October 2007 Archives


Federal appeals court rejects Ryan bail request pending corruption appeal
Dennis Zawacki II on October 31, 2007 7:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that former Illinois Governor George Ryan [defense website; JURIST news archive] could not remain free on bail while he appeals his sentence of corruption and fraud charges. Judge Diane Wood delivered the opinion of the court which said, in part:

Appellants here have shown neither a reasonable probability that the Court will grant certiorari nor a reasonable possibility that this court's decision will be reversed....

The voluminous record here demonstrates that the appellants were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged. Although they would undoubtedly like to postpone the day of reckoning as long as they can, they have come to the end of the line as far as this court is concerned.
Ryan's legal defense team is expected to file a motion with the US Supreme Court [official website] seeking an order allowing Ryan to remain free on bail pending a final decision on the future of the case.

Ryan's trial began in 2005, and in 2006 a jury found him guilty [JURIST report] on multiple counts of corruption and fraud [indictment, PDF] in connection with a bribes-for-licenses scandal that occurred during Ryan's term as Illinois Secretary of State. Ryan made national headlines and won praise in some quarters in January 2003 when just before leaving office he commuted the executions of all Illinois inmates then on death row [CNN report; Ryan speech]. A lower court judge has ordered Ryan to report to prison by November 7 [JURIST report]. Reuters has more. The Chicago Tribune has local coverage.





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Federal jury orders military funeral protesters to pay $11M to father of Marine
Deirdre Jurand on October 31, 2007 7:02 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury awarded the father of a fallen Marine almost $11 million in damages Wednesday for harm caused by a Kansas Christian fundamentalist church's protests at his son's funeral. Albert Snyder filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] last year against Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find some material offensive; BBC report] and three of its leaders after the church staged a protest at the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder [case website], saying US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. The jury ordered the defendants to pay $2.9 million in compensatory damages for violations of Snyder's privacy, $2 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and an additional $6 million in punitive damages.

Westboro and its leader, Rev. Fred Phelps, have staged several protests at military funerals in recent years. In 2006, President Bush signed into law [JURIST report] the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act [HR 5037 summary; PDF text], prohibiting any demonstration within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of an entrance into the cemetery for one hour before and after a military funeral. AP has more. The Baltimore Sun has local coverage.






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US House panel demands White House turn over Abramoff documents
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 31, 2007 6:59 PM ET

[JURIST] US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee [official website] Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) Wednesday called on the White House to disclose hundreds of documents relating to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive]. In a letter [PDF text] to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Waxman said that the the White House has already turned over 3,700 pages of records, but is still sitting on over 600 others. Waxman said that the documents must be turned over unless President George W. Bush invokes executive privilege. The White House has indicated that it will fight the request.

Last year, Abramoff pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in federal court in Florida to two conspiracy and fraud charges stemming from the 2000 purchase of the SunCruz Casino [corporate website] as part of a plea agreement [PDF text] with federal prosecutors that would reduce his punishment in exchange for favorable testimony in future DOJ corruption cases. AP has more.






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Ex-DOJ prosecutor found not guilty of obstruction in botched Detroit terror case
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 31, 2007 6:38 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Assistant US Attorney Richard Convertino [JURIST news archive] was acquitted Wednesday on charges [JURIST report] of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false declarations in connection with a botched 2003 terrorism trial. Convertino was the lead prosecutor in a case against North African immigrants accused of operating a terrorist cell in Detroit. A federal judge later overturned [JURIST report] the guilty verdicts of the two defendants convicted in the case after it was discovered that prosecutors withheld key evidence, including photos of a hospital in Jordan, from the defense. Harry Smith, a former US embassy regional security official who appeared as a government witness in the original Detroit terror trial, was also acquitted on all counts.

The Department of Justice [official website] dropped the charges against the supposed terrorists in 2004 and Convertino resigned [JURIST report] from the Department in May 2005. He pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] last year to the charges alleged in his indictment, and has asserted that the photos were merely overlooked in a mountain of documents related to the case. The Detroit Free Press has more.






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Myanmar monks resume protests ahead of UN rights envoy visit
Deirdre Jurand on October 31, 2007 6:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Some 100 Buddhist monks marched peacefully in a town in central Myanmar Wednesday, marking a resumption of the pro-democratic protests that stopped after September's violent government crackdown. The monks carried no protest signs and shouted no pro-democracy slogans and dispersed after an hour to their monasteries. A spokesman said their demonstration was only a continuation [Democratic Voice of Burma report] of previous protests, but it was the first since a 100,000-person protest on September 26-27 culminated in police killing at least 10 people and rounding up thousands more. The action by the monks came just days before UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari is slated to revisit Myanmar [UN press release; JURIST report] to address human rights concerns and to help facilitate dialog between the country's military junta and opposition leaders.

The government crackdown against protesters began in August, when Myanmar security officers arrested hundreds of Buddhist monks demonstrating against rising fuel prices and human rights abuses by the military regime. Protests only subsided when junta troops effectively locked down Myanmar's major cities. The government lifted some of the curfews and assembly bans [JURIST report] on October 20, but the country still faces tightening European and American sanctions. AP has more.






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Italy judge suspends CIA rendition trial again pending Constitutional Court ruling
Andrew Gilmore on October 31, 2007 6:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The Italian judge presiding over the trial of 26 US CIA agents [JURIST news archive] and two former Italian intelligence officials in the 2003 abduction and rendition [JURIST news archive] of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday suspended the trial until March 12, 2008. Judge Oscar Magi ruled that the trial should not proceed until the Constitutional Court of Italy [official website] rules on a petition [JURIST report] filed by the Italian government to dismiss all charges against the defendants. The government alleges that the charges should be dismissed because the prosecution improperly used state secrets and wiretapping to build its case. Prosecutor Armando Spataro has argued that the court proceedings should continue and has denied using any state secrets.

On June 18, Judge Magi suspended the trial [JURIST report] until October 24 after hearing preliminary motions to postpone the trial until the high court's ruling. Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan by CIA agents with the help of Italy's Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISMI) [Wikipedia backgrounder]. He was then allegedly transferred to Egypt and turned over to Egypt's State Security Intelligence (SSI) [Wikipedia backgrounder], where he said he was tortured before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. AP has more.






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ICTY affirms 15-year rape sentence of Bosnian Serb ex-paramilitary leader
Dennis Zawacki II on October 31, 2007 6:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday rejected the appeal [judgment summary; press release] of former Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader Dragan Zelenovic [ICTY case backgrounder] contesting his 15-year sentence [JURIST report] on rape and torture charges. Zelenovic had asked the court to reduce his sentence due to his guilty plea and his cooperation with prosecutors, but the appeals court wrote that the Trial Chamber "reasonably assessed the importance of the guilty plea" when determining Zelenovic's sentence and that his sentence should not be reduced because he failed to show that "his cooperation went beyond the scope of his obligations" under the plea deal.

Zelenovic was accused [indictment] of raping eight Bosnian Muslim women under circumstances amounting to torture between July and October 1992 after Serbian forces took control of the the Foca municipality in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Zelenovic pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to three counts of torture and four counts of rape. AP has more.






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Canada security service violated terror suspect's rights: federal watchdog
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 31, 2007 5:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) [official website] violated a confessed al-Qaeda operative's civil rights, according to the Security Intelligence Review Committee [official website] in an oversight report [text] to the Canadian parliament Wednesday. Canadian citizen Mohammed Mansour Jabarah [CBC profile] was detained without access to counsel, and his confession amounted to a violation of his right against self-incrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. While in custody, he admitted to belonging to al-Qaeda and plotting to bomb the US and Israeli embassies in Singapore and Manila. He was turned over to US authorities and has pleaded guilty to several terrorism-related offenses. AP has more.

CSIS has been criticized lately for its handling of terror suspects. Previously censored information released by Canada's official Arar Commission [official website] revealed that Canadian intelligence officials suspected that the United States would deport detained Canadian citizen Maher Arar [advocacy website; CBC timeline] to a country where he could be subject to torture but did not take action to stop that or otherwise protect Arar. The Security Intelligence Review Committee responsible for Wednesday's report is an independent, external review body set up in 1984 to help ensure that CSIS uses its extraordinary powers legally and appropriately.






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Federal appeals court rehears case of 'enemy combatant' held in US
Caitlin Price on October 31, 2007 3:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments Wednesday in an en banc rehearing of its earlier ruling [PDF text; JURIST report] that the military cannot seize and imprison civilians lawfully residing in the United States and detain them as "enemy combatants" [JURIST news archive]. In June, a three-judge panel rejected government arguments that the president was authorized to order the military seizure of Illinois resident and Qatari native Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri [Brennan Center case materials] from civilian custody and hold him indefinitely in a military jail without charge and the court subsequently issued an order [PDF text; JURIST report] granting a Department of Justice (DOJ) petition [petition, PDF; JURIST report] to re-hear the case en banc. DOJ principal deputy solicitor general Gregory C. Garre argued Wednesday that the government was given broad authority by Congress to arrest individuals suspected of al Qaeda association. Al-Marri's lawyer countered that enemy combatant status does not apply outside of combat situations, and asked the court to uphold the panel's decision.

Al-Marri was arrested at his home in Peoria, Illinois by civilian authorities, and was indicted for alleged domestic crimes in 2001. In 2003, President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant [CNN report] and ordered the attorney general to transfer custody of al-Marri to the defense secretary, claiming inherent authority to hold him indefinitely. The DOJ had argued that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction [JURIST report] over al-Marri's claims under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text], but the court rejected that argument. The court is expected to rule in the next few weeks. AP has more.






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Senate Judiciary Committee schedules vote on Mukasey nomination for Nov. 6
Caitlin Price on October 31, 2007 2:50 PM ET

[JURIST] The chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee announced [press release] Wednesday that an executive business meeting [SJC materials] will be held November 6 to consider the nomination of Michael Mukasey [WH profile; JURIST news archive] as US attorney general. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that the date was selected to allow committee members "an opportunity to consider the recently received written responses" from Mukasey and that he hoped that members would "be prepared to debate the nomination and vote" next Tuesday. Earlier this week, Mukasey sent a letter [PDF text; JURIST report] to the committee saying that he did not know if waterboarding [JURIST news archive] was illegal, and that it would be "irresponsible" of him to provide a legal opinion on whether any specific interrogation technique constituted torture without an in-depth analysis of relevant laws and more information about its use. Leahy released a statement [text] in response to Mukasey's letter saying that he remained "very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States."

Both Democrats and Republicans [JURIST reports] have said they will consider opposing Mukasey's nomination if he does not unequivocally say that waterboarding is torture. On Wednesday, the White House said that Mukasey's confirmation is still viable and expressed hope that a vote would be held soon. Mukasey must receive ten votes from the Senate Judiciary Committee for his nomination to advance to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. AP has more.






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Sri Lanka disputes UN claims that torture is 'routine'
Gabriel Haboubi on October 31, 2007 2:46 PM ET

[JURIST] Sri Lankan Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe Wednesday dismissed claims [press release] made earlier this week by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak that torture was widespread and routine [JURIST report] throughout Sri Lanks. Samarasinghe said that in meetings with officials in Sri Lanka [JURIST news archive], Nowak indicated his use of the phrase "widely practiced" meant that torture allegations came from people in diverse locations rather than that it was a common, systematic practice. Samarasinghe added that Nowak's conclusions did not take into account Sri Lankan efforts to comply with his preliminary recommendations, which included the adoption of a "zero-tolerance" policy on torture.

Earlier this month, Samarasinghe rejected a proposal [JURIST report] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] that would place a UNOHCHR monitoring mission in the country. Sri Lanka has been in a drawn-out conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [CFR backgrounder] rebel group for two decades, with fighting escalating in 2006. Human rights groups have pointed to abuses by both sides in the conflict, but have lately accused the government of an increased number of violations [JURIST report]. AFP has more.






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Spain lower house passes bill condemning Franco era
Gabriel Haboubi on October 31, 2007 2:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Spain's Congress of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] Wednesday passed legislation [press release, in Spanish] condemning the coup and subsequent fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder; LOC backgrounder], overcoming opposition from conservatives that the bill would reopen controversies best left in the past. If passed by the Spanish Senate [official website, in Spanish], and published in the official government gazette, the "Law of Historical Memory" will condemn the Franco government, acknowledge and provide reparations for victims, allow for the correction of trial records, and set aside funds to compensate victims of the Franco era for land seizure and personal harm. The bill would also ban public recognition of the Franco era and require local governments to remove statues and other symbols honoring the former dictator. Approximately 55,000 people were killed during Franco's rule, including the grandfather of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero [BBC profile], who strongly pressed for passage of the bill.

Parliament began debating the bill in December 2006 after first unveiling the proposal [JURIST reports] last July. Earlier this month, the Spanish Socialist Party [party website, in Spanish] said that it had secured the support of enough smaller parties [JURIST report] to ensure Wednesday's passage of the bill. AP has more.






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Fort Dix plot suspect pleads guilty to lesser charge
Gabriel Haboubi on October 31, 2007 1:20 PM ET

[JURIST] One of the six men arrested [JURIST report] in May for plotting an attack on a New Jersey military base pleaded guilty Wednesday to "conspiring to provide firearms and ammunition" [press release, PDF] to the others, whom he knew to be illegal immigrants. The other men allegedly plotted to kill soldiers at numerous military bases, including New Jersey's Fort Dix [official website]. Agron Abdullahu pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide weapons to illegal immigrants [superseding information, PDF] in the District of New Jersey [official website; Fort Dix trial website], and now faces up to five years in federal prison. Following Wednesday's hearing, Abdullahu's lawyer told AP that Abdullahu made no deal to testify against the other men, because he "had no information about and was not involved in any terror plot." The lawyer added that there was no "Fort Dix Six," but instead a "Fort Dix Five" who used his client.

Abdullahu, who was granted asylum in the US eight years ago after fleeing Kosovo, will likely face deportation after serving his sentence. Abdullahu's sentencing is scheduled for early February, while trials for the other men are scheduled to begin [order, PDF] in January. AP has more.






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California judge invalidates revised state lethal injection protocol
Caitlin Price on October 31, 2007 10:32 AM ET

[JURIST] A California state judge issued a preliminary ruling Tuesday invalidating May revisions to the state lethal injection protocol [JURIST report]. Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor of the Marin County Superior Court [official website] said that the proposed changes qualified as a regulation, and thus did not conform to the California Administrative Procedure Act [CA Government Code Section 11340 et seq.] because there had been no opportunity for public comment or review by the Office of Administrative Law. Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] argued that execution protocols were not regulations and thus should not be subject to administrative procedure requirements. The decision will be contested at a San Rafael hearing Wednesday, though it at least temporarily extends the state's moratorium on executions. The San Francisco Chronicle has more.

In December, Schwarzenegger ordered [JURIST report] his administration to "correct court-identified deficiencies in California's lethal injection protocol to ensure the death penalty procedure is constitutional" after a federal court issued a memorandum of intended decision [JURIST report] concluding that California's lethal injection procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text] of the US Constitution. Schwarzenegger introduced the revised lethal injection [JURIST news archive] protocol in an effort to persuade US District Judge Jeremy Fogel to lift the execution moratorium. The US Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of lethal injections in the upcoming Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition, PDF; JURIST report].






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Spain court finds three guilty of murder in 2004 Madrid train bombings
Brett Murphy on October 31, 2007 10:24 AM ET

[JURIST] A Spanish court Wednesday convicted three men of murder for their roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings [JURIST news archive], and found 18 others guilty on other charges. Seven others were acquitted, including accused mastermind Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed [CBC profile]. Those convicted of murder - Jamel Zougam, Otman el Ghanoui, and Emilio Trashorras - each received sentences of up to 40,000 years imprisonment. The judge also ordered compensation [JURIST report] to be paid for the victims in amounts up to 1.5 million euro.

In all, 28 co-defendants [BBC backgrounder] were charged in Spain with 192 counts of murder and upwards of 1,800 counts of attempted murder related to the March 11, 2004 bombings, which killed 191 people and injured almost 2000 more. The defendants have all protested their innocence and condemned the attacks. On Monday, an Italian court affirmed the conviction of Ahmed [JURIST report] for belonging to an international terrorist network, reducing his sentence from ten years to eight. BBC News has more.






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Outspoken US Marines defense lawyer resigning, labeling Guantanamo justice 'horrific'
Brett Murphy on October 31, 2007 10:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the outspoken US Marine Corps chief defense lawyer for the western US, is resigning from his post effective May 1, 2008, calling the military legal system at Guantanamo Bay "horrific" and a "sham" and urging corrective action to address abuses within the general military justice system, NPR reported Tuesday. While working on the case of Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive], Vokey said he was harassed by military staff, who made it difficult for him to even arrange meetings with his client. Vokey later told reporters that he understood how Khadr was unable to trust his American lawyers, saying that the US has subjected him to "a process that is patently unfair." Vokey's criticisms initially prompted senior officers to fire him, a move only rescinded after pressure from former Marine Corps lawyers. Vokey has since opted to leave on his own.

In October last year Vokey called for an investigation [JURIST report] of alleged abuses of Guantanamo detainees after reviewing a sworn statement filed by his Marine paralegal who said she spoke with a group of off-duty Marines who identified themselves as guards and bragged of beating and abusing prisoners. Sgt. Heather Cerveny was later accused by military officials of making a false statement, but the case against her was ultimately dropped [JURIST reports]. NPR has more.






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Pakistan high court to probe Bhutto bombing: chief justice
Brett Murphy on October 31, 2007 9:05 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan will investigate the suicide bombing [CNN report] that took place during the parade welcoming home exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] earlier this month, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry said Wednesday. Chaudhry said that the court will undertake its own investigation beginning with a hearing on Thursday, despite the Pakistan government's promise to fully probe the incident, indicating that the court has grown impatient with the government's plan. On Tuesday, Chaudhry criticized [BBC report] current Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz for arranging for the deportation of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile] immediately upon his return from exile, saying that such a move was in violation of a court decision [JURIST report] holding that Sharif has full rights to return.

In mid-October, Bhutto returned home [JURIST report] to Pakistan after nine years of self-imposed exile in Great Britain and Dubai following charges of corruption. Last week, Pakistan violated an amnesty agreement signed by President Perez Musharraf when it upheld a bar on Bhutto from leaving the country. Bhutto and Musharraf are political rivals [BBC backgrounder], but Musharraf earlier this month signed [JURIST report] the "reconciliation ordinance" granting Bhutto amnesty in an attempt to boost his waning popularity. The high court has agreed to review the ordinance [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Spain Basque leaders charged for meeting with ETA-linked party
Natalie Hrubos on October 31, 2007 8:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Three political leaders in Spain's Basque region, including the president of the region, were ordered to stand trial [PDF text] Tuesday for meeting publicly with members of the Batasuna party [BBC profile] to negotiate an ETA [BBC backgrounder] ceasefire. The Batasuna party is alleged to be a front for the illegal Basque separatist militant group ETA, which has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in bombings and attacks since the 1960s. The country's Supreme Court declared the Batasuna party illegal in 2003.

Basque President Juan Jose Ibarretxe [official profile] and two senior members of the Basque branch of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's party met publicly with Batasuna party members in July and April 2006 as well as in January 2007. Earlier this month, 17 Batasuna party leaders were jailed [JURIST report] on orders of Spanish anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon. The specific reason for the arrests was not made public. AP has more. El Mundo has local coverage, in Spanish.






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UK top court limits control orders targeting terror suspects
Natalie Hrubos on October 31, 2007 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK Law Lords ruled Wednesday that the government can continue to impose control orders [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders issued under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 [UK Home Office materials] violate human rights. In a series of decisions - Secretary of State for the Home Department v. JJ and others, Secretary of State for the Home Department v. MB, and Secretary of State for the Home Department v. E and another [judgments] - the judges of the House of Lords who make up Britain's top tribunal said that control orders which authorize 18-hour curfews constitute a deprivation of liberty in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and that evidence used against terror suspects when determining whether to apply a control order should not be withheld from defendants and their lawyers. Other aspects of the control order system, including a curfew for up to 16 hours, were upheld. UK rights group Liberty welcomed the decisions as a "significant blow to the control order regime" [press release], but noted that the Lords "stopp[ed] short of outlawing the controversial policy altogether."

Control orders allow the government to impose house arrest and electronic surveillance on suspects and to forbid them from using mobile phones and the Internet when there is not enough evidence to prosecute the suspects. They were first introduced [JURIST report] by the Tony Blair government in 2005 and, apart from being politically controversial, have already run into repeated problems in the courts [JURIST report]. Control orders have been used in 17 cases, though seven terror suspects under control orders have disappeared [JURIST report]. The Guardian has more.






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CIA director defends interrogation techniques
Natalie Hrubos on October 31, 2007 7:11 AM ET

[JURIST] CIA Director Michael Hayden [official profile] defended the CIA's interrogation tactics Tuesday in the wake of the refusal [JURIST report] of US Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey [WH profile] to say whether waterboarding [JURIST news archive] constitutes torture. In an address [CCGA materials] to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Hayden called the CIA's interrogation programs "as lawful as they are valuable." AP has more.

Both Democrats and Republicans [JURIST reports] have said they will oppose Mukasey's nomination if he does not unequivocally state that waterboarding is torture. The US military forbids waterboarding - a technique that simulates drowning, but the CIA will not confirm whether it has banned the practice. Former CIA director George Tenet has repeatedly denied [JURIST report] that waterboarding has been used during interrogations of terror suspects.






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DOJ reaches settlement allowing telecom merger
James M Yoch Jr on October 30, 2007 8:39 PM ET

[JURIST] AT&T [corporate website] and the US Department of Justice [official website] reached a consent decree [press release] Tuesday under which the telecommunications giant agreed to sell assets in seven rural US markets in exchange for DOJ approval of AT&T's acquisition of Dobson Communications Corp. [corporate website] and the withdrawal of the DOJ's lawsuit seeking to block the merger. The DOJ required the sale of AT&T assets in seven markets in five states to prevent harm to competition because Dobson also dominated those cellular markets. The acquisition of Dobson for $13 per share was announced last June, and will increase AT&T's customer base by 1.7 million subscribers. It would, however, have opened the door for AT&T to increase prices and decrease the quality of customer service in the identified markets. According to DOJ Antitrust Division Chief Thomas O. Barnett [official profile]: "The required divestitures will preserve competition for residents in rural areas in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas and ensure that these consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of competition, such as lower prices, and higher quality."

Although the DOJ has tentatively approved the merger contingent upon AT&T's divestiture of the seven rural markets, the transaction still requires the approval of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website]. The DOJ has said that its investigators and the FCC have cooperated in scrutinizing the AT&ampT-Dobson deal. To garner FCC approval, AT&ampT will be required to limit the amount of subsidization it receives from the Universal Service Fund [FCC backgrounder], which provides funding for increased access to telecommunications across the US, especially in low income, rural, insular, and high cost areas. In addition, the DOJ on Tuesday filed a complaint challenging the merger in the US District Court for the District of DC, which will be withdrawn if and when AT&T sells the assets, which includes divestiture of the rights to the Cellular One brand owned by Dobson. Dow Jones has more.






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Supreme Court blocks Mississippi lethal injection execution
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 30, 2007 7:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted a stay of execution [order, PDF] to a convicted murderer on Mississippi's death row Tuesday, pending the Court's decision on whether to grant certiorari in the case. Earl Wesley Berry was scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday night; his was the third stay granted by the justices since they agreed last month in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition] to hear a challenge to the use of lethal injections [JURIST news archive] as a form of "cruel and unusual punishment." Experts say that the stay may amount to a de facto nationwide moratorium on the death penalty. ABC News has more. AP has additional coverage.

In Baze v. Rees, the Court will consider whether the controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Several constitutional challenges to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. Several states have already placed a moratorium on lethal injections pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case.






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Mukasey balks at calling waterboarding illegal in response to judiciary panel
Devin Montgomery on October 30, 2007 6:32 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey [WH profile; JURIST news archive] wrote in a letter [PDF text] to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that he did not know if waterboarding [JURIST news archive] was illegal, and that it would be "irresponsible" of him to provide a legal opinion on any specific interrogation technique without an in depth analysis of relevant laws and more information about its use. In his letter, Mukasey said:

I was asked at the hearing and in your letter questions about the hypothetical use of certain coercive interrogation techniques. As described in your letter, these techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the
same to many Americans. But hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical. As a judge, I tried to be objective in my decision-making and to put aside even strongly held personal beliefs when assessing a legal question because legal questions must be answered based solely on the actual facts, circumstances, and legal standards presented. A legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances may be of some limited academic appeal but has scant practical effect or value.

I have said repeatedly, and reiterate here, that no one, including a President, is above the law, and that I would leave office sooner than participate in a violation of law. If confirmed, any legal opinions I offer will reflect that I appreciate the need for the United States to remain a nation of laws and to set the highest standards. I will be mindful also of our shared obligation to ensure that our Nation has the tools it needs, within the law, to protect the American people. ...

I do know, however, that "waterboarding" cannot be used by the United States military because its use by the military would be a clear violation of the Detainee Treatment Act ("DTA"). That is because "waterboarding" and certain other coercive interrogation techniques are expressly prohibited by the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, and Congress specifically legislated in the DTA that no person in the custody or control of the Department of Defense ("DOD") or held in a DOD facility may be subject to any interrogation techniques not authorized and listed in the Manual.

In the absence of legislation expressly banning certain interrogation techniques in all circumstances, one must consider whether a particular technique complies with relevant legal standards.
Mukasey went on to summarize the analysis he would use to determine "whether coercive interrogation techniques, including 'waterboarding' as described in your letter, would constitute torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released a statement [text] in response to Mukasey's letter late Tuesday, saying that he remained "very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States." Both Democrats and Republicans [JURIST reports] on the committee have urged Mukasey to take a position on waterboarding - a technique that replicates the effects of being drowned - in order to receive a favorable recommendation to the full Senate. AP has more.





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Thai prosecutor suggests extradition evidence against ex-PM Thaksin may be too weak
Melissa Bancroft on October 30, 2007 6:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The accumulated evidence against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile] may be insufficient to compel the United Kingdom to extradite the ousted prime minister on corruption charges, according to Chief Prosecutor for Foreign Litigation Sampan Sarathana as reported in the Bangkok Post Tuesday. Saranthana travelled to London [JURIST report] earlier this month to discuss what evidence would be necessary under the bi-lateral extradition treaty between Thailand and the United Kingdom to convince UK courts to extradite Thaksin and his wife Pojamarn. After meeting with the British authorities, Sampan said he was unsure a petition to extradite Thaksin would succeed.

Thailand's Assets Examination Committee [Wikipedia backgrounder] has said previously that it intends to proceed with civil litigation against Thaksin in absentia in the case of a failed extradition bid. Thaksin and his wife have been accused of corruption [JURIST report], conflict of interest violations, and dereliction of duty for personal gain in charges stemming from a 2003 land purchase by Pojamarn from the government-directed Financial Institutions Development Fund [official website]. Thaksin was ousted in a military coup [JURIST report] last September while travelling abroad. The Bangkok Post has more.






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Bangladesh ex-home minister sentenced to 10 years for illegal weapons possession
Deirdre Jurand on October 30, 2007 6:21 PM ET

[JURIST] A Bangladesh special tribunal sentenced former state minister Lutfozzaman Babar to 10 years in jail Tuesday for illegal possession of firearms. Babar, who served as home minister until October 2006, was found guilty of illegally possessing two pistols, a revolver and ammunition. The court officially sentenced him to a total of 17 years, but he will serve his 10-year gun possession and seven-year ammunition possession sentences concurrently. Police forces found the weapons during raids of Babar's house in May after the government detained him on suspicion of corruption at the recommendation of the country's anti-corruption commission [governing statute, PDF]. Bangladeshi citizens can keep small firearms as long as they have permits, which Babar could not produce [AP report] for police. Babar pleaded not guilty and plans to appeal the judgment [AP report], according to his lawyer.

Babar's conviction comes on the same day that his political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, forced former party leader and prime minister Khaleda Zia [UN profile] to step down [AFP report] while she is under investigation on charges of corruption. Both recent actions are part of a continuing anti-corruption crackdown [JURIST news archive] in Bangladesh. The government declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] in January and has since detained more than 150 prominent political and business leaders. BBC News has more. ZeeNews.com has local coverage.






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Myanmar releases six more political dissidents
Caitlin Price on October 30, 2007 4:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The military junta in Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has released six more dissidents held in the wake of a late summer crackdown against protesters and political opponents, the pro-democracy National League for Democracy (NLD) said Tuesday. Three members of the NLD, headed by the long-detained Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], were among those released. Five of the prisoners were detained in September 27 raids on two monasteries, days after government soldiers fired shots into nonviolent crowds [JURIST reports] of protesters, resulting in at least 10 deaths. Prominent politician Win Naing, detained since September 25, was also among those freed. Earlier this week, the military government released 87 detainees [JURIST report], including over 50 NLD members.

The releases follow reports [JURIST report] last week that UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of hhuman rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro [official profile] has been given permission to visit the country in November to investigate alleged human rights abuses [press release]. In August and September the Myanmar government detained an estimated 3,000 protesters [JURIST report] involved in anti-government demonstrations; dissident groups say that 200 people have been killed since the crackdown began. Reuters has more.






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Supreme Court hears child pornography, sentencing cases
Caitlin Price on October 30, 2007 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in United States v. Williams [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-694, to determine whether part of the federal anti-child abuse PROTECT Act of 2003 [PDF text] is unconstitutional for criminalizing speech protected by the First Amendment. Critics have challenged the law for creating criminal penalties for the advertisement or promotion of material that implies the existence of child pornography - even if there is no actual pornography. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] in April 2006 that "non-commercial, non-inciteful promotion of illegal child pornography, even if repugnant, is protected speech under the First Amendment." Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] defended the government's position before the Court and addressed concerns about limits on artistic expression, saying that mainstream movies depicting or referencing underage sex will not be affected by the law. AP has more.

The Court also heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in Logan v. United States [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs ], 06-6911, in which it will consider when repeat criminals can be treated as career criminals for sentencing purposes, when the previous convictions are for misdemeanor crimes. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) [44 USC 924 text], defendants may be subjected to longer sentences if the defendant has three prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses. Defendant James Logan argued that his three previous misdemeanor battery convictions should not count toward ACCA sentencing because he did not lose his civil rights. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] held that the ACCA did apply.






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State Department disputes reports of 'immunity' granted to Blackwater guards
Alexis Unkovic on October 30, 2007 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of State [official website] does not have the authority to "immunize an individual from federal criminal prosecution," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said at a daily press briefing [transcript] Tuesday, correcting an AP report [text; JURIST report] Monday citing anonymous sources as saying the State Department had granted "immunity" from prosecution to bodyguards working for private security firm Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] related to a September shooting incident [JURIST report] in Baghdad that killed 17 and prompted the Iraqi government to withdraw Blackwater's operating license [JURIST report]. McCormack described the Garrity protections that the Department had reportedly offered guards as "limited protections that would not preclude a successful criminal prosecution.' USA Today has more.

The Blackwater allegations have caused domestic outrage in Iraq and have prompted legal controversy in the US. Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over an investigation [JURIST report] of the incident from the Department of Justice [official websites]. Iraqi government investigators probing the killings have concluded that the Blackwater security detail's actions were unprovoked, and amounted to "deliberate murder" [JURIST report].






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Canada prosecutors want to subject terror suspect to home video surveillance
Alexis Unkovic on October 30, 2007 2:04 PM ET

[JURIST] Canadian government lawyers plan to ask a judge to take the reportedly unprecedented step of approving the installation of closed-circuit video cameras in the home of Mahmoud Jaballah, one of the so-called Secret Trial Five [CBC backgrounder] subject to security certificates [PSC backgrounder] allowing for their detention without charge and possible deportation. Jaballah spent nearly eight years in jail without formally being charged with a crime for his alleged role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. He is currently under house arrest. The Globe and Mail has more.

Last Monday, the Canadian government introduced [JURIST report] a new bill on security certificates in response to a February Supreme Court decision [text] that gave it one year to re-write existing law or have it voided as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled [opinion text] in February that the government's use of security certificates violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text; CDCH materials] insofar as the procedure relied on evidence that detainees were not permitted to see and could not challenge. The new bill would give detainees access at private hearings to a UK-style special advocate empowered to review and challenge materials on their behalf.






