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Legal news from Wednesday, January 9, 2008




Palestinian doctor files torture complaint against Libya with UN rights group
Mike Rosen-Molina on January 9, 2008 8:38 PM ET

[JURIST] A Palestinian doctor detained in Libya [JURIST news archive] for eight years after being accused of deliberately infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) [official website] against Libya Wednesday, alleging he was tortured during his detention. Decisions by the UNHRC are not binding, but it could ask that Libya pay damages. A lawyer for Ashraf Jima Hajuj said that officials from the European Union [official website] and several member countries had told him not to take legal action against Libya because it might harm diplomatic relations and endanger other foreign health care workers still working in that country. Hajuj filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in France against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [official website] in December 2007.

Hajuj was among six foreign medics [BBC Q&A; JURIST news archive] sentenced by a Libyan court to life in prison [JURIST report] in July 2007 for allegedly infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus. Libya released [JURIST report] the six in July after obtaining an agreement from the European Union to normalize and develop closer political and economic ties and increase medical and infrastructure aid. The medics have consistently maintained their innocence, saying they were scapegoated for unsanitary conditions in the Libyan hospital were they worked. Bulgaria and its allies have insisted that the medics were tortured into admitting guilt [HRW report].






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UK civil servant cleared in CIA rendition secrets leak case
Mike Rosen-Molina on January 9, 2008 7:05 PM ET

[JURIST] UK prosecutors Wednesday dropped charges against Dennis Pasquill, a civil servant in the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office [official website] who was accused of leaking secret documents about CIA rendition flights [JURIST news archive] to the New Statesman and the Observer [media websites] newspapers in violation of the Official Secrets Act [text]. Pasquill's lawyer said the decision to drop charges showed that Pasquill's actions were in the public interest. The Foreign Office said that leaks are "absolutely contrary" to good government and indicated that Pasquill may still face internal discipline. BBC News has more.

In 2006, former Cabinet Office spokesman David Keogh and former parliamentary researcher Leo O'Connor were ordered to trial for allegedly violating Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act by leaking a secret memo in which US President George W. Bush was said to have told Prime Minister Tony Blair [official profile] in April 2004 of a plan to bomb Arab broadcaster Aljazeera [media website] at the height of the US campaign against Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah. The Qatar-based satellite channel had aroused US ire by broadcasting pictures of Iraqi casualties and victims of the offensive across the Arab world. Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper reported [text] in November 2005 that Blair resisted Bush's proposal to bomb Aljazeera, adding that sources disagreed as to the seriousness of Bush's suggestion. The White House called the report "outlandish and inconceivable."






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Federal judge rejects inquiry into CIA destruction of interrogation videos
Andrew Gilmore on January 9, 2008 6:56 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. Wednesday refused to order an inquiry [ruling, PDF] into the CIA's destruction of videotapes showing the interrogation of terror suspects [JURIST news archive]. In denying the motion [JURIST report] brought by lawyers for a number of Guantanamo Bay detainees, Kennedy concluded that there was no evidence that the Bush administration violated a June 2005 order that the administration "preserve and maintain all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Kennedy wrote that since the taped interrogations were not conducted at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention facility, they did not fall under the scope of the 2005 order. Kennedy also said that the US Justice Department should be given time to conduct its own investigation into the tapes' destruction, noting that the DOJ has told the court that its probe will cover whether the court order to preserve evidence was violated. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation [JURIST report] into the destruction of the videotapes last week. AP has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Existence of the videotapes was verified in November after the CIA admitted it had mistakenly denied [JURIST report] that it had recorded interrogations in a court declaration during the trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged [statement text] last month that the CIA had videotaped the interrogation of two al Qaeda suspects in 2002, but said that the tapes had been destroyed in 2005 amid concerns that they could be leaked to the public and compromise the identities of the interrogators. In addition to the DOJ investigation, multiple congressional inquiries have been launched into the tapes' destruction.






