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Legal news from Tuesday, March 6, 2007

US Army medic convicted of desertion for fleeing to avoid 'immoral' Iraq service
Ryan Olden on March 6, 2007 3:54 PM ET

[JURIST] US Army Specialist Agustin Aguayo [defense website] was convicted of desertion Tuesday for fleeing a base in Germany to avoid redeployment to Iraq. Though the conviction could have carried as many as seven years in prison, Aguayo was only sentenced to eight months. At court-martial, Aguayo said he believed the war in Iraq is immoral and admitted to deliberately deserting to avoid serving there.

After spending 2004 in Tikrit, Iraq as a combat medic. Aguayo applied for and was denied status as a conscientious objector [National Registry for Conscientious Objection backgrounder]. On September 2, Aguayo fled through a window in his German barracks rather then face another tour of duty in Iraq. About three weeks later, he surrendered at Fort Irwin in his home state of California. Because he has already been in custody for 161 days, Aguayo could be released sometime in the next few weeks. AP has more.

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Rice says US allies among worst human rights abusers
Lisl Brunner on March 6, 2007 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday criticized [press briefing; recorded video; additional DOS briefing] the poor human rights records of several US allies and denounced the genocide in Darfur [JURIST news archives] while announcing the publication of the 2006 US State Department Country Reports [official website] on human rights. Despite the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq [JURIST news archives] have received hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid for democracy and human rights programs, the reports indicate that widespread sectarian violence, weak central administrations and abuses of authority have thwarted respect for rights in those countries. Among the other countries with poor reports in the annual DOS exercise were North Korea, Pakistan, Cuba , Venezuela, and Myanmar [JURIST news archives].

In addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, the reports also criticized Russia and China, with which the US has recently worked in pressuring Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs [JURIST news archive]. The State Department reports criticized those countries' records of cracking down on dissent and investigating the killings of government critics. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.

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Washington state sues over Medicaid access for immigrant children
Lisl Brunner on March 6, 2007 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The US state of Washington [JURIST news archive] has filed a claim against the federal Department of Health and Human Services [official website] challenging a regulation [PDF text] that restricts access to Medicaid benefits for infants born to immigrants in the United States. The regulation extends the provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 [PDF text; Families USA backgrounder], which requires states to withhold Medicaid coverage from immigrant adults and children until their citizenship can be proven. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire [official website] has denounced the regulation [press release] as a violation of the constitutional rights of the infants, who are US citizens by virtue of their birth on US soil. Although the infants' parents can prove that their children are citizens, the lengthy application process will discourage immigrants from seeking Medicaid approval, according to Gregoire's office. Instead, they will rely on emergency room services, ultimately costing the state more.

Gregoire's claim for injunctive relief was filed on Monday with the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website]. Washington has refused to apply the regulation, which would affect 8,000 infants, until the judiciary resolves the issue. AP has more.

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Uganda president seeks to appease striking judges with arrest reforms
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 6, 2007 2:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] announced Tuesday that police would implement more transparent procedures for re-arresting suspects released by the courts in an effort to appease the country's judiciary, which went on strike [JURIST report] Monday. Despite these promises, one of Uganda's most senior judges, Justice James Ogoola [New Vision profile], said the judges and lawyers would continue their strike until they received a comprehensive statement from the cabinet. Ogoola criticized the government for undermining the independence of the judiciary by detaining suspects that the court had released on bail.

The judicial strike came in response to a siege of the Ugandan High Court [Reuters report] last week where security agents surrounded the building and arrested six supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besiyge [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who had been charged with treason but released on bail. The agents beat the suspects and pistol-whipped their lawyer unconscious with a rifle butt, according to witnesses. The International Commission of Jurists [advocacy website] has criticized [press release] the government for interfering with judicial independence by intimidating lawyers and judges with armed agents. BBC News has more. The New Vision has local coverage.

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Philippines president signs controversial anti-terrorism bill into law
Ryan Olden on March 6, 2007 2:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Philippines President Gloria Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] on Tuesday signed a rigorous new anti-terror bill into law. Among other provisions, the Human Security Act allows police to detain suspected terrorists for three days without charges, but it also allows victims of unlawful arrest to collect up to 500,000 pesos ($10,350) for each day of wrongful detainment. In addition, the legislation bans the practice of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive]. Arroyo assured [press release] Filipinos that the law will not infringe on civil liberties as it will only "be used against bombers not protesters." Leftist organizations and opposition lawmakers, however, worry that despite amendments, the bill's definition of terrorism is still broad enough to apply to legitimate dissent. Carol Araullo, head of the rights group Bayan [advocacy website], accused [press release] the government of trying "to score brownie points with the U.S. government." Philippines Senator M.A. Madrigal meanwhile issued this statement:

This is a dark day for all Filipinos. This law is a license to kill. Hitler did it. Stalin did it. Now Mrs. Arroyo has done it. With the signing of this draconian law, Mrs. Arroyo has arrogated unto herself the powers of a dictator to punish her enemies by branding them as terrorists.... The UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism has expressed its concerns on how even the Philippines ‘ Commission on Human Rights will be used to detain so called terrorists....Those who have supported and pushed for this law have the blood of the Filipinos in their hands.
Similar legislation was seriously considered in the Philippines a decade ago, but was rejected as being too overreaching and too easily leading to another dictatorship like that of late president Ferdinand Marcos [Wikipedia profile].