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Thailand cabinet lifts martial law restrictions in more districts
Alexis Unkovic on October 30, 2007 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] Thailand's cabinet voted Tuesday to lift martial law [JURIST news archive] in 221 of the country's 400 districts where it is still in force, according to Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Council Thawil Pliensri. Martial law will remain in effect in 179 districts because of security concerns regarding drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The Thai military imposed martial law nationwide after it seized power from civilian prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [JURIST news archive] in a bloodless coup [JURIST report] in September 2006. In November the Thai cabinet approved a measure to lift the restriction in 41 of the country's 76 provinces [JURIST report], including Bangkok. Earlier this month a Thai military leader suggested martial law might remain in force indefinitely [JURIST report] in some border provinces, citing unspecified security concerns.

The cabinet's latest decision comes nearly two months in advance of the country's first elections since Thaksin's ouster, scheduled for December 23. King Bhumibol Adulyadej [official profile] must approve the measure before it can be implemented. AP has more. The Bangkok Post has local coverage.






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ICTY prosecutors appeal 'lenient' sentences in Vukovar massacre trial
James M Yoch Jr on October 30, 2007 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Tuesday appealed the sentences [JURIST report] imposed on war crimes convicts Mile Mrksic and Veselin Sljivancanin [BBC profiles; ICTY case backgrounder], who were convicted in connection with the killings of over 200 Croatian prisoners of war near Vukovar [BBC backgrounder] in 1991. The tribunal found Mrksic guilty on three counts of war crimes [JURIST news archive] and sentenced him to 20 years in prison for his part in the massacre. Sljivancanin received a five-year sentence on aiding and abetting charges. The prosecutors appealed on the grounds that the sentences were grossly inadequate for the crimes committed by Mrksic and Sljivancanin considering the extreme suffering of the victims and the magnitude of the massacre. In addition, the prosecutors appealed the prisoners' acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, both Mrksic and Sljivancanin appealed the convictions, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support the decisions against them.

ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] had expressed immediate disapproval of the verdicts for being too lenient. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader [official website] also criticized [JURIST report] the ICTY for the judgments, saying in a letter sent last month to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the ICTY failed to act in a "balanced and impartial way" and calling for a review of the court's judgments. This month, Sanader addressed [press release] the UN General Assembly, calling for justice for the Vukovar massacre. In addition, Croatian President Stipe Mesic, known to be a supporter of the ICTY, said that his own confidence in the ICTY has been eroded. In December 2006, the Serbian Supreme Court ordered a retrial in the case of 14 former members of Serb militias who were originally convicted [JURIST reports] of war crimes for their roles in the Vukovar massacre. The Serbian judicial proceedings, which opened in March 2004 [JURIST report], have been seen as a test of Serbia's domestic war crimes process. AP has more.






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Iraq cabinet approves private security contractor regulations
James M Yoch Jr on October 30, 2007 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi cabinet Tuesday approved a draft law [JURIST report] that would strip foreign security contractors of immunity from Iraqi prosecution granted under Order 17 [PDF text] passed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) [official website]. The draft law now goes to the Iraqi parliament. According to government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh as quoted by Reuters, the legislation also requires foreign contractors to register with the government, acquire and carry weapons licenses, and submit to searches at Iraqi military security checkpoints.

The legislation was proposed following a September 16 shooting incident [JURIST report] in which 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater USA [corporate website] contractors. The US House has passed a bill that would expand US jurisdiction over the same private contractors [JURIST report]. Another US bill [text, see s. 552, Clarification of Application of Uniform Code of Military Justice During a Time of War] passed prospectively last year in an effort to create greater legal accountability for military contractors in general does not apply to the Blackwater contractors involved in the shooting because those were employed by the US State Department. Reuters has more.






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Pakistan high court considers challenge against ex-PM Sharif deportation
James M Yoch Jr on October 30, 2007 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] heard arguments Tuesday in a challenge against the September 10 deportation of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile] to Saudi Arabia. Pakistani authorities arrested Sharif on corruption and money laundering charges [JURIST report] and then expelled him shortly after he arrived in the country on a flight from London despite the Supreme Court's earlier ruling in August that Sharif had an "inalienable right to enter and remain in the country" [JURIST report] as a citizen of Pakistan. Following the deportation, Sharif's lawyers appealed [JURIST report] the deportation and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [official website] scheduled Tuesday's hearing to determine why Pakistani officials expelled Sharif. About 1,000 citizens gathered at the Supreme Court building to voice support for Sharif, who has remained outside Pakistan for the past seven years pursuant to a deal negotiated with then-coup leader and current president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile].

Sharif's deportation has sparked worldwide outrage, as well as public condemnation from several retired Supreme Court of Pakistan justices and accusations [HRW statement] from advocacy group Human Rights Watch that Musharraf has flouted international law. Sharif's supporters believe Musharraf deported Sharif because he was expected to run against the president in the October 6 election that ostensibly re-elected [JURIST report] Musharraf as president. The Supreme Court is also hearing arguments [JURIST report] regarding the disputed election and will likely issue a ruling on Friday. Two of Musharraf's opponents say Musharraf may have been ineligible to run for re-election while holding positions as both president and Army chief. Meanwhile, Musharraf has announced that he will step down from his military post if the Supreme Court makes the results official. The new presidential term is set to begin on November 15. AP has more.






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Japan parliament fails to renew expiring anti-terror law
Michael Sung on October 30, 2007 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) [party websites] Tuesday failed to reach a consensus on new anti-terror legislation necessary to extend Japan's support mission for US operations in the Indian Ocean. The LDP had urged the approval of the proposed legislation, which would limit Japan to providing refueling support to allied vessels on anti-terrorism patrols, before the expiration of the current Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [text] on November 1. The LDP, which previously sought a full renewal of the anti-terror law, has narrowed the scope [JURIST reports] of the legislation to obtain greater DJP support.

Japan's involvement in Operation Enduring Freedom [DOS backgrounder] by refueling and supplying water to coalition ships in the Indian Ocean has precipitated a major rift [JURIST report] between Japan's two major parties, contributing to the September resignation [BBC English translation; JURIST report] of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The DJP wishes to entirely scrap Japan's mission, saying it violates the country's pacifist constitution [text] by involving Japan in military operations. The Times Online has more.






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Indonesia high court upholds capital punishment in drug smugglers appeal
Michael Sung on October 30, 2007 9:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Indonesia [official website] rejected an appeal by five convicted drug smugglers against the death penalty Tuesday, ruling that capital punishment did not violate the Indonesian constitution [text]. Lawyers representing the five had argued that the death penalty violated the defendant's constitutional right to life.

The drug smugglers, including three Australians and two Indonesian nationals, were all sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle heroin from Bali to Australia in April 2005. The Constitutional Court said the Australians, as foreigners, lacked standing to challenge Indonesia laws. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has indicated that the Australian government will seek clemency on behalf of the Australians. Reuters has more.






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Israel attorney general suspends Gaza electricity cut plan
Michael Sung on October 30, 2007 8:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz [official profile] temporarily suspended a government plan to cut electricity to the Palestinian Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] Monday, pending legal challenges [press release; JURIST report] from several human rights groups in the Israeli Supreme Court. The human rights groups allege that the Israeli government's plan to restrict energy supples in Gaza constituted collective punishment [backgrounder] and had unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the government policy.

Israeli officials say that cutting back energy supplies was the only option the Israeli government has aside from a full-scale military operation against Hamas [BBC backgrounder], which has refused to halt indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli positions from Gaza. Tensions between the Islamist Hamas and the more secular Fatah [BBC backgrounder] movements heightened after Hamas defeated Fatah [JURIST report] in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, causing a major political shift in the region. Palestinian infighting has led to the establishment of two parallel Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas dominating the latter. AP has more.






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China arrests hundreds in substandard products crackdown
Jaime Jansen on October 30, 2007 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] China has arrested 774 people in a crackdown on the production of substandard products, officials said Monday. The Chinese General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) [official website, in Chinese] conducted 626 criminal investigations into the manufacture and sale of fake or poor quality food, medicine and agricultural products between August and October. China came under fire earlier this year after chemicals were found in toothpaste [NYT report], toys and seafood, and was generally blamed for toxins found in pet food [IHT report] that killed hundreds of dogs and cats in the US.

Nearly 200 illegal food companies were closed after more than 10,000 rule violations were found to have taken place. Chinese Vice Minister for Agriculture Gao Hongbin said a new standard of using barcodes to track food production will take effect on January 1. AP has more.






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Cattle producers sue USDA to stop Canada cattle imports said to carry 'mad cow' risk
James M Yoch Jr on October 30, 2007 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] Eleven plaintiffs, including the R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) [trade association website] have sued [press release] the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to prevent a rule change that would allow Canadian cattle over 30 months old and beef products from such cattle to be imported into the country starting Nov. 19. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota, alleges that cows older than 30 months place US cattle at increased risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) [USDA backgrounder, PDF], otherwise known as "mad cow" disease [CBC backgrounder]. The USDA has said that the rule change, commonly known as the Over Thirty Month (OTM) Rule, comports with fair trade practices and that slaughterhouse regulations and inspections will protect against the spread of BSE. However, a spokesman for R-CALF alleges that

By USDA's own analysis, it is a virtual certainty that the OTM Rule will result in the importation of Canadian cattle infected with BSE, the meat from which will enter the US food supply, and that the OTM Rule also will result in the importation of billions of pounds of meat from OTM cattle slaughtered in Canada, which almost certainly include products from cattle infected with BSE. There also lies the possibility of contamination of U.S. cattle feed caused from the use of Canadian cattle products, like blood, in the manufacturing of cattle feed.
The plaintiffs also claim that the rule change will impose severe economic hardship on the US cattle-producing industry because purchasers will be reluctant to buy cattle and beef products that may derive from Canada and contain BSE.

In July 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the USDA could lift the ban on Canadian cattle imposed in 2003 and that the move neither harmed the economic interests of the cattle producer plaintiffs nor increased the risk of BSE infection in the US. In June 2007, the Superior Court of Quebec ruled [JURIST report] that some 20,000 cattle breeders could proceed with a class action lawsuit [CTV report] against the federal government of Canada for its handling of BSE, alleging that Canada was negligent by allowing cattle infected with BSE to be imported from the UK, and subsequently failing to inform the public or the cattle industry. AP has more.





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UN rights expert urges US to prosecute or release Guantanamo prisoners
Jaime Jansen on October 30, 2007 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] called on the US in a report [DOC text] released Monday to quickly prosecute or release terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] so that the US can close the detention center. Scheinin paid an official visit to the United States in May after receiving permission from US officials [JURIST report] to examine US detention practices, although he was not allowed to interview Guantanamo detainees in private. In Monday's report, an addendum to a larger report [DOC text; press release] to the UN General assembly on human rights and counter-terrorism efforts worldwide, Scheinin also recommended:

  • that legislative amendments be made to remove the denial of habeas corpus rights under the Military Commissions Act 2006 and the restrictions upon the ability of Guantánamo Bay detainees to seek full judicial review of their combatant status, with the authority of the reviewing court to order release...;
  • that other States be willing to receive persons currently detained at Guantánamo Bay. The United States and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should work together to establish a joint process by which detainees can be resettled in accordance with international law, including refugee law and the principle of non-refoulement...;
  • that [military commissions] be disestablished. Wherever possible, ordinary civilian courts should be used to try terrorist suspects...;
  • [that the United States] ensure that all its officials and agencies comply with international standards, including the article 7 of ICCPR, the Convention against Torture and, in the context of an armed conflict, common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions...;
  • [that the US government] take transparent steps to ensure that the CIA practice of “extraordinary rendition” is discontinued and is not conducted in the future...;
  • that all detainees are held in accordance with international human rights standards, including the requirement that all detainees be held in regularized facilities, that they be registered, that they be allowed contact with the outside world (lawyers, International Committee of the Red Cross, where applicable, and family), and that any form of detention is subject to accessible and effective court review, which entails the possibility of release...;
  • [that the US government] restrict definitions of “international terrorism”, “domestic terrorism” and “material support to terrorist organizations” in a way that is precise and restricted to the type of conduct identified by the Security Council as conduct to be suppressed in the fight against terrorism...[and ensure] that it does not participate in the extrajudicial execution of any person, including terrorist suspects.
Last year, Scheinin said US officials have been stonewalling investigations [JURIST report] into allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flew terrorism suspects through Europe to countries where they could be tortured. He also expressed concern [JURIST report] that the US Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text; JURIST news archive] would lead to lower worldwide standards regarding interrogation techniques and trial procedures for noncitizen detainees. AP has more.





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Chad charges French charity workers with attempted kidnapping of Darfur orphans
Jaime Jansen on October 30, 2007 7:03 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in Chad has approved kidnapping charges against six French nationals after French charity Zoe's Arc [advocacy website, in French] tried to fly 103 children believed to be orphans [ZA backgrounder, in French] from the embattled Darfur region of Sudan [JURIST news archives] to France, Chadean officials said Tuesday. If found guilty the six accused could face up to 20 years in prison. Three French journalists and a seven-person Barcelona-based flight crew will also be charged with complicity in the alleged kidnapping. Zoe's Arc said it had arranged for French host families to care for the children. French authorities searched the headquarters of Zoe's Arc to see if the charity broke any French adoption laws because the charity had allegedly told some of the host families they would eventually be able to adopt the orphans.

UN children's agency UNICEF [advocacy website] is investigating whether the children, who were living as refugees in Chad [JURIST news archive], were actually orphans. Initial evidence indicates that many of the children were actually citizens of Chad, not refugees from Sudan. Chad President Idriss Deby Itno [AE profile, in French] promised to punish the suspects, calling the alleged attempted kidnapping "child trafficking" and suggesting that Zoe's Arc planned to sell the children to pedophiles or kill the children. The botched flyout occurred just before the European Union planned to deploy a 4,000 man peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to aid in the refugee crisis created by the Darfur conflict. While Deby has assured French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the scandal will not impact the incoming peacekeeping force, lawyers for Zoe's Arc have already accused Deby of making outrageous public comments about the alleged kidnapping to use as a "bargaining chip" with France in talks over the peacekeeping force. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.






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Canada denies new claims that detainees transferred to Afghans were tortured
Leslie Schulman on October 29, 2007 6:53 PM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian government Monday rejected fresh allegations that members of the Taliban captured by Canadian troops in Afghanistan were tortured by Afghan investigators after being transferred from Canadian custody. According to Montreal's La Presse, three prisoners said they were tortured [La Presse report, in French] by Afghan authorities after receiving assurances from Canadian officials them that Afghanistan no longer tortured detainees. Government House leader Peter Van Loan said in response that Taliban detainees frequently make false accusations of torture and that their statements should not be taken at face value. Reuters has more.

Allegations [JURIST report] of mistreatment of transferred detainees surfaced earlier this year when the Toronto Globe and Mail reported [text] that more than 30 terrorism suspects had been tortured by Afghan investigators after being transferred from Canadian custody. An independent investigation found no evidence [press release; JURIST report] that the Canadian army "may have aided or abetted the torture of detainees" by transferring them to Afghan custody. As a result of public outcry, Canada signed a new agreement regarding detainee transfers [JURIST report] with the Afghan government, giving Canada the right to inspect detainees following their transfer. A separate investigation regarding detainee abuse while in Canadian custody is ongoing [JURIST report].






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Torture routine in Sri Lanka: UN rights expert
Howard Kline on October 29, 2007 6:04 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak [official profile, DOC; JURIST news archive] said Monday that torture was widespread and routine throughout Sri Lanka. Nowak visited Sri Lanka in early October and reported to the Third Committee [official website] of the UN General Assembly that torture has become pervasive in the country's counter-terrorism procedures. While Sri Lanka had attempted to reduce torture with its 1994 Torture Act implementing the international Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [texts], Nowak noted that only three people have been convicted under the legislation and described "credible" allegations that detainees were still routinely mistreated by police and coerced into giving faulty confessions. Nowak's report comes two weeks after Sri Lanka rejected a UN monitoring mission [JURIST report] supported by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website].

The Sri Lankan government has been fighting the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [CFR backgrounder] since 1972. In August, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] accused [PDF text] the government of being responsible for a dramatic increase in unlawful killings and other human rights violations [JURIST report]. In June, the government started systematically detaining ethnic Tamils until the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka stopped the practice [JURIST report]. The UN News Service has more.






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State Department sheltering Blackwater guards from prosecution: AP
Leslie Schulman on October 29, 2007 6:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of State [official website] has sheltered bodyguards working for private security firm Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] from prosecution related to a September shooting incident [JURIST report] in Baghdad, according to AP on Monday. The guards, who allegedly fired on civilians, killing 17 and prompting the Iraqi government to withdraw Blackwater's operating license [JURIST report], have received so-called "Garrity protections" from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security [official website], the branch of the State Department that oversees private security firms. Garrity protections prohibit statements made by public law enforcement officers from being used against them in criminal prosecutions. According to AP, the guards received the protections because they were working for the US government in a law enforcement capacity. The protections constitute a new hurdle for prosecutors, who will now have to show that any evidence used against the Blackwater guards in the future was obtained independently of statements made by them to the State Department.

The Blackwater allegations have caused domestic outrage in Iraq and have prompted legal controversy in the US. Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over an investigation [JURIST report] of the incident from the Department of Justice [official websites], and has been attempting to obtain evidence without using statements made by the guards who were granted protection. Iraqi government investigators probing the killings have concluded that the Blackwater security detail's actions were unprovoked, and amounted to "deliberate murder" [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Former Milberg Weiss partner pleads guilty to conspiracy in class action scheme
Kiely Lewandowski on October 29, 2007 4:46 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Milberg Weiss [firm website] partner William Lerach pleaded guilty to conspiracy Monday for his part in the firm's illegal kickback scheme. Lerach reached an agreement with prosecutors last month to plead guilty [press release; JURIST report] to conspiracy to obstruct justice and will forfeit $7.75 million to the government, pay a $250,000 fine, and serve one to two years in prison. Milberg Weiss co-founder Melvyn Weiss pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] earlier this month to federal charges of conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

Lerach's guilty plea is the latest in the ongoing seven-year federal investigation of Milberg Weiss' alleged illegal kickback scheme. In May of 2006, a federal grand jury indicted [JURIST report] the firm and two name partners, David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman, on charges of conspiracy to make false statements and obstructing justice. Lerach was named as "Partner B" in the indictment [PDF text]. As part of the scheme, certain individuals who agreed to serve as class action representatives were promised 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by Milberg Weiss. Three individuals pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in connection with the scheme in May 2006, and former Milberg Weiss name partner David Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July. AP has more.






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Italy court affirms terror conviction of suspect also charged in 2004 Madrid bombings
Leslie Schulman on October 29, 2007 4:19 PM ET

[JURIST] An Italian appeals court on Monday affirmed the conviction of Egyptian Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed [CBC profile] for belonging to an international terrorist network, but reduced his sentence from ten years to eight. Ahmed was convicted on charges separate from those brought against him for his role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings [JURIST news archive]. Prosecutors had alleged that Ahmed helped plan [JURIST report] terrorist attacks in Italy and to recruit extremists in Milan. His trial started [JURIST report] in January.

After his conviction late last year, Ahmed was extradited to Spain, where he and 27 co-defendants were charged with 192 counts of murder and upwards of 1,800 counts of attempted murder related to the March 11, 2004 bombings, which killed 191 people and injured almost 2000 more. Spain's National Court announced [JURIST report] earlier this month that verdicts and sentences for all defendants would be announced on Wednesday. Prosecutors are seeking jail sentences for eight suspected ringleaders of nearly 39,000 years each [JURIST report], although the maximum time they could serve under Spanish law is 40 years. The defendants have all protested their innocence and condemned the attacks. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.






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Peru bringing maritime boundary dispute with Chile before ICJ
Lisl Brunner on October 29, 2007 3:10 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of Peru plans to file a complaint against Chile [JURIST news archives] with the International Court of Justice [official website] seeking resolution of the countries' maritime boundary dispute [LA Times report] in November or December, el Comercio reported Monday. While Peruvian Minister of External Relations Jose Antonia Garcia Belaunde informed his Chilean counterpart of the government's decision during the recent session of the UN General Assembly [official website], the news became public on Monday. Belaunde commented that the complaint involves a "technical, legal demand" which should not disrupt bilateral relations between the two countries.

After the ICJ settled a similar dispute [JURIST report] between Nicaragua and Honduras earlier this month, Peruvian officials deemed the ruling a "decisive precedent" which would bolster its own claim. Tensions between the two countries have escalated over a 10,000-mile strip of ocean which Peru claims was ceded to it under 1952 and 1954 treaties; Chile claims that the treaties involved fishing rights only. Chile is expected to reject the jurisdiction of the ICJ [Andina report] in the case. El Comercio has more.






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Supreme Court hears federal prison Koran seizure, futures cases
Leslie Schulman on October 29, 2007 3:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prison [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-9130, to determine whether a Federal Tort Claims Act [text] exception barring claims for detained property against "law enforcement officers" includes federal prison officials who seized a Muslim prisoner's Korans and prayer rug, or whether it only applies to officials working in a tax, excise, or customs capacity. The case was filed by Abdus-Shahid Ali, an inmate serving 20 years to life for first-degree murder, who says that prison officials working for both the District of Columbia Department of Corrections and the US Bureau of Prisons [official websites] illegally confiscated his religious property and harassed him for expressing his Muslim faith while in custody. In his lawsuit, Ali alleged that the exception for "law enforcement officers," as defined under the Act, does not extend to prison officials. Lawyers for the Department of Justice [official website] argued Monday that he had no right to bring suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act because the exception applies to all law enforcement officers, and that he should only be permitted to file an administrative complaint for his claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit earlier this month affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court dismissal of Ali's claims, ruling that the prison officials fit under the exception. AP has more.

The Court also heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Klein & Co. Futures v. Board of Trade City of New York [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1265, where it must consider whether futures commissions merchants, who enter into contracts for future delivery of commodities, engage in "transactions" as defined under the Commodity Exchange Act [text]. Klein & Co. filed its lawsuit against the New York Futures Exchange and the New York Board of Trade, alleging that two boards' price-fixing schemes caused Klein to lose its trading licenses and go out of business. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [PDF text] that Klein & Co. lacked standing to bring suit because it did not engage in any of the transactions set forth in the Act.






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ICTY lawyers urging UN to promote American to chief prosecutor: AP
Brett Murphy on October 29, 2007 1:06 PM ET

[JURIST] A group of senior lawyers from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] have sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urging the promotion of the current ICTY deputy prosecutor, American David Tolbert [UN press release], to ICTY chief prosecutor when Carla Del Ponte [official profile] steps down from the position at the end of this year, the Associated Press reported Monday. In a letter written in May, the 18 lawyers described Tolbert as a "champion of international criminal justice" and said that he would be an "outstanding" appointment during what was described as a "critical phase" of the ICTY's work. The letter was written amid reports that the UN was considering appointing Serge Brammertz [official profile], the former International Criminal Court deputy prosecutor currently heading the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, to replace Del Ponte [JURIST report]. No replacement for Del Ponte has yet been named.

Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general, has served two four-year terms as the ICTY chief prosecutor. The United Nations Security Council has extended [press release] her term until December 31. Del Ponte was initially expected to step down in September [JURIST report], but in June she said she would stay until the end of the year while the UN chooses her replacement. Tribunal observers have suggested that the ICTY would be best served by an internal promotion as it is currently scheduled to complete its work by 2010. AP has more.






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Supreme Court to consider punitive damages in Exxon Mobil oil spill case
Katerina Ossenova on October 29, 2007 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted certiorari Monday in a dispute over the punitive damages to be paid by Exxon Mobil [corporate website] for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill [EPA backgrounder]. Exxon Mobil and its shipping subsidiary have been ordered to pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages for the spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska. According to its Order List [PDF text] Monday, the Court limited its review of Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (07-219) [docket] to the following questions presented [cert. petition, PDF]:

1. May punitive damages be imposed under maritime law against a shipowner (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits) for the conduct of a ship's master at sea, absent a finding that the owner directed, countenanced, or participated in that conduct, and even when the conduct was contrary to policies established and enforced by the owner?

2. When Congress has specified the criminal and civil penalties for maritime conduct in a controlling statute, here the Clean Water Act, but has not provided for punitive damages, may judge-made federal maritime law (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Circuits) expand the penalties Congress provided by adding a punitive damages remedy?

3. Is this $2.5 billion punitive damages award, which is larger than the total of all punitive damages awards affirmed by all federal appellate courts in our history, within the limits allowed by (1) federal maritime law...?
The Court declined to hear the claim that the verdict was excessive under the Constitution's Due Process Clause [text] and a cross appeal to reinstate the initial $5 billion damages award, which was cut in half by a federal appeals court [JURIST report] late last year. AP has more.

Also Monday, the Court agreed to hear Allison Engine v. United States (07-214) [docket], where the Court will decide whether the Federal False Claims Act [31 USC 3729 text] is limited to claims of misspent funds submitted to a federal government agency, or whether it also applies to claims submitted to a federal contractor that will ultimately be paid with federal money. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the statute does not require presentment of a claim to the government. SCOTUSblog has more.





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Graham urges Mukasey clarification on waterboarding issue
Brett Murphy on October 29, 2007 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) [official website] said Sunday that unless US Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey [WH profile] clarifies that he believes waterboarding is torture, Graham will consider opposing Mukasey's nomination. Speaking on CBS News' Face The Nation [transcript, PDF], Graham said that if Mukasey does not express opposition to the use of waterboarding, it will raise serious doubts about Mukasey's ability to serve as Attorney General:

I thought he did a good job explaining himself, generally speaking. But he was asked a specific question about an interrogation technique called waterboarding. I am convinced, as an individual senator, as a military lawyer for 25 years, that waterboarding, the technique that was described to Judge Mukasey does violate the Geneva Convention, does violate our war crimes statute and is clearly illegal under domestic and international law, and I think it would serve the attorney general nominee well to embrace that concept. He's talked around it. But you know, I want to win this war. And the way we win this war is to adhere to our values, don't adopt the enemies' values. The rule of law is something... that we embrace, and so I hope he will give a direct answer to that question. ...

I am urging him that he needs to come forward. If he does not believe that waterboarding is illegal, then that would really put doubts in my own mind because I don't think you have to be very--have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates Geneva Convention Common Article III, the war crimes statute, and many other statutes that are in place.
Also appearing on the program was Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) [official website], not a member of the committee currently considering Mukasey's nomination, who said that Mukasey's testimony sent a mixed message:
there's been too many mixed messages out of this administration about torture. There's been too many activities at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib which constitute torture, which constitute inhumane treatment in violation of law. This has worked very heavily against us in terms of the enemies'--our enemies'--the terrorists' use of these tactics. He is sending a mixed message in his testimony. He should not be confirmed unless he is very, very clear about these aggressive techniques which violate our laws, and violate Geneva as being totally unacceptable because the attorney general is supposed to be at the head of the Department of Justice talking about what our values are, because those values are the things that have made this country strong and powerful and attractive, and they're essential that they be maintained for our own security.
Mukasey has thus far refused to directly comment on the legality of the practice.

Despite initial comments by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that Mukasey was likely to be confirmed without undue delay, his refusal [JURIST reports] to take a definitive stance on whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture has raised concerns [JURIST report] among Leahy and other committee members. Mukasey did not address the waterboarding issue in a letter [PDF text; JURIST report] to the committee released Friday, although he did note generally that torture was prohibited by the laws of the United States as well as the Constitution. Ten of the committee's 19 members, including Graham, must vote in favor of Mukasey in order to send Mukasey's nomination to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. AP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: Waterboarding: The Key Question for Mukasey | Op-ed: Mukasey on Torture: Of Sins, Mistakes and Crimes





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Bangladesh ex-PM denies corruption allegations during interrogation
Katerina Ossenova on October 29, 2007 9:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed [party profile; JURIST news archive] on Monday denied accusations of corruption during questioning by officials from the country's anti-corruption commission [governing statute, PDF], according to Hasina's lawyer. Hasina was questioned at the converted prison where she has been held since her July arrest on charges [JURIST report] that she allegedly extorted approximately $1.16 million from two businessmen. In September, Hasina was charged with another count of corruption [JURIST report] relating to a bribe supposedly taken from a Bangladesh power company.

Hasina is also charged with other counts of corruption and with murder [JURIST reports] stemming from the deaths of four protesters during political turmoil last October. She is among some 150 leading Bangladeshis arrested by the new interim government since emergency rule was declared [JURIST report] in January. Hasina was prime minister between 1996 and 2001 and is the the leader of the opposition Awami League [party website]. The interim government has also filed corruption charges against Hasina's rival, former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [UN profile]. Reuters has more.






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Israel human rights groups challenge fuel cuts in Gaza Strip
Jaime Jansen on October 29, 2007 8:28 AM ET

[JURIST] Several human rights groups have challenged [press release] Israel's decision to reduce fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] and its plan to cut the electricity supply, saying Sunday that the move could create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Gisha [advocacy website] and nine other human rights groups requested an injunction from the the Israeli Supreme Court Sunday, immediately following the government's announcement that it will cut back the energy supply to Gaza. The human rights groups say fuel supplies will be cut by 30 percent, while the Israeli government said the cut-back amounts to 11 percent. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Monday that cutting back fuel supplies was the only option the Israeli government had aside from a full-scale military operation. The government hopes the cut in fuel supplies will pressure Hamas to stop rocket attacks against Israeli towns.

Tensions between hard-line Islamist Hamas and the more secular Fatah [BBC backgrounders] heightened after Hamas defeated Fatah [JURIST report] in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, causing a major political shift in the region. Hamas has refused to distance itself from terrorism or recognize Israel's right to exist as a nation-state, resulting in increased ostracism by the United States, the European Union, and Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas eventually dissolved the Hamas-led government, but Hamas continues to exercise de facto power in Gaza [JURIST report] after a violent take-over [JP report] of the area in June. Fatah controls the West Bank. AP has more.






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Egypt court convicts opposition leader, journalists of libel
Jaime Jansen on October 29, 2007 7:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Two Egyptian journalists and an opposition leader have been sentenced to a month in prison after being convicted in absentia of libel, court officials said Sunday. The journalists, Anwar el-Hawari and Younes Darwish, of opposition party Al-Wafd's daily newspaper and Al-Wafd leader Mahmoud Abaza, have appealed the verdict and remain free on bail. Two lawyers from the ruling National Democratic Party [party website] brought the action against the defendants after Al-Wafd [media website, in Arabic] published a story about an illegal land transaction from the Ministry of Religious Endowments at a secret auction, despite the fact that Abaza has immunity as a parliamentary member himself.

Earlier this month, the trial [JURIST report] of controversial al-Dustour [media website] editor Ibrahim Eissa [al-Ahram profile] began on charges of allegedly spreading rumors about the health of Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak [official profile] in an August newspaper report. Last June, Eissa was sentenced [JURIST report] to one year in prison for publishing a report critical of Mubarak, but an appeals court reduced the sentence to a $4,000 fine. Under Egyptian law, citizens may file lawsuits against individuals who make statements that harm society, and the accused can face criminal punishment if found guilty. Last month, a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids [JURIST report] for publishing criticisms of Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party.

Many rights groups have criticized Egypt in recent years for its stance on freedom of expression. Last month, the Bush administration, in commenting on a recent order by the Egypt government mandating the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid [advocacy website], expressed concern about "setbacks on press freedom and civil society" in Egypt, calling recent decisions a "contradiction" of the Egyptian government's "stated commitment to expand democratic rights." Mubarak has previously pledged to decriminalize press offenses [JURIST report], but has yet to do so. AP has more.






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ABA urges nationwide death penalty moratorium
Jaime Jansen on October 29, 2007 6:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Bar Association (ABA) [official website] said Monday that there are serious flaws in the fairness and accuracy of several state death penalty systems [project website], and called for a nationwide moratorium on executions [JURIST report]. The ABA task force studied eight sample states - Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee [JURIST reports] - and found poor collection and preservation of DNA evidence, misidentification by eyewitnesses, false confessions and racial disparities.

The ABA study did not examine lethal injections [JURIST news archive], a form of execution that has come under fire nationwide recently. Several states have placed a moratorium on lethal injections pending US Supreme Court review in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition]. In that case, the Court will consider whether the controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Several constitutional challenges to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. AP has more.






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China legislature adopts law extending rights of defense lawyers
Benjamin Klein on October 28, 2007 3:02 PM ET

[JURIST] China's National People's Congress (NPC) [official website] Sunday adopted a draft amendment to the country's Law on Lawyers [text] that will grant defense lawyers more power in criminal prosecutions. The amendment, the first since the original law's implementation in 1997, includes a loosening of restrictions on face-to-face meetings between lawyers and their clients, increased access to court documents and case files, and more flexibility in independently gathering and collecting evidence. The reforms also prohibit the state from conducting surveillance of the defendants meeting their lawyers, and grants defense lawyers legal immunity for statements in court provided that statements do not constitute slander or threaten national security.