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UK residents released from Guantanamo fight extradition to Spain
Patrick Porter on January 9, 2008 6:09 PM ET

[JURIST] A lawyer for two UK residents formerly held by the US at the Guantanamo Bay prison [JURIST news archive] argued in a British court Wednesday that they should not be extradited to Spain to face terror charges. Jamil el-Banna and Omar Deghayes face transfer to that country after crusading Spanish anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzón [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] requested that the two face charges [El País report, in Spanish] for belonging to a Spanish al Qaeda cell. Their lawyer accused Spanish authorities of facilitating their Guantanamo detention and sending officials to interrogate them while held in US custody. He argued that they were exonerated by the US and that it would be unjust to allow Spain to continue with proceedings on the same issues. The Guardian has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

El Banna and Deghayes were released from Guantanamo in December 2007, detained by UK authorities upon arrival there, and freed on bail the next day [JURIST reports]. In August 2007, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office asked the United States to release five [press release; JURIST report] detainees who were legal residents in the UK prior to their detention at Guantanamo, including el Banna and Deghayes.






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France charges aid worker in Chad 'Darfur orphans' case
Deirdre Jurand on January 9, 2008 5:47 PM ET

[JURIST] An aid worker was charged in a French court Wednesday with conspiring to allow illegal residents into the country in connection with an aborted airlift of 103 supposed Darfur [JURIST news archive] orphans from Chad to France last year. The indictment comes just two weeks after Alain Peligat and five other workers with French charity Zoe's Ark [advocacy website, in French] were sentenced in Chad to eight years of hard labor [JURIST report] for their role in the attempted airlift. Peligat could face up to 10 years in prison and up to a 750,000 Euro ($1 million) fine if convicted in the French proceeding. The Chadian government returned the workers to France [JURIST report] in late December after a formal request from the French Foreign Ministry under the 1976 France-Chad Agreement on Judicial Matters [PDF text]. A French court will decide Monday how the workers will serve their sentences since France has no hard-labor sanctions. Two of the other aid workers are considered witnesses in the case and have not been charged in French courts, and a judge will consider charging the remaining three on Thursday. AFP has more. Le Monde has local coverage, in French.

The aid workers said that they were attempting to airlift orphaned children [JURIST news archive; Zoe's Arch press release, DOC] from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur to safety in Europe, but investigations revealed that most of the children were not actually orphans. In November, Chad released three Spanish air crew and a Belgian pilot [JURIST report] held in Chad in connection with the attempted airlift. Four Chadian nationals are also facing trial [JURIST report] in Chad for complicity in kidnapping and fraud.






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US government advisory group urges new declassification measures
Alexis Unkovic on January 9, 2008 4:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The Public Interest Declassification Board [NARA backgrounder] Wednesday pressed President George W. Bush for improvements to the existing US records declassification scheme in an era of increased government secrecy [JURIST news archive]. In a new report [PDF text], the group recommended establishing a National Declassification Program under the National Archivist, promulgating a system for identifying historically significant information, and setting up a system to expedite the declassification of presidential records. AP has more.

In April 2006, an audit [text and supporting materials] conducted by the Information Security Oversight Office [official website] of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) [official website] revealed [JURIST report] that over one-third of documents held by NARA that have been removed from public access since 1999 should not have been reclassified.






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Pakistan government targeting Bhutto party members for arrest: PPP officials
Alexis Unkovic on January 9, 2008 3:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani security forces have unfairly targeted members of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website], the party of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], in an effort to prevent them from participating next month in the country's postponed elections [JURIST report], PPP officials said Wednesday. Government officials denied allegations that any arrests were made based on party affiliation, but said that about 1,000 people have been arrested in Bhutto's home province on charges related to rioting in the wake of her assassination [JURIST reports]. A senior PPP member said Pakistani officials have filed charges against nearly 400,000 PPP supporters throughout the country.

Bhutto was killed December 27 at a political rally in Rawalpindi. She was campaigning in the lead-up to parliamentary elections then scheduled for January 8, where her Pakistan People's Party was challenging Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) [party website]. The elections have since been postponed to February 18. AP has more.






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Haditha Marine squad leader court-martial set for February
Alexis Unkovic on January 9, 2008 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A military judge at Camp Pendleton [official website] Wednesday set a trial date of February 25 for the court-martial of US Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [advocacy website] who faces charges of voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice in connection to the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. Wuterich was ordered [JURIST report] to face court-martial on December 31. He did not enter a plea at his arraignment Wednesday.

Wuterich was initially charged with unpremeditated murder, but the investigating officer in Wuterich's case recommended [JURIST report] last year that the more serious charge be dropped. An official report on the Haditha incident by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell found "serious misconduct" [JURIST report] on all levels of the US Marine Corps chain of command. Reuters has more.