The current Human Security Act was first introduced to the House of Representatives last year. It passed the Senate [JURIST report] early last month and was approved by the House [JURIST report] two weeks later. AP has more. The Philippine Star has local coverage.

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Darfur suspect accused by ICC to face Sudan trial
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 6, 2007 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Sudanese militia leader Ali Kushayb and two other suspects are scheduled to go on trial Wednesday in a Sudanese criminal court, according to a report by the official SUNA news agency [media website]. Kushayb is one of two suspects accused [JURIST report] by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of committing war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region [JURIST archive]. He has been ordered to appear in Sudanese court along with Hamdi Sharafeddin and Abdel Rahman Daoud Hamida on charges of kidnapping, sequestration, arson and murder against civilians as part of Sudan's efforts to bring those responsible for war crimes in Darfur to justice. ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo last week asked the international court to issue summonses [JURIST report] for Kushayb and former Sudanese Interior Minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun in what was the first action taken against individuals in the ICC's ongoing investigation [ICC materials; JURIST news archive] of the Darfur situation.

Under the ICC's governing Rome Statute [PDF text], the ICC can prosecute individuals for war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity only when a state is unwilling or unable to genuinely do so. Sudan has repeatedly rejected the ICC's jurisdiction [JURIST report] over the Darfur situation, and if Sudan tries Kushayb on the same charges he faces at the ICC, the ICC may lose jurisdiction over the case. Moreno-Ocampo has previously said that the Sudanese investigation against Kushayb does not overlap with the ICC's case [press briefing transcript]. Kushayb has rejected the ICC's accusations [JURIST report]. AFP has more.

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Libby found guilty in CIA leak trial
Alexis Unkovic on March 6, 2007 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST]breaking story The jury presiding over the perjury trial of former vice-presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense website; JURIST news archive] returned a guilty verdict Tuesday after 10 days of deliberation in the case that began [JURIST report] January 23. Libby faced perjury and obstruction of justice charges [indictment, PDF; JURIST report] in connection with the investigation into the leak of the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame [JURIST news archive; Wikipedia profile]. He was found guilty on four of five counts.

US District Judge Reggie B. Walton [official profile] dismissed a juror [JURIST report] last week after finding she had been exposed to information about the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive] over the previous weekend. Deliberations continued with just 11 jurors, despite the availability of two alternate jurors. Earlier this week, Walton refused to answer a jury question [JURIST reports] on the level of proof that would have to be met to find Libby guilty. The jury wanted to know whether in order to satisfy the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt they had to find it would not be "humanly" possible" for Libby to completely forget conversations which witnesses had testified took place. Walton determined the question was too vague to be properly answered.

Libby's defense team rested [JURIST report] February 15, one week after the prosecution finished presenting [JURIST report] its evidence against Libby. Lawyers subsequently made their closing arguments [JURIST report] February 20 in which the defense argued that Libby was a scapegoat for presidential aide Karl Rove's disclosures, while the prosecution argued in its final remarks that Libby was merely trying to a cover up a potentially illegal intelligence leak.

12:35 PM ET - Libby faces a possible 30-year prison sentence after being convicted of two counts of perjury, one count of lying to the FBI and one count of obstruction of justice. He was acquitted on one count of lying to the FBI. Libby is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5. AP has more.

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Former Maryland US Attorney says he was pressured to resign
Michael Sung on March 6, 2007 11:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Thomas M. DiBiagio [corporate profile], former US Attorney for the District of Maryland, has said that he was pressured to resign in early 2005 after investigating whether associates of former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. [official profile], a Republican, illegally promoted legalized slot machines with improper funds, according to an interview in Tuesday's New York Times. DiBiagio said that Maryland Republicans pressured him to refrain from making further inquires and said that during one particular conversation, they threatened his political and professional future. DiBiagio also said that lack of support from the US Justice Department forced him to quit. The DOJ denied DiBiagio's allegations and attributed his departure to his harsh management style that had alienated many in the office.

Other former US Attorneys have also recently said they were pressured to resign after pursuing politically sensitive cases. Last Wednesday, former US attorney David Iglesias told reporters that federal lawmakers pressured him [JURIST report] to speed up indictments of local Democrats in time for the November elections. The US House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law issued subpoenas [JURIST report] last week for four former US Attorneys to testify at a Tuesday afternoon subcommittee hearing [materials]. In testimony [JURIST report] before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty [official profile] denied that the removal of the attorneys was motivated by political considerations. The New York Times has more.

