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Legal news from Thursday, February 22, 2007

South Korea lobbyist in oil-for-food scandal sentenced to five years
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 8:31 PM ET

[JURIST] A US federal judge Thursday sentenced former South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park [personal website; Washington Post profile] to five years in prison for his conviction on charges [JURIST reports] of money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and acting as an unregistered agent of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Prosecutors accused Park of receiving about $2 million from Hussein in exchange for convincing US and UN officials to remove economic sanctions against Iraq during the operation of the now-defunct UN Oil-for-Food Program [official website; JURIST news archive]. US District Judge Denny Chin [official profile] imposed the maximum jail sentence allowed under New York sentencing guidelines and also ordered Park to pay a fine of $15,000, have assets totaling $1.2 million in value seized, and remain under state supervision for three years upon release. Reuters has more.

In the 1970s, Park was indicted but never convicted of improperly influencing the US Congress in the Koreagate scandal [Wikipedia backgrounder]. Park was charged last month in a separate case with lying to the FBI [JURIST report] about his role in the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 986 [PDF text], which originally established the Oil-for-Food Program in 1995.

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Colombia ex-intelligence chief arrested for paramilitary contract killings of activists
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 7:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in Colombia [JURIST news archive] Thursday arrested a former intelligence chief on charges of murder and conspiracy for allegedly contracting with illegal paramilitary groups [JURIST news archive] to assassinate political opponents, including human rights activists [JURIST report] and union leaders. Jorge Noguera [CIP backgrounder] ran the Department of Administrative Security [official website, in Spanish] until he resigned [BBC report] in October 2005 after he was tape-recorded while discussing plans to sell intelligence to paramilitary groups. Several of the people on Noguera's hit list were later killed, including university professor Alfredo Correa de Andreis [Amnesty International backgrounder], who was investigating the paramilitary groups at the time of his death in 2004 [protest letter, American Anthropological Association].

Noguera was arrested while testifying to prosecutors. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison. He denies all charges. AP has more.

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Rights group censures Indonesia for jailing peaceful protestors
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 7:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Indonesia has convicted and jailed at least 18 people for advocating a sovereign government for the province of Papua [Wikipedia profile], according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report [text; press release] released Wednesday. The report states:

Although political space for dissent in Indonesia has increased enormously since the fall of Soeharto, broadly worded laws limiting freedom of expression remain on the books and continue to enable authorities to arbitrarily target individuals. These laws, on their face and in their application, violate the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association, and lead to arbitrary detention.
Article 28 of Indonesia's 1945 Constitution [text] guarantees freedom of expression, but HRW says that subsequent legislation has denied Indonesians this right. HRW criticized Indonesia for making it a crime to "insult" the president or express "feelings of hatred" toward the government, even when such sentiments are part of a peaceful protest.

An Indonesian official denied to the BBC that any prisoners have been jailed for peaceful expression. Earlier this week, several Indonesian lawmakers criticized proposed Criminal Code revisions [Jakarta Post report] as detrimental to freedom of speech, expression, and the press. BBC News has more.

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Padilla unfit to stand trial due to post-traumatic stress: psychiatrist
Robert DeVries on February 22, 2007 6:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Alleged terrorist Jose Padilla [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is unfit to stand trial, forensic neuropsychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty testified at a court ordered competency hearing Thursday. Hegarty testified that she determined from 22 hours of interviews and tests with him that Padilla is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his years in detention and is unable to assist in his defense. During cross examination by prosecutor John Shipley, Hegarty admitted that some portions of her tests on Padilla scored zero for post-traumatic stress disorder. Previously, the US Bureau of Prisons [official website] evaluation that concluded Padilla was fit to stand trial [JURIST report].

Padilla, a US citizen, was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and subsequently detained as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] at a Navy military brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Initially accused of planning to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" [NRC factsheet] in the United States, Padilla went from enemy combatant to criminal defendant when he was finally charged [JURIST report] in November 2005 on unrelated counts. He was transferred to civilian custody [JURIST report] in January 2006 and has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges. Last week a district court judge ruled [JURIST report] that prison staff and experts must testify in this week's competency hearing. AP has more.

