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Legal news from Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Former Enron executives scheduled for retrial
Abigail Salisbury on May 13, 2008 8:49 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Court Judge Vanessa Gilmore [official website] ordered retrials for three former Enron Broadband Services [JURIST news archive] executives Monday. Scheduled to begin in November, the new series of trials follows a refusal by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] to dismiss remaining charges against the three after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts in their 2005 fraud trial. Defense lawyers say they plan to appeal Gilmore's decision to the US Supreme Court. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.

Former VP Scott Yeager, former senior VP Rex Shelby, and former CEO Joseph Hirko [Houston Chronicle profiles] were initially indicted [PDF text] by federal prosecutors on 164 criminal counts for allegedly overstating the value of the broadband division's software and network to inflate the value of Enron's stock. They were acquitted [JURIST report] on various charges in 2005, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts, and prosecutors later re-indicted [JURIST report] the defendants. Defense lawyers argued [JURIST report] that there is no basis for the remaining charges or for a retrial, but the Fifth Circuit ruled that a jury could find the men guilty of other charges despite their acquittals.

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ICTY transfers Bosnian Croat war criminal to Italy prison
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 3:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] said Tuesday that it has transferred [press release] a former Bosnian Croat military commander who was convicted of war crimes related to the forced relocation and detention of Muslims during the 1991-95 Balkan Wars to an Italian prison to serve out his sentence. In 2003, the ICTY convicted Vinko Martinovic [case materials, PDF] of persecution, murder and plunder, among other charges, and sentenced him to 18 years in prison. The UN News Service has more.

ICTY suspects are held at a detention unit [ICTY backgrounder] in The Hague during trial, and after conviction are moved to one of 15 countries that have agreed to take custody of ICTY defendants. In January this year, Vidoje Blagojevic [ICTY case backgrounder, PDF], former commander of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, was transferred to Norway [press release] to serve the remainder of his 15-year sentence for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC timeline; JURIST news archive].

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Pakistan court clears Bhutto widower of smuggling charges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] A Pakistani court Tuesday cleared Pakistan People's Party [party website] leader Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile] of charges that he smuggled antiquities out of the country following the ouster of his now-late wife former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary] in 1997. AP has more.

In March, a Pakistani court cleared Zardari of charges [JURIST report] related to his alleged involvement in the 1996 assassination of a retired judge and his son due to lack of evidence. Zardari had also been charged in several corruption cases, but courts have dropped the charges [JURIST report] and released Zardari's assets pursuant to a "reconciliation ordinance" [JURIST report] signed last October by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive]. The ordinance granted amnesty to Bhutto and Zardari for corruption charges and cleared the way for Bhutto's return to Pakistan from exile last year.

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Northern Kosovo courts in legal limbo after independence: judges group
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 2:02 PM ET

[JURIST] Courts in Kosovo's northern districts have been left in legal limbo since the Assembly of Kosovo's February unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence [text; JURIST report] from Serbia, the Steering Council of the Kosovo Judges' Association said Monday. The Council expressed concern that courts in the region were unable to guarantee the protection of peoples' legal rights, a situation that could lead to the violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Fundamental Rights of and Freedoms [text]. The group urged national and international authorities to ensure that courts could operate normally. BalkanInsight.com has more.

For several days in March, hundreds of Serbs took control of a UN courthouse [JURIST report] in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica in protest against Kosovo's declaration of independence. Kosovo Serbs had been holding protests in front of the courthouse since Kosovo declared its independence. Serbs consider the territory of Kosovo to be Serbia's historic and religious heartland [advocacy website] and the Serbian government in Belgrade has insisted that Kosovo's declaration of independence is illegal under international law.

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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit by Muslim woman asked to remove veil in court
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 13, 2008 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge Monday dismissed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by a Muslim woman against a judge who asked her to remove her niqab [JURIST news archive] in court. Ginnnah Muhammad had alleged that Illinois small claims Judge Paul Paruk [31st District Court website] said he had to see her face to gauge her veracity and threatened to dismiss her case if she refused to remove her veil. Muhammad argued that the request violated her First Amendment [text] right to practice her religion as well as the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] by denying her access to the courts because of her religion. AP has more.

