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Legal news from Tuesday, August 5, 2008




Pakistan woman alleged to be al-Qaeda agent appears in US court
Mike Rosen-Molina on August 5, 2008 1:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The first woman scheduled to stand trial in the US on charges related to suspected al-Qaeda ties has been extradited to the US and appeared before the District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] Tuesday on terrorism charges. Aafia Siddiqui [FBI materials], who comes from Pakistan, was charged [complaint, PDF; DOJ press release] with assault and the attempted murder of a US officer after allegedly opening fire on agents at the Afghan detention facility where she was being held last month. According to the complaint:

AAFIA SIDDIQUI, the defendant, who will be first brought to and arrested in the Southern District of New York, unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly did use a deadly and dangerous weapon and did forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, and interfere with a person designated in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1114, namely, officers and employees of the FBI and the United States armed services, while engaged in and on account of the performance of official duties, to wit, SIDDIQUI obtained a United States Army Officer's M-4 rifle and fired it at officers and employees of the FBI and the United States armed services.
If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison on each charge. AFP has more. The Times has additional coverage.

Siddiqui's family has insisted that she is not an al-Qaeda agent and that the FBI has publicized misleading information about her. They say that Siddiqui, a former student at Brandeis University and MIT in Boston, may have been a victim of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] after she vanished from Karachi, Pakistan in 2003. Family lawyer Elaine Whitfield Sharp [firm profile] alleged that Siddiqui may have been wrongly detained and tortured at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.





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US criticizes Egypt defamation conviction of rights activist
Devin Montgomery on August 5, 2008 1:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The US State Department [official website] on Monday criticized Egypt's sentencing [JURIST report] of Saad Eddin Ibrahim [professional profile] to two years in prison for defaming the country. Ibrahim has been a prominent human rights activist and outspoken critic of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak [official profile], and has dual US and Egyptian citizenship. He is a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo and founded the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies [academic websites] in Egypt, but left the country because of the charges and was tried in absentia.  On his trial and sentencing, a spokesman for the State Department said:

We are disappointed by the recent conviction in Egypt of democracy activist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim. On August 2, Dr. Ibrahim was convicted of harming Egypt’s reputation through his writings in the foreign press and was sentenced to two years in prison. Lawsuits should not be used to undermine the principles of freedom of expression. We strongly advocate – in all countries – the protection of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech and due process.
Ibrahim has said he will only return to the country if he is promised that he will not be arrested, and the Egyptian government has said that if he returns he may post bail to avoid imprisonment while he appeals the conviction. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

In recent months, public critics of Egyptian government policies have been the target of multiple lawsuits for publicly discussing sensitive issues. In April, the former editor of weekly newspaper al-Dustour [media website, in Arabic] was sentenced to six months in prison [JURIST report] after being convicted on charges of spreading "rumors" about the health of President Mubarak in an August newspaper report. Last year, two journalists were convicted of libel in absentia [JURIST report] for writing a story about an illegal land transaction involving the Ministry of Religious Endowments at a secret auction. 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.





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South Africa court delays ruling on Zuma corruption charges
Mike Rosen-Molina on August 5, 2008 1:02 PM ET

[JURIST] A South African judge on Tuesday delayed a ruling on whether to drop corruption charges against politician Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] until September 12 in order consider Zuma's argument that he should have been consulted before the charges were filed. In December 2007, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority [official website] served an indictment [JURIST report] on Zuma, charging him with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Zuma has challenged the charges against him, saying they are part of a politically motivated effort by outgoing President Thabo Mbeki [official profile] to upset his plans to run in the 2009 presidential election. Zuma supporters have long protested the trial and have threatened violence [AP report] if he is convicted, but moderates have said the threats only further impugn [Independent Online report] the judicial system. AP has more. From South Africa, the Times has local coverage.

Last week, the South African Constitutional Court [official website] rejected a motion [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by Zuma to exclude evidence from his upcoming corruption trial. Zuma had argued [JURIST report] that evidence seized in 2005 raids by the Directorate of Special Investigations [official backgrounder; BBC report] should be thrown out because the raids violated his rights to privacy and a fair trial. The court upheld the validity of the warrants used in the raids, confirming a November 2007 decision [JURIST report] by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal. The court also held [opinion, PDF; summary] that papers obtained by the Mauritius government [JURIST report] believed to document meetings between Zuma and arms manufacturer Thint were also admissible. Zuma has been facing corruption allegations [BBC timeline] and other charges for several years. He was first charged with corruption in 2005, but those charges were later dismissed [JURIST report] because prosecutors failed to follow proper procedures.






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Guantanamo interviews may have been recorded
Mike Rosen-Molina on August 5, 2008 12:18 PM ET

[JURIST] Meetings between Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees and representatives of their governments may have been recorded, according to a Tuesday Washington Post report [text]. In 2002 and 2003, the US State Department advised foreign delegations that their meetings would be videotaped despite public assertions by the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official websites] that it did not regularly record such sessions. Some detainees have alleged that they were threatened with violence or torture during the meetings, but DOD officials has refused to say whether interview footage exists. The DOD would not say which countries had sent agents to Guantanamo, but e-mails obtained by the Post listed Bahrain, Belgium, France and Russia among them. AP has more.