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Egypt blogger sentenced to prison for insulting Islam online
Leslie Schulman on February 22, 2007 5:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil [advocacy website; HRinfo backgrounder] was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday on charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife in his blog [website, in Arabic]. Nabil, a 22-year-old former law student, had posted on the internet statements critical of Islamic authorities and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile], calling him a dictator. Nabil also allegedly called his university, Al-Azhar University [university website], "the university of terrorism." Charges against him included inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and insulting the president. Nabil, who pleaded not guilty to all charges, faced a maximum of nine years in prison [JURIST report].

Nabil’s supporters say that government repression and censorship have become more prevalent recently, as the US has let up political pressure for reforms. Bloggers have been arrested before, but this is the first time that one has been charged with a crime. Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] has named Egypt an “Internet enemy” [report] for repressing bloggers. Gamal Eid, Executive director of The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) [advocacy website] condemned Thursday's verdict in a press release [text], stating:

When a young man is punished for having secular views in a country claiming to respect citizens' right to freedom of expression, it is a catastrophe. The democratic countries all over the world have already expelled such charges from their laws.
HRinfo has said they will appeal the sentence immediately. CBC News has more.

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China newspaper editor convicted of embezzlement has sentence reduced
Leslie Schulman on February 22, 2007 4:47 PM ET

[JURIST] Jailed Chinese newspaper ex-editor Yu Huafeng [Reporters Without Borders profile] has had his eight-year sentence reduced by one year, according to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao Daily News [media website, in Chinese] on Thursday. Huafeng and his colleague Li Minying [Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) profile] were both convicted in 2004 [Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) press release] for embezzlement, bribery and corruption. Both men claimed the money in question was obtained legally and used for routine business transactions. Minying, who was editor and director of the Chinese Southern Metropolitan Daily newspaper, was released last week [AP report], cutting his six-year prison term to three years. A third Southern Metropolitan Daily editor, Cheng Yizhong [ICPC profile], was released five months after his arrest in 2004 [BBC report], having never faced trial.

CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said the editors' arrests appeared to be part of a campaign to silence the newspaper's criticism of the government. Many suspected that the convictions were used to reprimand Southern Metropolitan Daily for publishing controversial reports [Asia Media report], including exposing a suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) [CDC backgrounder] in the Chinese province Guangdong before the government reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO) [official website]. AP has more.

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Egypt cleric alleges torture after 2003 CIA rendition from Italy
Leslie Schulman on February 22, 2007 4:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Speaking publicly for the first time, Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr [Wikipedia profile] said Thursday that he was tortured by Egyptian officials during his four-year detention in Egypt following an alleged 2003 kidnapping [JURIST news archive; WP timeline] and extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] from Milan. Nasr, who has been at the heart of Italian judicial proceedings [JURIST report] against US and Italian intelligence agents implicated in his alleged kidnapping, spoke to reporters outside the unrelated trial [JURIST report] of 22-year-old Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil in Alexandria. Released from prison early last week [JURIST report], Nasr says he was tortured after being grabbed off a street in Milan and ultimately sent to Egypt. Late last week Italian Judge Caterina Interlandi issued indictments for 31 US and Italian intelligence agents for their alleged role in the abduction.

Testimony during the Italian proceedings leading up to the indictments disclosed [JURIST report] that the CIA had contacted Italian intelligence about the possibility of performing extraordinary renditions in the days following the September 11 attacks. Also last week, officials in Switzerland announced that they were launching a criminal probe [JURIST report] into the alleged unlawful use of Swiss airspace by US agents to transport Nasr from Milan to Germany. Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro has said he will likely try the US agents in absentia [JURIST report], as the US is not expected to turn them over for trial. AP has more.

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Enron shareholder class action suit to be tried in April despite certification appeal
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 3:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The Enron shareholder derivative lawsuit [class action website] will be tried in April as previously scheduled, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. US District Judge Melinda Harmon [Houston Chronicle profile] denied a motion filed by defendants Merrill Lynch and Co. Inc. and Credit Suisse Group [corporate websites] to delay the trial pending the outcome of an appeal to the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website]. Judge Harmon certified the class [opinion and order, PDF] in June 2006, and Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse appealed to the Fifth Circuit, alleging the certification should be thrown out because it allows Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse to be held liable for actions taken by other defendants even though they had no actual knowledge of those actions. Oral arguments [AP report] before the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit were held on Monday. Reuters has more.