A set of reforms to the Law on Lawyers was initially presented [JURIST report] to Chinese legislators in June, but at that time it included a provision that "Apart from cases related to state secrets, criminal lawyers can meet clients after judicial organs conduct the initial interrogation or other coercive measures." The proviso was dropped [JURIST report] in a new version of the law sent to the the Standing Committee of the NPC in August. A spokesman for the NPC Law Committee said that the change had been motivated by human rights concerns. Beijing has been especially sensitive to actual and potential rights-related criticism in the run-up to the scheduled 2008 Beijing Olympics [JURIST news archive; official website]. Xinhua has more.






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Yemen official denies release of USS Cole bomber: reports
Benjamin Klein on October 28, 2007 2:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Two websites with ties to Yemen's government Sunday denied earlier assertions that Jamal al-Badawi [MIPT profile], one of the masterminds behind the 2000 terror attack [US DOD press briefing] on the USS Cole [official website; JURIST news archive], had been set free. Yemeni security officials said Thursday that Al-Badawi, who along with 22 others escaped from a prison in 2004, was released after turning himself in earlier this month and pledging loyalty to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The White House sharply criticized the reported release, with a spokesman from the US National Security Council describing Yemen's move as "deeply disappointing." An unnamed Interior Ministry spokesman quoted on the website of the country's ruling National Congress Party as well as another site associated with the Defense Ministry has nonethless said that "Jamal al-Badawi...is now a detainee of the Interior Ministry and is under investigation by the concerned authorities."

The BBC reported on Saturday that al-Badawi, who was sentenced to death in 2004 for his role in the bombing, would "be kept under effective house arrest after pledging allegiance to Yemen's president." Badawi was sentenced to death in 2004 for his role in the bombing, which killed 17 US sailors. After learning of his escape in 2006, the FBI added Badawi to its Most Wanted Terrorists list with a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Reuters has more.






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Liberia truth commission resumes works after infusion of funds
Eric Firkel on October 28, 2007 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) [official website; JURIST news archive] has relaunched its investigations into atrocities committed in the region's civil wars that ended in 2003. The commission began its work in October last year, but it stalled [JURIST reports] in June for lack of funding. It has since received funds from the United Nations Development Program and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) [official websites]. TRC Executive Director Nathaniel Kwabo [official profile] hopes Liberians will come forward to shed light on the bloody conflicts.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is currently on trial in the The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] for crimes against humanity. Taylor is accused of masterminding and funding intertwined civil wars in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone through the sale of so-called "conflict diamonds." VOA News has more.






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Iraq vice president urges pardons for many Sunni detainees
Dennis Zawacki II on October 28, 2007 10:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has urged fellow Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Jalal Talabani [profiles] to press the Iraqi parliament to pardon Iraqi detainees not classified as "dangerous elements" linked to the insurgency, according to AP Sunday. Of the 25,000 Iraqis now are being held by the US, 90 percent are believed to be Sunnis. In a letter, Al-Hashemi also expressed concerns about the treatment accorded many detainees and delays they have encountered in having their cases resolved.

Al-Hashemi has spent the last few weeks in a high-profile tour of prisons in Iraq, drawing criticism from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile], who has threatened to ban government officials from such visits. AP has more.






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Former Guantanamo prosecutor claims political interference in commission cases
Josh Camson on October 28, 2007 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US Guantanamo Bay chief military prosecutor Col. Morris Davis [official profile, PDF] said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Saturday that politics is interfering with Guantanamo prosecutions [WSJ report]. Davis said that recently-approved rules governing prosecutions at Guantanamo [JURIST news archive] result in the chief prosecutor reporting [PDF memo text] via the Legal Advisor to the Convening Authority to the Pentagon general counsel [PDF memo text], a presidential appointee. Davis said he filed an internal complaint about this structure, but the complaint was rejected. Shortly thereafter, he resigned [JURIST report] in protest.

Davis was the lead prosecutor in the military commission case against Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks [JURIST news archive], who made a plea bargain [JURIST report] in March. Davis claims the plea bargain was politically motivated to avoid domestic political embarrassment for Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official profile]. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer [official profile] has denied [JURIST report] allegations that the Australian government was involved in negotiating the plea bargain.






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Canada government introduces bill requiring Muslim women to lift veils to vote
Eric Firkel on October 28, 2007 10:16 AM ET

[JURIST] Canada's minority Conservative Party [party website] government introduced legislation Friday that would require Muslim women wearing a veil to show their faces before voting. Bill C-6 [text] on "visual identification of voters" is said to be designed to combat voter fraud. If adopted, the new law could be enforced by Elections Canada [official website] staff taking voters to separate rooms to show their faces before voting. The bill provides an exception for facial bandages; in that case, voters would be required to present two proofs of identity or be accompanied by a qualified elector able to vouch for them. The Quebec provincial government [official website] followed suit Saturday, announcing it too plans to introduce legislation that would ban fully veiled women from voting [AFP report].

The veiled voting issue came to a head in March ahead of scheduled byelections in Quebec when Quebec's chief electoral officer [official website] refused to allow Muslim women to vote without showing their faces [CBC report]. The move was criticized as offensive by Muslim rights groups and was overruled by Elections Canada, provoking a public clash between the head of that agency and the government [JURIST reports] of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said at the time that despite government assertions to the contrary there was nothing in the then-latest legislation on voting procedures that required voters to show their faces; the new bill is intended to make that requirement clear.

Traditional Muslim face-covering garb and other religious dress [JURIST news archive] have recently become controversial in Canada as elsewhere in the West as lawmakers struggle to balance individual rights to practice religion with security concerns. CanWest has more.






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Peru high court convicts former Fujimori minister of embezzlement
Josh Camson on October 28, 2007 8:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Peru [official website, in Spanish] has convicted former Peruvian economy minister Jorge Baca Campodonico of embezzlement, according to the government's official gazette Saturday. Campodonico diverted $59.4 million from government funds to failing private bank Banco Latino. His three year prison sentence was suspended, but he has to pay 2 million nuevo sols [approximately US $666,000] in civil reparations and is banned from holding public office in Peru [JURIST archive] for one year. He has appealed the court's ruling.

Campodonico served under former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who is awaiting multiple trials [JURIST report] on charges of corruption and human rights violations. After serving under Fujimori, Campodonico worked for the International Monetary Fund [official website]. He was detained [NYT report] in 2003 in Argentina and extradited to Peru earlier this year. AP has more. El Peruano has local coverage.






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Mukasey says Constitution no bar to warrantless surveillance of terror suspects
Devin Montgomery on October 27, 2007 3:02 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey [WH profile] told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] in a letter [PDF text] released Friday that the Constitution does not preclude the president from wiretapping terrorism suspects without a warrant. His comments came in response to an earlier letter [PDF text; press release] in which committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] asked Mukasey to clarify his position on the scope of executive power, given Mukasey's statements in testimony that the Constitution and other laws did prohibit the president from authorizing torture. In his letter Mukasey wrote:

Warrantless surveillance for the collection of foreign intelligence requires a different analysis. As an initial matter, it is widely accepted that the Constitution does not require that all searches be conducted pursuant to a warrant. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts have upheld warrantless searches in numerous settings. Searches incident to arrest, border searches, and vehicle searches, to name a few examples, may be conducted without a warrant. Warrantless searches of this sort must still, of course, comply with the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement. The federal courts have treated warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence analogously, holding that the Constitution does not require a warrant, although it does require that the searches be reasonable….
Mukasey went on to say that surveillance of those within the United States required a more complex analysis of privacy interests, as recognized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text] and Protect America Act [text], but that ultimately, executive authority with regard to foreign surveillance was subject to "regulation" rather than "preemption" by the legislature.

Despite initial comments by Leahy [JURIST report] that Mukasey was likely to be confirmed without undue delay, his refusal [JURIST report] to take a definitive stance on whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture has raised concerns [JURIST report] among Leahy and other committee members. Mukasey did not address the waterboarding issue in the letter released Friday, although he did note generally that torture was prohibited by the laws of the United States as well as the Constitution. AP has more.





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Palestinian president signs anti-money laundering decree aimed at Hamas
Patrick Porter on October 27, 2007 2:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC profile] has signed new money laundering regulations meant to hinder the flow of funds to Hamas [BBC backgrounder] and to show foreign banks doing business with Palestinian counterparts that they are not violating US and Israeli counter-terrorism regulations. The new regulations include penalties of up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to 600,000 shekels (US $150,300). Abbas' Fatah [BBC backgrounder] movement claims Hamas receives money channeled through moneychangers and merchants from Iran and other Arab countries, as well as Islamic charities abroad. Hamas, meanwhile, said that the new law might reduce its cash flow but would not cut it off completely. AP has more.

Tensions between the Islamist Hamas and more secular Fatah factions heightened after Hamas defeated Fatah [JURIST report] in the 2006 Palestianian parliamentary elections, causing a major political shift in the region. Hamas refused to distance itself from terrorism or recognize Israel's right to exist as a nation-state, resulting in increased ostracism by the United States, the European Union, and Israel. Abbas eventually dissolved the Hamas-led government, but Hamas continues to exercise de facto power in Gaza [JURIST report] after a violent take-over [JP report] of the area in June. Fatah controls the West Bank. Earlier this week Amnesty International released a report criticizing Hamas and Fatah [JURIST report] for infighting that it said had destroyed the lives of hundreds of civilians and led to human rights abuses, including illegal detention and torture.






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UN expert invited to investigate alleged US extrajudicial killings in Iraq, Afghanistan
Steve Czajkowski on October 27, 2007 12:21 PM ET

[JURIST] UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions [official website] Philip Alston [JURIST news archive] said Friday he is planning an official visit to the US to investigate allegations of unlawful killings by US military and non-military actors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Incidents like the killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha [JURIST news archive], prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in Afghanistan have all raised issues that Alston would like to investigate. At a news conference following his latest report [UN summary] to the UN Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) Alston said he wanted to include "non-state actors and military contractors" in reference to the September 16 killing of 17 Iraqis by the Blackwater security firm [JURIST report].

While praising the US for inviting him to visit, Alston expressed concern that almost 30 countries, including members of the UN Human Rights Council, have not responded to similar requests to visit them. AP has more.






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Iraqi prosecutor defends death sentence for Saddam-era defense minister
Nick Fiske on October 27, 2007 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon [JURIST news archive] defended the death sentence for convicted Saddam Hussein-era defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai [TrialWatch profile] Friday, saying that al-Tai personally oversaw the deaths of 180,000 people during brutal military campaigns against Iraq's Kurds in late 1980's and that his use of chemical weapons and his in-court confession of involvement in the planning of the Anfal Campaign [HRW backgrounder] warranted his execution. His statements in a televised interview on Alhurra TV [media website], were a direct response to both Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile], who have publicly spoken out against al-Tai's planned execution. Al-Faroon argued that although Talabani and his Presidential council are able to pardon those sentenced to die by the Iraqi High Tribunal, this power did not apply to al Tai as a result of his conviction for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

In September Talabani said that al-Tai should receive clemency [JURIST report] because he was only acting under the threat of death from Hussein and had worked with the Kurdish community while he was an official in Hussein's regime. Al-Mashhadani echoed his concerns [JURIST report] Thursday, saying that al-Tai's execution would cause military officers to question their commanders' orders out of fear that they could be held accountable after the governing regime changes. Al-Tai and two other former officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, including Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - known in the Western media as "Chemical Ali" [BBC profile] - were all convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity [JURIST news archive] in June for their roles in the Anfal Campaign. AP has more.






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US Army panel overturns 1944 rioting court-martial convictions of black soldiers
Steve Czajkowski on October 27, 2007 10:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Army Board for Correction of Military Records [official website] ruled Friday that a group of African-American soldiers court-martialed in 1944 for rioting and attacking Italian POWs held at at Seattle's Fort Lawton should have their convictions overturned. One Italian POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found hanged in the woods the morning after the riots. The ruling applies to Samuel Snow and three other former soldiers now deceased. The board found that the soldiers were denied the sufficient time to prepare a defense and were not allowed access to investigative records. Snow and the families of the deceased soldiers were able to petition the board with the help of US Representatives Jim McDermott [official website] and Duncan Hunter [official website].

The court-martial of the black troops was one of the largest during World War II. The soldiers were awaiting transshipment to New Guinea and were barracked near white Italian POWs who enjoyed better living conditions and fewer restrictions. Tensions broke out into violence one night after members of the two groups had too much to drink and started hurling insults. Originally 43 black soldiers were charged in connection with the incident; 28 of the 43 were convicted of rioting, two were convicted of manslaughter, and some were sentenced to as much as 25 years in prison. Of the 28, only Snow and another soldier are believed to be still alive. The ruling could lead to the convictions of the other 24 soldiers not covered by Friday's decision being overturned, allowing for their honorable discharge, and back pay and benefits for their families. AP has more. The Seattle Times has local coverage.






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Myanmar releases 87 prisoners, prepares for Pinheiro visit
Nick Fiske on October 27, 2007 10:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar's military junta has announced the release of 87 people held in the wake of the government's crackdown against protesters and political dissidents which began in August. The released prisoners include more than 50 members of the National League for Democracy, the pro-democracy political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The announcement follows reports [JURIST report] this week that UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro [official profile] has been given permission to visit the country in November to investigate alleged human rights abuses [press release].

In August and September the government detained an estimated 3,000 protesters [JURIST report] involved in anti-government demonstrations. According to the government, 10 people were killed by government soldiers who fired shots into nonviolent crowds [JURIST report] at protests in September; dissident groups claim that 200 people have been killed since the crackdown began. The protests only subsided when junta troops effectively locked down Myanmar's major cities. Last week the junta lifted a curfew and a ban on assembly [JURIST report] that was imposed during the protests. Reuters has more.






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Serbian cooperation with ICTY still inadequate: Del Ponte
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 26, 2007 4:37 PM ET

[JURIST] International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] said Friday that Serbia must do more to apprehend fugitive war crimes suspects before she can give a positive report on the country's work with the ICTY to the European Union. Del Ponte has long criticized Serbia for its seeming reluctance to cooperate with the ICTY. Last week, she chided Serbian authorities [JURIST report] for failing to bring to justice Ratko Mladic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and three other accused war criminals who are believed to be hiding in that country, saying that Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal is "still too slow and not yet sufficient."

Serbia said in September it would increase efforts [JURIST report] to locate and arrest Mladic, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY case backgrounder], former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic [JURIST report], and Bosnian Serb police commander Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY indictment] in order to receive a favorable report from Del Ponte at her meeting with EU officials concerning the EU's pending pre-membership deal with the country. The EU has made Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY a key element of its membership negotiations. AFP has more. ADNKronos has additional coverage.






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Former Illinois governor ordered to prison to start serving corruption sentence
Eric Firkel on October 26, 2007 4:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Illinois Governor George Ryan [defense website, JURIST news archive] was ordered Friday to begin serving a 6 1/2 prison sentence in less than two weeks. US District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer [official profile] set November 7 as the surrender date for Ryan to report to prison. The order follows the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' refusal to review [order, PDF; JURIST report] an August ruling affirming Ryan's conviction. Former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson [law firm profile], the head of Ryan's legal defense team, said Thursday that Ryan will file a motion to remain free while he appeals his case to the US Supreme Court [official website]. Ryan's lawyers are expected to put the matter before Justice John Paul Stevens [official profile, PDF], a Chicago native and the member of the Supreme Court who handles Seventh Circuit matters.

Ryan's trial began in 2005, and in 2006 a jury found him guilty [JURIST report] on multiple counts of corruption and fraud [indictment, PDF] in connection with a bribes-for-licenses scandal that occurred during Ryan's term as Illinois Secretary of State. Ryan made national headlines and won praise in some quarters in January 2003 when just before leaving office he commuted the executions of all Illinois inmates then on death row [CNN file report; Ryan speech]. AP has more. The Chicago Tribune has local coverage.






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Italy high court upholds Berlusconi bribery acquittal
Eric Firkel on October 26, 2007 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Italy's highest court of appeal, the Court of Cassation [official site, in Italian], upheld a verdict Friday clearing former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of charges that he bribed judges to prevent the sale of food company SME to rivals in 1985. Italian law allows both prosecutors and defendants to appeal twice against sentences. Friday's decision follows the same finding by a Milan appeals court [JURIST report] in April and is therefore is the final ruling in the case.

Berlusconi, Italy's richest man and owner of broadcaster Mediaset [Bloomberg profile], has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST report]. Berlusconi has continually maintained his innocence, accusing prosecutors of conducting a political vandetta against him. This trial was initially blocked in 2004 by a bill drafted by Berlusconi ally and later defense lawyer Gaetano Pecorella but went ahead after the bill was struck down as unconstitutional. DPA has more.






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Chile charges against Pinochet family dropped
Josh Camson on October 26, 2007 2:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Embezzlement charges against the widow and five sons of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive; BBC profile] originally indicted [PDF text, in Spanish; JURIST report] with 17 others [full list, in Spanish] on October 4 were dropped [PDF text, in Spanish] by a Chilean appeals court Friday. Charges against a spokesman and several advisers to Pinochet were also dropped. The charges stemmed from allegations that Pinochet was embezzling 25 million dollars to former DC-based Riggs Bank.

Pinochet died of a heart attack [JURIST report] in December 2006 without ever facing trial on multiple charges of tax evasion and human rights violations. Nevertheless, Chilean authorities began a new investigation [JURIST report] earlier this year to determine whether Pinochet ordered state officials to murder former Chilean President Eduardo Frei Montalva [EB profile] in 1982. AP has more. La nacion has local coverage.






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UK High Court hears Iraq detainee torture claims
Jaime Jansen on October 26, 2007 2:25 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK High Court [official website] Friday heard arguments in a case that alleges British troops tortured ten Iraqi detainees in Basra in 2003. The nine plaintiffs and a tenth man were arrested in a Basra hotel where British troops found weapons and suspected bomb-making materials. Later, the tenth detainee, Baha Mousa [BBC report; JURIST news archive], died while in custody, allegedly as a result of abuse. Seven soldiers faced court-martial [BBC timeline] in connection with Mousa's death. Only one, Corporal David Payne, faced jail time after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] to a charge of inhumane treatment. All other charges were dismissed [JURIST report]. The plaintiffs in the current case are seeking damages from the UK Ministry of Defense [official website] and in August, lawyers for the Iraqi plaintiffs accused the Ministry of Defense of withholding evidence [JURIST report]. The Guardian has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

In June, the UK Law Lords ruled that UK human rights laws apply to British soldiers overseas [JURIST report] in Mousa's case. Next week, the Law Lords will consider whether the government can use a United Nations law to avoid liability for human rights abuses in Iraq [Liberty press release] based on arguments that the language of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 [PDF text] allows indefinite detention of nationals without legal responsibility. The UK government will also argue that British troops in Iraq are under UN control, and therefore outside the bounds of the UK human rights laws. UK human rights group Liberty [advocacy website] plans to argue that the UK maintains control of British forces in Iraq, and that British human rights standards apply to Iraqi detainees.






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Vonage settles Verizon patent lawsuit
Jaime Jansen on October 26, 2007 1:36 PM ET

[JURIST] Internet VoIP [backgrounder] provider Vonage Holding Corp. [corporate website] on Thursday settled a patent lawsuit [press release] against it brought by Verizon Communications [corporate website] for up to $120 million. The exact amount of damages Vonage will have to pay Verizon hinges upon whether the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] agrees to hear an appeal of an earlier federal jury verdict awarding Verizon $58 million. If the Federal Circuit agrees to re-hear the case, Vonage will pay Verizon $80 million; if the Federal Circuit declines to re-hear the case, Vonage will pay Verizon $117.5 million and give $2.5 million to charity. Although it awards substantial damages to Verizon, the settlement agreement allows Vonage to continue using technology patented by Verizon for Vonage's Internet based phone service.

In March 2007, a federal jury awarded Verizon $58 million in damages plus a 5.5 percent future royalties rate after it found Vonage had violated three Verizon patents. The Federal Circuit held in April that Vonage could continue to subscribe new customers pending patent appeal [JURIST report] despite an earlier ruling by a lower court judge that they could not. The New York Times has more.






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Philippines ex-president released from detention after pardon
Patrick Porter on October 26, 2007 1:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada [BBC profile] was freed from detention Friday after receiving a presidential pardon [text; JURIST report] earlier this week. Estrada had been held for over six years on corruption charges. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to issue the pardon has been questioned by her critics as Article VII, Section 19 of the Philippines Constitution [text] prohibits the president from pardoning those who have been impeached. Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera on Friday defended the pardon as properly issued because although impeachment proceedings against Estrada began in the Philippines Senate, Estrada left office before any impeachment actually took place. Devandera also noted that the pardon was for Estrada's conviction for violating the nation's economic plunder law [text]. AP has more. The Sun-Star Manila has local coverage.

Held under house arrest since 2001, Estrada was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] last month after his conviction for stashing some $77 million in gambling payoffs, kickbacks and illegal commissions in secret bank accounts under an alias. In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered Estrada to pay $15.5 million, and under the terms of the pardon "The forfeitures imposed by the Sandiganbayan remain in force and in full, including all writs and processes issued by the Sandiganbayanin pursuance hereof, except for the bank account(s) he owned before his tenure as President."






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UK government launches Bill of Rights drive in move towards written constitution
Bernard Hibbitts on October 26, 2007 11:08 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] Thursday announced the launch of a nationwide public consultation [press release] leading to a new as-yet-undrafted "Bill of Rights and Duties" in what he described as part of a process of "moving towards a written constitution" for the United Kingdom. Brown initially laid out a series of proposed UK constitutional reforms [JURIST report] - including the idea of a rights charter - in July, shortly after taking over from Labour Party predecessor Tony Blair. Speaking at the University of Westminster [transcript], Brown said that the consultation would include "a discussion of how we can entrench and enhance our liberties - building upon existing rights and freedoms but not diluting them - but also make more explicit the responsibilities that implicitly accompany rights" in a changing world where "traditional questions about the freedoms and responsibilities of the individual re-emerge but also where new issues of terrorism and security, the Internet and modern technology are opening new frontiers...". The Guardian has more.

The UK currently has no single overarching constitutional document or rights charter, although its working "unwritten constitution" includes a variety of fundamental statutes such as the Magna Carta supported by a long judicial tradition of protecting civil liberties; the famous Bill of Rights of 1689 [text] actually addresses taxes more than fundamental freedoms. Several British rights groups - including Liberty, the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties and Charter 88 [advocacy websites] - have long pushed for a substantive UK Bill of Rights, and the idea has been politically championed by the Liberal Democrats, although only recently has it gained support among leaders of the leading Labour and Conservative [JURIST report] parties.

Speaking at Cambridge University [transcript] Thursday after introducing the consultation in the House of Commons, Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw seemed to suggest that a written charter of rights might usefully circumscribe "judicial activism", noteworthy in that the British executive has lately been mired in an ongoing power struggle with the judiciary [JURIST news archive], especially over the legality of various anti-terrorism and security measures:

Over many years there has been debate about the idea of developing a list of the rights and obligations that go with being a member of our society. A Bill of Rights and Responsibilities could give people a clearer idea of what we can expect from the state and from each other, and a framework for giving practical effect to our common values.

However, if specifically British rights were to be added to those we already enjoy by virtue of the European Convention, we would need to ensure that it would be of benefit to the country as a whole and not restrict the ability of the democratically elected government to decide upon the way in which resources are to be employed in the national interest. For example, some have argued for the incorporation of economic and social rights as they have in South African law into British law. But this would involve a significant shift from Parliament to the judiciary in making decisions that we currently hold to be the preserve of politicians including decisions around public spending, and implicitly, levels of taxation.

I entirely agree with the words of Lord Bingham, in his important speech on the rule of law when he said that the importance of predictability in law must preclude excessive innovation and adventurism by the judges, and that is echoed Justice Heydon of the High Court of Australia who suggests that judicial activism, taken to extremes, can spell the death of the rule of law.
A British Bill of Rights would also supplement albeit not replace the 1998 Human Rights Act [text] implementing for the UK the European Convention on Human Rights, invoked by British judges in several recent cases putting them at odds with government policy [JURIST report].

Justice Minister Michael Wills has said that a referendum on the eventual implementation of a Bill of Rights [BBC report] or written constitution would be "inevitable" because it would be a "fundamental alteration in the powers of Parliament". Additional proposals being brought forth as part of the Brown government's sweeping constitutional reform package [BBC Q&A] include giving British members of parliament the final say [consultation press release] on sending troops to war and providing a statutory foundation for parliament's right to ratify international treaties, reducing ministerial influence over judicial appointments [Times report; consultation press release] and allowing MPs to question judicial appointees after the fact, and lifting restrictions on protests near the parliament buildings at Westminster.





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Peru justice minister apologizes for Fujimori-era university massacre
Jaime Jansen on October 26, 2007 8:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Peruvian Justice Minister Maria Zavala [official website] Thursday apologized for the 1992 death squad killings of nine university students and a professor in the so-called La Cantuta massacre [backgrounder] during the regime of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Fujimori is facing trial in Peru in November in connection with the killings. The head of a special three-judge panel of Peru's Supreme Court said earlier this month that the court would ultimately consolidate six separate charges [JURIST report] against Fujimori into three "megatrials" and one other trial proceeding.

Chile turned Fujimori over [JURIST report] to Peru last month following the Chilean Supreme Court's decision [JURIST report] to allow his extradition on human rights and corruption charges. Thousands of protesters [JURIST report] gathered in the streets of Lima, Peru upon Fujimori's return, demanding his release. Fujimori was held under house arrest in Chile after being arrested in December 2005 after flying into Chile from Japan to campaign for the Peruvian presidency, despite having been officially banned from holding public office until 2010 [JURIST reports]. He served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. AP has more.






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Rights groups file war crimes suit against Rumsfeld in France
Jaime Jansen on October 26, 2007 8:10 AM ET

[JURIST] European and US-based rights groups filed a lawsuit [press release] against former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld [official profile] with the Paris prosecutor Friday coincident with Rumsfeld's arrival in Paris to deliver a speech sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine. In their complaint [PDF text; additional materials] the French-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) [advocacy websites] allege that Rumsfeld authorized harsh interrogation tactics that amount to torture. The rights groups insist that France is obligated to prosecute Rumsfeld since authorities in the US and Iraq have failed to launch an independent investigation into his responsibility for the alleged torture. They have also called on French officials to arrest Rumsfeld while in Paris, saying it had authority to detain him under the Convention Against Torture [text].

The FIDH and CCR have already filed two similar suits [JURIST report] against Rumsfeld in Germany seeking accountability for acts of torture allegedly committed at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and in Afghanistan [JURIST news archives]. In April, the office of the German Federal Prosecutor [official website, in German] declined to investigate the latest war crimes claim [ASIL backgrounder; PDF introduction, in English] against Rumsfeld and other high-ranking US officials. The German lawyers subsequently said they would take their case to Spain [JURIST report]. Two other complaints were filed against Rumsfeld in Argentina in 2005 and Sweden in 2007. Reuters has more.






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Iraq parliament speaker objects to execution of Saddam-era defense minister
Jaime Jansen on October 26, 2007 7:43 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani Thursday objected to the execution of former Saddam Hussein-era Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Tai [TrialWatch profile], joining a group of Iraqi political leaders speaking out against the planned execution. Al-Mashhadani said that executing al-Tai would cause military officers to question their commanders' orders out of fear that they could be held accountable after the governing regime changes. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile] last month objected to al-Tai's planned execution [JURIST report], saying that al-Tai should receive clemency because he was only acting under the threat of death from Hussein and had worked with the Kurdish community while he was an official in Hussein's regime. A prosecutor has said that any death sentence must be approved by the government and the president's office, and Talabani has said he will not approve the execution. The Appeals Chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website] last month upheld [JURIST report] al-Tai's death sentence and has also said that a death sentence need not be approved [JURIST report] by the president's office. The US has not handed over custody of al-Tai [JURIST report], saying they are waiting for a proper request from Talabani.

Al-Tai and two other former officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, including Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - known in the Western media as "Chemical Ali" [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] - were all convicted in June of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds during the 1988 Anfal Campaign [HRW backgrounder]. Al-Majid has repeatedly denied the allegations [JURIST report], saying that he does not know who used chemical weapons or "if they were ever used." Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] was also a co-defendant in the Anfal genocide trial [JURIST news archive] before he was executed in December 2006. Talabani similarly refused to sign Hussein's death warrant [JURIST report], invoking his general opposition to the death penalty. That death warrant was subsequently signed by Talabani's vice-presidents. AP has more.






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Ukraine high court dismisses legal challenge to parliamentary election results
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 25, 2007 9:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The High Administrative Court of Ukraine Thursday validated the results of the Sept. 30 parliamentary election [JURIST report] after dismissing a legal challenge by the Communist Party of Ukraine [party website, in Ukrainian] contending the vote was invalid due to alleged violations associated with Ukrainians voting abroad. The coalition [press release] of President Viktor Yuschenko's Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense Bloc [party website in Ukrainian] and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc [party website, in Ukrainian] won 228 seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada [official website, in Ukrainian], while the opposition Party of Regions [party website, in Ukrainian], led by Yuschenko's long-time rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich [BBC profile], won 175 seats. AP has more.

The court's decision could help settle tensions in the Ukraine, which has been engulfed in political turmoil in recent months. A constitutional crisis erupted in April when Yushchenko issued a degree dissolving parliament [JURIST report]. Yanukovich and leaders of the Ukrainian parliament filed a legal challenge before the Constitutional Court of Ukraine [official website; JURIST news archive]. Yushchenko subsequently dismissed three Constitutional Court judges for alleged oath and ethnics violations [JURIST report], and appointed replacement judges [JURIST report] without consulting either Yanukovich or the Justice Ministry. In May, Yushchenko sought a lower court order to block the Constitutional Court from ruling on his April 2 decree following his rejection of the Constitutional Court's authority [JURIST reports].






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Bush offers to share secret surveillance documents with Senate judiciary panel leaders
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 25, 2007 7:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The White House Thursday agreed to let US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites] see classified documents pertaining to President George W. Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive], in hopes that it would speed up the approval of proposed legislation to grant telecommunications companies immunity from prosecution [JURIST report] for assisting in government eavesdropping between 2001 and 2007. Leahy, however, has insisted that the entire committee be allowed to view the documents before he will consider endorsing the immunity provisions, and other committee members have followed suit. Bush has threatened to veto any revised surveillance bill that does not include the immunity provisions.

Leahy and Specter sent a letter [PDF text] Monday to White House counsel Fred Fielding demanding the Bush administration comply with subpoenas [press release] for information about the warrantless domestic surveillance program. The committee formally subpoenaed the documents on June 27 in regards to proposed legislation to amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The subpoenas mentioned in Leahy's and Specter's letter cover documents and information relevant to the legislation planned by Congress to amend FISA permanently. Leahy and Specter have criticized the White House for sharing some documents on the program with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which debated [JURIST report] and approved the Senate version of the bill last week, while keeping them from the Judiciary Committee. AP has more.






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Leahy, Durbin say Mukasey waterboarding answer key to vote on AG nomination
Steve Czajkowski on October 25, 2007 7:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Two key Democrats on the US Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday that their votes on the nomination of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey [WH fact sheet] as attorney general will depend on Mukasey's stance on whether the interrogation technique waterboarding constitutes torture. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official website], each said that their votes will be based on whether Mukasey officially states that waterboarding - a technique that replicates the effects of being drowned - is a form of torture. On the final day of his confirmation hearing, Mukasey avoided direct answers to questions about the legality of specific interrogation techniques because he considered such comments to be irresponsible "when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques." Leahy has not yet set a date for the Judiciary Committee to vote on Mukasey's nomination and has said that he will not do so until Mukasey clarifies his position on waterboarding. Ten of the committee's 19 members must vote in favor of the nomination in order to send Mukasey's nomination to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.

Congress prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of persons under the custody or control of the United States government in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST text]. In April 2006, more than 100 US law professors insisted in an open letter [text] to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that waterboarding is torture, punishable as a felony offense. President George W. Bush nominated Mukasey [JURIST report] in September to replace Gonzales, who submitted his resignation [JURIST report] in August. AP has more.

ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: Waterboarding: The Key Question for Mukasey | Op-ed: Mukasey on Torture: Of Sins, Mistakes and Crimes





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Sponsors of US House Armenian genocide resolution urge vote delay
Nick Fiske on October 25, 2007 7:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Representatives in the US House of Representatives have asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay a vote on a resolution [HR 106 materials; text] labeling as genocide the World War I-era killings of over one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers [ANCA backgrounder; Turkish DC Embassy backgrounder]. The proposed legislation was approved by the House Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month and was expected to reach the floor [JURIST reports] before Congress recessed for the year. Four of the bill's primary supporters, however, sent a letter to Pelosi Wednesday expressing concern over the possibility of the resolution failing a House vote amid increasing concern about the resolution's effect on US-Turkey relations. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before Congress Wednesday that, if passed, the resolution could "severely harm" US-Turkish relations [JURIST report].

Turkey has long objected [JURIST comment] to any attempts to classify the 1915 Armenian killings as genocide. Several other countries - including France, Canada and Argentina - have nonetheless passed laws or resolutions [BBC backgrounder] to that effect. AP has more.






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Canada Supreme Court to hear Khadr appeal on government documents access
Benjamin Klein on October 25, 2007 6:54 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] Thursday agreed to hear an appeal over the asserted right of Canadian Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive] to see thousands of pages of Canadian government documents related to his case. Lawyers for Khadr, who was born in Toronto, will face off against Canadian Justice Department [official website] lawyers who oppose the access. In May of this year, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overruled a lower court decision [judgment text] barring Khadr's access to documents compiled by Canadian officials following interviews with Khadr at Guantanamo. Invoking the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [official text], the appeals court concluded that Khadr had a right to see any evidence that could affect his right to a full defense.

Khadr was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban. He was only 15 at the time. Early US military commission proceedings against him were effectively quashed by the US Supreme Court’s rejection of the presidentially-established military commission [opinion text] as unconstitutional in June 2006. He was formally recharged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April of this year under the new Military Commissions Act [PDF text] with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism as well as spying. Those charges were later dismissed by a military judge as improper but were subsequently reinstated [JURIST reports] by the new US Court of Military Commission Review. Khadr's lawyers are currently attempting to appeal that ruling [JURIST reports] to a US federal court. Canadian Press has more.






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Congress considers putting armed contractors under military jurisdiction
Mike Rosen-Molina on October 25, 2007 6:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Congress is taking steps to put all armed US contractors working in combat zones under the jurisdiction of the US military, according to Thursday reports. Earlier this month, the Senate included such a provision in its 2008 defense authorization bill [HR 1585 materials], and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Carl Levin said Wednesday that he expects the House to include it in the final version of the bill to be sent to President Bush. The move comes at the recommendation of Pentagon officials; contractors working for the US Department of Defense are already being asked to sign contracts making them subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to a report [text] in the Washington Post. AP has more.

The idea of making all US contractors subject to military jurisdiction and military law may be opposed by US Department of State, which has laid down [press release] its own new rules and procedures governing the operation of US private security contractors working with its own personnel in Iraq. The new rules were laid down after Blackwater [corporate website; JURIST news archive] company guards working for the State Department killed 17 civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square on September 16.

8:45 PM ET - Answering questions relating to the status of US contractors in Iraq during a hearing Thursday on Iraqi corruption before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] Secretary of State Rice said she was not opposed to new laws to fill what she called a "hole" in US law governing the potential criminal liability of US contractors for actions in Iraq, but had concerns about whether contractors should be subject to military law. The New York Times has more.






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US, Australia willing to join talks on Kyoto accord replacement: UN official
Nick Fiske on October 25, 2007 6:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UFCCC) [official website], said Thursday that the United States and Australia want to participate in negotiations for a new global agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol [PDF text; JURIST news archive], set to expire in 2012. The statement by Yvo de Boer [official profile] followed an informal meeting of world leaders in Bogor, Indonesia [press release] earlier this week in which the two countries - the only two Western industrialized nations to refuse to sign Kyoto - urged developing nations to join in efforts to stop global warming. Their comments were aimed specifically towards countries such as China and India who argue that such measures would restrict their growing economies. The US hopes the new negotiations will begin as early as this December, when the UNFCCC convenes in Bali [press release].

Both the US and Australia have faced intense criticism [JURIST comment] as a result of their opposition to the Kyoto pact, the first comprehensive international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developed and developing nations. Word of their willingness to join new climate change negotiations comes in a year filled with UN-sponsored discussions on the effects of global warming and only weeks after former US Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control [official website] received the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change" [press release]. AP has more.






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Iraq PM shielding officials from corruption probes: US congressman
Steve Czajkowski on October 25, 2007 5:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile] has ordered [letter, PDF] that his approval be obtained before any government minister or official from the president's office be charged with corruption, the chair of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] said Thursday. During a committee hearing [COGR materials] on the State Department and the Iraq war, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) made public an April 2007 letter [PDF text] from al-Maliki's office sent to the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity [US State Dept. backgrounder] which states:

It has been decided not to refer any of the following parties to the court until approval of His Excellency, the Prime Minister, is obtained:
    1. Presidential office
    2. Council of Ministers
    3. Current and previous minister
Waxman asked US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [official profile] about the letter, who said she would review the document but noted that the US would not accept any policy that provides immunity to members of the Iraqi government.

The letter was turned over to the committee by Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former chief of the Commission on Public Integrity. Al-Radhi has accused the Iraqi government of protecting corrupt employees and attempting to influence the commission [JURIST report]. He resigned from the commission in September while on official business in the United States, citing the increase in death threats against him and his family, though there have also been corruption allegations against al-Radhi [JURIST report]. The commission was established [press release] in 2004 and has the power to investigate complaints, refer criminal violations to the courts, and propose legislation to address corruption. In April, a US auditor's report [PDF text; JURIST report] found that efforts to combat widespread corruption in Iraq [JURIST news archive] were hindered by security problems and by al-Maliki's reinstatement of a Saddam-era criminal procedure code [PDF text] provision allowing ministers to block corruption investigations of their own departments. AFP has more.





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BP settles fraud, environmental crime lawsuits for over $370M
Alexis Unkovic on October 25, 2007 4:08 PM ET

[JURIST] British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] will pay approximately $373 million in fines and restitution to settle three separate claims [press release] against the corporation, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thursday. BP will pay just over $300 million in criminal penalties and restitution as part of an agreement [CFTC press release] to defer the prosecution of a civil lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official website] in June 2006 alleging that at least six current and former employees of BP North America violated the Commodity Exchange Act [text] by using BP's dominant market position to manipulate propane prices. In related news, a federal grand jury in Chicago Thursday indicted four former BP employees on mail and wire fraud charges, as well as violations of the Commodity Exchange Act, for conspiring to manipulate propane prices during the same time period.

In the first of two environmental settlements Thursday, BP agreed to pay $20 million to resolve an investigation [JURIST report] initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency into BP's alleged violation of the Clean Water Act [text] in response to the spill of an estimated 134,000 to 267,000 gallons of crude oil in Alaska in March 2006, the largest spill ever in Alaskan history [BBC report]. BP also said Thursday it would pay $50 million and plead guilty to a one-count felony violation of the Clean Air Act for alleged deficiencies at the company's Texas City refinery which resulted in an explosion that killed 15 people and injured hundreds more in 2005. BP issued a statement [press release] Thursday addressing the plea agreements and saying the company has made changes and "real progress" since the violations occurred. BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone also said:

These agreements are an admission that, in these instances, our operations failed to meet our own standards and the requirements of the law. For that, we apologize.
AP has more.





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Russia arrest of former Yukos exec violated rights convention: Europe court
Kiely Lewandowski on October 25, 2007 3:14 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday ruled [judgment; press release] that Russia's arrest and pre-trial detention of former Yukos executive Platon Lebedev [defense website] violated Lebedev's right to liberty and security under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text]. Lebedev was arrested in 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges. According to the ECHR press release, the court held:

  • unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 5 [Section] 1 (c) concerning Mr Lebedev's unauthorised detention between 31 March and 6 April 2004;

  • by four votes to three, that there had been a violation of Article 5 [Section] 3 (right to be brought promptly before a judge) concerning the absence of Mr Lebedev's lawyers at a hearing on 3 July 2003;

  • by five votes to two, that there had been a violation of Article 5 [Section] 4 (right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court) concerning delays in the review of the detention order of 26 December 2003;

  • unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 5 [Section] 4 concerning delays in the review of the detention order of 6 April 2004;

  • unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 5 [Section] 4 concerning Mr Lebedev's absence from the detention hearing on 8 June 2004; and,

  • unanimously, that there had been no failure to comply with Article 34 (right of individual petition).
  • The Court awarded Lebedev more than $4,300 in damages and almost $10,000 to cover legal fees.

    Lebedev, a former top manager of Yukos which was once Russia's largest oil company, was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in May 2005. Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] was also convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] and has two cases pending before the Strasbourg-based ECHR. Russian prosecutors indicted Lebedev and Khodorkovsky on new money laundering charges [JURIST report] in early 2007. Russia insisted these charges are not politically motivated, but Khodorkovsky and the United States disagree [JURIST reports]. AP has more.





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    Cambodia seeking additional funding for Khmer Rouge tribunal
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 25, 2007 2:19 PM ET

    [JURIST] Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong [official website] told reporters Thursday that the joint Cambodia-UN tribunal that will try former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide requires additional funds to extend its work into 2010. Although the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] was originally supposed to complete its work by 2009, numerous delays have pushed back the start of operations, which are now expected to begin in the middle of 2008. ECCC head of public affairs Helen Jarvis said the tribunal is still short $7.5 million of the $56.3 million initially budgeted [finance website], but did not say how much additional funding will be requested. Allegations of mismanaged administration and corruption [OSJI press release] could hamper the tribunal's efforts to secure more funding.

    The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians who died between 1975 and 1979. AP has more.






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    Federal appeals court refuses to re-hear appeal of Illinois ex-governor Ryan
    Alexis Unkovic on October 25, 2007 2:12 PM ET

    [JURIST] The full US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Thursday declined review [order, PDF] of the August ruling [JURIST report] of a three-judge Seventh Circuit panel affirming the conviction of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan [defense website] on fraud and corruption charges. Six of nine Seventh Circuit judges decided to deny Ryan's request for a rehearing en banc, though three judges dissented saying that the case "merited consideration" by the full court. The three-judge panel ruled that the district court judge acted properly in Ryan's trial when she replaced two jurors after it was discovered they had concealed their criminal backgrounds. Ryan may now begin his 6 1/2 year prison sentence [JURIST report], but his lawyer said that Ryan will file a motion to remain free while he appeals his case to the US Supreme Court. The Chicago Tribune has more.

    Ryan's trial began in 2005, and, in 2006, a jury found him guilty [JURIST reports] on multiple counts of corruption and fraud [indictment, PDF] in connection with a bribes-for-licenses scandal that occurred during Ryan's term as Illinois Secretary of State. Ryan made national headlines and won praise in some quarters in January 2003 when just before leaving office he commuted the executions of all Illinois inmates then on death row [CNN file report; Ryan speech].






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    House of Lords allows rights abuse lawsuits against Scotland prisons
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 25, 2007 1:13 PM ET

    [JURIST] A judicial panel of the British House of Lords [official websites] Wednesday narrowly ruled that Scottish subjects can pursue cases related to alleged human rights abuses [judgment text] of prisoners by the Scottish Prison Service [official website] occurring as far back as 1999. Considering a test case brought by prisoners [JURIST report] alleging that solitary confinement violated their rights, the Law Lords determined that the 1999 establishment of the Scottish Parliament [official website] eliminated the one year statute of limitations on such cases that continues to apply in England and Wales. The prisoners argued that they were placed in extended solitary confinement at the sole discretion of a prison governor, without recourse or third party scrutiny.

    Approximately 1700 inmates are additionally seeking compensation from the Scottish Prison Service for being forced to "slop out," which entails using a closed chamberpot in full view of other inmates. Approximately 220 "slop out" cases have already settled for a combined sum of £400,000. The devolved Scottish government [official website] has spent millions to upgrade Victorian-era prisons under its jurisdiction with modern sanitary facilities, or alternatively, to build new prisons. Although the prison service estimate of £71 million to cover alleged rights violations is less than an initial estimate of over £130 million, it is believed that the Law Lords' ruling will increase the number of claimants. The Guardian has more.






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    UN rights expert to investigate abuses allegations during Myanmar trip
    Joshua Pantesco on October 25, 2007 12:44 PM ET

    [JURIST] UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro [official profile] said Wednesday that he will investigate alleged human rights abuses [press release] during his November visit to Myanmar. The visit [JURIST report] will be the first time Pinheiro has been granted entrance to the country by Myanmar's military government since 2003, but Pinheiro said that he has received reports that detainees had been tortured, abused or denied food and medical attention during the recent crackdown on anti-government protest. Pinheiro said he expects to collect testimony and verify statistics on the number of people detained or killed by the government during the protests. Pinheiro has also called for the release of pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], currently under house arrest. Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her home Thursday for a brief meeting with a government official [AP report] who is coordinating Suu Kyi's contact with the military government and outside organizations, including the United Nations.

    In August, the government arrested hundreds of Buddhist monks who led the demonstrations, and detained an estimated 3,000 protesters [JURIST report]. According to the government, 10 people were killed by government soldiers who fired shots into nonviolent crowds [JURIST report], while dissident groups claim that 200 people have been killed since the crackdown began. Protests only subsided when junta troops effectively locked down Myanmar's major cities. Last week, the junta lifted the curfew and ban on assembly [JURIST report] that was imposed during the protests. UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari [official profile] is also scheduled to make a second visit to the country next month to continue efforts to encourage the country's military junta to move towards democratization and reconciliation. The UN News Centre has more.






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    Italy court dismisses murder case against US soldier accused in Iraq shooting
    Joshua Pantesco on October 25, 2007 12:20 PM ET

    [JURIST] An Italian trial court on Thursday dismissed a criminal case against a US soldier accused of murdering an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq, citing a lack of jurisdiction over the matter. Italian authorities had charged US Army Spc. Mario Lozano [defense website; Wikipedia profile] with the 2005 murder of Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and the attempted murders of agent Andrea Carpani and Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena [Wikipedia profile], but Lozano's lawyers argued in July that the Italian court lacked jurisdiction, as members of multinational forces in Iraq were under sole jurisdiction of their home country. The court delayed the case until September to allow prosecutors time to develop a rebuttal.

    The Italian agents and journalist were shot at while entering a US checkpoint [JURIST report] on the way to the Baghdad airport after the agents secured the release of Sgrena from Iraqi kidnappers. Although Italy has not officially asked for Lozano's extradition, the US has made it clear that any such request would be rejected. Lozano has denied all charges against him [JURIST report], maintaining that he fired upon the Italian vehicle in self-defense after numerous attempts to signal the vehicle to stop when entering his checkpoint failed. US and Italian officials have failed to agree [JURIST report] on details surrounding Calipari's death. A US investigation [JURIST report] into the incident cleared US soldiers of any wrongdoing but an initial Italian probe [JURIST report], while also concluding that the killing was accidental, found that there were serious miscommunications among US officials in Iraq, and confusion about the rules of engagement for checkpoints. BBC News has more. ANSA has local coverage, in Italian.






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    Bill giving children of illegal immigrants path to legal residency stalls in Senate
    Joshua Pantesco on October 25, 2007 11:01 AM ET

    [JURIST] The US Senate voted Wednesday against proceeding to a final vote on the DREAM Act of 2007 [PDF text; S 2205 materials], a bill that would amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 [text; unofficial summary] to allow certain children of illegal immigrants an opportunity to achieve legal residency. According to the Congressional Research Service bill summary [text], the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, in part:

    Authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to cancel the removal of, and adjust to conditional permanent resident status, an alien who: (1) entered the United States before his or her sixteenth birthday, and has been present in the United States for at least five years immediately preceding enactment of this Act; (2) is a person of good moral character; (3) is not inadmissible or deportable under specified grounds of the Immigration and Nationality Act; (4) at the time of application, has been admitted to an institution of higher education, or has earned a high school or equivalent diploma; (5) from the age of 16 and older, has never been under a final order of exclusion, deportation, or removal; and (6) is under 30 years old on the date of enactment of this Act.
    The motion to invoke cloture in order to limit debate on the bill and move toward a final vote needed 60 votes to pass but only received 52 [roll call]. Eight Democrats and 36 Republicans voted against the motion, and 12 Republicans, 38 Democrats, and two independents cast "yea" votes.

    Conventional wisdom holds that the DREAM Act was the last opportunity for the Senate to consider meaningful immigration reform [JURIST news archive] before the 2008 elections. In June, the Senate rejected [JURIST report] a proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill. Reuters has more. AFP has additional coverage.





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    Federal appeals court stays Alabama lethal injection execution
    Joshua Pantesco on October 25, 2007 10:33 AM ET

    [JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Wednesday stayed the execution [PDF opinion] of an Alabama man pending the Supreme Court's upcoming decision in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition, PDF; JURIST report], where the court has been asked to rule on the constitutionality of lethal injections. Lawyers for death row inmate Daniel L. Siebert argued that Alabama's lethal injection cocktail, combined with the drugs he takes to treat his pancreatic cancer, could result in unnecessary pain and suffering for Siebert, in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

    The normal Alabama lethal injection protocol is the same protocol being challenged in Baze v. Rees and, according to the 11th Circuit, is "used in every other state that administers the death penalty." Alabama had argued that Siebert's execution should be allowed under a modified protocol, but the Eleventh Circuit called the changes "minor" and refused to allow the execution, scheduled for Thursday, to proceed. Lawyers for the inmate in Baze v. Rees have argued that the three-drug mixture [DIPC backgrounder] at issue constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. Since the Supreme Court accepted the Baze case in September, courts have stayed executions in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, and Georgia [JURIST reports]. The New York Times has more.






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    Tunisia court convicts former Guantanamo Bay detainee on terror charges
    Joshua Pantesco on October 25, 2007 9:46 AM ET

    [JURIST] A former Guantanamo Bay detainee was convicted by a Tunisian court Wednesday on criminal association charges and will serve three years in prison. The convict, Lotfi Lagha, had been charged with associating with a criminal group with the aim of harming or causing damage in Tunisia, though it is unclear which group he associated with, or what violent act was planned. AP has more.

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report [text; press release] in September accusing Tunisian officials of mistreating Lagha [JURIST report] and fellow captive Abdullah al-Hajji Ben Amor after they were returned to Tunisia from Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The US Department of Defense transferred [JURIST report] the two men back to Tunisia in June after they passed through a review process. Since 2002, approximately 445 detainees have been transferred out of Guantanamo and approximately 330 remain [press release].






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    Philippines ex-president pardoned on corruption charges
    Joshua Pantesco on October 25, 2007 9:10 AM ET

    [JURIST] Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada [BBC profile] received a presidential pardon Thursday from his former vice president and now President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website]. Estrada will be released from jail after having served six and a half years on corruption charges under the nation's economic plunder law [text] for allegedly stashing some $77 million in gambling payoffs, kickbacks and illegal commissions in secret bank accounts under an alias. The pardon [text] reads:

    WHEREAS this administration has a policy of releasing inmates who have reached the age of seventy (70),

    WHEREAS, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has been under detention for six and a half years,

    WHEREAS, Joseph Ejercito Estrada has publicly committed to no longer seek any elective position or office,

    IN VIEW HEREOF and pursuant to the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution, I hereby grant executive clemency to JOSEPH EJECRCITO ESTRADA, convicted by the Sandiganbayan of Plunder and imposed a penalty of Reclusion Perpetua. He is hereby restored to his civil and political rights.

    The forfeitures imposed by the Sandiganbayan remain in force and in full, including all writs and processes issued by the Sandiganbayanin pursuance hereof, except for the bank account(s) he owned before his tenure as President.

    Upon acceptance of this pardon JOSEPH EJERCITO ESTRADA, this pardon shall take effect.
    Estrada was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] last month after his conviction. In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered Estrada to pay $15.5 million.

    Estrada was forced from office and jailed during a 2001 revolt that brought Macapagal-Arroyo to power. He sent a letter [text] to Macapagal-Arroyo on Monday seeking the pardon [JURIST report]. AP has more.





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    Rice lobbies lawmakers against Armenian genocide resolution
    Dennis Zawacki II on October 24, 2007 6:00 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in testimony on US Middle East policy Wednesday that House members should discontinue an effort to pass a resolution condemning the World War-I era mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide [HR 106 materials]. The committee approved the resolution [JURIST report] earlier this month and it is waiting to be brought to House floor, but support for the measure among House members seems to be waning [JURIST report]. Rice urged Congress not to pass the resolution, bearing in mind shared US strategic interests with Turkey, a key ally of the United States in the war in Iraq. She said passage would "severely harm" US-Turkish relations. President Bush has similarly urged lawmakers not to endorse the measure.

    Turkey has long objected [JURIST comment] to any attempts to classify the Armenian killings as genocide. Several other countries - including France, Canada and Argentina - have nonetheless passed laws or resolutions [BBC backgrounder] to that effect. AFP has more.






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    State Department security chief forced out over Blackwater incident: report
    Deirdre Jurand on October 24, 2007 5:50 PM ET

    [JURIST] US State Department security chief Richard Griffin [official profile] submitted his resignation Wednesday under pressure following September's Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST archive] shooting of 17 Iraqis, according to AP citing unnamed officials. Griffin is assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the branch that oversees private security firms; his resignation will be effective November 1. Before becoming State Department security chief in mid-2005, Griffin served as deputy director of the US Secret Service and inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Griffin's resignation falls just a day after the State Department implemented additional rules and procedures [press statement] governing the operation of private US security contractors that work with its personnel in Iraq. Private security guards must now train in cultural awareness and Arabic, and their use of force will be more strictly monitored. Also Wednesday the Iraqi cabinet endorsed the findings of Iraqi official investigators [AP report] that the Blackwater USA guards deliberately shot the Iraqi civilians who were killed [JURIST report]. The cabinet is now pushing for the security firm to be expelled from the country. AP has more.






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    Former Argentina president charged over 2001 riot deaths
    Caitlin Price on October 24, 2007 3:50 PM ET

    [JURIST] Argentinean federal judge Claudio Bonadio Tuesday charged former president Fernando de la Rua [BBC profile] with five counts of manslaughter for failing to prevent the deaths of five demonstrators during 2001 confrontations with police in Buenos Aires. The deaths came during riots sparked by a national economic crisis [BBC report] that caused De la Rua to flee the presidential residence and eventually resign his office just two years into his term. The court has frozen $6.2 million of De la Rua's assets in response to the charges. De la Rua could face up to ten years in prison, although that may be reduced to house arrest due to his advanced age.

    De la Rua's former security chief and seven former police officers have already been charged in connection with the riots. While De la Rua would be the first democratically elected Argentinean leader to face charges based on conduct while in office, military dictator and former president Reynaldo Bignone [Wikipedia profile] will soon stand trial [JURIST report] for the kidnapping of children of dissidents killed during Argentina's 1976-83 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Bignone was the last of a series of military dictators to hold ofice in Argentina after 1976 before democracy was re-established in 1983. BBC News has more. Mercopress has additional coverage.






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    Rice admits shortcomings in US Arar rendition, but offers no apology
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 24, 2007 3:16 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified [recorded video] Wednesday in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee [official website] that the rendition [JURIST news archive] of Canadian citizen Maher Arar [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] was not "handled as it should have been," but stopped short of apologizing to the 37 year-old Syrian-born engineer. Arar was detained in the US in 2002 after flying to New York from Tunisia on his way home to Ottawa after a holiday and later deported to Syria, where he was tortured. Rice added that the US government has told the Canadian government that it will "try to do better in the future." This is the first time that the US government has admitted any mistakes in its handling of Arar's case.

    Last week Arar appeared before the same committee via video, accepting apologies from members of the committee [JURIST report] and expressing his hope that he would one day receive an official apology from the US government. The official Canadian investigation [official website] into Arar's rendition concluded that Canadian officials did not play a role [JURIST report] in the actual US decision to detain and deport Arar, but said that the US decision was "very likely" based on inaccurate, unfair and overstated information about Arar passed on by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Although Arar was cleared of any wrongdoing and received $10 million dollars and an official apology from the Canadian government as a settlement [JURIST report], the US has refused to remove Arar from its no-fly list, effectively barring him entering the US. CBC News has more.






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    Oil tanker company fined $2.5M after pleading guilty to Alaska spill coverup
    Caitlin Price on October 24, 2007 3:01 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US District Court for the District of Alaska [official website] Tuesday ordered ConocoPhillips [corporate website] subsidiary Polar Tankers, Inc. to pay $2.5 million in fines after it pleaded guilty to covering up a 2004 oil spill. In January 2004, crew members of the Polar Discovery failed to report that that tanker had leaked oil sludge into the ocean off the Alaska coast, and maneuvered the vessel to hide evidence of the spill. On Tuesday, Polar Tankers entered a guilty plea for improper maintenance of the oil record book. Judge H. Russel Holland issued a criminal fine of $500,000, half of which was awarded to a whistleblowing crewmember. A community service fine of $2 million was assessed, to be paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation [advocacy website] for future cleanup efforts in the region.

    The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance [official website] said the sentence showed that violators of oil spill and marine protection laws [materials] will be held accountable. Polar Tankers was also placed on probation for three years. AP has more.






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    Senate confirms embattled appeals court nominee
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 24, 2007 2:28 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US Senate Wednesday confirmed embattled Mississippi Court of Appeals Justice Leslie H. Southwick [official profile; nomination information] to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by a vote of 59-38 [roll call], despite broad criticism of the nominee from Democrats and civil rights groups. Southwick, who was unanimously given the highest possible rating of "well qualified" [ratings, PDF] by the American Bar Association, has in the past been accused of being insensitive to racism and homophobia. Republicans had promised earlier this year that delays in Southwick's confirmation would result in their moving to shut down Senate business [JURIST report].

    Of the nine Democrats who joined Republicans in supporting Southwick, several were members of the so called "Gang of 14" [JURIST report], who in 2005 avoided a filibuster showdown over several controversial confirmation hearings when Republicans controlled the Senate. Independent Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) [official website], a member of the Democratic side of the "Gang" in 2005, defended his vote to confirm Southwick, noting that Southwick did not write the court opinions in decisions that were criticized, and that Southwick consistently applied the proper appellate standards of review [press release] in his tenure on the Mississippi court. Bloomberg has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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    Global protests mark 12 years of detention for Myanmar activist Suu Kyi
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 24, 2007 1:21 PM ET

    [JURIST] Protesters in 12 cities around the world demonstrated against the Myanmar junta Wednesday to commemorate 12 years of detention [press release] for Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The protests coincided with an increase in international attention on Myanmar following the junta's violent September crackdown against anti-junta demonstrators, and came a day after the United Nations announced that Myanmar will allow UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to revisit the country several weeks earlier than previously planned [UN report]. On Monday, Myanmar said it will also allow UN Human Rights Investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to visit, lifting a ban against him that had been in place since 2003 [JURIST report].

    The Myanmar military junta said earlier this month that Suu Kyi [personal website] would likely not be released from house arrest [JURIST report] until a new constitution for the country is approved. Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, has spent 11 of the past 17 years in prison or under house arrest for alleged violations of an anti-subversion law [text]. AP has more.






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    Microsoft withdraws final appeals of EU antitrust ruling
    Brett Murphy on October 24, 2007 12:32 PM ET

    [JURIST] Microsoft [corporate website; JURIST news archive] announced Wednesday that it has withdrawn its last two appeals [press release] of a European Union antitrust ruling [text; EU materials] requiring the software giant to share technical information with competitors. The software giant dropped an appeal of the €280.5 million fine imposed on it in July 2006 for antitrust violations and a second appeal of a European Commission order that the company license its programs to open source systems like Linux. On Monday, the European Commission [official website] said that Microsoft had agreed to take the necessary steps [JURIST report] to comply with its ruling by allowing open source software developers to access and use interoperability information and by reducing the royalties for a worldwide license.

    Last month the European Court of First Instance upheld [text] the European Commission's 2004 landmark ruling [JURIST report] against Microsoft's appeal [JURIST report] of the $613 million fine and order for Microsoft to share its communications code with competitors. The court agreed with the Commission that Microsoft had abused its monopoly power [JURIST report] in the computer market by trying to force consumers into buying Microsoft software, noting that selling media software with its Windows operating system damaged European competitors. AP has more.






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    Canada bill would reinstate controversial anti-terror measures
    Brett Murphy on October 24, 2007 11:52 AM ET

    [JURIST] The Canadian government introduced a bill [S-3 text] Tuesday that would revive two controversial anti-terrorism provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act [materials] that expired earlier this year. The bill, brought forward in the Senate, would force anyone with relevant information on terrorist actions to go before a judge and would allow police to detain any person thought to be planning an attack. Several safeguards have been added to the provisions, including the requirement that police demonstrate to a judge that they have exhausted all other means before asking for an investigative hearing.

    On Monday, the Canadian government also introduced [JURIST report] a new bill on security certificates [PSC backgrounder] in response to a February Supreme Court decision [text] that gave it one year to re-write existing law or have it voided as unconstitutional. Security certificates allow the Canadian government to detain and deport foreign terrorist suspects in private hearings without the presence of the suspects or their lawyers. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled [opinion text] in February that the government's use of security certificates violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text; CDCH materials]. The Globe and Mail has more.






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    HRW condemns Pakistan president for threatening judiciary
    Brett Murphy on October 24, 2007 11:10 AM ET

    [JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] Wednesday slammed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official website] for threatening and intimidating the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] in the days leading up to the court's decision on petitions challenging Musharraf's bid for re-election as improper due to his dual role as president and army chief. In a statement [press release], HRW said:

    The Pakistani government should end attempts to intimidate the country's Supreme Court as it hears legal challenges to General Pervez Musharraf's controversial October 6 re-election...

    Musharraf should publicly state that he will accept the decision of the Supreme Court and withdraw the threat of martial law...The government is attempting to frighten the judiciary into submission and is holding Pakistan, its constitution and its people hostage to Musharraf's desire to cling to power.
    The court is scheduled to announce its decision in the case by the end of next week [Xinhua report].

    On Monday, a Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice said that martial law continues to "haunt" the country [JURIST report], despite efforts to move past the issue. Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday said that the court has been unable to forget official threats, although Justice Javed Iqbal insisted last week that such statements would not affect its pending decision [JURIST reports]. Earlier this month, Musharraf won an overwhelming victory [JURIST report] in legislative elections for the presidency, according to unofficial results. The Supreme Court ruled before the election that the controversial ballot could proceed even though Musharraf continued to serve as army chief, but it barred the Election Commission of Pakistan [official website] from officially declaring a winner until the high court rules on whether Musharraf was in fact eligible to run under the circumstances. His current term expires November 15. ANI has more.





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    US House committee approves personal online data protection bill
    Brett Murphy on October 24, 2007 10:19 AM ET

    [JURIST] The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] voted Tuesday in favor of the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 [HR 275 materials], a bill aimed at preventing US Internet companies from turning over users' personal information to governments that would use the data to quash dissent. The bill would create a right for individuals to sue companies that disclose information to foreign regimes and also mandate that Internet service providers report restrictions imposed on them by foreign nations. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill's sponsor, said Tuesday that the legislation will strengthen US efforts to ensure online freedom [press release]. The bill must still be approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website] before it can go before the full House.

    The bill was introduced as a reaction to allegations that Yahoo! Inc. [corporate website] had handed over information to China that led to the arrest and sentencing of writer Li Zhi. The House Foreign Affairs committee last week summoned [JURIST report] Yahoo! chief executive Jerry Yang to testify before a hearing next month regarding allegations that the Internet giant gave false information to Congress about its role in human rights violations committed by the Chinese government. In April, the World Organization for Human Rights USA [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Yahoo! on behalf of an incarcerated Chinese activist, alleging that the company aided and abetted human rights violations by providing Chinese officials with information, including e-mail records and user ID numbers, that helped them to identify pro-democracy activists. Reuters has more.






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    Spain indicts 22 connected to terrorist recruiting group
    Brett Murphy on October 24, 2007 9:51 AM ET

    [JURIST] Spanish anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] issued indictments for 22 people on charges of participating in or collaborating with a terrorist organization that recruits fighters to aid al Qaeda in Iraq, the Spanish National Court said Tuesday. According to prosecutors, those recruited are sent to Egypt to learn Arabic and religion before being sent to Iraq to take part in terror attacks by way of a network of cells in Saudi Arabia and Syria. France is currently detaining six men for participating in a similar scheme.

    Among those indicted in Spain is Omar Nackhcha, the suspected head of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat [Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder], who is also accused of helping those involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings [JURIST news archive] avoid prosecution. AP has more.