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EU abandons iTunes antitrust case against Apple
Katerina Ossenova on January 9, 2008 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Commission [official website] Wednesday dropped its antitrust case [press release] against Apple's iTunes [JURIST news archive] after Apple announced it would equalize prices for music downloads from iTunes in Europe. A UK consumer protection organization had filed a formal complaint with the Commission, which launched an investigation [press release; JURIST report] in April 2007 into whether sales restrictions based on the buyer's country of residence violated EU antitrust laws. Music buyers in Europe are only able to download songs or albums from the iTunes store in their own country. Depending on where in Europe the buyer lives, music prices vary by as much as $0.24 for a single song.

Facing possible fines if found in violation of EU antitrust [JURIST news archive] laws, Apple has vowed to put at end to the higher prices currently paid by UK consumers and will equalize prices within the next six months [press release]. Apple [corporate website] blamed the disparity on record companies charging more at the wholesale level in the UK than other countries but promised to reconsider its relationships with any company that did not lower its prices in the UK. AFP has more.






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Noriega loses bid to block France extradition
Katerina Ossenova on January 9, 2008 2:10 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Court Judge Paul Huck denied a request Wednesday by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to block his extradition to France. The latest ruling follows the decision by US District Court Judge William Hoeveler in September 2007 to reject [ruling, PDF; JURIST report] arguments by Noriega's lawyers that his extradition to France would violate his prisoner of war (POW) status. Huck also determined that French officials have adequately shown that Noriega would be treated as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], even if he will not be specifically labeled as such. The US State Department concluded from informal talks [JURIST report] with France that Noriega will retain the same extra benefits in France that he has enjoyed during his 17 years in US federal prisons, including nicer quarters and telephone and television privileges. Noriega will remain in a US federal prison [JURIST report] until all appeals relating to the extradition request have been exhausted. Noriega's lawyers can now appeal the case to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. Ultimately, the US State Department will issue the final order on France's extradition request.

Noriega is wanted in France on charges of money laundering through French banks. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [AP report] to 10 years in jail in 1999, but France has agreed to hold a new trial if he is extradited. Noriega's lawyers had argued that France's request was superseded by his status as a US prisoner of war and that under the Geneva Conventions the US must return him home to Panama upon his release. AP has more.






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Supreme Court hears voter photo ID, age discrimination cases
Katerina Ossenova on January 9, 2008 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments Wednesday in the consolidated cases of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board [LII backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-21, and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita [docket], where the Court considered the constitutionality of Indiana's controversial voter identification statute [Indiana SOS backgrounder, PDF] which requires voters to present photo identification as a prerequisite to voting. Supporters of the law say that voter identification can be used to deter voter fraud, but its critics argue that the legislation makes it difficult for minorities, the elderly and the impoverished to participate in elections. The Supreme Court justices seemed unwilling to strike down the voter ID requirement with Justice Kennedy equating the requirement to a minimal inconvenience. The lack of evidence of voter fraud prompted Justice Alito to express his concern that "there is nothing to quantify the extent of the problem or the extent of the burden." The law's requirement that voters who lack identification visit the county courthouse within 10 days of an election and sign a sworn statement to have their ballot counted led Justice Ginsburg to question whether such a burden needs to be imposed on the relatively few people affected by the law. The case should be decided in time for the November 2008 elections.

In January 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld [JURIST report] the law, ruling that it does not put an undue burden on the right to vote and therefore does not violate the US Constitution. In October 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in a per curiam opinion [PDF text] that Arizona could enforce its voter ID law [JURIST report], which requires voters to show government-issued voter ID cards [JURIST news archive] at the polls. Voter ID laws have been also been upheld in Georgia and Michigan, but struck down in Missouri. Currently, more than 20 states require some form of voter identification at the polls. AP has more.

The Supreme Court also heard oral arguments Wednesday in Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC [LLI backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1037, on whether the use of age as a factor in a retirement plan is facially discriminatory and in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) [text]. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] brought suit against a number of Kentucky state agencies who administer the state retirement program because the retirement program distinguishes among recipients, in part, based on age. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, held [PDF text] that the retirement program in question violated the ADEA.

4:15 PM ET - Transcripts of Wednesday's oral arguments are now available for Crawford and Kentucky Retirement Systems [PDF texts].






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Taiwan prosecutors appeal corruption acquittal of opposition leader
Brett Murphy on January 9, 2008 9:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Taiwanese prosecutors filed an appeal Wednesday to a decision by the Taiwan High Court [official website] last month upholding the acquittal [JURIST report] of former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou [personal website, in Chinese] on graft charges. Prosecutors hope that the Taiwan Supreme Court will clarify the legality of the Taiwanese system that allows high-ranking public officials access to special funds.