In January, Harmon dismissed seven defendants [JURIST report] from the class action suit, including late ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay.

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Philippines president pledges to investigate extra-judicial killings
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Philippines will investigate and eventually prosecute those responsible for extra-judicial killings, President Gloria Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] said Wednesday, one day after a visiting UN official released a report revealing a high number [JURIST report] of such killings. On Tuesday, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston [NYU Law profile] reported that his ten-day investigation showed that the Philippines military was responsible for many of the killings, which "severely undermine the political discourse central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country." Arroyo has denied that police and military officers were behind the deaths, but has consistently promised to cooperate with the UN investigation [JURIST report]. ABC Australia News has more.

Arroyo appointed an independent commission [press release; JURIST report] in August 2006 to investigate extrajudicial killings of journalists [Reporters without Borders 2006 annual report] and militant activists. Amnesty International [advocacy website] has called on the Philippines to investigate the killings [AI report] and resolve authorities' reluctance to prosecute perpetrators.

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Sierra Leone war crimes indictee dies weeks before verdict
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Sierra Leone Defense Minister Sam Hinga Norman [SCSL materials] died of heart failure Thursday, several weeks before a verdict was due in his war crimes trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website], the Court announced [press release, PDF] Thursday. Norman, who passed away in a military hospital in Dakar, Senegal after being transferred there for medical care, was charged [PDF indictment; case summary] with eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, inhumane acts, acts of terrorism, pillage, and collective punishments, all related to his tenure as leader of the pro-government Civil Defense Forces during the 1991-2002 civil war [AFROL materials]. Reuters has more.

The SCSL has delayed until June [JURIST report] the trial of its most prominent suspect, former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who is charged with war crimes also related to the Sierra Leone civil war.

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'Insufficient evidence' to support Ramadan torture allegations: US Army
Joshua Pantesco on February 22, 2007 2:01 PM ET

[JURIST] A spokesperson for the US Army Criminal Investigation Command [official website] said Wednesday that it had found "insufficient evidence" to support allegations by former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive] that he was tortured by US personnel following his arrest in 2003 after he reportedly refused to reveal certain information. Ramadan is currently facing a death sentence [JURIST report] imposed by the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) [official website; HRW backgrounder] trial chamber after its appeal chamber rejected as too light an initial sentence of life imprisonment issued last November when Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death.

On Monday, Ramadan defense lawyer Giovanni di Stefano [firm website] released a sworn statement [JURIST report; statement, DOC] by Ramadan signed March 22, 2006 in which Ramadan alleged he had been subjected to "methods of torture." The Army spokesperson on Wednesday said the investigation into the torture allegations was closed, without specifying a specific end date. In a statement e-mailed to JURIST Thursday, di Stefano responded:

The US military have conceded, quite correctly, that an investigation was held into allegations of torture by Taha Ramadan. The year was 2003 and we have seen already what the US military did to Iraqi prisoners that year.

There was photographic evidence from Abu Gharib Prison. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no such evidence in the case of Taha Ramadan. What is shocking however, is that the US military, again quite properly, can neither confirm 'or deny' the acts of torture complained of by Taha Ramadan.

