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Legal news from Monday, August 10, 2009




Fourth Circuit affirms CIA contractor detainee abuse conviction
Andrew Morgan on August 10, 2009 3:27 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Monday affirmed [opinion, PDF] the conviction of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] contractor David Passaro [JURIST news archive] on assault charges related to the abuse of an Afghan detainee [JURIST report]. The court found that the district court had properly exercised maritime and territorial jurisdiction [18 USC § 7 text] over Passaro's actions while he was employed by the CIA at Asadabad Firebase [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Afghanistan. Although the court rejected the construction of "military ... mission" used by the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] as too narrow, the duration and nature of the site's use, and improvements made to the fortification lead the Fourth Circuit "to conclude that it possesses all the qualities of a permanent U.S. military base abroad, albeit on a smaller scale ...." In determining "whether a federal court has jurisdiction over ... an American citizen for committing brutal assaults abroad," the court found that:


Congress has determined that individuals committing such crimes on the premises of United States military missions abroad are subject to prosecution in United States federal courts. The Executive has determined to bring the first such case against David Passaro. We are satisfied that Passaro received a fair trial from a conscientious jury, in a court that had jurisdiction to try him.

While upholding the conviction, the court found error in the district court's application of the "dangerous weapon" enhancement of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines [official materials], and remanded the case for re-sentencing. Passaro was found guilty in 2006 and sentenced [JURIST reports] in 2007 to 100 months in prison on charges that he beat Abdul Wali during an interrogation in northeastern Afghanistan. Wali subsequently died in US custody.

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile; JURIST news archive] was expected to appoint a special counsel who will be tasked with investigating the alleged abuse of detainees and other terrorism suspects by CIA interrogators. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to Holder in order to "express [the organization's] strong support for opening a criminal investigation into abusive interrogation practices by the US government since the attacks of September 11, 2001." In April, Democratic members of the US House Judiciary Committee sent Holder a letter urging him to appoint a special counsel [JURIST report] to investigate torture allegations made against Bush administration officials.
In February 2007, HRW welcomed Passaro's conviction, but accused the US of consistently failing to investigate [JURIST report] allegations of detainee abuse.





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Russia president proposes bill to expand use of army abroad
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 10, 2009 1:22 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian] on Monday submitted a bill [text, in Russian] to the State Duma [official website, in Russian] that would allow Russian troops to intervene beyond Russian borders. The legislation, proposed in response to last August's South Ossetia conflict [BBC backgrounder], would allow intervention by Russian troops in order to protect Russian citizens abroad. The proposed law would also allow intervention for "reflecting and the prevention of aggression against another State" and to "combating piracy and ensuring the safety of navigation." The draft bill would amend existing federal law [BBC report], which allows special military units to be deployed abroad with notification of parliament.

The South Ossetia conflict lasted for five days last August when Georgia tried to take control of its breakaway region, and Russian troops defended the region, entering Georgia. In February, the US State Department released its annual country reports on human rights [JURIST report], accusing both Russia and Georgia [text] of violations during the conflict. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged both Russia and Georgia to investigate possible violations of the laws of war [JURIST report] during and after the conflict. That report followed closely a report [JURIST report] released by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] in November 2008, which alleged possible human rights violations during the conflict, including attacks on civilians and civilian targets by both sides, the use of land mines and cluster bombs, the treatment of prisoners of war and civilian detainees, and the wide-spread displacement of civilians during and after the fighting. Georgia and Russia [JURIST reports] are currently exchanging allegations of war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official websites].






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UK intelligence chief denies 'complicity' in torture
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 10, 2009 11:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) [official website] John Scarlett said that the British secret service did not participate in or condone torture, during a BBC radio interview [materials] broadcast Monday. Scarlett denied that the SIS, better known as MI6, was involved in torture, saying there has been "no torture and there is no complicity with torture." Scarlett added that, "[o]ur officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else." Scarlett's comments come after Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profiles] denied allegations [Telegraph report] of torture in a joint article appearing in the Telegraph on Sunday. Miliband and Johnson wrote:


There is no truth in suggestions that the security and intelligence services operate without control or oversight. There is no truth in the more serious suggestion that it is our policy to collude in, solicit, or directly participate in abuses of prisoners. Nor is it true that alleged wrongdoing is covered up.