The niqab has become a controversial topic in several Western countries recently, as lawmakers struggle to balance an individual's right to practice their religion with public policy and security concerns. In September 2007, Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers [JURIST report] to invoke his discretionary powers to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas when voting in elections in the province of Quebec. In the UK, the High Court in February 2007 upheld [JURIST report] a school ban on students wearing niqabs in class, saying the veils could interfere with student-teacher interaction.

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Ex-officials condemn ineffectiveness of US anti-corruption effort in Iraq
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 1:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Two former State Department [official website] officials lambasted the Bush administration for ineffectiveness in combating corruption in Iraq in a hearing Monday before the US Senate Democratic Policy Committee [official website]. Retired Associate Superior Court Judge Arthur Brennan, who was briefly Director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) at the US Embassy in Baghdad, [official website] testified [text, PDF] that "the Department of State’s actual policies [in Iraq] not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi Government"; in the process, Brennan said the US had left at risk Iraqi judges who had taken serious steps to stop the scourge of corruption in their country. Former OAT Chief of Staff James Mattil testified [text, PDF] that the US government had not provided more resources and political support to fight corruption in Iraq because of either "gross incompetence, willful negligence or political intent on the part of the Bush administration and more specifically the Department of State." AP has more.

Corruption in Iraq has been a longstanding problem. Last October, the former head of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity (CPI) [US State Department backgrounder] accused [JURIST report] the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki [BBC profile] of protecting corrupt employees and of actively attempting to eradicate or control the Commission. US Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) later denounced [JURIST report] al-Malaki for allegedly shielding officials from corruption probes. In January 2008, the chief prosecutor in the trial of Saddam Hussein asserted [JURIST report] that his demotion and transfer to the north of the country was retribution for criticizing financial and ethical corruption within the Iraqi High Tribunal.

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Omagh bombing civil trial moves to Ireland for testimony
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] A British civil lawsuit [BBC report] against members of the Real IRA alleged to have been involved with the 1998 Omagh bombing [JURIST news archive] in Northern Ireland opened in a Dublin court Monday. The trial, which began [JURIST report] in the Belfast High Court in April, was moved to Dublin so that the High Court could hear evidence from law enforcement officials [Garde website] from the Republic of Ireland concerning the bombing. The court proceedings were interrupted almost immediately on Monday by disagreements over whether defense counsel would be prevented from raising objections to the questioning of the Irish law enforcement officials until the trial returned to Belfast. The Irish judge overseeing the gathering of evidence in Dublin, District Court Judge Conal Gibbons, referred the matter to the British judge presiding over the trial in Belfast, Justice Declan Morgan [Queens University profile]. Morgan will hear defense counsel's objections to the questioning and testimony on Tuesday, briefly turning the Irish courtroom into a British court. AP has more. The Irish Times has local coverage.

In December 2007, a Belfast judge found alleged Real IRA member Sean Gerard Hoey not guilty of murder [JURIST report] in relation to the bombing, ruling that there was insufficient DNA evidence linking Hoey to the bomb to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he made the device. The only conviction in connection with the Omagh bombing was in 2002 against Colm Murphy, which was later quashed for mishandling of evidence [JURIST report]. Murphy's retrial is pending. In 2005, the Irish Public Prosecution Service dropped charges [JURIST report] against another suspect, Anthony Joseph Donegan. The Real IRA is a splinter group of the Provisional Irish Republican Army [MI5 profile] opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.

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Schwarzenegger nixes California mass prisoner release: report
Devin Montgomery on May 13, 2008 12:25 PM ET

[JURIST] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] has abandoned a 2007 plan to release approximately 22,000 "lower risk" prisoners who have less than 20 months of their sentences remaining, according to a Tuesday report in the Sacramento Bee. The proposal was intended to cut a multi-billion dollar deficit and alleviate severe prison overcrowding [JURIST reports] in California's prison system [JURIST news archive], which has a population of over 170,000 despite being designed to hold only 100,000. The Bee cited administration officials as saying that the plan was dropped because more prisoners than expected are already leaving the system.