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    New York appeals court upholds unconstitutionality of state death penalty
    Brett Murphy on October 24, 2007 9:13 AM ET

    [JURIST] The highest court in New York state Tuesday narrowly ruled [opinion, PDF] against overturning state precedent holding the state's death penalty law unconstitutional. Urged to create an exception for a man who murdered five people at a Queens Wendy's in May 2000, the New York Court of Appeals upheld by 4-3 its 2004 decision in People v. LaValle [PDF text] that had rejected New York's death penalty "jury deadlock" instructions as unconstitutional, holding that a trial court's instruction that the jury must unanimously vote in favor of the death penalty or risk allowing a sentence where the defendant could eventually be released on parole contained a coercive element. The court wrote that:

    the death penalty sentencing statute is unconstitutional on its face and it is not within our power to save the statute. LaValle is thus entitled to full precedential value. The Legislature, mindful of our State's due process protections, may reenact a sentencing statute that is free of coercion and cognizant of a jury's need to know the consequences of its choice.
    The defendant was originally sentenced to death and will now serve a term of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

    Last month, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in the case of Baze v. Rees, in which the Court will consider whether lethal injections of death row inmates constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Newsday has more.





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    Amnesty criticizes Palestinian factions for rights abuses in political violence
    Natalie Hrubos on October 24, 2007 8:34 AM ET

    [JURIST] Amnesty International [advocacy website] released a 58-page report [text] Wednesday criticizing the two main Palestinian political factions, Hamas [BBC backgrounder] and Fatah [BBC backgrounder], for political violence in the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] and West Bank that has destroyed the lives of hundreds of civilians and led to human rights abuses, including illegal detention and torture. The report recognized the weakness of Palestinian institutions to stop the internecine violence, but insisted that the circumstances of the Israeli occupation and repeated attacks by Israel on Palestinian targets had also been used as excuses for inaction:

    The lawlessness which has increasingly gripped the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, culminating in the unprecedented inter-factional violence which occurred in the first half of 2007, is to a large extent the result of the prolonged and systematic failure of the PA [Palestinian Authority] to uphold and enforce the law, to curb the proliferation of unlicensed weapons in the hands of private individuals and groups, and to hold both armed groups and members of the PA security forces who commit human rights abuses accountable for their crimes. Lawlessness has been stimulated by an increasingly entrenched climate of impunity, which has served only to fuel abuses and to bring the PA’s law enforcement and judicial institutions and mechanisms into disrepute within the wider Palestinian community they are supposed to serve.

    Amnesty International recognizes that the PA’s ability to fulfill its law-enforcement and administration of justice duties has been severely constrained by outside factors resulting from the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including repeated attacks by the Israeli army against PA security installations and other institutions and restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement and operational capability of the PA security forces in the areas under the PA jurisdiction. Notwithstanding this reality, the organization believes that the PA has too often used these constraints as a pretext to justify its lack of political will and its failure to act against Palestinian armed groups and powerful interest groups responsible for serious crimes – whether against other Palestinians or against Israeli civilians and foreigners.
    Tensions between the Islamist Hamas and more secular Fatah movement heightened after Hamas defeated Fatah [JURIST report] in the 2006 Palestianian parliamentary elections, causing a major political shift in the region. Hamas refused to distance itself from terrorism or recognize Israel's right to exist as a nation-state, resulting in increased ostracism by the United States, the European Union, and Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas eventually dissolved the Hamas-led government, but Hamas continues to exercise de facto power in Gaza [JURIST report] after a violent take-over [JP report] of the area in June. Fatah controls the West Bank. BBC News has more. AP has additional coverage.





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    US terror watch list tops 755,000 names: GAO
    Natalie Hrubos on October 24, 2007 7:57 AM ET

    [JURIST] The number of names on the US terror watch list [FBI FAQ] has increased to over 755,000, according to a new report [PDF text; highlights, PDF] by the US Government Accountability Office [official website] slated to be the focus of a Wednesday hearing [notice] in the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The GAO report noted that "within the federal community, there is general agreement that the watch list has helped to combat terrorism," but said that:

    some subjects of watch list records have passed undetected through agency screening processes and were not identified, for example, until after they had boarded and flew on an aircraft or were processed at a port of entry and admitted into the United States. TSC and other federal agencies have ongoing initiatives to help reduce these potential vulnerabilities, including efforts to improve computerized name-matching programs and the quality of watch list data.
    The terror watch list has grown by about 200,000 names per year since 2004; critics warn that the rapidly increasing size of the list undermines its authority and throws its accuracy into question.

    Last year's GAO report on the terror watch list [JURIST report] revealed that the list contained errors that resulted in delays for thousands of travelers moving in and through the US. USA Today has more.

    5:21 PM ET - In a related development Wednesday, the US Terrorist Screening Center [official website] has announced that several federal agencies - including the Justice Department, FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security - have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Terrorist Watchlist Redress Procedures [press release; fact sheet]. The memorandum of understanding is designed to "standardize[] the pre-existing inter-agency watchlist redress process," which has been set up in order to "ensure[] that information on the watchlist and related U.S. government information systems will be reviewed for accuracy and that, where warranted, errors are corrected."





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    UN urges end to impunity for violence against women
    Natalie Hrubos on October 24, 2007 7:10 AM ET

    [JURIST] The UN Security Council [official website] expressed deep concern Tuesday about violence against women which has "remained pervasive despite [the Security Council's] repeated condemnation of all acts of violence, including killing, maiming, sexual violence, exploitation and abuse in situations of armed conflict." During a day-long debate on women, peace, and security [press release], the Council called for nations to end impunity for rape [JURIST report] and other forms of sexual violence and to fully and effectively implement Resolution 1325 [text, PDF], which aims to increase the participation of women in peace processes. More than 50 speakers participated in the debate, including Assistant Secretary-General Rachel Mayanja [UN profile], who called impunity for perpetrators "morally reprehensible and unacceptable." Mayanja said: "Sexual violence in conflict, particularly rape, should be named for what it is: not a private act or the unfortunate misbehavior of a renegade soldier, but aggression, torture, war crime and genocide."

    In September 2006, UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland [official profile] told the Security Council that sexual abuse of women and girls by soldiers in the strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo [JURIST news archive] had "become a cancer in Congolese society that seems to be out of control." A July 2005 report prepared at the instance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] criticized the Sudanese government [JURIST report] for its inaction in allowing sexual violence in the turbulent Darfur region [JURIST news archive] to continue and for the lack of prosecutions against government supported forces accused in the attacks. UN officials continue to document violations [JURIST report] in those regions and many others. AP has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.






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    Venezuela students protest 'undemocratic' proposed constitutional reforms
    Lisl Brunner on October 24, 2007 6:37 AM ET

    [JURIST] Thousands of Venezuelan students on Tuesday protested the proposed constitutional reforms [JURIST report] advanced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] which are currently under consideration in the Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish]. On Saturday, the National Assembly approved a proposal to eliminate presidential term limits [AFP report, in Spanish], and a provision that would allow the president to suspend civil liberties during a state of emergency is still under debate. Police clashed with the students and blocked them from approaching the National Assembly, although a group of protesters was permitted to enter and present a list of concerns to the parliament.

    The university students have joined a growing group of critics [JURIST report] who claim that the constitutional reforms will undermine democracy and violate international human rights law [HRW press release]. Members of the opposition have accused Chavez [JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power, and even the pro-government party Podemos [party website] has characterized some of the amendments as unconstitutional. The reforms must pass a national referendum, expected to be held on December 2, before they become law. AP has more. IPS has local coverage, in Spanish.






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    State Department lays down more rules for private security contractors in Iraq
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 23, 2007 8:48 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US State Department Tuesday laid down [press release] additional rules and procedures governing the operation of US private security contractors working with its personnel in Iraq. The new rules, supplementing a series of interim measures [JURIST report] announced earlier this month, are likewise based on the recommendations of a report [PDF text] by the Secretary of State's Panel on Personal Protective Services set up after Blackwater [corporate website; JURIST news archive] company guards working for the State Department killed up to 13 civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square on September 16. Contractors will now be required to provide a certain number of Arabic-speaking employees and to provide their employees more comprehensive training. Private security guards will also be subject to stricter rules regarding the use of force. An Embassy Joint Incident Review Board will be set up to investigate incidents where deadly force is used.

    Panel head Patrick Kennedy said that the rules were needed to establish a legal framework [briefing transcript] to better restrain and police private security firms; the firms have largely operated free from oversight due to legal loopholes [JURIST report]. In response to the September 16 incident, the Iraqi government said it had revoked Blackwater's operating license [WP report]. Blackwater maintains that the shootings were provoked [JURIST report], and has made long-term plans to stay in Iraq, despite the Iraqi action. Reuters has more.






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    Nigeria anti-corruption chief says charges coming for 6 former governors
    Devin Montgomery on October 23, 2007 6:08 PM ET

    [JURIST] As many as six additional former Nigerian governors will be charged with corruption by the end of the year, Nigerian anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu [official profile] said Tuesday. Ribadu, the chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [official website], would not reveal the names of the those to be charged or the specific allegations, but in an interview with AP said that more governors would "definitely" be charged.

    The Commission was formed in 2002 by the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act [text] as part of an anti-corruption push by then-president Olusegun Obasanjo [BBC profile] who was himself indicted for corruption [JURIST report] in March. The Commission is currently prosecuting five former state governors. Former state governor Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha was sentenced [JURIST report] in July to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to six counts of corruption and money laundering. A Human Rights Watch report issued earlier this month warned that corruption in Nigeria [JURIST news archive] has reached a crisis level and said that government could be compared to a criminal organization [HRW report; JURIST report]. AP has more.






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    France passes bill allowing DNA tests for immigrants
    Deirdre Jurand on October 23, 2007 6:02 PM ET

    [JURIST] The French parliament passed a strict immigration bill [text; dossier, both in French] Tuesday that requires language and cultural knowledge tests, as well as optional DNA testing, for immigrants who want to join their families in France. The bill was passed by French Senate [official website] in a 185-136 vote earlier this month after French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux [official profile, in French] made last-minute changes [Reuters report] to the DNA test section and the lower parliamentary house, the National Assembly [official website], passed the bill 282-235 Tuesday. Under the version adopted, the tests will be optional, sponsored by the state, will test only an applicant's maternal side so as to avoid potential disputes over paternity and will require the approval of a magistrate. Earlier versions of the bill [JURIST report] provided for mandatory testing. The DNA tests are meant primarily to verify family ties to French residents for potential immigrants who lack family records and to speed up the immigration process, but that provision has proved highly controversial. Critics argue that genetics should not be used to determine citizenship eligibility and opposition lawmakers have promised to challenge the law before France's Constitutional Court. BBC News has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

    The bill follows a campaign promise by French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile] to toughen the country's immigration policy, a move already begun by the introduction of deportation quotas seeking to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants in 2007. Prior to assuming the presidency [JURIST report], Sarkozy also took a tough stance on immigration while serving as interior minister. In February 2006, he proposed legislation [JURIST report] to enable the government to expel immigrants who did not make sufficient efforts to integrate in French society and seek work. In June 2006, the French parliament passed a conservative immigration bill [JURIST report] that tightened restrictions on unskilled, non-EU immigrants and required immigrants to sign a pledge to learn French and to abide by French law. In September 2006, Sarkozy announced that France had granted amnesty [JURIST report] to 6,924 illegal immigrants with school-age children, even though thousands more had applied. The move was criticized as "totally arbitrary" - an assertion that Sarkozy denied.






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    US investigators unable to account for $1.2B in Iraqi police training funds
    Caitlin Price on October 23, 2007 4:37 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US State Department cannot account for most of the $1.2 billion that it paid to a private contractor hired to train Iraqi police forces, according to an interim review report [PDF text; US State Department press briefing] from the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) [official website] released Tuesday. DynCorp International [corporate website] was contracted by the Department of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) [official website] in February 2004 to provide housing, security, and training support systems for the Iraqi civilian police training program. SIGIR's report said that DynCorp invoices and documents submitted to INL auditors were in "disarray" and had not been validated for accuracy prior to October 2006, and that

    As a result, INL does not know specifically what it received for most of the $1.2 billion in expenditures under its DynCorp contract for the Iraqi Police Training Program. INL's prior lack of controls created an environment vulnerable to waste and fraud.
    Auditors reported double billings, payments for expensive equipment that was never used - such as one $1.8 million X-ray scanner - and almost $400,000 in hotel costs for DynCorp officials. The report said that SIGIR will suspend the audit as INL increases its staff and gathers more concrete figures. CNN has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

    In March, SIGIR chief Stuart Bowen told the US Senate Judiciary Committee that investigators would apply stricter standards [JURIST report] when dealing with companies performing contract work in Iraq. At the time of his testimony, 16 people had been convicted for fraud and kickbacks received in connection with the US-supported Iraq reconstruction effort.





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    Pakistan ex-PM 'banned' from leaving country contrary to amnesty: Bhutto party
    Caitlin Price on October 23, 2007 4:03 PM ET

    [JURIST] Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] has been barred from leaving Pakistan in violation of an amnesty agreement signed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile], according to her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] Tuesday. As part of the agreement, the government was to lift a ban on Bhutto leaving the country, which had been in place for many years during her exile. Last week, Bhutto returned to Pakistan after nine years in Great Britain and Dubai after the Pakistani government said that she would not be arrested [JURIST reports] on corruption charges upon arrival. BBC News has more.

    Bhutto and Musharraf are political rivals [BBC backgrounder], but Musharraf earlier this month signed [JURIST report] the "reconciliation ordinance" granting Bhutto amnesty in an attempt to boost his waning popularity. The Supreme Court of Pakistan said last week that it would hear a challenge to the ordinance [JURIST report].






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    US, European Commission announce multinational IP protection initiative
    Caitlin Price on October 23, 2007 3:15 PM ET

    [JURIST] The United States and the European Commission (EC) Tuesday announced [US Trade Representative press release; EC press release] plans for multinational negotiation of an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to promote international enforcement of copyright law [JURIST news archive]. Talks have begun between the US, the European Union nations, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand on the agreement, which will increase scrutiny and enforcement against piracy and counterfeiting. The proposed agreement will focus on bolstering international cooperation, imagining better ways to fight copyright violators, and building a legal framework for intellectual property rights enforcement.

    US and EC representatives said that ACTA will be drafted to complement existing World Trade Organization intellectual property laws [TRIPS backgrounder; TRIPS text]. A 2007 study [OECD report, PDF] estimated that $200 billion of counterfeit and pirated goods were traded internationally in 2005. AP has more.






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    Kyrgyzstan president signs constitutional amendments into law
    Alexis Unkovic on October 23, 2007 2:35 PM ET

    [JURIST] Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile] Tuesday signed into law amendments [RFE/RL report] to the Kyrgyz constitution [constitutional materials, in Kyrgyz] approved by citizen vote in a constitutional referendum [JURIST reports] Sunday. Bakiyev also issued a decree Tuesday setting new parliamentary elections for December 16. The constitutional amendments include increasing the number of seats in parliament from 75 to 90 and changing the election of parliament members from a direct election to proportional party representation. Bakiyev's actions Tuesday followed his dissolution [AP report] of the existing parliament Monday.

    Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] has criticized alleged violations [press release] committed during Kyrgyzstan's Sunday referendum, including stuffing of the ballot box and the impermissible use of state resources to transport citizens to the polls. Ambassador Markus Mueller, head of the OSCE Centre in Bishkek, [official website] urged Kyrgyz authorities to "take immediate action to address these reported violations and seek to prevent a recurrence of such allegations in the future." AP has more.






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    Federal judge dismisses lawsuit challenging Oklahoma immigration law
    Alexis Unkovic on October 23, 2007 1:51 PM ET

    [JURIST] US District Judge James Payne of the Northern District of Oklahoma [official website] Monday dismissed a federal lawsuit which alleged that a recently approved state law limiting government privileges to illegal immigrants is unfair to all immigrants. The lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] was filed last week against Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. Payne ruled that the plaintiffs, including the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) [advocacy website], did not have standing to sue because none of them had suffered a cognizable injury as a result of the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007 [HB 1804 text, DOC], which denies illegal immigrants state identification cards and requires all Oklahoma government agencies to verify immigrants' citizenship before conferring benefits. The constitutionality of the law can still be challenged in other proceedings as Payne did not rule on the merits of the case. The bill is considered one of the toughest on illegal immigration [JURIST news archive] in the country and is set to take effect November 1. AP has more.

    Henry signed the bill [JURIST report] in May. Supporters praised the measure as a way to save taxpayer money, but immigrant groups criticized it for saddling Latinos with new discriminatory barriers in housing and jobs. Along with CONLAMIC, the League of United Latin American Citizens [advocacy website] and other advocacy groups have said they may challenge the law's constitutionality on the grounds that immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal, rather than state, government.






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    Serbia intelligence knows location of war crimes fugitive Mladic: rights activist
    Alexis Unkovic on October 23, 2007 1:10 PM ET

    [JURIST] Serbia's Security Information Agency [official website] has located former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and is considering apprehending him, Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic [Business Week profile] said Tuesday. Once captured, Mladic can be turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website], which originally indicted [ICTY case backgrounder] him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1995. Kandic told AP that representatives from Serbia's intelligence agency have confirmed to ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] that Mladic will soon be arrested. AP has more.

    Last week, Del Ponte chided [JURIST report] Serbian authorities for failing to bring Mladic and three other accused war criminals who are believed to be hiding in that country to justice, saying that Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal is "still too slow and not yet sufficient." Serbia said in September it would increase efforts [JURIST report] to locate and arrest Mladic, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY case backgrounder], former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic [JURIST report], and Bosnian Serb police commander Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY indictment] in order to receive a favorable report from Del Ponte during her meeting with EU officials concerning the EU's pending pre-membership deal with the country. The EU has made Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY a key element of its membership negotiations.






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    Senate judiciary panel renews call for White House to turn over FISA documents
    James M Yoch Jr on October 23, 2007 12:05 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites] on Monday sent a letter [PDF text] to White House counsel Fred Fielding demanding the Bush administration's compliance with subpoenas [press release] for information about the warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. The letter asserts that the White House committed to sending the documents by Monday and renews the committee's call for the information. The committee formally subpoenaed the documents on June 27 in regards to proposed legislation to amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The initial compliance deadline of July 18 was later extended to August 20 [letter, PDF], when Fielding told Leahy in a letter [text, PDF] that the White House needed more time to comply with the request. In response Leahy threatened to suggest contempt proceedings [JURIST report] before the committee.

    In the letter, Leahy and Specter wrote:

    You have now had more than ample time to collect and process the relevant documents. Responsive information to those subpoenas is long overdue. You have made commitments to provide responsive information over the last several months and even recently, but no such information has yet been provided.

    Instead, we read that a White House spokesperson has now conditioned the production of information on prior Senate agreement to provide retroactive immunity from liability for communications carriers. That is unacceptable and would turn the legislative process upside down. If the Administration wants our support for immunity, it should comply with the subpoenas, provide the information, and justify its request. As we have both said, it is wrongheaded to ask Senators to consider immunity without their being informed about the legal justifications purportedly excusing the conduct being immunized. Although the two of us have been briefed on certain aspects of the President's program, this cannot substitute for access to the documents and legal analysis needed to inform the legislative decisions of the Committee as a whole.
    In early August, Congress passed [JURIST report] the Protect America Act 2007 (PAA) [S 1927 materials], legislation that gives the executive branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" FISA. The subpoenas mentioned in Leahy's and Specter's letter cover documents and information relevant to the legislation planned by Congress to amend FISA permanently. Earlier this month, Democrats in the US House of Representatives introduced [JURIST report] a draft bill [HR 3773 materials; HJC summary, PDF] to replace the temporary PAA [RESTORE v. PAA comparison, PDF]. The so-called RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") would increase court oversight of the Terrorist Surveillance Program [DOJ fact sheet] run by the National Security Agency. Though consideration of the House bill has been postponed [JURIST report], the Senate Intelligence Committee last week debated the Senate version of legislation to amend FISA.





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    'Chemical Ali' execution would be against 'legitimate expectations': lawyer
    James M Yoch Jr on October 23, 2007 11:11 AM ET

    [JURIST] A defense lawyer for Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], better known in Western media as "Chemical Ali," has told JURIST that he expects to file a petition Wednesday against the planned execution of al-Majid. In the application, Giovanni Di Stefano [firm website] will argue that the former Iraqi commander and governor of northern Iraq now subject to a death sentence for the killing of Kurds in the 1988 Anfal campaign should not be executed because he was captured by the US military during the administration of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) [official website], which had abolished the death penalty. According to Di Stefano, al-Majid and other Iraqi leaders who surrendered or were captured during the CPA's reign, including Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] and former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive], had no "legitimate expectation" that they would be subject to capital punishment. Di Stefano, who is filing petitions in Arabic and English in the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website], insists that "[a]ny execution during these challenges would be tantamount to premeditated murder".

    The Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced [JURIST report] al-Majid to death in June on genocide and war crimes charges. The Tribunal's Appeals Chamber upheld the death sentence [JURIST report] in September but the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki delayed [JURIST report] the execution, which was required to be performed within 30 days of sentencing, due to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

    Al-Majid's planned hanging has prompted intense legal controversy within Iraq. Several members of Iraq's Presidency Council, which includes Kurdish President Jalal Talibani, Shi'ite Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, have refused to sign the execution order [JURIST report]. An Iraqi judge said last month that presidential approval is not required [JURIST report] to carry out an execution, but al-Hashemi reasserted Tuesday that the presidency did in fact have the power to block the carrying out of the death sentences [AP report], regardless of their approval by al-Maliki.






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    Montenegro parliament approves new constitution
    Michael Sung on October 23, 2007 10:22 AM ET

    [JURIST] The Parliament of the Republic of Montenegro [official website, in Serbian] formally adopted the country's new constitution late Monday night, giving effect to the document's provisions. Parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic welcomed the new constitution as protecting the rule of law as well as minority and human rights. Krivokapic also noted the importance of a constitutional provision which will allow parliament to vote with a two-thirds majority on whether the country should join the European Union.

    Last Monday, Montenegrin Prime Minister Zeljko Sturanovic signed the EU-Montenegro Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) [press release, PDF; JURIST report], which is expected to prepare Montenegro for entry into the European Union by 2015. Montenegro [JURIST news archive] is the newest European state considering EU membership. B92 has more.






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    Australia foreign minister denies interference with Hicks plea bargain
    Michael Sung on October 23, 2007 9:33 AM ET

    [JURIST] Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer [official profile] Tuesday denied allegations that the Australian government was involved in negotiating the plea bargain [JURIST report] of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks [JURIST news archive], refuting a report [text] in Harper's Magazine that the plea was the result of a secret deal with US Vice President Dick Cheney. Downer said that the Australian government "promoted" the plea bargain, but did not participate in the negotiations between military prosecutors and Hicks' defense team. The Harper's Magazine report quotes a military officer saying that Cheney intervened in the Hicks' negotiations "apparently" in line with an arrangement made with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

    On Monday, the Australian Federal Police indicated it was planning to subject Hicks to a control order [JURIST report] that would restrict his movements and communications. Hicks, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried and the only defendant convicted [JURIST reports] under the new Military Commissions Act [PDF text], was transferred to Australia [JURIST report] in May to serve the remainder of his nine-month prison sentence at a maximum security prison near his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. Hicks has already said that he does not plan to challenge the legality of any control order [JURIST report] imposed after his release from prison in Australia. AFP has more. Australia's ABC News has local coverage.






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    Vietnam president grants amnesty to 8,000 prisoners
    Michael Sung on October 23, 2007 8:59 AM ET

    [JURIST] Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet [Nhan Dan profile] granted amnesty to 8,066 prisoners, officials from the President's Office said Tuesday. The prisoners, who are expected to be released over the next two days, include 11 individuals convicted of national security crimes. Tuesday's pardons are part of a regular series of presidential amnesties that have freed approximately 80,000 prisoners since 2000.

    Vietnam has been criticized for its political persecution of pro-democracy dissidents. In June, the Vietnamese government released pro-democracy dissidents [JURIST report] ahead of Triet's June visit to the United States. Dissidents are often charged with violating Article 88 of the Vietnamese criminal code, which prohibits the dissemination of anti-government "propaganda." In May, two Vietnamese human rights lawyers were sentenced [JURIST report] to five years and four prison terms respectively for promoting democratic reforms. In March, a Catholic priest received an eight-year prison sentence [JURIST report] for communicating with pro-democracy activists and distributing anti-government documents. AP has more.






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    Philippines ex-president seeks pardon of corruption conviction
    Jaime Jansen on October 23, 2007 8:28 AM ET

    [JURIST] Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada [BBC profile] abandoned efforts to appeal his corruption conviction on charges stemming from kickbacks he received while in office and instead submitted a letter [text] Monday to current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website] requesting a presidential pardon. Prosecutors in the case have sharply opposed Estrada's request, saying the government should use Estrada's conviction as an example and that the government needs to show other countries that the Philippines is serious about fighting corruption. Macapagal-Arroyo immediately deferred the request to her advisers. Estrada, commenting [Inquirer report] on the request to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said he realized his appeal would likely be fruitless and decided to defer to the judgment of his lawyers, who believe a presidential pardon is their best hope. Estrada was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] last month after his conviction. In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered Estrada to pay $15.5 million.

    Estrada was forced from office in a 2001 revolt that brought Macapagal-Arroyo, his former vice president, to power. He has been held in detention in the Philippines [JURIST news archive] ever since his ouster. He was charged with mass corruption under the nation's economic plunder law [text] for allegedly stashing some $77 million in gambling payoffs, kickbacks and illegal commissions in secret bank accounts under an alias. AP has more.






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    UK, Chile seeking to expand Antarctic claims ahead of treaty deadline
    Jaime Jansen on October 23, 2007 7:46 AM ET

    [JURIST] Chile staked a claim to a portion of Antarctica with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) [official website] Monday after the United Kingdom made a similar claim to Antarctic land [AP report] last week in the face of a May 2009 deadline. The Commission has also received claims from Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Norway [CLCS materials] and Spain for both the Arctic and the Antarctic; under the 1994 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UN materials] countries have 10 years after their ratifications of that treaty to make extended continental shelf claims, although the 1959 Antarctic Treaty [text; ATS materials] specifically prohibits its signatories from asserting new land claims in Antarctica. The Antarctica Treaty gives countries with valid Antarctic claims the right to search for oil and natural gas beginning in 2048.

    The UK, Chile, Argentina, Norway, France, Australia and New Zealand all have present claims to the Antarctic, but submissions to the Commission threaten to change the balance. The UK has drawn up plans to submit to the UN commission multiple claims to an additional 386,000 square miles of sea bed in the south Atlantic, which conflicts with existing claims by Chile and Argentina. AP has more. The Scotsman has additional coverage.






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    EU high court rules German Volkswagen anti-takeover law illegal
    Jaime Jansen on October 23, 2007 7:02 AM ET

    [JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled Tuesday that a German law protecting Volkswagen AG [corporate website] from hostile takeovers is illegal [press release, PDF; ECJ materials], saying the law limits "the free movement of capital" and discourages foreign direct investment in Germany. The ruling could have a wider effect throughout EU member states because many governments have passed similar laws protecting domestic companies from foreign takeovers. The German federal government and the region of Lower Saxony [government website] hold 20.36 percent of Volkswagen, while car maker Porsche AG [corporate website] owns 31 percent of Volkswagen. Tuesday's ruling could pave the way for Porsche to take over Volkswagen. Germany on Tuesday said it will quickly change the law [Reuters report] in accordance with the ruling.

    The European Commission (EC)[official website] initially challenged the "Volkswagen Law" in 2005. In February, Advocate General Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo of the ECJ advised the court that the law should be repealed [JURIST report], saying the law restricts the free movement of capital [press release, PDF] and "strengthens the position of the Federal Government and the land, preventing any intervention in the management of the company." The EC has filed similar suits or threatened to file suit against Spain and its energy companies, Italy and highway company Autosrade SpA, and Poland for intervening in Italy's UniCredit SpA business in Poland. AP has more.






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    Australia police to seek control order against ex-Guantanamo detainee Hicks
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 22, 2007 7:22 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Australian Federal Police (AFP) [official website] plan to subject former Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks [JURIST news archive] to a control order [JURIST news archive] that would restrict his movements and communications as well as require him to check in with police once every year, according to Monday reports. Hicks said in May that he does not plan to challenge the legality of any control order [JURIST report] imposed after his release from prison in Australia. Australia's Anti-Terrorism Act (No.2) 2005 [ANS backgrounder] allows the "overt close monitoring of terrorist suspects who pose a risk to the community." ABC News has more.

    Hicks was transferred to Australia [JURIST report] in May to serve the remainder of his nine-month prison sentence at a maximum security prison near his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. He pleaded guilty to a charge of supporting terrorism [JURIST reports] before a US military commission in March after spending more than five years in US custody since being captured in Afghanistan.






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    Chertoff lifts environmental barriers to border fence construction
    Howard Kline on October 22, 2007 6:50 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff [official profile] Monday utilized his power under the Real ID Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive] to circumvent a federal district court decision handed down last week that on environmental grounds ordered the delay of fence construction along part of the Arizona-Mexico border. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle [official profile] of the US District Court for the District of Columbia held that the federal government did not take into account the environmental impact [AP report] of that portion of the fence. Title I sec. 102 of the Real ID Act, as included in a 2005 emergency supplemental appropriations bill, provides "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section." This is the third time Chertoff has invoked the waiver provision; in September 2005 he used it to waive provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act applicable to construction of fencing through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near San Diego, and this January he used it to push fencing through the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in Arizona [DW press release].

    Huvelle had granted a temporary restraining order sought by two environmental advocacy groups to enjoin the Bureau of Land Management [official website] from building a 1.5 mile portion of the fence along the US-Mexico border over the San Pedro river until an appropriate environmental impact assessment had been completed, berating the government for beginning construction on the fence after taking only three weeks to assess its potential environmental impact. The San Pedro river, which flows across the Arizona-US border, is considered a National Conservation Area (NCA) [text] by the government. Huvelle noted in her ruling that the Homeland Security Department had legal authority to waive all environmental laws and build the fence despite the restraining order. AP has more.






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    UN rights chief chides Canada on weakened rights advocacy
    Leslie Schulman on October 22, 2007 6:47 PM ET

    [JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] Monday chided the Canadian government for not doing enough to maintain Canada's reputation in the global community as an advocate for human rights [JURIST news archive]. Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, said at a diversity conference in Ottawa that her country's longstanding commitment to the protection and advancement of rights worldwide has been slipping, especially after Canada's rejection of a new UN treaty [text] outlining the global human rights of approximately 370 million indigenous people and banning discrimination against them. The treaty text was approved by the UN General Assembly [JURIST report] last month despite additional opposition by the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Canadian UN ambassador John McNee [official website] at the time expressed "significant concerns" [statement text] that the treaty contradicted provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] and did not provide adequate guidance on issues such as implementation.

    In June, Amnesty International (AI) accused [JURIST report] the Conservative Party government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official website; JURIST news archive] of actively lobbying other states with questionable human rights records to oppose the UN declaration. Reuters has more.






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    Europe rights court upholds defamation conviction of French author
    Leslie Schulman on October 22, 2007 6:05 PM ET

    [JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] Monday upheld [judgment, DOC; press release] a 1999 conviction of French author Mathieu Lindon for defamation. In his book "The Trial of Jean-Marie Le Pen," Lindon suggested that France's far-right National Front [party website, in French] leader Jean-Marie Le Pen [BBC profile] bore responsibility for two 1995 murders committed by supporters of his party. Le Pen and the National Front brought a defamation suit against Lindon in 1998, alleging he had committed public defamation against a private individual. The ECHR Monday rejected arguments by Lindon that the eventual defamation conviction against him, in which he was ordered to pay damages to Le Pen and the National Front, violated his freedom of expression.

    In July 2006, Le Pen faced trial [JURIST report] in Paris for allegedly denying the brutality of the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Under French anti-racism laws [text, in French; Wikipedia backgrounder], denying the Holocaust is a crime and carries charges for "complicity in contesting crimes against humanity and complicity in justifying war crimes." Le Pen surprised observers with his strong performance in the 2002 French presidential election [BBC backgrounder]. He ran again in 2007, but finished fourth. Bloomberg has more.






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    Myanmar agrees to visit from UN rights expert
    Kiely Lewandowski on October 22, 2007 6:01 PM ET

    [JURIST] Myanmar agreed Monday to accept a visit by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro [official profile] ahead of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website] summit meetings next month. Pinheiro has been blocked from visiting Myanmar since 2003. The announcement came as UN special envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari [official profile], continued his tour of the region after visiting the country [JURIST report] earlier this month. Gambari plans to return to Myanmar in November in order to continue efforts to encourage the country's military junta to move towards democratization and reconciliation.

