AP has more.






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Turkey seeks delay in Iraqi referendum on Kirkuk status
Brett Murphy on February 21, 2007 7:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile; BBC profile] asked Iraq's leadership to postpone a decision on future control of the city of Kirkuk [Global Security backgrounder] on Tuesday, citing concerns for the growth of a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. The Iraqi constitution [JURIST news archive], however, mandates that a referendum on the future of the city must take place by the end of this year. According to Erdogan, the city is not yet secure enough, and as such, a decision on control over it must be delayed.

Turkey has long been concerned about the possibility of Kurdish control over the Kirkuk region. In 2003, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] sent a letter [JURIST report] to Erdogan urging Turkey to take steps to ensure that the human rights of the local Kurdish population are protected in the event of any Turkish military operations around Kirkuk. Leaders of the Kurdish Alliance have previously accused [JURIST report] Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of "violating the laws" by breaking promises on Kurdish resettlement around Kirkuk. AP has more.






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Second US soldier pleads guilty in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
Brett Murphy on February 21, 2007 6:51 AM ET

[JURIST] US Army Sgt. Paul E. Cortez pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in the Mahmudiya (also "Mahmoudiya") area last March. Cortez reached a plea agreement [JURIST report] with prosecutors last month, removing the death penalty as a possible sentence. As a part of the deal, Cortez admitted to participating in the rape and murders, but declined to agree that the crimes were planned, an issue to be decided by the court during sentencing this week. Cortez faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole and a minimum sentence of life in prison with parole.

In November, Army Spc. James P. Barker pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to the rape and murder charges and was sentenced to 90 years in prison [JURIST report], an effective life sentence, but with the possibility of parole. Barker himself agreed to testify against the other soldiers implicated [JURIST report] in the attack. Former US Army Pfc. Steven D. Green [JURIST news archive], discharged from the military because of a personality disorder before the allegations arose, is said to have been the key player in the rape and murders, and has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in his civilian trial in federal court in Kentucky. It was recently revealed that three months before the attack, Green was diagnosed by military mental health workers as a homicidal threat [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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