This is of some serious concern. Not only must Taha Ramadan now face the inevitable act of being murdered by the State of Iraq after having received life imprisonment but the foundation to the trial were potential acts of torture committed by the US military who are unable to deny that such acts were committed. If ever an accused requires (even if guilty) an act of clemency it is Taha Ramadan. I have referred this matter to Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, but there is little that she can do. The only body that are lawfully able to intervene are the US military with or without political command. No military are compelled to obey orders from political bodies that may constitute crimes. Handing over Taha Ramadan to the Iraqi Government may well be a criminal act since it is common ground he has not received a fair trial. In her amicus brief Louise Arbour states clearly that Taha Ramadan et al has not received a fair trial. It follows thus that any of the US military who do hand him over for the purpose of execution are capable of indictment for conspiracy. I urge the US military commander in Iraq to wilfully refuse any order from political sources failing which he and any who participate may be indicted. For the sake of justice Taha Ramadan should be spared.
Di Stefano has said that he will ask US courts to prevent the US government from handing Ramadan over to Iraqi officials for his execution, relying on the case of suspected Iraqi terrorist Shawqi Omar [JURIST news archive]. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled [PDF text] earlier this month that Omar may argue his case before a US court [JURIST report]. Omar, a US citizen, is seeking to block the US military from turning him over to Iraqi custody for trial in Iraqi courts. Bloomberg has more.

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Top Canada judges say nomination changes threaten judicial independence
Joe Shaulis on February 22, 2007 12:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Canada's highest-ranking judges have criticized the Conservative government's changes to the regional panels that screen candidates for federal judgeships [JURIST report] as a threat to judicial independence. The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) [official website], made up of the chief justices and associate chief justices of Canada's superior courts, issued a statement [text] Tuesday saying that "judges can continue to participate in the deliberations of the Advisory Committees, but only if the principle of judicial independence is respected and judicial candidates are recommended strictly on the basis of merit." The provincially-based advisory committees [backgrounder], which work in secret, include seven voting members representing judges, lawyers and the public. Because four of those members - up from 1 in 1988 and 3 in 1994 - are now appointed by Canada's federal Justice Minister, the CJC statement said that:

the advisory committees may neither be, nor seen to be, fully independent of the government. This puts in peril the concept of an independent body that advises the government on who is best qualified to be a judge. Judicial independence is not the private right of judges but the foundation of judicial impartiality and a constitutional right of all Canadians.
Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile], during a House of Commons debate, said [transcript] that the latest changes to the nomination process were intended to "make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with" the goals of reducing crime and making communities safer. The CJC statement noted that most cases handled by the superior courts do not involve criminal law, and many revolve around disputes between citizens and the government.

Defending his position, Harper told the Commons on Tuesday [transcript] that the government "intend[s] to move forward" with plans to name police representatives and crime victims to the judicial panels. Earlier this week, former Canadian chief justice Antonio Lamer [official profile] warned the prime minister [JURIST report] against influencing the judiciary to carry out his "law and order" legislative agenda. The Toronto Star has more.

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Maryland governor asks legislators to repeal death penalty
Joe Shaulis on February 22, 2007 12:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The new governor of Maryland [JURIST news archive] testified before legislators Wednesday that the state's death penalty [JURIST news archive] should be abolished because it is "inherently unjust," ineffective as a deterrent and a drain on resources. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) [official profile], who took office last month, appeared before two committees of the General Assembly [official website] that are considering bills [legislative materials, House version; Senate version] to repeal the death penalty and convert death sentences into life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. O'Malley's testimony echoed his op-ed [text] published in Wednesday's Washington Post, in which he wrote:

Notwithstanding the executions of the rightly convicted, can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of wrongly convicted, innocent life? In Maryland, since 1978, we have executed five people and set one convicted man free when his innocence was discovered.
In the op-ed, O'Malley estimated that administering the death penalty has cost the state an estimated $22.4 million. He said that money could have been spent on hiring additional police officers or providing treatment for drug addicts.

The legislative debate over the death penalty has been fueled by a Maryland Court of Appeals decision in December. The state's highest court ruled [PDF text] that lethal injection procedures are subject to the state's Administrative Procedures Act [JURIST report] and therefore must be developed under the guidance of the Maryland attorney general and a legislative committee, with review and comment by the public. Executions are on hold until new procedures are developed. The Washington Post has more. The Baltimore Sun has additional coverage.