The DOD previously denied that detainee meetings were routinely recorded, but later admitted it had footage of a meeting between Canadian agents and Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive]. Last month, lawyers for Khadr released an excerpt [video; JURIST report] of a 2003 interrogation of Khadr conducted by Canadian officials, marking the first time Guantanamo interrogation footage has been available to the public. The eight-minute clip is part of seven hours of footage given to lawyers after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled [text; JURIST report] in May that Khadr had the right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] to see confidential documents and videos compiled by Canadian officials. Last week, Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] walked out of the courtroom [JURIST report] at his military commission trial, refusing to watch a video depicting one of his interrogation sessions.






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Khadr lawyer moves for dismissal due to government misconduct
Devin Montgomery on August 5, 2008 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, lawyer for Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive], said on Monday that he has filed three separate motions to dismiss the case against his client due to alleged government misconduct. In the first motion, Kuebler alleged that government policy encouraged interrogators to destroy notes [JURIST report] that could have been used to help his client and that evidence of the policy was later covered up. In the second, Kuebler stated that a legal advisor to the military commission hearing Khadr's case has been shown to favor the prosecution and has already been removed from the case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan [JURIST news archive] for bias. In the third, Kuebler argued that the government had inappropriately removed a judge [JURIST report] in the case because he had made decisions favorable to Khadr. AP has more. The Globe and Mail has additional coverage.

Khadr's trial is currently scheduled to begin [JURIST report] in October and he could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted on charges [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. Khadr is one of four [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees facing prosecution under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF]. On March 13, a US military judge also ruled [JURIST report] that certain correspondence between US and Canadian government officials regarding Khadr must be turned over to Khadr's defense team. In an affidavit released in early May, Khadr accused US interrogators of mistreatment [JURIST report], including threatening him with rape, physically abusing him, and forcing him to swear to false statements.






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Jury deliberation begins in Hamdan military commission trial
Deirdre Jurand on August 5, 2008 11:14 AM ET

[JURIST] The prosecution for the military commissions trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] moved [Reuters report] Tuesday for the judge to recall the jury and issue new instructions on what constitutes a war crime. Prosecutors said that the instructions given by presiding judge Navy Capt. Keith Allred were flawed, but defense lawyers responded that if that were the case, the judge would have to declare a mistrial. Allred rejected the prosecution's claim, noting that even if he had issued flawed instructions, the motion came after the start of jury deliberations and thus was invalid. The jury [Miami Herald report], made up of six military officers, was selected on July 21, and the trial lasted for two weeks before deliberations began Monday. Hamdan is charged [charge sheet, PDF] with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. The Miami Herald has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Hamdan has been in US custody since 2001 when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of working as Osama Bin Laden's driver. In 2006 he successfully challenged US President George W. Bush's military commission system when the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [DOD materials], which established the current military commissions system. In April, Hamdan announced that he planned to boycott his military commission trial, and in May a military judge delayed the trial [JURIST reports] until July. A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia subsequently rejected [JURIST report] a bid by Hamdan's lawyers to stay his trial, ruling that a civilian court should refrain from reviewing the case until the military commission issues a final judgment. In July, Allred denied [JURIST report] Hamdan's motion to dismiss the charges against him, holding that the military commission assigned to his trial had jurisdiction to hear the case. If convicted, Hamdan could face life in prison.






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Colombia constitutional reforms favor presidential allies: Human Rights Watch
Mike Rosen-Molina on August 5, 2008 10:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday criticized [press release] proposed constitutional amendments put forth by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] that would strip the country's High Court [official backgrounder] of the authority to investigate sitting legislators for alleged relationships with right-wing paramilitaries [Washington Post report]. The amendments would require that cases against current members of Congress first go to a local Bogota court and would limit the Supreme Court to hearing appeals. HRW accused Uribe of pushing the legislation to help political allies who have been accused of collaboration with paramilitary groups:

The politicians imprisoned as a result of investigations initiated by the Supreme Court include Senator Mario Uribe, a cousin of the president and one of his closest political allies for many years. They also include Senator Carlos García, the president of Uribe’s party, “la U,” whose arrest the court ordered on July 25, 2008. As a result of the investigations, Uribe and various cabinet members have repeatedly launched attacks against the Supreme Court, making questionable accusations and even calling justices on the phone to inquire about pending cases.
Uribe has argued that the amendments would prevent defendants from being tried by the same body which conducted the investigation against them. HRW acknowledged that these functions should be separate but remained skeptical that the amendments were the proper way to effect this change.

Uribe has frequently clashed with the courts, particularly in matters concerning the country's long feud with right-wing anti-government paramilitaries. In May 2007, the Colombian high court ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of five congressmen for alleged ties to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CDI backgrounder]. All of the political representatives were supporters of Uribe. Uribe said that any ties to paramilitary forces will not be tolerated, saying that members of government will be removed from office if it seems they have links to paramilitaries. In March 2007, a Colombian judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of ex-intelligence chief Jorge Noguera [CIP backgrounder] because no formal charges had been made against him. Noguera, who was arrested earlier that month, is accused of murder and conspiracy for allegedly contracting with illegal paramilitary groups [JURIST reports]. In May, the Constitutional Court [official backgrounder] threw out a part of the controversial 2005 Justice and Peace Law [JURIST reports] approved by Uribe, which gave lesser punishments to paramilitary leaders who voluntarily disarm.