    The decision to allow Pinheiro to visit comes shortly after the government lifted a curfew [JURIST report] in the capital Yangon and ended a ban on assembly imposed during the junta's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests last month. Observers suggest that the move reflects the military's confidence that they have in fact quashed the country's largest pro-democracy uprising in two decades. The UN News Service has more.






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    Canada government introduces new security certificates bill after high court debacle
    Howard Kline on October 22, 2007 5:54 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Canadian government Monday introduced a new security certificates bill [press release] in the House of Commons [official website] in response to a February Supreme Court decision [text] that gave it one year to re-write existing law or have that voided as unconstitutional. Security certificates [PSC backgrounder] allow the Canadian government to order the detention and deportation of foreign terrorist suspects in private hearings without the presence of suspects or their lawyers. The new bill would give detainees access to a UK-style special advocate [JURIST report] at private hearings empowered to review and challenge materials that detainees themselves could not see. Currently, five men are subject to security certificates and Hassan Almrei [Amnesty International profile], of Syria, alleged to be part of a "forgery ring" linked to al-Qaeda, is the only person held in formal custody; the others have been released under strict bail terms.

    The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [text] in February that the government's use of security certificates to indefinitely detain and deport foreigners with suspected ties to terrorism violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text; CDCH materials]. Three Arab Muslim men - Adil Charkaoui, Hassan Almrei and Mohamed Harkat [case summaries] - argued [JURIST report] before the high court in June 2006 that their indefinite detentions were unconstitutional. Suspected of membership in al Qaeda, the men were arrested on special security certificates authorized by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act [text]. The Court said in its ruling that indefinite detentions under security certificates were permissible as long as evidence that detainees themselves could not see could be challenged; it said it would delay application of its judgment for one year in order to allow Parliament time to comply with its ruling. CBC News has more.






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    FTC rejects Intel anti-competition probe
    Leslie Schulman on October 22, 2007 3:40 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] will not open a formal investigation into allegations that computer chip maker Intel offered unfair discounts to convince computer makers to buy its products over those made by rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) [corporate websites], according to the New York Times Monday, citing unnamed officials and lawyers involved in the matter. The FTC had been conducting an informal investigation into complaints made by AMD regarding Intel, but the decision not to launch a formal probe would have allowed the Commission to issue subpoenas and compel testimony.

    The news comes as a blow to lawmakers and at least two of the five FTC commissioners who had pushed for a formal US inquiry into Intel's corporate behavior. In August, American Antitrust Institute [advocacy website] President Albert Foer wrote a letter [PDF text] to the FTC urging such an investigation. The letter came after the European Commission [official website] filed formal charges [Business Wire report] against Intel in July for violating European Union competition laws. Similar probes have been conducted by the Korean Fair Trade Commission and the Japan Fair Trade Commission [official websites]. Intel has insisted that it merely engaged in "pro-competition" which was "ultimately beneficial to consumers." Intel could face fines in both Europe and Korea for engaging in anti-competitive behavior. The New York Times has more.






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    Congo militia leader charged with war crimes makes first ICC appearance
    Leslie Schulman on October 22, 2007 3:14 PM ET

    [JURIST] Former Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) warlord Germain Katanga [Trial Watch profile; ICC materials] made an anticipated appearance [press release; JURIST report] in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] at The Hague Monday. Katanga, only the second criminal defendant to appear before the tribunal so far, is accused of ordering fighters under his command to "wipe out" [ICC OTP press release] the northeast Congolese village of Bogoro in 2003, where hundreds of civilians were killed and women were forced into sexual slavery. Katanga is charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes for his role in the attack. Before the ICC Monday, Katanga alleged that he has been detained without charge since 2005, after being arrested for his possible role in the killing of nine United Nations workers [NY Times report]. AP has more.

    Union of Patriotic Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga [Trial Watch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC after he was taken into ICC custody [JURIST reports] in March last year to face charges of widespread human rights abuses in eastern Congo’s Ituri district [HRW backgrounder]. Lubanga is also suspected of ordering the 2005 killing of the nine UN peacekeepers and of filling the ranks of his militia with child soldiers [BBC report]. The ICC is considering moving Lubanga's trial back to the DRC [JURIST report] to highlight it more for the country's citizens.






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    Russian prosecutors pushing for nine-year embezzlement sentence for Berezovsky
    Leslie Schulman on October 22, 2007 2:46 PM ET

    [JURIST] Russian prosecutors will push for a nine-year prison sentence for exiled business tycoon Boris Berezovsky [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in connection with charges that he embezzled millions from the Russian national airline Aeroflot [corporate website], a lawyer appointed to Berezovsky's case said Monday. Berezovsky, who has been residing in the UK since 2001 as a political refugee and who has been tried in absentia since proceedings began in July [JURIST report], has denied the allegations and refused to use his lawyers to represent himself, calling the charges against politically motivated. Proceedings will resume later this month.

    Berezovsky has faced a flurry of accusations by Russian authorities. After leaving Russia in 2001 because of his discord with Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] for vocally opposing the war in Chechnya [BBC timeline], Berezovsky was granted asylum in Great Britain. Russian authorities have demanded that the UK extradite Berezovsky, who has been charged with plotting a coup [JURIST reports] against Putin. In July, Russian prosecutors brought fresh charges against the ousted businessman that in 1997 he took part in a $13 million scheme to embezzle credit funds from SBS-Agro Bank [EBRD profile], which he then owned, to purchase real estate in southern France. Berezovsky has denied those charges as well. RIA Novosti has more.






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    DOJ lawyers argue against Khadr appeal to federal court
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 22, 2007 2:13 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers argued [motion, PDF] in documents filed with the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Friday that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the US Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR) [DOD materials] by Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive]. The DOJ argued that under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [S 3930 materials] no civilian court can consider an appeal of a war crimes case until a military court has issued a final judgment on the case. The DOJ also pointed to the MCA's "court-stripping" provision, which prevents federal courts from hearing habeas challenges. Khadr US military lawyer Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler criticized the move [press release, DOC], describing it as "an effort to hit the 'delete' button on language ... which gives the defense a coequal right to seek review of decisions by the Court of Military Commission Review." The Canadian Press has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.

    Khadr filed [JURIST report] his appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit earlier this month, challenging the CMCR decision to send Khadr's case back to a military tribunal. Before that, the CMCR refused to reconsider its September ruling [JURIST reports] that the charges against Khadr could be reinstated, after a military commission judge dropped the charges [JURIST report] in June. Col. Peter Brownback reasoned that the court had no jurisdiction because a Guantanamo Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD materials] had found that Khadr was an "enemy combatant," but not an "unlawful enemy combatant" under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text]. The appeals court overturned Brownback's decision and directed him to hear evidence concerning, and ultimately decide, Khadr's "unlawful enemy combatant" status. Khadr was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban.






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    Federal judge declares mistrial in Muslim charity terrorism financing case
    Brett Murphy on October 22, 2007 1:05 PM ET

    [JURIST] A Dallas federal judge declared a mistrial Monday on nearly all 197 counts in a controversial case against the Islamic Holy Land Foundation [LOC archived website; ADL backgrounder] charity and five of its leaders. Judge A. Joe Fish took the step after three jurors insisted that the verdicts of acquittal [verdict for HLF chairman Mohammad El-Mazain, PDF] read by the court were incorrect. According to the jury forewoman, the three jurors had not raised any issue on the findings during deliberations, saying that the verdicts were unanimous. Fish sent the jury back for further discussion but declared a mistrial when the matter could not be resolved.

    Once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, the Foundation was shut down in 2001 by federal prosecutors who accused it of financing international terrorism by supporting the Palestinian group Hamas [BBC backgrounder]. It and five of its leaders were subsequently charged [JURIST report] in 2004 on 42 counts of conspiracy, providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to deal in the property of a terrorist, dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist, money laundering, conspiracy to impede an investigation by the IRS, and filing false tax returns. The defense said during closing arguments [JURIST report] at the trial in September that the charity's funds were used only to help Palestinians in need, while the prosecution argued the charity was in place only to funnel money used to support Hamas through Palestinian schools and charities. AP has more.

    9:15 PM ET - In a statement late Monday the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Islamic civil liberties group in the US, called the declaration of a mistrial in the Holy Land Foundation case a "stunning defeat" for the prosecution [press release].






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    Pakistan high court judge says threat of martial law still 'haunting' country
    Brett Murphy on October 22, 2007 12:36 PM ET

    [JURIST] A Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] justice said at a hearing Monday on the results of the recent presidential election ostensibly re-electing President Pervez Musharraf that the spectre of martial law continues "haunting" the country, despite efforts to move past the issue. Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday said that the court has been unable to forget official threats, although Justice Javed Iqbal insisted last week that such statements would not affect its pending decision [JURIST reports]. Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer for a retired judge who contested the presidential poll, argued that the Supreme Court should act decisively to rid the country of the threat with the appropriate ruling.

    Pakistani Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Niazi said last week that martial law might be declared if the Court ruled against Musharraf's re-election bid. Earlier this month, Musharraf won an overwhelming victory [JURIST report] in legislative elections for the presidency, according to unofficial results. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that the controversial ballot could proceed in the face of Musharraf's refusal to step down as Army chief, but it barred the Election Commission of Pakistan [official website] from officially declaring a winner until the high court ruled on whether Musharraf was in fact eligible to run under the circumstances. His current term expires November 15. PTI has more.






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    Reversing Roe ruling on abortion would harm poor women: Ginsburg
    Brett Murphy on October 22, 2007 12:03 PM ET

    [JURIST] Reversing the US Supreme Court's abortion decision in Roe v. Wade [LII backgrounder; opinion text] would not prevent wealthy women from getting abortions, but would have a "devastating" effect on underprivileged females, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [OYEZ profile] said in a Sunday speech at an Atlanta synagogue. Ginsburg said that upper- and middle-class women who can afford to travel will go to states allowing the procedure, while poor women will be blocked from doing so. Noting the recent conservative swing of the Court, Ginsburg indicated that should the issue come up, she will continue to hold in favor of the right to an abortion as established in Roe.

    In April, the Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued an order [PDF text; JURIST report] vacating a 2005 decision [PDF text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit striking down Missouri's 1999 "partial-birth" abortion ban. Earlier that month, the Court held in Gonzales v. Carhart [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report] that groups challenging the ban [JURIST news archive] had "not demonstrated that the Act, as a facial matter, is void for vagueness, or that it imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion based on its overbreadth or lack of a health exception." The 5-4 decision marked the first time the Court has upheld a complete ban on an abortion procedure. AP has more. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has local coverage.






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    Microsoft to comply with EU antitrust ruling
    Katerina Ossenova on October 22, 2007 10:03 AM ET

    [JURIST] Microsoft will take the necessary steps [EU press release] to comply with a 2004 European Commission (EC) [official website] antitrust ruling [text; EU materials] against it, the EC announced Monday. The software company has agreed to allow open source software developers to access and use interoperability information, reduce the royalties for a worldwide license, and make agreements between third party developers and Microsoft enforceable before the High Court in London. EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes [official website] welcomed Microsoft's changes but noted that it is "regrettable that Microsoft has only complied after a considerable delay, two court decisions, and the imposition of daily penalty payments."

    On September 17, the European Court of First Instance upheld [text] the European Commission's landmark ruling [JURIST report] against Microsoft's appeal [JURIST report] of the $613 million fine and order for Microsoft to share its communications code with competitors. The court agreed with the Commission that Microsoft had abused its monopoly power [JURIST report] in the computer market by trying to force consumers into buying Microsoft software, noting that selling media software with its Windows operating system damaged European competitors. Microsoft will not appeal the decision, a Microsoft spokesman told AFP Monday. AFP has more.






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    Russia creating rights center to monitor abuses in Europe and US
    Katerina Ossenova on October 22, 2007 9:25 AM ET

    [JURIST] Russia will create an organization to track and monitor human rights abuses in Europe and the US, according to Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer on Russia's new Public Chamber [official website, in Russian], an ombudsman-like body established two years ago at the urging of Russian President Vladimir Putin to analyze draft legislation and serve as a watchdog on federal and regional administrative authorities. Kucherena said Friday that the new organization would have its headquarters in either Brussels or Germany and would have Russian human rights activists prepare human rights reports on European nations and the US. The impetus behind the creation of the organization was reportedly the receipt of letters from Russian-speakers in Europe and the US complaining about rights violations there. Kucherena emphasized that the purpose of the human rights monitoring center would be to facilitate "an exchange of opinions" within the human rights community, not to get into a political confrontation with Western nations. Reuters has more.

    For several years China has issued an annual counterblast [JURIST report] to the annual US country reports on human rights [official website] in an effort to turn the political tables on Washington in the face of its ongoing criticism of Beijing by highlighting rights-related problems in the United States itself.






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    UK justice minister favors televising new Supreme Court proceedings: report
    Katerina Ossenova on October 22, 2007 8:50 AM ET

    [JURIST] UK Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Jack Straw [official profile] favors televising proceedings of the UK Supreme Court, the Times reported Monday. The new top court, created by the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 [text], is expected to open in October 2009 and would technically replace the judicial panel of the House of Lords [official website] as Britain's highest tribunal, with the 12 current law lords as the first Supreme Court justices. Straw's recommendation to allow television cameras is said to be supported by senior judges and could also lead the way to televising other appeal hearings. The proposal does not, however, extend to jury trials and is still contingent on having the full backing of the judiciary. Times has more.

    American political leaders and judges are similarly struggling with the issue of whether to permit televising of US Supreme Court [JURIST news archive] proceedings. In March of last year the US Senate Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites] approved an amendment to 28 USC 45 that would have permitted Supreme Court proceedings to be televised [JURIST report], "unless the Court decides by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court." The bill failed to pass the Senate itself, however. Last Friday Justice Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive; OYEZ profile] became the latest high court member to publicly criticize [JURIST report] the possibility of televising the court's proceedings. All the other justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts [JURIST report] and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas [JURIST reports], Stephen Breyer and David Souter have already spoken publicly against allowing cameras [AP report] in the Supreme Court.






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    Iran urges legal action against Saddam-era chemical weapons suppliers
    Jaime Jansen on October 22, 2007 7:38 AM ET

    [JURIST] Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki [Iran MFA website] urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] Monday to "take legal action" against 400 companies that allegedly supplied chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] during the 1980-1988 Iraqi war with Iran [Wikipedia backgrounder]. Mottaki said that action against the companies involved in supplying chemical weapons to Hussein "will prevent expansion of such weapons." He was speaking to reporters at an international seminar on the Consequences of the Use of Chemical Weapons against Iran [seminar website] marking the tenth anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) [UN materials].

    It is unclear, however, what form an ICJ action could take in this instance as the court only deals in legal disputes between states submitted to it by them and requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and specialized agencies. IRNA has more.






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    Taiwan lawmaker tied to Chen indicted on corruption charges
    Jaime Jansen on October 22, 2007 7:15 AM ET

    [JURIST] Taiwanese lawmaker Gao Jyh-peng of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website] led by beleaguered Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian [official profile; BBC profile] was indicted Monday on graft charges. Prosecutors allege that Gao, a close acquaintance of Chen, accepted $15,300 worth of New Taiwan dollars to help a company rent state-owned land. Gao disclaimed any involvement in the scandal, and blamed the charges on an aide who was arrested earlier this year for his involvement in the same corruption scandal.

    The indictment is the latest in a series of high-profile corruption cases that have dominated Taiwanese politics in recent months. Last month, Taiwanese prosecutors indicted Vice President Annette Lu [official profile] and two other leading members of the DPP on charges of corruption and forgery [JURIST report]. Former Taiwanese opposition party leader Ma Ying-jeou [personal website, in Chinese; Wikipedia profile] was acquitted [JURIST report] of corruption and accounting fraud charges by the Taipei District Court [official website, in Chinese] in August. In June, a high court affirmed the conviction [JURIST report] of Chen's son-in-law on insider trading charges. Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, was indicted [JURIST report] last year for embezzlement and falsifying documents. Prosecutors have indicated that they have enough evidence to also indict Chen, but Chen enjoys Article 52 [text] constitutional immunity from most criminal charges while he remains in office. AP has more.






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    Turkish voters back constitutional reforms: preliminary results
    Benjamin Klein on October 21, 2007 2:59 PM ET

    [JURIST] Preliminary results show that a majority of Turkish voters have backed constitutional reforms put to a nationwide referendum [JURIST report] Sunday. About half of the votes have been tallied and 72 percent of ballots have been in favor of the constitutional reform package [Reuters report], which includes reducing the maximum parliamentary term from five years to four; requiring a legislative voting quorum of one-third of Turkish MPs; reducing the presidential term from seven to five years and providing for the possibility of a second presidential term, and - most importantly - changing the presidential election process to a popular vote. Despite the government's appeal for a high turnout, Turkish news outlets have reported that voters are complaining of insufficient information about the reforms [BIA report]. Reuters has more.

    There was some controversy over whether the proposed presidential election reform would retroactively require parliamentary-selected Turkish President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile] to submit himself to a popular vote or whether it would only affect future elections. Last week, parliament amended the reform bill to clarify that it would not apply to Gul's presidency. In response, Electoral Council President Muammer Aydin [official profile, in Turkish] indicated that the Council might delay or cancel the referendum because 20,000 absentee ballots had already been received using the original text, but the Council ultimately decided that too few votes had been cast to affect the outcome of the referendum, and so voting could continue as planned.

    Gul's original candidacy in April caused controversy when he ran as the sole contender for the Turkish presidency [BBC Q&A]. The Turkish Constitutional Court voided [JURIST report] an April parliamentary vote in support of Gul because a quorum of legislators did not participate, prompting calls for constitutional reform [JURIST report]. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official website] accused the court of hurting democracy and said he would support dissolving parliament and holding an early parliamentary election to ensure that Turkey's leaders were chosen by the people rather than the courts.

    The Turkish parliament subsequently backed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] supported by the government to allow voters to directly elect the president. The bill was vetoed [JURIST report] by then-Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer [BBC profile], and then passed by parliament a second time [JURIST report] in a vote marred by complaints of balloting violations. The ruling AKP party then sought to hold a national referendum [JURIST report] on the issue; Sezer later blocked the referendum [JURIST reports] from taking place at the same time as parliamentary elections [BBC Q&A] in July. The Constitutional Court ultimately ruled that the referendum could proceed [JURIST report].






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    FBI rebuilding detainee cases to avoid controversial evidence: LA Times
    Devin Montgomery on October 21, 2007 9:57 AM ET

    [JURIST] A special FBI task force is reworking cases against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed [BBC profile] and the other so-called "high-value" Guantanamo Bay detainees [profiles, PDF] over concerns that information and confessions previously obtained by the CIA may be inadmissible in court, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. According to a source for the Times, the task force was formed as long as two years ago to re-investigate the cases in case the Guantanamo Bay military commission system is ruled unconstitutional and the suspected terrorists must be tried in federal court. Officials feared that even if the previously obtained evidence was allowed, the CIA's interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive] would damage the credibility of the evidence, or shift the focus of the trail towards the agency instead of the suspects. As a result of the new investigations, federal law officials now believe they have gathered enough admissible evidence against the suspects, telling the Times "We've redone everything, and everything is fine."

    Mohammed and the "high value" detainees [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] have been determined to be "enemy combatants" by Guantanamo Combatant Status Review Tribunals, but none have yet been charged under the 2006 Military Commissions Act [PDF text]. Congress enacted the Military Commissions Act after the US Supreme Court's rejected presidentially-established military commissions as unconstitutional. The Los Angeles Times has more.






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    Kyrgyzstan votes on constitutional amendments
    Josh Camson on October 21, 2007 9:54 AM ET

    [JURIST] Citizens of Kyrgyzstan voted Sunday in a constitutional referendum [JURIST report] proposed by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile] last month. The proposed amendments [RFE/RL report] to the Kyrgyz constitution [constitutional materials, in Kyrgyz] include increasing the number of seats in parliament from 75 to 90 and changing the election of parliament members from a direct election to a proportional. Though Bakiyev has backed the proposed changes [press release, in Kyrgyz], critics have said that the changes would hurt smaller parties and independent politicians in Kyrgyzstan [JURIST news archive] and are designed to bolster Bakiyev's own position. The Kyrgyz Central Elections Commission [official website] said Sunday that the referendum was valid [press release, in Kyrgyz; Itar-Tass report], with some 62 percent of eligible voters turning out. Local organizations including Interbilim and the Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society reported some ballot stuffing near the capital.

    Kyrgyzstan has been in political turmoil, with the Kyrgyz constitution being amended numerous times, since former president Askar Akayev [BBC profile] was ousted [JURIST report] during the so-called Tulip Revolution [Wikipedia backgrounder] of 2005. Reuters has more.






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    DOJ urges court to dismiss lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary for CIA rendition role
    Andrew Gilmore on October 21, 2007 9:42 AM ET

    [JURIST] The US Department of Justice has asked the US District Court for the Northern District of California to dismiss [ACLU press release] a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan [corporate website] on the grounds that the case would disclose classified information regarding the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) [official website] extraordinary rendition [JURIST archive] program. Jeppeson Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing [corporate website], is being sued by five individuals, Binyam Muhammad, Abou Elkassim Britel, Ahmed Agiza, Bisher al-Rawi, and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, over the company's role in the extraordinary rendition program. The government's assertion of the state secrets privilege, which allows the US government to halt litigation on national security grounds, in its Friday filing is similar to arguments made in other national security cases. Reuters has more.

    The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in May, alleging that Jeppesen Dataplan knowingly supported direct flights to secret CIA prisons, facilitating the torture and mistreatment of US detainees. The ACLU alleges that Jeppesen played a key role in the extraordinary rendition flights by providing a number of vital services including itinerary, route, weather, and fuel planning, as well as obtaining over-flight and landing permits from foreign governments. The ACLU was originally representing three of the five: Muhammad, currently being detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], Elkassim Britel, currently in a Moroccan prison, and Agiza, currently in an Egyptian prison. The two additional plaintiffs, who have alleged they were kidnapped by the CIA and tortured in Afghanistan, joined the lawsuit [JURIST report] in August. Al-Rawi was held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly five years before being released [JURIST report] to the United Kingdom, where he holds residency.






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    Myanmar lifts curfew, ends ban on assembly
    Eric Firkel on October 20, 2007 4:20 PM ET

    [JURIST] The military government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive] Saturday lifted a curfew in the capital Yangon and ended a ban on assembly imposed during the junta's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests. The decision is the latest sign that Myanmar military leaders are confident they have quashed the largest pro-democracy uprising in two decades. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino dismissed the actions of the regime as 'cosmetic' and stressed the need for "serious intent to move toward democratic transition." Perino's comments follow new sanctions [press release] against members of the regime announced by President Bush on Friday.

    In August, the Myanmar government began a crackdown against protesters, arresting hundreds of Buddhist monks demonstrating against human rights abuses by the military government. At least 10 people were killed by government soldiers shooting into crowds [JURIST report]; protests only subsided when junta troops effectively locked down Myanmar's major cities. Though the junta reports only 10 deaths, dissident groups claim that 200 people have been executed and 6,000 detained. AP has more.






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    Federal judge extends stay of court-martial for Iraq war objector
    Patrick Porter on October 20, 2007 3:57 PM ET

    [JURIST] US District Judge Benjamin Settle Friday extended until November 9 a stay of court-martial proceedings against US Army Iraq war objector 1st Lt. Ehren Watada [JURIST news archive]. Settle had temporarily blocked the court-martial, the second filed for the same charges, to consider whether the proceedings would violate Watada's Fifth Amendment rights [JURIST report]. The stay was originally set to expire October 26. The Seattle Times has more.

    Watada, a 28-year-old Honolulu native, publicly refused deployment to Iraq [JURIST report] in July 2006, and was charged by the Army with with four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and one count of missing movements. His first court-martial was declared a mistrial [JURIST report], but the Army refiled charges [JURIST report]. The case is before the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, but that court has not yet issued a decision, which prompted Watada to ask the federal district court for relief.






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    Alito disparages televising of Supreme Court proceedings
    Howard Kline on October 20, 2007 3:51 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive; OYEZ profile] on Friday became the latest high court member to publicly criticize the possibility of televising the court's proceedings. Speaking at the University of Virginia, Alito joked that televising the proceedings would be a mistake since it would directly compete with cable public affairs broadcaster C-SPAN for the lowest Nielsen ratings. Last July US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts [OYEZ profile] similarly expressed skepticism at the idea of allowing television cameras into the Supreme Court, saying that the justices were concerned that cameras could have an "adverse impact" on the Court's functioning. All the other justices, including Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and David Souter have already spoken publicly against allowing cameras [AP report] in the Supreme Court, pointing out that the Court's decisional process is on paper and suggesting that court proceedings should not be considered "entertainment."

    In March of last year the US Senate Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites] approved by a 12-6 vote an amendment [S. 1768 text, PDF] to 28 USC 45 [text] that would permit Supreme Court proceedings to be televised, "unless the Court decides by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court." The bill failed to pass the Senate itself, however. San Luis Obispo has more.






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    US Army sergeant charged with Iraqi civilian murder waives pretrial hearing
    Eric Firkel on October 20, 2007 3:01 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Army Sergeant 1st Class Trey A. Corrales, charged [JURIST report; press release] in July with the premeditated murder of an unarmed Iraqi civilian, waived his right to an Article 32 [JAG backgrounder] pretrial hearing Saturday. The decision came following the Friday Article 32 hearing of Corrales co-defendant Specialist Christopher P. Shore, in which Shore's lawyer painted Corrales as sadistic and out of control. Several soldiers testified [San Antonio Express-News report] at the hearing that during a June 23 raid in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] they refused to follow an order from Corrales to kill every man of military age. Shore testified that when ordered by Corrales to shoot an unarmed Iraqi civilian, he intentionally missed. Corrales lawyer Frank A. Spinner [profile] said there was no need to call all the same witnesses for another hearing on Monday.

    If convicted, Corrales and Shore could both face the death penalty. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more.






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    Venezuela rights activists slam Chavez over proposed constitutional reforms
    Howard Kline on October 20, 2007 2:47 PM ET

    [JURIST] Venezuelan human rights activists and church leaders Friday criticized new constitutional reforms [JURIST report] proposed by President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] that they say would suspend legal due process and centralize power in an authoritarian presidency. The Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] is currently considering amendments to 25 different constitutional articles over and above changes already made to 33. One generally pro-government party, Podemos [party website], has characterized the latest reforms as unconstitutional because of the suspension of due process during state of emergencies. Rights activists claim that the due process restrictions violate the American Convention on Human Rights [text] and threaten the freedom of all Venezuelans.

    Chavez has touted the proposed changes as necessary to advance the socialist revolution in Venezuela [JURIST news archive]. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] has warned that the proposed due process amendments would violate international law [press release]. Members of the opposition have accused Chavez [JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power over Venezuela. The National Assembly is overwhelmingly comprised of Chavez supporters, as opposition parties boycotted elections in 2005. AFP has more.






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    Federal judge dismisses SWIFT data protection lawsuit
    Patrick Porter on October 20, 2007 2:39 PM ET

    [JURIST] A federal district judge Friday dismissed a breach of privacy lawsuit against the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [organization website]. The Belgium-based international banking cooperative disclosed personal information [JURIST report] about its customers to third parties, including the CIA and US Treasury Department. Ian Walker and Stephen Kruse said their privacy rights were violated because each had engaged in wire transactions that might have been processed by SWIFT, although neither disclosed his bank name. Judge T. S. Ellis III of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] wrote:

    There is no allegation that plaintiffs' bank or banks are members of SWIFT, nor is there any information indicating that plaintiffs' financial information was disclosed by SWIFT...Plaintiffs rely on their own belief that their financial information has been disclosed, but such a belief, without more, cannot support standing.
    The ruling leaves open the possibility that Walker and Kruse could file an amended suit, naming their banks. AP has more.

    The case began in federal district court in Chicago, but SWIFT moved to transfer the case to Virginia. The Department of Justice had considered invoking the state secrets privilege [JURIST report] to halt the lawsuit out of concern that it might reveal to much about SWIFT programs designed to prevent the financing of terrorism.





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    Federal appeals court rules wrongful 9/11 detainee can sue FBI interrogator
    Nick Fiske on October 20, 2007 11:13 AM ET

    [JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that an Egyptian student wrongly detained in the wake of the 9/11 attacks may sue the FBI agent who interrogated him. Abdallah Higazy appealed a ruling [PDF text] by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York which granted summary judgment to the federal agent, Michael Templeton, on the basis of qualified immunity which generally shields government officials from lawsuits for actions occurring during the performance of their duties. Higazy argued that Templeton violated his Fifth Amendment right against compulsory self-incrimination by threatening Higazy, as well as members of his family, and as such was not protected by qualified immunity. The Second Circuit agreed, ruling that Higazy's coerced confession was used in a January 2002 bail hearing and as such, constitutes a Fifth Amendment violation.

    The ruling echoed a similar Second Circuit opinion from June, in which the court found that Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were not protected from litigation by qualified immunity [JURIST report] as their actions in the wake of 9/11 could not be considered reasonable. AP has more.






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    Ex-Guantanamo military prosecutor claims he was pressured for closed trials
    Steve Czajkowski on October 20, 2007 10:57 AM ET

    [JURIST] The former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], Col. Morris D. Davis [official profile, PDF], told the New York Times Friday that he was pressured to use classified evidence against defendants in closed war crimes trials for detainees. In the interview, Davis said the push to use classified evidence stems from an internal military disagreement over whether the trials should be keep closed or open to the public. Davis said that Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann [official profile], legal advisor to the Convening Authority [official backgrounder] responsible for running the trials, questioned the need for open trials and was upset with the slow pace of the proceedings begun by Davis. Davis felt that by using classified evidence the details of the trials would remain closed; he said he believed the only way to ease criticism of the US military trial system at Guantanamo was by keeping the process as open as possible.

    Davis, a career Air Force lawyer, resigned his post [JURIST report] on October 5, after complaining that Hartmann should not be supervising his work. Davis filed the formal complaint with the Pentagon back in August. When Pentagon officials said they supported Hartmann, Davis requested to be reassigned. The New York Times has more.






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    Bush executive order imposes more sanctions on Myanmar
    Nick Fiske on October 20, 2007 10:38 AM ET

    [JURIST] US President George W. Bush imposed new sanctions on 12 Myanmar businesses and individuals in an executive order [text; fact sheet] issued Friday. Included in the order freezing US-held assets and blocking certain property transactions were designations by the Treasury department of an additional 11 leaders of the Myanmar military junta who were subject to existing sanctions [PDF text] and instructions for the Commerce Department to increase regulation of the country's exports. In White House remarks [text] Bush said that the order was specifically aimed at those who are "responsible for human rights abuses as well as public corruption, and those who provide material and financial backing to these individuals or to the government of Burma."

    The sanctions follow the Myanmar government's crackdown on protesters [JURIST report] which began last month after Buddhist monks demonstrated against human rights abuses by the military government. The government has thusfar refused the Red Cross access [JURIST report] to thousands of political prisoners in the wake of reports that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of dissidents have been killed while in custody. The New York Times has more.






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    Two US Marines facing court-martial for roles in Haditha killings
    Steve Czajkowski on October 20, 2007 9:54 AM ET

    [JURIST] Two US Marines were ordered Friday to face court-martial hearings for their actions in connection with the killings of 24 Iraqi citizens in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST news archive] is charged with dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order based on the allegations that he failed to properly investigate shootings. He is said to be highest-ranking US officer to be court-martialed for a combat-related action since the Vietnam War. One of Chessani's men, Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum [advocacy profile] is charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault. Lt. Gen. James Mattis decided not charge Tatum with murder following a recommendation [JURIST report] by investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Ware.

    Chessani, the former commander of the Third Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment [official website] did not order an immediate investigation into the deaths because he did not suspect any wrongdoing. In a sworn statement made to military investigators, Chessani said that he did not see any cause for alarm and that he believed at the time that killings followed a complex attack by insurgents involving a roadside bomb and an attempt to lure Marines to shoot into homes where civilians were located. Instead, it has been alleged that the civilians were murdered in cold blood [JURIST report], but Chessani said that when he first learned of allegations that the civilians were killed intentionally he thought that the claims were baseless. AP has more.