Ma was acquitted earlier this year by a lower court on charges [JURIST reports] that he diverted $333,000 of public money into his private back account. Prosecutors appealed the verdict and brought an additional breach of trust charge against Ma, but were unsuccessful in both efforts. Ma has denied the charges [JURIST report], arguing that the practice was legitimate because he used the money to fund municipal events and pay city employees. He is currently running in the Taiwanese presidential elections to be held in March 2008. AFP has more.






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Federal judge rules that public has no right to view entire execution process
Brett Murphy on January 9, 2008 8:57 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas [official website] has ruled that journalists and the public do not have the right to view every part of the execution process under the First Amendment. Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled Monday that, unlike court proceedings, public access to executions is not needed to ensure that the process is fair. Wright also noted that according to the US Supreme Court, journalists do not have an unfettered right to enter prisons, where the majority of executions now take place.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in July on behalf of a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists [advocacy website] and others, claiming that the Constitution protects the right of the public [press release] to view governmental proceedings and that "preventing witnesses to an execution from viewing the entire execution process violates the First Amendment." AP has more.






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Hong Kong court rules local radio laws unconstitutional
Leslie Schulman on January 9, 2008 8:23 AM ET

[JURIST] A Hong Kong court ruled Tuesday that the Chinese special administrative region's Telecommunications Ordinance [text] was unconstitutional because it violates the freedom of expression guaranteed by Hong Kong's Basic Law and Bill of Rights [texts] by giving the government too much authority in deciding who will receive broadcasting licenses. The ruling involved local station Citizens' Radio [media website], which faced charges that their broadcasts are illegally conducted, and comes amid an ongoing battle [CSM report] between Chinese officials and local radio stations who argue against current laws, which give the territory chief executive complete discretion over issuance of licenses. The court on Tuesday agreed that city leaders have "unfettered and unchecked" control over radio broadcasts. The court suspended final judgment on the case until February, pending an appeal by the government.

China has received criticism recently for its actions and laws regarding media coverage. In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused China of increasing its control over human rights activists [press release] and other political dissidents ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympics [official website]. HRW said that leaders in the Communist Party of China, fearing potential embarrassment brought on by activists highlighting political and social problems, have also attempted to silence independent media coverage. Reuters has more. The Standard has local coverage.






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US Army sergeant to face court-martial in Kirkuk Iraqi civilian murder
Leslie Schulman on January 9, 2008 7:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Army said Tuesday that Army Sgt. 1st Class Trey A. Corrales [advocacy website] will be court-martialed on charges of premeditated murder for his alleged role in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi civilian near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Corrales was charged [press release; JURIST report] in July with the premeditated murder of an unspecified "Iraqi national" on or about June 23, 2007. He later waived his right [JURIST report] to a preliminary Article 32 hearing [JAG backgrounder].

Corrales' co-defendant Specialist Christopher P. Shore had his Article 32 hearing in October, and the Army said last month that it would court-martial Shore for third-degree murder [AP report]. Shore had also originally faced charges of premeditated murder. During his hearing, Shore testified that when ordered by Corrales to shoot an unarmed Iraqi civilian, he intentionally missed. If convicted, both face possible life sentences [Star Bulletin report]. AP has more.






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DOJ drops appeal of decision to block US national forest regulation
Leslie Schulman on January 9, 2008 7:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Justice Department has withdrawn its appeal [PDF text; Earthjustice press release] of a federal judge's decision to invalidate a 2005 regulation governing the management of national forests, advocacy groups said Tuesday. The appeal was filed in a lawsuit brought by environmental advocacy groups alleging that the Department of Agriculture created a new rule for the forest planning process that bypassed environmental regulations. In March 2007, US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the Northern District of California enjoined the Forest Service [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] from enforcing the rule "until it has fully complied" with the Endangered Species Act [EPA summary; text] and the National Environmental Policy Act [EPA summary; text]. Hamilton found that the 2005 regulation [text; summary], which gave national forest managers more discretion in allowing logging, mining and other activities, had been adopted without adequate procedural safeguards, environmental reviews and public comment. According to the court documents, other parties, including the timber industry, will also drop their appeals.

Earthjustice [advocacy website], which represented several of the plaintiffs, praised the DOJ's decision [press release] to withdraw its appeal. AP has more.






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