Miliband and Johnson's statement came in response to a a report [text] published last week by the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights [official website] calling for an independent inquiry [JURIST report] into allegations regarding government complicity in the torture of UK terrorism suspects in Pakistan and elsewhere. Allegations in the report include the complicity in torture of UK resident Binyam Mohammed [Reprieve profile; JURIST news archive] before he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. Last month, the UK Metropolitan Police Service announced that it was investigating the alleged mistreatment [JURIST report] of Mohammed by intelligence officers. Mohammed claims that he was tortured by Pakistani agents and interrogated by FBI and MI5 agents complicit in his abuse. He was transferred to Morocco, allegedly part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] program, where he claims that British agents supplied his torturers with questions.





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Pakistan court orders Musharraf investigated for detaining judges
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 10, 2009 10:06 AM ET

[JURIST] A Pakistani court on Monday directed police to open an investigation into allegations that former president Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive] illegally detained 60 members of the judiciary after declaring emergency rule [proclamation, PDF] in November 2007. The order [APP report] was issued by Islamabad District and Sessions Judge Akmal Raza in response to a complaint filed by lawyer Aslam Ghuman. Ghuman claims that Musharraf illegally confined more than 60 judges [PTI report], including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive], to their homes, causing widespread protests from the Pakistani legal community. This is the first court-ordered police investigation against Musharraf, who is currently in London and could eventually face treason charges.

Last month, the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] declared [judgment, PDF] that Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule violated the Constitution of Pakistan [text]. Musharraf resigned from office [JURIST report] last August in order to avoid impeachment proceedings by the country's parliament. Earlier that month, the country's coalition government said that it would push to impeach Musharraf because he had given a "clear commitment" to step down from office after his party was defeated in parliamentary elections [JURIST reports]. In June 2008, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif [JURIST news archive] called for Musharraf to be tried for treason [JURIST report], labeling him a traitor disloyal to Pakistan and saying he should be punished for the "damage" that he had done to the country in the years since he led a military coup [BBC backgrounder] and unseated Sharif in 1999.






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Saudi Arabia illegally detaining thousands of terrorism suspects: HRW
Jaclyn Belczyk on August 10, 2009 9:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Saudi Arabia is illegally detaining thousands [press release] under the auspices of combating terrorism, according to a report [text, PDF] published Monday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW reports that since 2003, thousands of terrorism suspects have been detained indefinitely, in violation of Saudi law, which limits pre-trial detentions to six months. The report also charges that the Saudi domestic intelligence service, the mabahith, has prevented appropriate judicial oversight. The report claims that involuntary religious and psychological counseling for detainees who have never been charged with or convicted of any crime violates international human rights law. HRW also criticizes secret trials of detainees, such as the one that resulted in the conviction of 330 people [JURIST report] on terrorism-related charges last month. The report recommends that all mabahith detainees be released or brought to trial and that trials be conducted fairly by providing qualified legal counsel and opening proceedings to observers.

Monday's report echoes a recent report [text; JURIST report] by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website], which claimed that Saudi Arabian officials are allegedly using anti-terrorism measures as an excuse to secretly detain, imprison, torture, and even kill thousands of people. In February, the US Department of State released its 2008 Report on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia [text; JURIST report], in which it identified several significant human rights issues, including "denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; incommunicado detention" and "lack of government transparency." Last October, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz [official website] announced that the kingdom had indicted 991 [Reuters report] suspected al Qaeda members. HRW sought access [HRW request] to the trials in an attempt to ensure compliance with international standards, but was denied.






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