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Legal news from Friday, March 13, 2009




Obama DOJ drops 'enemy combatant' classification, narrows scope of detention
Bernard Hibbitts on March 13, 2009 7:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] dropped the term "enemy combatant" from its legal lexicon Friday while limiting the range of persons eligible to be held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Summarizing a memo [PDF text] submitted to the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department said in a press release that the new criterion for detention "does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization" under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force [text] passed by Congress in September 2001. The AUMF authorized the use of force against nations, organizations, or persons the president determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the September 11 attacks, or harbored such organizations or persons. The Department also said the filing

draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
Rights advocates had lobbied aggressively [JURIST comment] for the terminology change, which was effectuated as part of the Obama administration's general review of US detention policies, put in motion by a series of executive orders [JURIST report] issued in late January. The Justice Department said Friday that "further refinements of the government’s position" on detention might come as that review process continues.





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China legal official condemns torture, prison violence
Andrew Gilmore on March 13, 2009 4:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A former official of the China Ministry of Justice [official website] criticized torture [JURIST news archive] and violence in Chinese prisons Friday, calling for greater security measures [China Daily report] in correctional facilities. The comments come following the February cover-up of the death of a prisoner, whose death was officially attributed to a game of "hide and seek," but which was later revealed to be the result of an attack by a fellow prisoner [Xinhua report]. Officials of the Supreme People's Protectorate (SPP) [People's Daily backgrounder] told the China Daily that the SPP would increase its focus on the prevention of violence in the country's prisons, including violence and torture perpetrated by prison prosecutors and guards.

Friday's comments come amid heightened criticism of China's human rights record following the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. In September 2008, Human Rights in China (HRIC) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] indicating that Chinese police and other officials still employ torture to elicit confessions and intimidate political dissidents despite domestic and international bans. A July 2008 report [PDF text; JURIST report] released by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said the country had failed to make real improvements in the area. The report, which updated an April 2008 AI report [PDF text] detailing ongoing human rights abuses in the country, evaluated the Chinese government on its use of the death penalty, administrative detentions, the detention and abuse of rights activists, including journalists and lawyers, and Internet censorship.






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Afghanistan top court affirms blasphemy sentence in secret hearing
Andrew Gilmore on March 13, 2009 3:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Afghanistan [court website] upheld a 20-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Afghani journalism student Sayad Parwaz Kambaksh [JURIST news archive] in a secret February hearing, according to statements by his lawyer quoted in Thursday media reports. Kambaksh and his lawyer were unaware of the secret hearing [Globe and Mail report], and were not given any opportunity to argue against the sentence before the court. Kambaksh was sentenced to death [JURIST report] in January 2008 for distributing papers questioning gender roles under Islam. Kambaksh had no legal representation [JURIST report] at trial and was allowed only three minutes to present his defense. The closed court invoked Article 130 of the Afghanistan Constitution [text] to pass down the death sentence, a penalty for blasphemy consistent with Hanafi [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] Islamic law.

Kambaksh appealed his death sentence [JURIST report] in May 2008 and appeared before a three-judge panel in October, saying the charges against him had been initiated by Balkh University professors and students with “private hostilities” against him. He told the court that his confessions were the result of torture by the Balkh province intelligence service. The court subsequently reduced his sentence [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison.






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Federal judge orders Stanford assets frozen indefinitely
Jaclyn Belczyk on March 13, 2009 9:16 AM ET

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas [official website] on Thursday indefinitely froze the assets [order, PDF] of financier Allen Stanford [professional profile] at the instance of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website]. Stanford was charged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] last month with orchestrating a fraudulent $8 billion investment scheme by selling certificates of deposits on the promise of improbably high interest rates. Judge David Godbey also issued an order [PDF text] releasing most customer brokerage accounts over $250,000 that had been frozen since February [Stanford receiver backgrounder].

Stanford, through his investment companies Stanford International Bank (SIB), Stanford Group Company (SGC) and Stanford Capital Management (SCM) [corporate websites] is accused of violating the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Investment Company Act of 1940 [materials]. Last month, US District Judge Reed O'Connor issued a temporary restraining order [PDF text] to freeze Stanford's assets, as customers rushed to withdraw their investments from SIB branches in Antigua and Venezuela.






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Senate confirms Ogden as Deputy Attorney General
Kayleigh Shebs on March 13, 2009 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday confirmed David Ogden [professional profile; Senate materials] as the new Deputy Attorney General by a vote of 65-28 [roll call]. In debate Wednesday, Republicans opposed to the nomination focused on Ogden's actions while serving in the private sector, where he defended groups who actively opposed anti-pornography and pre-abortion prenatal notification laws. Before the vote, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] urged colleagues not to characterize Ogden by his clients:

Nominees from both Republican and Democratic administrations and Senators from both sides of the aisle have cautioned against opposing nominees based on their legal representations on behalf of clients. Like many others in this Chamber, I felt privileged to serve as a prosecutor, but I would hate to think I could not have served in that position because, before I was a prosecutor, I defended people who were accused of crimes. I was a lawyer. I wanted to make sure clients were given equal protection of the law. If we start singling out somebody because of their clients, what do you do? Do you say to this person: You defended somebody charged with murder and therefore you are in favor of murder?
Ogden faced questions about his clients [JURIST report] in confirmation hearings last month.

Ogden was nominated [JURIST report] as Deputy Attorney General in January by then President-elect Barack Obama. He was previously in private practice with the law firm WilmerHale [firm website].





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Serbia war crimes court convicts 13 in Vukovar killings retrial
Bernard Hibbitts on March 13, 2009 8:26 AM ET

[JURIST] A Serbian war crimes court in Belgrade convicted 13 Serbs Thursday in connection with the 1991 killings of over 200 Croatian POWs [BBC backgrounder] at a pig farm outside the Croatian town of Vukovar [JURIST archive]. Eighteen Serbs were originally charged over the incident. Charges against two were later dropped. Fourteen of the men were found guilty of war crimes in late 2005, but in 2006 Serbia's Supreme Court vacated that verdict and ordered a retrial [JURIST reports]. The 13 found guilty Thursday were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 20 years [BBC report].

Last month former Yugoslav National Army officer Miroslav Radic [Trial Watch backgrounder] sued Serbia for the four years and six months he was detained during his trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on charges arising from the Vukovar killings. The ICTY handed down convictions for three other Serbs [JURIST report] in 2007. Last year, Norway agreed to extradite [JURIST report] an unnamed Croatian citizen to Serbia for his alleged involvement in the massacre.






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