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    White House defends Mukasey refusal to take waterboarding stance
    Eric Firkel on October 19, 2007 3:20 PM ET

    [JURIST] White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto attempted Friday to deflect widespread criticism of US Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey's refusal to say whether he considers waterboarding [ABC report] a form of torture during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday [JURIST report]. Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PWBT profile] refused to be pinned down on the issue, merely suggesting that if waterboarding is torture, then torture is unconstitutional. He similarly avoided questions about the legality of other specific interrogation techniques, including forced nudity and mock executions, because he considered such comments to be irresponsible "when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques." Fratto said:

    Judge Mukasey, I think, did the best he could to be responsible in not talking about interrogation techniques which, as you all know, we decline to do...these are very complex problems and they don't lend themselves to shorthand responses.
    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he will not schedule a committee vote to confirm Mukasey until he gets clearer answers. AP has more.

    ALSO ON JURIST

     Op-ed: Waterboarding: The Key Question for Mukasey | Op-ed: Mukasey on Torture: Of Sins, Mistakes and Crimes





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    Class action plaintiff pleads guilty in Milberg Weiss kickback scheme
    Josh Camson on October 19, 2007 2:52 PM ET

    [JURIST] Seymour Lazar pleaded guilty Thursday to obstruction of justice, subscribing to a false tax return and making a false declaration for his role in the Milberg Weiss [firm website] kickback scheme where the firm is accused of paying up to $11.3 million in illegal kickbacks since 1984 to individuals, including Lazar, to serve as lead plaintiffs in class action and shareholder derivative lawsuits. Lazar, now 80, was indicted [text, PDF; JURIST report] in May 2006 along with the firm, then known as Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, and former name partners David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman. Lazar will pay a $600,000 fine, forfeit $1.5 million, and could face up to 18 years in federal prison. Prosecutors say that they will seek home detention because of Lazar's failing health. The former attorney received approximately $2.6 million to serve as the lead plaintiff in numerous class action suits, according to prosecutors.

    As part of the scheme, certain individuals agreed to serve as class action representatives in exchange for 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by Milberg Weiss. This kickback was not revealed to the judge overseeing litigation, and the named plaintiffs who collected the kickback money made false statements under oath concerning the payments. Three individuals pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in connection with the scheme in May 2006, and former Milberg Weiss name partner David Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July. The firm pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] in July. Last month, Schulman agreed to plead guilty to racketeering, and to forfeit $1.85 million and pay a $250,000 fine. Another former Milberg Weiss partner, William S. Lerach, reached an agreement with prosecutors last month to plead guilty [press release; JURIST report] to conspiracy to obstruct justice and will forfeit $7.75 million to the government, pay a $250,000 fine, and will serve one to two years in prison. Milberg Weiss co-founder Melvyn Weiss pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] earlier this week to conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements. AP has more.






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    Georgia Supreme Court stays execution of death row inmate
    Patrick Porter on October 19, 2007 2:00 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Georgia Supreme Court granted a stay of execution [order, PDF; press release, PDF] Thursday to convicted killer Jack Alderman. The death row inmate was scheduled to die Friday at 7PM ET and had already selected his last meal. The court said it granted the stay pending a US Supreme Court ruling in Baze v. Rees (07-5439)[docket; cert. petition, PDF], a case challenging lethal injection as unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The Georgia court had initially denied a stay [JURIST report], but said it was also influenced by the US Supreme Court's decision [order, PDF; JURIST report] Wednesday to stop an execution that was scheduled in Virginia.

    Georgia, like Nevada and 35 other states, uses a controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart. Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to lethal injection have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. Reuters has more. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has local coverage.






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    Camp Cropper ex-military police chief gets 2-year prison sentence
    Patrick Porter on October 19, 2007 1:06 PM ET

    [JURIST] Former US military police commander Lt. Col. William Steele was sentenced to two years in prison [press release] Friday after being convicted of unauthorized possession of classified documents, failing to obey an order, and conduct unbecoming an officer by having an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter. Earlier Friday, Steele was found not guilty of more serious charges [JURIST report] of aiding the enemy by providing a cellular phone to detainees while he was in charge of the Camp Cropper detention facility in Iraq. In addition to the two-year prison sentence, Steele was also dismissed him from the US Army and ordered to forfeit all pay and allowances.

    Steele was first military officer to face court-martial for aiding the enemy [JURIST report] since the 2003 Iraq invasion, and could have received a life sentence had he been convicted on those charges. Steele's defense lawyer said Monday in court-martial proceedings that Steele was trying to make sure that detainees under his control were treated humanely and was making an effort to improve the US image in Iraq, but prosecutors insisted that Steele ignored rules put in place for detainees. Camp Cropper, located near Baghdad International Airport, is the second-largest US-run military prison [WP report] in Iraq after Camp Bucca in the wake of the closing of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive]. Reuters has more.






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    UK lawmakers investigating allegations of CIA prison on UK Indian Ocean island
    Jaime Jansen on October 19, 2007 11:04 AM ET

    [JURIST] UK lawmakers will investigate whether the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has secretly held terror suspects [JURIST news archive] on a sovereign British territory in the Indian Ocean, the Guardian reported Friday. The House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee will look into the long-standing allegations [JURIST report] of interrogations by the CIA on the island of Diego Garcia, which has been leased to the US for the Diego Garcia naval base [official website]. Lawyers for Reprieve [advocacy website], a UK legal charity representing some detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], has alleged [report, PDF; executive summary, PDF] that UK overseas territories have been used "to support illegal interstate transfer, enforced disappearance and torture in the context of the 'war on terror'" and has called for UK lawmakers to question US and UK officials about the allegations. Reprieve has accused the UK government of being "systematically complicit" in the disappearance and alleged torture of terror detainees. While the Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to investigate the allegations, it is not clear whether the UK government knows if the CIA has detained terror suspects at the Diego Garcia naval base. The Guardian has more.

    Last month, CIA Director Michael Hayden defended the United States' overseas detention and interrogation policy [JURIST report], saying that the program had obtained vital information about the terrorist threat against the US detailed in a July report [PDF text]. In June, Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty concluded in a report [COE materials; JURIST report] for the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe that the CIA directly ran secret detention facilities in Europe with the "requisite permissions, protections or active assistance" of European governments, and that the framework for the cooperation was developed secretly among NATO members.






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    Serbia arrests four ex-paramilitary members suspected of Kosovo war crimes
    Jaime Jansen on October 19, 2007 10:20 AM ET

    [JURIST] Serbian police arrested four members of the Scorpions paramilitary group suspected of crimes committed in Kosovo [JURIST news archive] during Serbia's 1998-1999 war with ethnic Albanian separatists, the Serbian Interior Ministry announced [press release, in Serbian] Friday. Several members of the Scorpions, one of the most brutal paramilitary groups active in the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, have already been convicted of killing Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war [OnWar backgrounder], while one member has been convicted of killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

    Four Scorpions members have already been convicted and sentenced [JURIST report] for their role in the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica [JURIST news archive]. Reuters has more.






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    Canada government stalling Afghan detainee torture case: Amnesty
    Jaime Jansen on October 19, 2007 9:38 AM ET

    [JURIST] The Canadian government is trying to derail a lawsuit over whether the Canadian Army [official website] in Afghanistan is transferring custody of detainees to Afghan forces to face torture by bogging it down with a flurry of technical arguments, Amnesty International Canada [advocacy website] said Thursday. Amnesty and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy website] brought complaints against the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) [official website] in Federal Court [official website] in February, alleging complicity in torture by Canadian personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Amnesty alleges that Canada is violating its Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] by denying Afghan detainees access to legal counsel and protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Canadian government lawyers have asked the court to dismiss the case before it reaches the constitutional issues, arguing that the Charter does not apply to Canadian forces in Afghanistan because the army is not an occupying power in Afghanistan.

    Last month, the Canadian Army said that independent investigators have found no evidence [JURIST report] to support allegations [JURIST report] that the Army "may have aided or abetted the torture of detainees" by transferring them from Canadian to Afghan custody. The transfer scandal erupted in April when the Toronto Globe and Mail reported [text] that more than 30 terrorism suspects had been tortured by Afghan investigators after being transferred from Canadian custody. Following public outcry, Canada signed a new agreement regarding detainee transfers [JURIST report] with the Afghan government, giving Canada the right to inspect detainees following their transfer. A separate investigation regarding detainee abuse while in Canadian custody is ongoing [JURIST report]. The Canadian Press has more.






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    Argentina ex-coast guard officer on trial for 'Dirty War' torture
    Jaime Jansen on October 19, 2007 9:10 AM ET

    [JURIST] Former Argentinian coast guard officer Hector Febres went on trial Thursday on charges of kidnapping and torturing four people at the Navy Mechanics School [BBC backgrounder] during Argentina's Dirty War [Global Security backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. If convicted, Febres faces life in prison.

    Last week, an Argentinean court sentenced former military chaplain Christian von Wernich [Trial Watch profile; JURIST report] to life imprisonment for participating in seven homicides, 34 cases of torture and 42 cases of kidnapping during the Dirty War. Von Wernich is the third person to be convicted of crimes against humanity after the Argentinean Supreme Court declared amnesty laws passed in the 1990s to be unconstitutional. Former chief police investigator Miguel Etchecolatz [JURIST report] and former police officer Julio Simon were convicted last year of crimes against humanity during the Dirty War. Additionally, a federal court has revoked the pardons [JURIST report] of former military president Jorge Videla and former naval officer Emilio Eduardo Massera [Trial Watch profiles]. Former Argentinian President Reynaldo Bignone [JURIST report] faces trial in the near future, while former naval officer Ricardo Miguel Cavallo [JURIST news archive] faces charges in Spain. AP has more. La Nacion has local coverage.






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    Israel military commander reprimanded in human shield case
    Jaime Jansen on October 19, 2007 8:41 AM ET

    [JURIST] Israeli military Brigadier General Yair Golan received a reprimand [press release] Thursday after an investigation [JURIST report] by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] into allegations that Golan improperly used Palestinians as human shields. Golan, commander of the West Bank army division, will not be promoted for at least the next nine months as part of his reprimand. According to an IDF statement, Golan was reprimanded for using "the 'Preliminary Warning' procedure, contrary to his orders." The IDF defined "preliminary warning" as "an operational procedure used during an arrest operation in which forces use a local resident to warn the residents of a house that an arrest is imminent. The use of the procedure is meant to enable uninvolved civilians to leave the house and allow the suspects to turn themselves in, thus minimizing the risk of injury to civilians." In a 2005 Israel Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report], the high court ruled that another procedure - the "neighbor procedure" - from which the preliminary warning procedure is derived, illegally involved the use of human shields.

    Since the 2005 ruling, human rights groups have reported a decline in the once-common use of human shields, though many believe the practice is still employed. In April, video footage [JURIST report] taken in the West Bank showed IDF soldiers ordering two Palestinian teens to stand in front of their vehicle to protect it from stones being thrown by local bystanders during a military raid. The IDF also conducted a criminal probe [JURIST report] into an another human shield incident similarly caught on tape in February. Human shields are a violation of Article 51(7) of the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions [text] and other international agreements. AP has more. The Jerusalem Post has local coverage.






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    Camp Cropper ex-military police chief found not guilty of aiding enemy
    Jaime Jansen on October 19, 2007 8:04 AM ET

    [JURIST] The first military officer to face court-martial [JURIST report; press release] for aiding the enemy since the 2003 Iraq invasion was found not guilty Friday of aiding the enemy by providing a cellular phone to detainees. Former US military police commander Lt. Col. William Steele was convicted on three lesser charges [JURIST report] of unauthorized possession of classified documents, failing to obey an order, and for conduct unbecoming an officer by having an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter. Steele faced a possible life sentence if convicted by the military judge of aiding the enemy, and faces up to ten years in prison for his conviction on the other charges.

    Steele's defense lawyer said Monday in court-martial proceedings that Steele was trying to make sure that detainees under his control were treated humanely and was making an effort to improve the US image in Iraq, but prosecutors insisted that Steele ignored rules put in place for detainees. Camp Cropper, located near Baghdad International Airport, is the second-largest US-run military prison [WP report] in Iraq after Camp Bucca in the wake of the closing of the notorious Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] prison. The US emptied [JURIST report] Abu Ghraib and transferred those detainees to the Iraqi government in 2006. Cropper currently has some 3.000 inmates. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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    EU leaders agree to EU Reform Treaty text
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 18, 2007 8:38 PM ET

    [JURIST] European Union (EU) leaders reached agreement on the text of a proposed EU Reform Treaty [PDF text; EU materials] at a summit [EU materials] in Lisbon early Friday local time, working through last minute objections by Poland and Italy. Much of the summit focused on reservations by those countries; observers said that the treaty could have been defeated if they had refused to sign on. Polish President Lech Kaczynski had demanded that Poland receive more voting rights in the pact, and Prime Minister Romano Prodi [official profiles] had demanded that Italy get additional seats in the reformed European Parliament. Diplomats say the treaty will give the EU more clout by speeding up the decision-making process and thus allowing members to take a more active role in global issues.

    The treaty text was preliminarily approved [JURIST report] by EU legal experts earlier this month. EU leaders reached basic agreement [JURIST report] on the treaty itself in June; it is, in effect, a cut-down version of the abortive European constitution [JURIST news archive]. The original draft constitution failed as it did not receive unanimous approval among all EU states. Voters in France and the Netherlands [JURIST reports] rejected the proposal in national referenda in 2005. Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende [official profile] said last month, however, that Holland did not need to hold a referendum on the new treaty because it had "no constitutional aspirations." British leaders have also resisted calls for a national referendum on the new document, insisting that the treaty would not infringe on British independence. In June, then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the EU did not need a real or de facto constitutional treaty, and insisted that the reform treaty did not amount to an EU constitution [JURIST report]. The Guardian has more.






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    US lawmakers apologize to rendition victim Arar
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 18, 2007 7:52 PM ET

    [JURIST] US lawmakers apologized Thursday to Maher Arar [advocacy website; CBC timeline], a Canadian engineer who was detained in the US in 2002 after flying to New York from Tunisia on his way home to Ottawa after a holiday and later deported to Syria, where he was tortured. Appearing by video before a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, Arar accepted apologies from Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass) [press release; opening statement, recorded video] and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif) [official website], and reiterated his hope that he would one day receive an official apology from the US government. Rohrabacher expressed his sympathies for Arar, but bluntly said he would oppose any efforts to do away with extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive], which he credited for saving the lives of thousands of US citizens. AP has more.

    Canadian intelligence officials suspected that the United States would deport Arar to a country where he could be subject to torture, according to previously censored information released in August by Canada's official Arar Commission [official website], established [JURIST report] in 2004 to trace the events leading to Arar's deportation. The commission later concluded that Canadian officials did not play a role [JURIST report] in the US decision to detain and remove Arar, but said that the US decision was "very likely" based on inaccurate, unfair and overstated information about Arar passed on by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli later publicly apologized to Arar [JURIST report] "for whatever part the actions of the RCMP may have contributed to the terrible injustices that you experienced"; in January this year Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper similarly apologized to Arar [JURIST report] on behalf of the Canadian government.






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    Mukasey reluctant to express torture views on second day of confirmation hearing
    Benjamin Klein on October 18, 2007 7:31 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PBWT profile] refused on the second day of his confirmation hearings [witness list] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Thursday to say whether he considers "waterboarding" — a technique that induces the effects of being drowned — to be a form of torture. Mukasey [JURIST news archive], a retired federal judge who has presided over some of the nation's highest-profile terror trials, avoided questions about the legality of specific interrogation techniques, which also included forced nudity and mock executions, because he considered such comments to be irresponsible "when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques."

    Congress prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of persons under the custody or control of the United States government in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST text]. In April 2006, more than 100 US law professors insisted in an open letter [text] to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that waterboarding is torture, punishable as a felony offense. President George W. Bush nominated Mukasey [JURIST report] in September to replace Gonzales, who submitted his resignation [JURIST report] in August. AP has more.






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    House bill to protect gay workers advances without transgender protections
    Nick Fiske on October 18, 2007 6:54 PM ET

    [JURIST] An employment non-discrimination bill protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals but not transgendered individuals has been sent to the full US House of Representatives for consideration after being approved [press release] by the House Education and Labor Committee Thursday. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act [PDF text; HR 3685 materials] covers hiring and firing practices, the setting of compensation levels, and promotion determinations, and makes it illegal for employers to consider an employee's sexual orientation when making decisions in the workplace.

    The absence of transgender protections has prompted sharp opposition [ACLU press release] to the measure from civil rights groups. Democrats who introduced the bill in September were worried that the inclusion of language applying to transgender employees would cause the bill to fail and have vowed to address the issue in the future. California Representative Linda Sanchez [official profile] was one of four Democrats to vote against the bill in committee, saying that, "We could have done better." Currently less than half of US states specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation [JURIST news archive], and only half of these laws include protection for transgender individuals. AP has more.






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    US Senate committee debates surveillance bill granting telecoms immunity
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 18, 2007 6:49 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US Senate Intelligence Committee [official website] Thursday debated a draft bill that would grant immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] that assisted in government eavesdropping between 2001 and 2007. The bill, which would amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], also includes a provision requiring the attorney general to certify that probable cause exists to suspect that an American is engaged in activities against the United States before the government can initiate surveillance. President Bush has threatened to veto any surveillance bill that does not include immunity provisions for telecom companies that assisted in government eavesdropping. AP has more.

    On Wednesday, House Democrats withdrew [JURIST report] the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [HR 3773 summary; HJC summary, PDF] from the House floor for consideration after Republicans moved to attach an amendment to the bill which would have been politically awkward for Democrats to reject, providing that nothing in the measure would prevent the government from spying on Osama Bin Laden or other terrorist organizations. The RESTORE Act was intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], signed in August, as the law governing foreign surveillance.






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    Turkish constitutional reform referendum to go ahead: electoral council
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 18, 2007 6:08 PM ET

    [JURIST] Turkey will hold a constitutional reform referendum on Sunday as scheduled, the Turkish Supreme Electoral Council [official website, in Turkish] said Wednesday. The referendum addresses a package of proposed reforms which include reducing the maximum parliamentary from five years to four; requiring a legislative voting quorum of one-third of Turkish MPs; reducing the presidential term from seven to five years and providing for the possibility of a second presidential term, and - most importantly - changing the presidential election process to a popular vote. Turkish voters will be asked to decide on the reforms as a group, as opposed to each individually. There was originally some controversy over whether the proposed presidential election reform would retroactively require parliamentarily-selected Turkish President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile] to submit himself to a popular vote or whether it would only affect future elections. On Tuesday, parliament amended the reform bill to clarify that it would not apply to Gul's presidency. In response, Electoral Council President Muammer Aydin [official profile, in Turkish] indicated that the Council might delay or cancel the referendum because 20,000 absentee ballots had already been received using the original text. The Council ultimately decided that too few votes had been cast to affect the outcome of the referendum, and so voting could continue as planned. AFP has more. NTV has additional coverage.

    Gul's original candidacy in April caused controversy when he ran as the sole contender for the Turkish presidency [BBC Q&A]. The Turkish Constitutional Court voided [JURIST report] an April parliamentary vote in support of Gul because a quorum of legislators did not participate, prompting calls for constitutional reform [JURIST report]. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official website] accused the court of hurting democracy and said he would support dissolving parliament and holding an early parliamentary election to ensure that Turkey's leaders were chosen by the people rather than the courts.

    The Turkish parliament subsequently backed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] supported by the government to allow voters to directly elect the president. The bill was vetoed [JURIST report] by then-Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer [BBC profile], and then passed by parliament a second time [JURIST report] in a vote marred by complaints of balloting violations. The ruling AKP party then sought to hold a national referendum [JURIST report] on the issue; Sezer later blocked the referendum [JURIST reports] from taking place at the same time as parliamentary elections [BBC Q&A] in July. The Constitutional Court ultimately ruled that the referendum could proceed [JURIST report] and set a date of Oct. 21.






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    Myanmar forming constitution-drafting commission
    Alexis Unkovic on October 18, 2007 3:57 PM ET

    [JURIST] The military government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive] Thursday said it will form a 54-member commission to draft a new national constitution [JURIST news archive] as the next stage in its seven-step plan to move toward democratic rule. The commission reportedly will be comprised of both military and civilian officials and chaired by Chief Justice U Aung Toe. The government has not specified a timeline for the commission to complete its work. Reuters has more.

    So far, Myanmar has only completed the first step of its seven-step plan with the drafting of guidelines for a new constitution [JURIST report] finished in September. Critics, however, contend that the drafting was essentially staged by the junta, and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] largely refused to participate in the process. The country has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter have been underway for 14 years.






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    Khmer Rouge second-in-command selects Dutch lawyer for war crimes trial
    Alexis Unkovic on October 18, 2007 3:08 PM ET

    [JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] on Thursday selected [press release, PDF] Dutch lawyer Michiel Pestman [firm profile] to serve as foreign counsel in his upcoming trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive], the ECCC said Thursday on charges [statement, PDF] of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Chea is currently represented by Cambodian lawyer Son Arun [press release, PDF], with whom Pestman will work as co-counsel. Pestman has previously represented several high-profile clients including Moinina Fofana [TrialWatch profile], a former leader of Sierra Leone's Civil Defense Forces sentenced [JURIST report] to prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] earlier this month.

    Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. Chea has disputed [JURIST report] the war crimes charges he faces since his arrest [detention order, PDF; JURIST report] in September. Earlier this week, Chea urged [JURIST report] the ECCC to release him on bail. Reuters has more.






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    Rwanda war crimes suspect arrested in France
    Kiely Lewandowski on October 18, 2007 2:58 PM ET

    [JURIST] Rwandan genocide suspect Dominique Ntawukuriryayo [ICTR website] has been arrested in France, a UN spokesperson said Thursday. Ntawukuriryayo, a former public official, had been on the run from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website], where he has been charged [indictment, PDF] with genocide, complicity in genocide and direct and public incitement to genocide. UN spokesperson Michelle Montas said Ntawukuriryayo will be transferred to Paris and then to the custody of the ICTR.

    The charges against Ntawukuriryayo stem principally from his alleged involvement in the Kabuye Hill massacre that occurred over five days in late April 1994, during which as many as 25,000 people were killed. Then sub-prefect for Gisagara, he is charged with ordering Tutsis to move to Kabuye Hill, where he promised protection, but when they arrived, they were surrounded by and shot by gendarmes and communal policemen. Ntawukuriryayo's arrest follows a three-day hunger strike [JURIST report; HNA report] last week by 40 inmates awaiting trial at the ICTR. The UN News Centre has more.






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    Pakistan high court dismisses martial law fears, rules out full-court hearing
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 18, 2007 2:08 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Wednesday dismissed concerns that President Pervez Musharraf [official website] would declare martial law [JURIST report] if the court invalidates his disputed election victory, with the top presiding judge telling the court that such fears will not influence the court's decision making. The court is hearing arguments [JURIST report] against Musharraf's re-election campaign by two of Musharraf's opponents, who say that he was ineligible to participate in the election while he was the army chief. According to unofficial tallies, Musharraf won by a large margin [JURIST report] in the election earlier this month. He has promised to step down from his military role and lead the country as a civilian if the court validates his victory. AFP has more.

    Also Wednesday, Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] rejected requests that the full 17-member court hear the election challenges. Chaudhry said that two justices should not participate in the hearings because they had already expressed opinions on the merits of the case, and that several other justices had scheduling conflicts. Chaudhry himself has refused to participate in the hearings after a debacle earlier this year, when Musharraf suspended Chaudhry [JURIST report] in March on allegations of corruption [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhry [JURIST report] in July. Many believed that the suspension was meant to prevent Chaudhry from interfering with any attempt by Musharraf to extend his eight-year rule in the elections. ANI has more.






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    Second suspected Congo war criminal turned over to ICC
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 18, 2007 1:18 PM ET

    [JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive] said Thursday that former Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) warlord Germain Katanga [Trial Watch profile; ICC materials] has been transferred [press release] to the court's detention center [PDF backgrounder] at The Hague. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor alleges that Katanga, the former senior commander of the Force de Resistance Patriotique en Ituri ("FRPI") militia in the DRC, ordered fighters under his command to "wipe out" [OTP press release] the village of Bogoro, where hundreds of civilians were killed and several women were forced into sexual slavery. Katanga is charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes. His first appearance before the court has not yet been announced.

    Katanga is the second warlord from the DRC who has been flown to the ICC to face trial. Last year, Thomas Lubanga [Trial Watch backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was taken into ICC custody [JURIST report] to face accusations of widespread human rights abuses in eastern Congo’s Ituri district [HRW backgrounder]. Lubanga is also suspected of ordering the killing of nine UN peacekeepers in 2005 and filling the ranks of his militia with child soldiers [BBC report]. The ICC is considering moving Lubanga's trial back to the DRC [JURIST report], where the court feels the trial would resonate more with the country's citizens. Reuters has more.






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    House Democrats postpone consideration of major surveillance bill
    Joshua Pantesco on October 18, 2007 11:07 AM ET

    [JURIST] House Democrats withdrew the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [HR 3773 summary; HJC summary, PDF] from the House floor for consideration Wednesday after Republicans moved to attach an amendment to the bill which would have been politically awkward for Democrats to reject. The RESTORE Act is intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], signed in August, as the law governing foreign surveillance. At the earliest, House Democrats will re-introduce the bill as currently drafted next week. The amendment proposed by House Republicans would have said that nothing in the bill would prevent the government from spying on Osama Bin Laden or other terrorist organizations; Democrats say their bill allows for surveillance of terrorist organizations, so they would vote down the amendment, which would provide fodder for Republican claims that Democrats are soft on terrorism.

    The RESTORE Act [CRS summary] permits eavesdropping on foreign targets operating outside the US, but if the surveillance targets are thought to be communicating with Americans, the government must apply for an "umbrella" court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official backgrounder] to conduct surveillance for up to one year. In an emergency, the government may begin surveillance immediately, but must apply for a FISC court order within seven days and receive FISC approval within 45 days. House Republicans oppose the RESTORE Act as unwieldy and an impediment to effective counter-terrorism surveillance. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it does not provide legal immunity to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] for participating in the NSA domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. House Democrats have not adopted such an amendment and want the president to reveal what the telecommunications companies did that requires legal immunity. Bush instead favors a renewal of the temporary Protect America Act, which, in part, amends FISA to state that nothing under its definition of "electronic surveillance" shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States. AP has more.






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    FCC chair wants vote on media ownership rules by December
    Joshua Pantesco on October 18, 2007 10:21 AM ET

    [JURIST] FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin [official profile] has circulated a schedule that calls for a final FCC vote in December on a proposal to relax media ownership rules [FCC backgrounder]. Under the current rules, a company may not own a television station and a newspaper in the same market, which is blocking Chicago investor Sam Zell from buying the Tribune Company newspaper conglomerate. Another rule under scrutiny prevents one company from owning two television stations unless one is not in the top four and there are at least eight stations in the market. Under Martin's proposed schedule, the FCC will hold public hearings in Washington on October 31 and on November 2 in Seattle, will publish the proposed rule on November 13, and will hold a final vote on the rule on December 18. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Wednesday that the schedule does not allow enough time for public debate.

    Three years ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned [opinion, PDF] a previous FCC effort to relax the media ownership rules. The appeals court found the commission did not sufficiently justify or use reasoned analysis to arrive at some of the proposed rule changes. The US Supreme Court let the decision stand without comment [JURIST report]. Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps [FCC profile], who has been steadfast in his opposition to relaxing the media rules, said Martin's plan to change the rules by December risks another reversal by the Third Circuit. The New York Times has more.






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    US transports 'Chemical Ali' to Iraq gallows site: NYT
    Joshua Pantesco on October 18, 2007 9:45 AM ET

    [JURIST] US authorities have delivered Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], better known in Western media as "Chemical Ali," to a location near a prison gallows in Baghdad where he is expected to be transferred into Iraqi custody to be executed, an Iraqi police official said Wednesday. Al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, was sentenced to death [JURIST report] by the Iraqi High Tribunal in June on genocide and war crimes charges, and the Tribunal's Appeals Chamber upheld the death sentence [JURIST report] in September. Iraqi law requires executions to take place within 30 days, but the execution was delayed [JURIST report] so that it would not occur during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The New York Times has more.

    Al-Majid's planned execution has prompted several other legal issues. It was reported Wednesday that several members of Iraq's Presidency Council, which includes Kurdish President Jalal Talibani, Shi'ite Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, have refused to sign the execution order [JURIST report]. Although an Iraqi judge said last month that presidential approval is not required [JURIST report] to carry out an execution, it is unknown whether al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government can establish a new execution date without the approval of the Presidency Council. In addition, it is unclear whether anyone has legal authority to pardon him. Al-Majid lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano [legal website] told JURIST Tuesday that since the initial 30-day execution window had expired, Iraqi officials were required to respond to an application for a pardon filed with Talabani and the Iraqi High Tribunal or else the execution would amount to what he called premeditated murder [JURIST comment].

    1:51 PM ET - In a statement to JURIST, al-Majid defense lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano has said that as of Thursday morning (ET), al-Majid was still being held in Camp Cropper.



    3:13 PM ET - An Iraqi government spokesperson said Thursday that he expects al-Majid's execution to be carried out "in the coming days." AFP has more.






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    Pakistan ex-PM returns from exile despite pending court hearings on amnesty ordinance
    Joshua Pantesco on October 18, 2007 8:43 AM ET

    [JURIST] Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] returned home to Pakistan Thursday after nine years of self-imposed exile in Great Britain and Dubai following corruption charges. Bhutto, who continued to lead the Pakistani People's Party [party website] during her exile, is a political rival [BBC backgrounder] of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile], but Musharraf earlier this month signed [JURIST report] a "reconciliation ordinance" granting amnesty to Bhutto on the corruption charges in an attempt to boost his waning popularity. The Supreme Court of Pakistan said last week that it would hear a challenge to the ordinance [JURIST report]. AFP has more.

    Musharraf won an overwhelming victory in presidential elections [JURIST report] on October 6, according to unofficial results. Many believe his re-election bid violated a constitutional ban on holding dual roles as president and army chief, and 85 opposition members of parliament resigned in protest prior to the election. The Supreme Court barred the Election Commission of Pakistan [official website] from officially declaring a winner until the high court issues a ruling on whether Musharraf was in fact eligible as a presidential candidate. The court began hearing legal arguments [JURIST report] Wednesday in the case filed by opposition party members challenging Musharraf's re-election bid.

    ALSO ON JURIST

     Op-ed: Supreme Challenge: Pakistan's Presidential Election Goes to Court | Op-ed: Pakistan's Constitutional Mess





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    Venezuela parliament debates constitutional amendments on presidential power
    Lisl Brunner on October 17, 2007 10:04 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Venezuelan National Assembly [official website] on Wednesday debated a set of proposed amendments to the constitution, including reforms that would eliminate presidential term limits and augment the president's emergency powers. In August, the proposed amendments passed a preliminary vote [JURIST report] in the Assembly; after the current round of debates, the constitutional reforms will be subject to a national referendum on December 2. The Assembly has already passed 33 amendments, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] proposed 25 additional amendments on Tuesday. These include provisions allowing the president to declare an indefinite state of emergency, lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, reducing the working day to six hours, and prohibiting discrimination.

    Chavez has touted the proposed changes as necessary to advance the socialist revolution in Venezuela [JURIST news archive]. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] warned that the proposed amendments would violate international law [press release] by allowing the president to suspend due process guarantees during times of emergency. Members of the opposition party have accused Chavez [JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power over Venezuela. The National Assembly is overwhelmingly comprised of Chavez supporters, as opposition parties boycotted elections in 2005. The Guardian has more. El Pais has additional coverage, in Spanish.






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    US Supreme Court stays Virginia lethal injection execution
    Andrew Gilmore on October 17, 2007 6:56 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday afternoon issued an order [DOC text] staying the execution of Virginia death row inmate Christopher Scott Emmett [advocacy profile], who had been scheduled to be put to death at 9 PM ET. The Court stayed the execution "pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit or further order of this Court." Emmett has been convicted of capital murder and robbery.

    The Supreme Court has agreed to consider Baze v. Rees [docket; cert. petition, PDF], a case challenging lethal injection as unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Since the Court granted certiorari, several states have stayed executions pending the outcome of that case, including a Nevada court, which on Monday issued a stay of all executions in the state [JURIST report]. Reuters has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.






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    Ukraine high court delays validating parliament election results
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 17, 2007 6:49 PM ET

    [JURIST] The High Administrative Court of Ukraine has delayed validating the results of the Sept. 30 parliamentary election [JURIST report] pending the outcome of a legal challenge by the Communist Party of Ukraine [party website], a court spokesperson said Wednesday. The Communist Party argues that the vote was invalid due to alleged violations surrounding voting abroad. The announcement came as President Viktor Yuschenko approved a coalition [press release]
    this week between his Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense Bloc [party website] and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc [party website] of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; BBC profile]. Together, the two parties won 228 seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, while the opposition Party of Regions [party website], led by Yuschenko's long-time chief rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich [BBC profile], won 175 seats, although the court has not yet confirmed these results. AP has more.