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No Australian pardon for Guantanamo detainee Hicks: PM Howard
James M Yoch Jr on February 22, 2007 9:11 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official profile] on Wednesday asserted that his government will not issue a pardon to Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks [JURIST news archive] if he is convicted by a US military commission. Howard, appearing on ABC's Lateline program, addressed [press release] remarks by opposition Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd [official profile], who claims that Hicks would not be presumed innocent by a military commission and that hearsay evidence was subject to no restrictions. Howard refutes Rudd, contending that Section 949(l)(c)(1) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text] expressly provides for the presumption of innocence and contains significant safeguards against the misuse of hearsay evidence. Howard also suggested that any time Hicks has spent in detention at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] will be cut from his prison sentence in Australia.

On Monday, Howard called for a speedy trial [JURIST report] and Hicks' prompt return to Australia. Hicks faces charges [JURIST report] of providing material support for terrorism and attempted murder in violation of the law of war, though the charges have not yet received formal approval. Australia's ABC News has more.

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Cisco settles 'iPhone' trademark lawsuit with Apple
Gabriel Haboubi on February 22, 2007 9:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Tech giants Cisco Systems and Apple, Inc. [corporate websites] have settled their trademark dispute [press release] over the use of the name "iPhone", the companies announced Wednesday. Cisco filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Apple in mid-January, and under the settlement agreement both companies will share the "iPhone" name and explore opportunities for greater cooperation, possibly including development of collaborative projects. Other terms of the settlement remain confidential.

Cisco has held the trademark "iPhone" since the year 2000. Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled [recorded video; press release] Apple's cellular iPhone [product website] at a San Francisco tradeshow in January, despite not having agreed to the terms proposed by Cisco for use of the name. The two companies had been negotiating terms of a deal for several years, and were close to agreeing on terms as late as a few hours before Jobs made his announcement. The lack of an agreement before Apple's unveiling prompted Cisco's suit. Apple argued that Cisco's iPhone [product website], which does not operate on cellular networks, but instead operates over the Internet, was materially different from their own. AP has more.

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Mexico opposition party accuses ex-president of illegal election interference
James M Yoch Jr on February 22, 2007 8:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) [party website, in Spanish], Mexico's primary left-wing political party, is planning to file a complaint with federal prosecutors against former Mexican President Vicente Fox [BBC profile] for interfering in the country's 2006 presidential election on behalf of current Mexican President Felipe Calderon [official website; BBC profile], PRD leader Javier Gonzalez said Wednesday. The complaint will allege that Fox acted illegally by backing Calderon and opposing PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador [BBC profile] with media advertisements and public remarks in violation of Mexican laws which prohibit the president from supporting or opposing presidential candidates. Last week in Washington, DC, Fox mentioned abuse of power charges against Obrador that were dropped in 2005 and indicated that he shared Calderon's victory, a move that the PRD claims amounts to a confession that he supported Calderon. After receiving the complaint, federal prosecutors will decide whether to open an investigation, file formal charges or dismiss the complaint against Fox.

Last year, Obrador and the PRD vehemently opposed the election results, which declared Calderon the victor by a slim margin, and accused Calderon of fraud. The Federal Electoral Tribunal [official website, in Spanish] rejected [JURIST report] most of Obrador's electoral fraud allegations [JURIST report] in late July after finding no evidence of systematic fraud. The PRD refuses to acknowledge Calderon as the rightful Mexican president, going so far as to hold an alternative inauguration ceremony [JURIST report] for Obrador. AP has more.

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Iraqi forces accused of rape for second time in a week
Gabriel Haboubi on February 22, 2007 8:42 AM ET

[JURIST] A 50-year-old Iraqi woman has accused Iraqi forces of rape, an Iraqi official said Thursday, the second such accusation in a week. The attack on the Sunni woman and her two daughters allegedly occurred less than two weeks ago in the city of Tal Afar by four Iraqi soldiers, including one officer. An Iraqi official told the AP that a fifth soldier, suspecting something was wrong during the search for weapons and insurgents, entered the woman's house and held the other soldiers at gunpoint, forcing them to stop. The official additionally said that the men had been referred to judicial authorities, and would be punished. AP has more.