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Bush signs bill giving Libya immunity from existing lawsuits
Devin Montgomery on August 5, 2008 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] US President George Bush on Monday signed [press release] into law the Libyan Claims Resolution Act [text], which allows the Secretary of State to settle remaining civil claims brought by US citizens against Libya for bombings allegedly carried out by groups linked to the government in the late 1980s. The bill is seen as an effort to improve relations between the two countries and would provide Libya immunity from civil suits brought against it for supporting terrorism, but would still require it to provide some compensation to the victims. The bill upholds settlements that some victims have already made with the country, but has been criticized by victims' advocates [press release] for invalidating an existing court decision [PDF text; JURIST report] that had ordered the Libyan government and six Libyan officials to pay more than $6 billion in damages [plaintiff press release] to families of those Americans who died in a 1989 air plane bombing [BBC backgrounder]. Reuters has more.

In May, the US and Libya agreed to seek resolution to the outstanding claims against the country after President Bush had already urged Congress [JURIST reports] to exempt the country from provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 [HR 4986 materials; JURIST report], which otherwise allows victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue for that country's assets held in the US. In 2004, Bush lifted decades-old sanctions [JURIST report] against Libya after it agreed to dismantle its weapons programs and to acknowledge its history of state-sanctioned terror, including an agreement to accept responsibility [US DOS press release] for the 1988 bombing of Pam Am flight 103 [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and to compensate the victims' families.






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Italy PM deploys troops to cities in effort to reduce crime
Deirdre Jurand on August 5, 2008 9:14 AM ET

[JURIST] Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] deployed about 3,000 military troops [press release and materials, in Italian] to major Italian cities on Monday in a movement designed to reduce crime throughout the country. The plan [Art. 7a DL 92/08 text, PDF, in Italian] is part of a larger package [text, PDF, in Italian; press release, in Italian] approved by the Italian Senate last year, meant to reduce petty crime and Mafia activity and to slow illegal immigration. The relevant provision states:

A plan for use of a contingent of military personnel belonging to the armed forces, preferably carabinieri used in military or volunteers of the same Armed Forces specifically trained for the tasks to be performed, may be authorized to increase control of the territory, where appropriate, for specific and unique demands of crime prevention. This staff is available to the prefects of the provinces, including metropolitan areas and densely populated areas, under Article 13 of Law 1 April 1981, n. 121, security guards at sensitive sites and targets, as well as general patrol and patrol jointly with police forces. The plan may be authorized for a period of six months, renewable once, for a quota of no more than 3,000 units.
Of the 3,000 troops, 1,000 will be stationed at immigration centers, 1,000 will protect sensitive sites and targets in Rome, Milan and Naples, and the remaining 1,000 will perform general patrols [troop assignments, PDF, in Italian]. AFP has more. ANSA has local coverage.

Italy has recently been criticized for its anti-crime measures aimed specifically at the country's Roma minority [JURIST news archive]. In late July, the Interior Ministry announced [JURIST report] that the government would rework plans to fingerprint the Roma, altering requirements to only include those who do not have valid identification cards. The decision was seen as a concession to intense criticism [JURIST report] of the fingerprinting plan by the international human rights community [COE statement] and Roma advocates [ERRC materials]. In early July, the Italian government began carrying out the plan [JURIST report] to record the fingerprints of thousands of Roma, including children, ostensibly to reduce street crime and begging.





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Eighth Circuit rules for broad mandate on child repatriation petitions
Devin Montgomery on August 5, 2008 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] on Monday that federal courts must rule on an international petition for child repatriation unless a state court has already fully considered and ruled on the petition. The ruling came in a case involving a father's petition under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA) [text] seeking to have his children moved from Missouri, where they live with their mother, to Israel to live with him. A federal district court had refused to rule on the petition, reasoning that the issue had already been raised in state court custody proceedings. Reversing the lower court's decision and remanding for consideration of the petition, the circuit court held that courts must rule on the petitions in all but the narrowest cases:

Because neither parent filed a [ICARA] petition in state court, we conclude that the [ICARA] issues were not properly or fully raised in that proceeding. The parties did not litigate the merits of such issues, and any statement by the state court touching on an issue under the [ICARA] inquiry is not controlling. It is "the petitioner [who] is free to choose between state or federal court," and in the absence of a Hague petition the state court proceeding did not present an adequate opportunity to litigate ICARA issues. It was therefore an abuse of discretion for the district court to abstain.
The ICARA enforces the US's participation in the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction [text; official materials], which was signed by the US in 1980. The Convention is specifically designed to provide for the repatriation of children who have been removed from their country of "habitual residence" by one parent without the consent of the other, and petitions brought under the Convention can only be filed in participating countries [signatory list].





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