    The court's delay could create further tensions in the Ukraine, which was engulfed in political turmoil in recent months. A constitutional crisis erupted in April when Yushchenko issued a degree dissolving parliament [JURIST report]. Yanukovich and leaders of the Ukrainian parliament filed a legal challenge before the Constitutional Court of Ukraine [official website; JURIST news archive]. Yushchenko subsequently dismissed three Constitutional Court judges for alleged oath and ethnics violations [JURIST report], and appointed replacement judges [JURIST report] without consulting either Yanukovich or the Justice Ministry. In May, Yushchenko sought a lower court order to block the Constitutional Court from ruling on his April 2 decree following his rejection of the Constitutional Court's authority [JURIST reports].






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    Khmer Rouge second-in-command asks tribunal for release on bail
    Dennis Zawacki II on October 17, 2007 5:52 PM ET

    [JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] on Wednesday asked the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] to release him on bail. Nuon Chea's family earlier this week expressed concern over his health and urged the tribunal to release him [AFP report] into their custody. He is currently being held at a tribunal detention center awaiting trial for charges [statement, PDF] of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Nuon Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trials. The first trials are expected in 2008. AFP has more.






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    Mukasey criticizes Bybee torture memo during AG confirmation hearing
    Caitlin Price on October 17, 2007 4:33 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey [White House fact sheet; firm profile] told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday that he opposes presidential authorization of torture, calling the controversial "Bybee Memo" [PDF text; PBS backgrounder] "unnecessary" and "a mistake." The 2002 memo, in which the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel defined torture as physical pain equivalent in "intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death," was never repudiated by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive]. Mukasey addressed other topics of concern [JURIST report] during the confirmation hearing questioning, stating that he will recuse himself from matters related to close friend and presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani [official profile], and that he is willing to resign if his legal and ethical objections to administration policy are ignored. AP has more.

    During his opening statement [text; JURIST report] of the hearing on his nomination [witness list], Mukasey said that he will hold Constitutional limits in high regard and will work to balance national security and civil liberties. On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said that the Senate will likely approve Mukasey without undue delay [JURIST report].






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    Philippines military court drops charges against four officers linked to 2003 mutiny
    Caitlin Price on October 17, 2007 4:11 PM ET

    [JURIST] A Philippines military tribunal Wednesday dismissed charges against four military officers connected with a failed mutiny [BBC report] in July 2003 in which 300 soldiers from elite special forces took over buildings in Manila in an effort to overthrow the government of President Gloria Arroyo [official website; JURIST news archive]. An army officer and a navy ensign were released after the tribunal declared there was insufficient evidence to try the pair on charges of conduct unbecoming and failure to suppress mutiny. Two other army officers were cleared of the same charges, though they remain in custody for charges of conspiracy and absence without leave.

    In April, a military tribunal sentenced 54 military officers [JURIST report] to seven years and six months in jail for involvement in the same mutiny. An additional 30 officers face pending courts-martial [JURIST report] for another alleged coup attempt against Arroyo in February 2006. Reuters has more.






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    Japan cabinet approves limited anti-terror bill
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 17, 2007 3:19 PM ET

    [JURIST] Japan's cabinet Wednesday approved new anti-terror legislation which would grant a one-year extension to a Japanese refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. The bill, which restricts its application to allied ships on anti-terrorism patrols, is a compromise [AFP report] between the leading Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) [official website, in Japanese] and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) [official website], which wishes to scrap the mission entirely. The changes to the anti-terrorism bill would prohibit Japanese support of US and other allied ships engaged in military, rescue, or humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. Critics of the bill say that it would effectively sideline Japan in the war on terror. The refuelling mission has also been criticized by those who say it violates the country's pacifist constitution by involving Japan in military operations in the Middle East.

    The bill, a limited renewal [JURIST report] of the current Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [text], will now move on to the DJP-controlled upper house of Japan's parliament. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned last month [JURIST report] amidst controversy over renewal of a broader version of the anti-terror law. Present Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda [official website] has pushed for renewing the law [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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    DOJ figures show increase in terrorism, immigration prosecutions
    Caitlin Price on October 17, 2007 3:09 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website; JURIST news archive] has increasingly turned its focus to terrorism and immigration offenses since 2000, according to a Washington Post report Wednesday. Statistics from the Executive Office for US Attorneys [official website] provided to the Post showed significant decreases in prosecution under the Bush administration of organized crime (down 38 percent), white collar crime (down 10 percent), environmental crimes (down 12 percent), bankruptcy fraud (down 46 percent), and drug money-laundering crimes (down 25 percent). The data also showed an 876 percent increase in terrorism and national security prosecutions, a 36 percent increase in immigration prosecutions, and near 300 percent increase in child pornography and obscenity prosecutions. The reported figures were similar to those published monthly by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse [group site], an independent DOJ tracker.

    The DOJ shifts have been criticized as further examples of the politicization of the department [JURIST news archive], as the administration's national security priorities have displaced more traditional prosecutions. In addition, local law enforcement agencies complain that the DOJ has delegated non-terrorism prosecution while decreasing local police budgets, from $2.5 billion in 1997 to $1.1 billion in the 2008 proposal. The US violent crime rate [JURIST news archive] rose in 2005 and 2006, the first such increases in over a decade. FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed [speech text] these concerns Monday in a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police [association website], saying that federal agencies have realized that "national security is as much about reducing the number of homicides on our streets as it is about reducing the threat of terrorism," though emphasizing that resources were limited on all levels.






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    Iran court sentences students for insulting Islam
    Deirdre Jurand on October 17, 2007 2:35 PM ET

    [JURIST] An Iranian court sentenced three university students to prison terms ranging from two to three years for insulting Islam and Islamic clerics, the students' lawyer said Tuesday. Officials arrested the students [AFP report], Majid Tavakoli, Ahmed Ghassaban and Ehsan Mansouri, in May along with five other students on charges of endangering national security and insulting Islam. Lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said the trial opened September 22 and closed Tuesday with sentences of three years in prison for Tavakoli, two-and-one-half years for Ghassaban and two years for Mansouri. Dadkhah, a human rights lawyer who is part of the team of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi [Nobel profile; JURIST news archive] team, said he is unsure whether the court intended suspended terms or prison time. The students all attend Amirkabir University of Technology [official website] in Tehran and are leaders of Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (the Office for the Consolidation of Unity) [HRW profile], the largest-known Iranian student reform group. Group officials and the three students maintain [AFP report] that the newsletter that contained the "insults" was made by more conservative people to frame the group. Dadkhah said the students plan to appeal the judgments.

    Iran has recently made a number of high-profile arrests of scholars accused of endangering national security, including Iranian-American Dr. Haleh Esfandiari [JURIST news archive]. Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was arrested in May, detained for over 100 days, but was released on bail and left Iran [JURIST reports] in September. Charges against her still stand. AP has more.






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    'Chemical Ali' execution further delayed
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 17, 2007 2:13 PM ET

    [JURIST] The planned execution [JURIST report] of Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], better known in Western media as "Chemical Ali," has been further delayed while Iraqi lawmakers debate the role of the country's Presidency Council and the scope of the authority of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile], a judicial source said Wednesday. Several members of the council, made up of Kurdish President Jalal Talibani, Shi'ite Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi are believed to have refused to sign the execution order. Although an Iraqi judge said last month that presidential approval is not required [JURIST report] to carry out an execution, debate continues as to whether council approval is required and if that approval must be unanimous. It is also unknown if al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government can establish a new execution date unilaterally. An Iraqi appeals court upheld al-Majid's death sentence on September 4 and Iraqi law requires executions to take place within 30 days, but the execution was delayed [JURIST reports] so that it would not occur during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Reuters has more.

    Another legal issue that has arisen from al-Majid's planned execution is whether anyone in the country has the legal authority to pardon him. On Tuesday, Iraqi Chief Prosecutor al-Anfal Munqidh Al Firaoun told the Italian news wire AKI that the Iraqi constitution forbids the president from modifying the death penalty for the crime of genocide. Al-Majid lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano [legal website] told JURIST Tuesday that since the initial 30-day execution window had expired, Iraqi officials were required to respond to an application for a pardon filed with Talabani and the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website] or else the execution would amount to what he called premeditated murder [JURIST comment]. AKI has more.






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    TSA revises turban search procedures after Sikh criticism of 'religious profiling'
    Gabriel Haboubi on October 17, 2007 1:18 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website] Tuesday revised security procedures relating to headwear [press release], merging procedures involving headwear with the broader category of bulky clothing. The move came less than a week after the TSA and the Sikh Coalition [advocacy website] held a "community meeting" [press release] in Washington DC to discuss Sikh criticism [JURIST report] of security procedures enacted in August as "disturbingly vague" and likely to lead to "religious profiling." The "bulky clothing" category provides TSA screeners with new options, including using trace detection and pat downs, when dealing with passengers who choose not to remove their headwear for religious, medical, or other reasons. If the headwear, like any other form of bulky clothing, still cannot be cleared through security after those options are exhausted, TSA officials can ask that the item be removed in a private screening area. The new guidelines are effective Oct. 27.

    The August revisions specifically included the turban [statement, DOC] - worn by Sikhs as a article of faith [Sikh Coalition backgrounder] - as an example of a type of headwear that could potentially hide non-metallic threat items, and subjected those wearing head coverings to secondary screenings at checkpoints. Earlier TSA guidelines [PDF text] had recognized that "Sikhs view their turbans as an important connection to God that covers a very private and personal part of the body" and "removal of a turban is considered one of the most invasive acts imaginable." AP has more.






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    US moves up in annual world press freedom index
    Brett Murphy on October 17, 2007 12:01 PM ET

    [JURIST] The United States has gained ground as a country protecting press freedom, according to the sixth annual Worldwide Index of Freedom [press release] issued Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website]. RWB listed Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan at the bottom of the survey, while Iceland and Norway tied for first. The US moved up the list to rank 48 out of 169 countries, after being ranked 53rd last year [JURIST report]. The US had started out at the 17th spot in 2002, the first year of the Index's publication. RWB said of the US and other G8 countries' 2007 rankings:

    After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, the G8 members have recovered a few places. France (31st), for example, has climbed six places in the past year. French journalists were spared the violence that affected them at the end of 2005 in a labour conflict in Corsica and during the demonstrations in the city suburbs. But many concerns remain about repeated censorship, searches of news organizations, and a lack of guarantees for the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

    There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeera's Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.
    Noting that bloggers are threatened just as much as traditional journalists, especially in countries that habitually limit freedom of press, RWB said:
    The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.

    In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible. "We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "More and more governments have realized that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media."

    At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticizing the president and Islamist control of the country's universities.
    Reporters Without Borders compiles the Index of Freedom by asking 15 of its partners worldwide, its network of 130 correspondents and researchers, jurists and human rights activists to answer 50 questions [questionnaire] about press freedom in their respective countries. Reliable results were received for 169 nations and were then compiled [RWB backgrounder] based on "the degree of freedom that journalists and news organizations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom." AP has more.





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    Mukasey pledges to balance security and liberty as AG confirmation hearing begins
    Brett Murphy on October 17, 2007 11:28 AM ET

    [JURIST] US Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PBWT profile] told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday that he will work to balance national security and civil liberties if confirmed as the next attorney general. During a hearing on his nomination [witness list], Mukasey said in his opening statement [text] that he will hold Constitutional limits in high regard:

    [T]he Justice Department's mission includes advising the other departments and agencies of government, including the President, on what choices they are free to make and what limits they face. Here too, the governing standard is what the law and Constitution permit and require.

    I am here in the first instance to tell you, but also to tell the men and women of the Department of Justice, that those are the standards that guided the Department when I was privileged to serve 35 years ago, and those are the standards I intend to help them uphold if I am confirmed.
    Mukasey went on to say that he understands the tension created between the desire for security and the desire to protect liberty, saying that:
    The dilemma is because the conflict is between two rights, each in its own way important. That is why I have told you during those discussions, and may have occasion to repeat again here today, that protecting civil liberties, and people’s confidence that those liberties are protected, is a part of protecting national security, just as is the gathering of intelligence to defend us from those who believe it is their duty to make war on us. We have to succeed at both. It is the honor and the privilege of the men and women of the Justice Department to help us do that, and if I am confirmed it will be my honor and privilege to try to help them help us.
    On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said that the Senate will likely approve Mukasey without undue delay [JURIST report].

    In his own opening statement [text] Wednesday, Leahy said:
    Restoring the Department of Justice begins by restoring integrity and independence to the position of Attorney General of the United States. The Attorney General’s duty is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law — not to work to circumvent it. Both the President and the Nation are best served by an Attorney General who gives sound advice and takes responsible action, without regard to political considerations — not one who develops legalistic loopholes to serve the ends of a particular administration. The Attorney General cannot interpret our laws to mean whatever the current President wants them to mean. The Attorney General is supposed to represent all of the American people, not just one of them. ...

    We need a new Attorney General. We need someone who understands that the responsibilities and duties of that office are not to act as a mouthpiece or validator for the Administration, or as the chief defense lawyer for the White House. We are reminded by the examples of Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus from the Watergate era -- and more recently the examples of James Comey, Jack Goldsmith, and Alberto Mora -- that law enforcement officials must enforce the law without fear or favor to their benefactors at the White House or their political party. We have now seen what happens when the rule of law plays second fiddle to a President’s policy agenda and the partisan desires of political operatives. ...

    This is a job interview for a big job that has become even bigger. Along with helping keep Americans safe, protecting their rights, combating crime and enforcing the law, and managing more than 100,000 employees and a budget extending into the tens of billions of dollars, the next Attorney General must regain public trust and begin the process of repair and restoration.

    This nomination can begin the repair process. I hope all Members of the Judiciary Committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, will join to restore the constitutional checks and balances that have been systematically eroded by this Administration, and I hope that we can begin that process this week.
    President George W. Bush formally nominated [JURIST report] Mukasey on September 17 to replace former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive], who submitted his resignation [JURIST report] in August. AP has more.





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    Pakistan martial law possible if high court denies Musharraf re-election bid: official
    Brett Murphy on October 17, 2007 10:07 AM ET

    [JURIST] Pakistani Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Niazi said Tuesday that martial law may be declared in the country if the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] rules against President Pervez Musharraf's bid for re-election. Niazi said that his statement should not be regarded as a threat, but rather an indication that the possibility for martial law remains should the court rule against the president. The court is scheduled to hear legal arguments [JURIST report] against Musharraf's re-election campaign on Wednesday. Opponents have challenged that Musharraf should not have been allowed to run for president while still retaining his position as chief of the Pakistan's army.

    Earlier this month, Musharraf won an overwhelming victory [JURIST report] in presidential elections in the National Assembly of Pakistan, according to unofficial results. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that the controversial ballot could proceed, but it barred the Election Commission of Pakistan [official website] from officially declaring a winner until the high court issues a ruling on whether Musharraf was in fact an eligible presidential candidate. His current term expires November 15. IANS has more.






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    Armenian genocide resolution losing ground in US House
    Brett Murphy on October 17, 2007 9:54 AM ET

    [JURIST] Representatives in the US House have begun to pull back support for a resolution [HR 106 materials; text] labeling as genocide the World War I-era killings of over one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers [ANCA backgrounder; Turkish DC Embassy backgrounder], with nearly a dozen members of Congress changing their position on the vote since Monday, the New York Times reported Wednesday. US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that the House will vote on the resolution [JURIST report], with Senate Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressing a belief that the bill would pass without difficulty. However, members of the House have now indicated that their support for the bill has waned due to warnings from Turkey that the passage of the bill would affect relations between the US and Turkey.

    The resolution was approved by the House Foreign Relations Committee [JURIST report] last week and will go to a vote before the full House. On Sunday, Turkish General and commander of the Turkish Armed Forces Yasar Buyukanit [official profile] warned that US-Turkish ties will be permanently damaged if the House passes the resolution [JURIST report]. Last Wednesday, US President George W. Bush expressed disappointment [press briefing] over the committee decision and urged the full House not to approve the resolution out of concern that it could alienate Turkey, a key US supporter in the war on terror. The New York Times has more.

    2:52 PM ET - US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) said Wednesday that he expects a House vote on the resolution would fail and urged House leadership to reconsider [press release] putting the resolution to a vote on the House floor. AP has more.






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    Myanmar junta says nearly 3,000 arrested during protest crackdown
    Brett Murphy on October 17, 2007 9:10 AM ET

    [JURIST] Officials in Myanmar [JURIST news archive] have arrested close to 3,000 people for participating in recent peaceful protests, the junta said in a statement published Wednesday in the state-run New Light of Myanmar [official website]. The junta also said that the 500 people still in detention were those who organized or supported "unrest" and will remain there until interrogated. Those who have been released were forced to sign a "pledge," an item the government left unexplained in the announcement.

    Myanmar has been sharply criticized for its crackdown on pro-democracy protests, including a recent statement by UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari slamming Myanmar's detention of four more pro-democracy activists [JURIST reports]. The latest detainees, all members of the 1988 Generation Students group [BBC backgrounder], were detained after Myanmar's military government rejected a UN Security Council statement [text; UN News report] denouncing the country's violent reaction against peaceful demonstrators. Myanmar also rejected the UN Security Council's call for the military junta to release political prisoners and negotiate with the opposition National League for Democracy. The military government has reported only 10 deaths linked to the protests, while dissident groups have suggested that some hundreds and perhaps even thousands have been killed. AP has more.

    1:16 PM ET - A source from Myanmar's Buddhist community said Wednesday that monk Eik Darea has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after being convicted of inciting public unrest and illegal association for his participation in the protests. In what is the first known sentencing in connection to the protest arrests, the monk was also defrocked and may be sent to a labor camp. Reuters has more.






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    Tyco liability insurer seeks recovery of legal fees from ex-CEO
    James M Yoch Jr on October 17, 2007 12:03 AM ET

    [JURIST] Corporate Officers & Directors Assurance Ltd. (CODA), a subsidiary of ACE Bermuda [corporate website], has filed a petition in a New York trial court requesting an order compelling former Tyco International [corporate website] CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski [JURIST news archive] to pay the insurer approximately $1.97 million. CODA provided directors and officers liability insurance to Kozlowski, and won an arbitration award in the UK for the recovery of money paid in legal fees to the former executive. Kozlowski was found guilty of grand larceny [JURIST report] in 2005 for misappropriating corporate funds and is currently in prison. The petition, filed Friday, seeks to enforce that arbitration award as well as recover costs associated with the UK litigation. Kozlowski previously attempted to recover expenses for his defense from CODA and other insurers in a lawsuit.

    Tyco suffered one of the most infamous corporate fraud scandals [JURIST news archive] in modern times relating to the convictions of Kozlowski and former CFO Mark Swartz, who were found guilty of looting the company and defrauding its shareholders out of more than $150 million in unauthorized personal compensation. In 2005, they were sentenced to prison [JURIST report] for 8 to 25 years. Tyco settled SEC charges [JURIST report] of fraudulent accounting in April 2006 for $50 million. In July, a federal judge preliminarily approved [JURIST report] a $3.2 billion settlement agreement [JURIST report] between Tyco International, Tyco's former auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers [corporate website], and investors who were harmed by fraudulent accounting practices orchestrated by Tyco's former top executives. AP has more.






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    UN SG urges renewed focus on 'fundamental' right to food
    Lauren Becker on October 16, 2007 9:36 PM ET

    [JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Tuesday called for an increased effort to uphold the "fundamental human right" to food for some 854 million around the world who suffer from chronic hunger. In a message marking World Food Day [official website], Ban called for cooperation to uphold the right to food [text], saying that:

    Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the right to food has been strengthened through legislative measures at the international and national levels...

    And yet, progress towards eradicating hunger is slow. We need to do far more to place the integrity and rights of every human being at the centre of all our efforts. We need to combine current efforts with stepped up measures to ensure participation and empowerment, accountability and transparency, human dignity and the rule of law.
    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [official website], 854 million people around the world do not have enough food, despite the fact that there is currently enough food produced in the world to feed everyone.

    The Universal Declaration on Human Rights [text] was adopted by the UN in 1948. Article 25 of the Declaration states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food." The UN News Centre has more.





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    US House passes reporter shield bill
    Mike Rosen-Molina on October 16, 2007 7:30 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US House of representatives Tuesday voted 398-21 [roll call] to pass a shield bill [HR 2102 materials] that would prevent courts from compelling reporters to disclose confidential sources. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, sponsored by Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va) [press releases], would generally allow reporters to refuse to testify as to their sources without being subject to contempt of court, but nonetheless contains exceptions for situations where the information sought is needed to prevent a terrorist act or to protect national security. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, saying that the exceptions are too narrow. The bill now goes to the Senate.

    The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] last week voted 15-2 to send a similar shield bill [S 2035 materials] to the full Senate for consideration. The Bush administration and the US Department of Justice have continuously opposed the enactment of a federal reporter shield law [JURIST news archive] citing national security concerns, while proponents, including media outlets, argue the legislation is necessary to protect freedom of the press. AP has more.






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    Yahoo! executive called to testify at House hearing on China user data handover
    Leslie Schulman on October 16, 2007 7:19 PM ET

    [JURIST] US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos Tuesday summoned [press release] Jerry Yang, chief executive of Yahoo! Inc. [corporate website], to testify before a hearing next month regarding allegations that the Internet giant gave false information to Congress about its role in human rights violations committed by the Chinese government. Yahoo! had testified in a hearing [PDF text] last February in front of the House International Relations Committee [official website], where it admitted that it turned over users' personal information to the Chinese officials but argued that it could not be held liable for complying with a lawful request by a foreign government. The hearing is set for November 6.

    In April, the World Organization for Human Rights USA [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Yahoo! on behalf of an incarcerated Chinese activist, alleging that the company aided and abetted human rights violations committed by the Chinese government by providing Chinese officials with information, including e-mail records and user ID numbers, that helped them to identify pro-democracy activists. A 2006 Amnesty International report criticized [JURIST report] Yahoo! and other Internet companies for so-called "Internet oppression," alleging that Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google have been complicit in efforts by the Chinese government to silence government critics in violation of stated corporate policies.






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    NYC willing to discuss settlement in WTC cleanup lawsuit: Bloomberg
    Devin Montgomery on October 16, 2007 5:47 PM ET

    [JURIST] New York City is willing to discuss settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of over 9,000 firefighters and cleanup workers who may have inhaled toxic dust during the post-9/11 World Trade Center cleanup, Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official website] said Tuesday:"Every time we are sued we will always take a look and see whether there is a way to come to a settlement in everybody's interests....Plain and simple: We're just going to talk and explore." Bloomberg's statement to reporters came in response to a New York Daily News report on a client letter sent from Marc Bern [law firm profile], a lawyer representing the workers, that the city was willing to negotiate and giving them one month to allow him to enter into talks on their behalf. Until recently, the city had been reluctant to enter into settlement talks and it is still supporting a congressional measure, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act [summary, PDF; text, PDF], that would provide blanket compensation and health care for those exposed to the dust and smoke in the World Trade Centre collapse. Reuters has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

    Last October, a federal judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed [JURIST report] over city objections that it had immunity; he also dismissed claims against the previous leaseholders on the site, because they did not participate in the cleanup. The original suit was brought [JURIST report] in September 2004, on the last day possible before the statute of limitations on the action would have run out.






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    Hispanic group challenges Oklahoma immigration law
    Deirdre Jurand on October 16, 2007 5:12 PM ET

    [JURIST] An Hispanic advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson [official profiles], claiming that a recently approved state law limiting government privileges allowed illegal immigrants is unfair to all immigrants. Lawyers for the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) [advocacy website] announced the suit [CONLAMIC statement] at a press conference in front of the federal court in Tulsa, OK. The suit, though directed against Henry and Edmondson, generally attacks the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007 [HB 1804 text, RTF], which denies illegal immigrants state identification and requires all Oklahoma government agencies to verify immigrants' citizenship before conferring benefits. The bill is considered one of the toughest on illegal immigration [JURIST news archive] in the country, but CONLAMIC's legal action focuses more on the impact the bill could have after it takes effect on November 1. CONLAMIC President Miguel Rivera [advocacy profile] says that Oklahoma Hispanic evangelical churches have already lost an average of 12 percent of their membership since the state legislature passed the bill, and suggested that Hispanic emigration from the state in general has followed a similar trend [CONLAMIC bulletin].

    Henry signed the bill [JURIST report] in May. Supporters praised the measure as a way to save taxpayer money, but immigrant groups criticized it for saddling Latinos with new discriminatory barriers in housing and jobs. Along with CONLAMIC, the League of United Latin American Citizens [advocacy website] and other advocacy groups have said they may challenge the law's constitutionality on the grounds that immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government, not the state. The Tulsa World has more.






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    Ecuador president urges reform of constitutional tribunal
    Lisl Brunner on October 16, 2007 5:01 PM ET

    [JURIST] Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa [official website, BBC profile] said Monday that the country's newly elected Constituent Assembly [JURIST report] will consider transforming the current Constitutional Tribunal [official website] into a Constitutional Court insulated from political pressure. While the new court would still determine the constitutionality of laws, its members would be selected on the basis of merit rather than by congressional appointment. The membership of the court, now presided over by an ally of Correa, turned over [JURIST report] in June after its judges were dismissed [JURIST report] by the Ecuadorean Congress [official website] during a political battle [JURIST report] over a constitutional referendum.

    The day after his party appeared to win a landslide victory in the Constituent Assembly elections earlier this month, Correa announced his intention to disband the Ecuadoran Congress [JURUST report] and rewrite the country's constitution [text, in Spanish]. The results of the elections will not be final until the Supreme Electoral Tribunal certifies them. The assembly will begin drafting a new constitution on October 31, and the final document will be subjected to a national referendum in 2008. Bloomberg has more. El Comercio has local coverage [in Spanish].






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    UN legal counsel backs convention on criminal accountability of UN officials
    Caitlin Price on October 16, 2007 4:55 PM ET

    [JURIST] The United Nations Legal Counsel [official website] said Monday that an international convention may be the solution to jurisdictional problems of criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission [press release; background materials]. Addressing the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, Under-Secretary-General Nicolas Michel [JURIST news archive] said that offenders comprise a very small percentage of UN workers but remain a significant concern, particularly where a country is unable to prosecute alleged criminal conduct. In September, a group of legal experts presented recommendations [UN Secretariat note] on the issue, emphasizing the need for as many member states as possible "to be able to assert and exercise criminal jurisdiction." As a short-term solution, Michel suggested that the General Assembly encourage member states to prosecute their nationals accused of committing crimes while on UN missions. The General Assembly will revisit the issue October 26.

    UN officials and mission workers have been involved in a number of high-profile scandals recently. In August, Bangladesh sentenced UN Special Rapporteur Sigma Huda [JURIST report] to a three-year jail term for her involvement in a corruption scheme. While UN experts are generally granted immunity from prosecution under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [PDF text], UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon refused to extend immunity to Huda [JURIST report] in July, saying that the allegations against her "appear not to be related to, or otherwise fall within, her functions as special rapporteur." In January, the government of Southern Sudan joined a UN probe [JURIST report] of alleged sex crimes committed by international peacekeepers against at least twenty Sudanese children in Juba.






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    Federal judge approves limited lawsuit against military funeral protesters
    Caitlin Price on October 16, 2007 4:16 PM ET

    [JURIST] The US District Court for the District of Maryland [official website] ruled Tuesday that three of the five counts of a suit filed by the father of a fallen Marine against the renegade Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive; BBC report] may proceed to trial. Albert Snyder sued Westboro [JURIST report] in 2006 after the church led a protest at the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder [case website] in Westminster, Maryland. Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed claims of invasion of privacy and defamation arising from comments posted about Snyder on the Westboro website, calling them protected speech. The remainder of the suit set to begin next Monday will consider Westboro's liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the expectation of privacy at the funeral. The Baltimore Sun has more.

    Westboro and its leader Rev. Fred Phelps have staged several protests at military funerals in recent years, saying US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. While a spokesman for Westboro said that they are "exercising [their] First Amendment rights," the lawyer for Albert Snyder said that there is no right to interrupt a private funeral. In 2006, President Bush signed into law [JURIST report] the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act [HR 5037 summary; PDF text], prohibiting any demonstration within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of an entrance into the cemetery for one hour before and after a military funeral.






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    Nevada stays lethal injection executions as US Supreme Court review looms
    Caitlin Price on October 16, 2007 3:09 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Nevada Supreme Court Monday issued a stay of all executions [order, PDF; press release] pending a US Supreme Court ruling in a case challenging lethal injection as unconstitutional [Baze v. Rees (07-5439) docket; certiorari petition, PDF] under the Eighth Amendment. The order issued after oral arguments [recorded audio] arrived just hours before the scheduled execution of convicted murderer William Castillo, currently the only Nevada convict facing a warrant of execution. In recent weeks, similar stays have been granted in Arizona and Texas [JURIST reports]. AP has more.

    The Georgia Supreme Court Tuesday denied [order, PDF; press release, PDF] convicted killed Jack Alderman's motion to stay his scheduled Friday execution. The order said that if the United States Supreme Court

    stays the execution in this and similar cases in order to consider the issue raised herein, this Court will of course comply with that determination and will closely follow every directive from that Court.
    Alderman's lawyers say they plan to file a state habeas corpus petition. Georgia, like Nevada and 35 other states, uses a controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart. Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to lethal injection have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. AP has more.





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    Mukasey likely to be confirmed as AG: Leahy
    Alexis Unkovic on October 16, 2007 1:49 PM ET

    [JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said Tuesday after a meeting with Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PBWT profile] that the Senate will likely approve Mukasey without undue delay. Mukasey's confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee are scheduled to begin Wednesday [JURIST report; hearing notice]. Mukasey is expected to face questions on controversial issues including the US Attorney firings scandal [JURIST news archive], the investigation of alleged election crimes, the executive use of secrecy and expansion of power, and his willingness to share materials related to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive] investigations.

    President George W. Bush formally nominated [JURIST report] Mukasey on September 17 to replace former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive], who submitted his resignation [JURIST report] in August. AP has more.






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    ICTY upholds war crimes acquittal of former Bosnian army chief
    Alexis Unkovic on October 16, 2007 1:11 PM ET

    [JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague Tuesday affirmed [judgment summary; press release] the November 2005 lower court acquittal [JURIST report] of former Bosnian Army commander Sefer Halilovic [ICTY case backgrounder] on war crimes charges [indictment]. In dismissing the prosecution's appeal, the five-judge panel held that prosecutors failed to demonstrate at trial that Halilovic exercised effective command over troops who allegedly murdered Bosnian Croat civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war.

    In 2005, the ICTY ruled [judgment text, PDF; press release] that prosecutors had failed to prove that Halilovic, at the time the most senior Bosnian Muslim commander to face trial at the tribunal, had a "superior-subordinate relationship" with troops that killed 62 Croat civilians in 1993 during an operation by Muslim forces to end the blockade of the city of Mostar. AP has more.






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    Microsoft dropping South Korea antitrust appeal
    Michael Sung on October 16, 2007 10:18 AM ET

    [JURIST] Microsoft said Tuesday that it will withdraw its Seoul High Court appeal of a 2006 antitrust ruling by the South Korean Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) [official website]. Last July, Microsoft said it would comply with sanctions [JURIST report] imposed by the KFTC after the Seoul High Court rejected its request to stay the penalties pending an appeal [JURIST report; press release] and Microsoft later indicated that it has made changes to its product to meet the KFTC's requirements.

    In 2005, the KFTC found that Microsoft [corporate website; JURIST news archive] had abused its dominant market position [JURIST report; KFTC findings, PDF]. The KFTC fined Microsoft the equivalent of $34 million and ordered it to provide consumers a version of Windows without bundled software. Reuters has more.






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    EU court upholds mandatory retirement age
    Michael Sung on October 16, 2007 9:36 AM ET

    [JURIST] The European Court of Justice [official website] upheld [judgment text] mandatory retirement ages in the European Union Tuesday, saying that mandatory retirement policies do not violate the prohibition against age discrimination if the policy is intended to further the legitimate public interest of increasing employment and the retirees are provided with full pensions.

    The European Union [official website] prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation. The EU Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation [Directive 2000/78/EC text], which is intended to implement the principle of equal treatment and eliminate inequalities within the European Union, does not prohibit national governments from instituting retirement ages. AP has more. Dow Jones has