In May 2007, Schwarzenegger signed off on a $7.7 billion program to construct facilities [JURIST report] to provide 53,000 new prison and jail beds over the next five years. In July 2007, two federal district judges separately ordered the formation of a special three-judge panel [JURIST report] to supervise and reduce California's prison population after finding that overcrowding is preventing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] from adequately providing mental health care.

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Vietnam journalists arrested after reporting on corruption scandal
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 11:46 AM ET

[JURIST] Two Vietnamese journalists, Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre news agency [media website, in Vietnamese] and Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien news agency [media website], were arrested Monday by Vietnamese authorities and charged with abuse of power in connection with their uncovering of the so-called PMU 18 corruption scandal [JURIST report; Tuoi Tre news archive, in Vietnamese]. Project Management Unit 18 is a Vietnamese agency responsible for the construction of roads and bridges and is a recipient of aid from the World Bank and other countries. Vietnamese authorities also searched the homes of the two journalists, as well as the offices of Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien. Citing "informal sources," Thanh Nien reported that the two would be held in custody for at least four months. Reuters has more.

Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien reported on illegal gambling and corruption [JURIST news archive] within Project Management Unit (PMU) 18, and their work triggered an investigation that led to the Hanoi People's Court's August 2007 convictions [JURIST report] of former Vietnamese government officials. The World Bank said in May 2007 that it found no evidence of fraud or corruption [press release] after conducting an independent review of PMU 18, although it noted shortcomings in transparency and accounting structures.

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Colombia extradites ex-paramilitary leaders to face US drug charges
Devin Montgomery on May 13, 2008 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Colombia [JURIST news archive] Tuesday extradited 14 former militia leaders suspected of organizing violent massacres and drug smuggling operations to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. The guerrilla leaders had surrendered to Colombian authorities under a peace deal in which Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] suspended warrants for their extradition, but Justice Minister Carlos Holguin [official profile, in Spanish] told local radio that the leaders had broken the deal by continuing to organize gangs or by refusing to cooperate with government officials. There is speculation that Uribe, a US ally, had been facing increasing pressure to deal harshly with the militia leaders after some of his political associates had been linked to the groups. Reuters has more.

In April, a Colombian court temporarily blocked [JURIST report] the extradition of one such leader, Carlos Mario Jimenez-Naranjo, ruling that it would deny the victims of his crime the chance to seek compensation. Despite the ruling, Jimenez-Naranjo was extradited [DOJ release] to the US earlier this month, where he could face up to life in prison if convicted.

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Russia Constitutional Court begins work in St. Petersburg
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation [official website, in Russian; RIN backgrounder] began work at its new location in St. Petersburg Monday. The move from the Court's former home in Moscow began in February and is expected to be completed by May 21, with the Court's first session in its new home to take place the following day. RIA Novosti has more.

The legislation authorizing the move was signed into law [JURIST report] by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2007. The law allows the Court to hold visiting sessions anywhere in the Russian Federation and authorizes the Court to maintain a Moscow office "to ensure cooperation with federal authorities," a provision seen as allowing many judges who were against relocation [Kommersant backgrounder] to continue working from a Moscow base.

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Japan House of Representatives approves bill militarizing space program
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The Japanese House of Representatives [official website, in Japanese], approved a bill Tuesday that would allow the country's space program to be used for defense purposes, including the development of spy satellites. A lower house committee approved the bill [JURIST report] late last week. The new bill is expected to be approved by the House of Councillors [official website, in Japanese], the upper house of the Japanese legislature. If passed into law, the bill would overturn a 1969 parliamentary resolution limiting the country's use of space to non-military activities by placing responsibility for space programs with all members of the Japanese Cabinet [official website], including the new Ministry of Defense [official website]. Formerly the Japan Defense Agency, the Ministry of Defense was raised to the Cabinet by parliament [JURIST report] in December 2006. Proponents of the new legislation say the previous law curtailed the technological advancement of Japanese aerospace companies. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