On Monday, a 20 year old Sunni woman claimed that three Shiite Iraqi police officers raped her [Al Jazeera report; Al Jazeera video interview, in Arabic; partial English translation] during a search of her Baghdad home. Less than a day after the accusations were made, Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile] cleared the officers, potentially furthering sectarian turmoil [CSM report] in the country. The US has announced that it will conduct its own investigation. Rape is a sensitive subject in the Middle East, with a vast majority of cases unreported due to the potential of being socially shunned, and, in more tribal regions, the fear of being murdered by a family member as part of an "honor killing" [National Geographic report]. Earlier this week US Army Sgt. Paul E. Cortez became the second US soldier to plead guilty [JURIST report] 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.

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US judge rejects Cuban exile's request for release after immigration fraud charges
Gabriel Haboubi on February 22, 2007 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge declared Wednesday that an anti-Castro militant who allegedly was behind the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner [Wikipedia backgrounder; additional materials] will stay in jail pending trial on charges of lying on a naturalization application. Luis Posada Carriles [Wikipedia profile; additional materials], 78, a former CIA operative trained by the US for the failed anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion, snuck into the Miami area in 2005 and was subsequently arrested for immigration violations. Carriles filed a habeas corpus petition for his release following a November ruling in immigration proceedings that he be deported by the beginning of February. New charges were brought against him in January when he was indicted for US naturalization fraud [indictment, PDF; JURIST report]. In Wednesday's ruling, US District Judge Philip Martinez [official profile] of the Western District of Texas [official website] struck down the petition for release because he no longer was in the custody of immigration authorities.

Carriles was due to be deported for sneaking into the US, but a US immigration judge delayed [JURIST report] his deportation in 2005, determining that he could not be sent to Venezuela, where he is a naturalized citizen, or to Cuba, the country of his birth, for fears that he would be tortured. Carriles is wanted in both countries on terrorism charges, and Venezuela was particularly incensed [JURIST report] at the denial of their extradition requests. Reuters has more.

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Texas legislators move to rescind governor's HPV vaccine order
Joe Shaulis on February 22, 2007 6:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawmakers in Texas [JURIST news archive] advanced a bill Wednesday to rescind the governor's executive order requiring that school-age girls receive a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The House of Representatives' Public Health Committee [official websites] voted 6-3 in favor of the bill [legislative materials], which is sponsored by more than 90 of the 150 House members. The bill provides, in part, that "[i]mmunization against the human papilloma virus may not be required for a person's admission to any elementary or secondary school," and it explicitly pre-empts "all contrary executive orders of the governor." The committee voted after hearing hours of public testimony [Dallas Morning News report] late into the night Monday. The House committee also unanimously approved another bill [legislative materials] designed to increase public awareness of HPV and the vaccine. The Houston Chronicle has more.

The executive order [text], signed earlier this month [JURIST report] by Gov. Rick Perry (R) [official profile], is controversial because of the sexually transmitted nature of HPV [US CDC fact sheet], which is the primary cause of cervical cancer. Concerns also have been raised about the vaccine's cost, which approaches $400, and its side effects. Perry's order requires girls entering the sixth grade to receive the vaccine unless their parents opt out. A number of legislators have challenged the legality of the executive order [JURIST report]. Meanwhile, lawmakers in about 20 other states are considering bills dealing with the HPV vaccine [PJEPHL report]. Most recently, a bill to require the vaccine was defeated by the Kansas Legislature [KTKA-TV report]. Pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck & Co. [corporate website] announced Tuesday that it would no longer lobby state legislatures to mandate that girls receive its Gardasil vaccine [product website], the only HPV vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. A senior Merck official was quoted in Wednesday's New York Times [NYT report] as saying that public health authorities and medical organizations view the lobbying effort as a "distraction" to the goal of vaccinating as many girls as possible.

On Thursday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [official website] is expected to release findings about the side effects of the HPV vaccine. According to an advance copy of the CDC report, the hundreds of thousands of doses administered have resulted in about 500 adverse reactions [AP report], most of them minor. The National Vaccine Information Center [advocacy website], a nonprofit organization "dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries," released a report [text] on Wednesday calling on the FDA and CDC to issue a public warning [press release] that Gardasil should not be combined with other vaccines and that girls should be monitored for side effects such as fainting for 24 hours after vaccination.

This report was prepared in partnership with the Pittsburgh Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law.

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

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