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US civil liberties panel expected to approve surveillance programs
Michael Sung on March 6, 2007 11:07 AM ET

[JURIST] The five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board [official website] is expected to approve the Bush administration's controversial electronic eavesdropping and financial tracking programs when it presents its first report to Congress next week. Three members of the board told AP that warrantless electronic eavesdropping [JURIST news archive] by the National Security Agency and the financial tracking program [JURIST report] implemented by the Treasury Department have sufficient privacy protections. Board chairperson, Carol Dinkins [official profile], a Texas lawyer and former senior Justice Department official, told AP that the programs are "properly protective and attentive to civil liberties."

The panel began operations [JURIST report] last March after the Board's five members were sworn in at the White House. The board was created by Congress in December 2004 based on a recommendation [CRS backgrounder] from the 9/11 Commission [official website]. Legal experts, right groups, and Democrats have criticized [Center for American Progress opinion] the board for being too close to the administration. US Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) [official profile], chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee [official website], said the board's findings should not be completely trusted until the board has been shown to be fully independent of executive influence. AP has more.

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JURIST celebrating 10th anniversary with March 29 conference in Pittsburgh
Jeannie Shawl on March 6, 2007 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] In celebration of JURIST's 10th anniversary, JURIST and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law are hosting a one-day conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday, March 29. Law as a Seamless Web|site [conference website] will feature four panels [agenda] and 14 distinguished speakers [profiles] exploring a range of issues at the intersections of law, war, rights, social justice, technology, legal journalism, legal education and public service.

Speakers include:

  • Jonathan Freiman - counsel for Jose Padilla and Visiting Lecturer, Yale Law School;
  • Marjorie Cohn - President, National Lawyers Guild and Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law;
  • David Crane - former Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone and Professor, Syracuse University College of Law;
  • Geoffrey Corn - former Law of War Advisor to the US Army JAG and Professor, South Texas College of Law;
  • Sherrilyn Ifill - Professor, University of Maryland School of Law;
  • Tony Mauro - Supreme Court correspondent, American Lawyer Media;
  • Tim Stanley - CEO, Justia and Co-founder and former CEO, FindLaw;
  • Ed Adams - Editor and Publisher, ABA Journal;
  • Jim Chen - Dean, Brandeis Law School, University of Louisville;
  • Nancy Rapoport - Professor, University of Houston Law Center;
  • John Palfrey - Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School; and
  • Conrad Johnson - Professor and Co-founder, Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, Columbia Law School
Keynote speakers are:
  • Ethan Katsh - Director, Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution, University of Massachusetts Amherst; and
  • Charles Bierbauer - former CNN Supreme Court correspondent and Dean, College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina
You can register for this free event at the official conference website. Pennsylvania CLE credit is also available.

We look forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh as we celebrate JURIST with friends from across the country and around the world!

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Taiwan president call for new constitution draws mixed reactions
Michael Sung on March 6, 2007 9:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian [official website, English version; BBC profile] has renewed calls for a new constitution for the country, prompting mixed reaction from the United States and mainland China. Speaking Sunday at a banquet hosted by the pro-independence Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) [advocacy website], Chen characterized Taiwan's sovereignty as "[lying] outside the People's Republic of China" (PRC) and said that Taiwan "needs a new constitution in order to become a normal, complete country." Chen's latest comments were an apparent departure from his 2000 "Four Noes and One Without" [Wikipedia backgrounder] inaugural pledge, in which Chen promised to not formally declare Taiwanese independence, promote a national referendum on the issue of Taiwanese independence, and not to abolish the National Unification Council (NUC) [Wikipedia backgrounder] or alter the national title and constitution to pursue Taiwanese independence. Chen effectively scrapped the NUC [BBC report] in February 2006.

Reiterating the US position on the issue, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack [official profile] told reporters at the DOS daily press briefing [transcript; recorded video] Monday that the "United States does not support independence for Taiwan" and opposes "unilateral changes to the status quo by either Taipei or Beijing because these threaten regional peace and security." McCormack characterized Chen's words as "rhetoric that could raise doubts about [his commitment]" to the 2000 pledge. Also Monday Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing criticized Chen's latest calls for a new constitution and stated that "whoever wants to split away will become a criminal in history." Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [BBC profile] issued a more reconciliatory offer to resume cross-strait talks "under the basis of the 'One China' principle." Previous cross-strait dialogues between the PRC and Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the Republic of China (ROC), have occurred under the framework of the "One China" principle with each side maintaining its own interpretation of the "One China."

Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website] have made calls for a new constitution [JURIST report] in the past. In 2006, Chen promised to support a new constitution [JURIST report] in his last two years of presidency. The DPP is very much pro-independence, but has lost support in recent national and local elections. Chen's proposal is unlikely to pass as the Legislative Yuan [Wikipedia backgrounder], which has the power to determine whether constitutional amendments will be placed before a national referendum, is controlled by the Pan-Blue coalition, which is against changes to the status quo. The Pan-Blue coalition consists of the Kuomingtang (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) [party websites]. The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which traditionally has advocated Taiwan independence alongside the DPP, has recently shifted it focus from de jure independence to domestic affairs. Legislative elections are slated to be held in late-2007. UPI has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

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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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