While Japanese lawmakers still oppose the use of actual weapons in space, a stance consistent with Japan's post-WWII pacifist constitution [JURIST news archive], the new space legislation has been characterized as a response to a Chinese weapons test in January [BBC report] in which the Chinese military reportedly used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. Many countries have criticized China's missile test, saying that it could induce future arms movements into space [CNS backgrounder]. In October 2006, US President George W. Bush authorized the first changes to the US space policy in nearly 10 years by asserting authority to deny access to space [JURIST report] to any adversary hostile to US interests. In 2002, China and Russia jointly proposed an explicit ban on weapons in space [PDF text; China Daily report], but the US opposed the measure, arguing that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty [text] already provided enough protection against the practice.

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Japan arrests 5 for fraud in China WWII chemical weapons removal
Devin Montgomery on May 13, 2008 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese authorities on Tuesday arrested five officials of Pacific Consultants International [corporate website] and its affiliate, Abandoned Chemical Weapons Disposal Corp. (ACWDC), for allegedly defrauding the Japanese government of $1.1 million in connection with a government program to remove abandoned chemical weapons left in China by Japanese troops at the end of World War II. ACWD has been the government's sole contractor on the project, which has been plagued by delays and has cost the the country over $222 million since it began in 2004. The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention [text; Japan MOFA backgrounder] gives Japan until 2012 to clean up the abandoned weapons, which have been blamed for over 2,000 Chinese deaths since 1945. AP has more.

The abandoned weapons have long been a point of friction between the two countries, but the Tokyo High Court [official backgrounder] has denied Chinese claimants relief for injuries from the leaks, ruling that earlier removal of the weapons would have been impractical or impossible [JURIST reports].

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Pentagon approves death penalty charges for 5 alleged 9/11 conspirators
Abigail Salisbury on May 13, 2008 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Death penalty charges [JURIST report] against Guantanamo detainees Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other men allegedly involved in planning the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States have been confirmed by the Convening Authority [DOD press release] for the US military commissions and sent to defense lawyers, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday. Charges against a sixth man, Mohammed al-Qahtani, were dropped. The Herald obtained a copy of the document, which was e-mailed late Monday. The five defendants will be put on trial together at a date yet to be determined. The Miami Herald has more.

The US Department of Defense released censored audio recordings [MP3 file] of Mohammed's testimony [transcript, PDF] to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD backgrounder] last September. He said he had masterminded the 9/11 attacks [JURIST report] and claimed responsibility for 29 other planned terror attacks. In February 2008, CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly acknowledged [JURIST report] that Mohammed had been subjected to waterboarding [JURIST news archive] during interrogation.

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US military drops charges against so-called '20th hijacker'
Andrew Gilmore on May 13, 2008 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense [official website] has dropped criminal charges against Mohammad al-Qahtani, [JURIST news archive] a Saudi Arabian citizen being held at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Al-Qahtani was known as the "20th hijacker" for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. According to US Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, his military lawyer, the charges were dismissed without prejudice on Friday by the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford [official profile, PDF]. Al-Qahtani had been one of six men initially charged [JURIST report] with murder and other crimes for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 attacks. The charges against the five other defendants are proceeding in al-Qahtani's absence. AP has more.

Al-Qahtani was refused entry into the US at Orlando, Florida in August 2001 and was later captured in Afghanistan. Since his capture, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay, where Pentagon officials say he admitted to being sent to the US to participate in the attacks. In documents the Associated Press obtained in September 2007 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [PDF, text], he denied his involvement in and knowledge of the attacks [JURIST report]. Al-Qahtani also alleged that his statements were coerced by US torture [JURIST report]. A military investigation in 2005 concluded that al-Qahtani had been subjected to harsh treatment, authorized [JURIST report] by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [official profile] because he would not crack under interrogation. The investigation revealed that al-Qahtani was forced to wear women's underwear [MSNBC report], was kept in solitary confinement for 160 days and was interrogated for 18-20 hours per day on 48 of 54 days. Lead investigator Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt concluded, however, that he was not tortured since he was not denied food, water or medical care, and interrogators did not inflict physical pain on him.

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