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Legal news from Friday, March 5, 2010




Canada judge to review Afghan detainee documents before release to Parliament
Zach Zagger on March 5, 2010 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson [official profile] announced Friday that a former Supreme Court of Canada [official website] judge will review documents detailing Canadian forces' treatment of Afghan detainees before the documents are released to Parliament [official website]. Nicholson appointed former judge Frank Iacobucci [UToronto backgrounder] to review the documents [CBC report] and report back to Nicholson, who will determine the conditions of disclosure. The announcement comes amidst mounting pressure from Parliament for the release of the documents. In December, Parliament passed an order to compel [JURIST report] Prime Minister Stephen Harper to release the documents, and earlier this week, some MPs considered a vote to sanction [Toronto Sun report] high-level cabinet ministers for refusing to disclose them. MP Derek Lee (Liberal) [official website] has criticized [press release] the refusal to disclose the documents, which may contain evidence that detainees were tortured.

In December, the Canadian government released [JURIST report] more than 40 redacted e-mails [text, PDF] sent by Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin to then-foreign minister Peter MacKay [official profile] raising concerns about the torture of transferred detainees. The release of the e-mails came after Colvin testified [JURIST report] before a Commons committee in November that all enemy combatants captured in 2006 and 2007 by Canadian forces were likely tortured upon their transfer to Afghan authorities. Throughout the spring of 2006, Colvin relayed allegations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] that Afghan authorities were routinely torturing detainees, and that by refusing information requests and failing to provide timely notice of transfer to Afghan custody, the Canadian military was hindering efforts to track Afghan detainees and monitor their treatment.






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White House revives military commission option for 9/11 trials: reports
Jonathan Cohen on March 5, 2010 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] White House advisers are considering recommending that accused 9/11 co-conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system, according to Friday reports. The Washington Post reported [WP report] that Obama's legal advisers are finishing their review of the Mohammed file, and CNN confirmed [CNN report] that a military tribunal is still an option. Authorities have been unable to decide where to try Mohammed, with many Republicans and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official profile] opposed to holding the trial in a civilian court in Manhattan. Many groups also oppose trying the suspects in military tribunals, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] saying [press release] that despite recent improvements:


the military commissions system is incapable of handling complicated terrorism cases and achieving reliable results. President Obama must not cave in to political pressure and fear-mongering. He should hold firm and keep these prosecutions in federal court, where they belong.

While no official recommendation has been given to Obama, administration officials hope a decision will be made by March 18.

Just last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] praised the role [JURIST report] of the civilian criminal justice system in obtaining a guilty plea from suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi. Holder also said [JURIST report] last month that he is flexible on whether Mohammed will be tried in a military commission or the civilian criminal system. The possibility of a civilian trial, first announced [JURIST report] in November, has received backlash from both New York City officials and members of Congress, including some who support closing Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive].





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UN creates Haiti rights working group to assist disabled earthquake victims
Steve Dotterer on March 5, 2010 11:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) [official website] announced [press release] on Friday the creation of a working group of rights experts to monitor the support offered to disabled Haitians as they attempt to recover from the damage caused by the January earthquake [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The group will focus on ensuring that rights of disabled people receive attention as the country moves forward. The CRPD emphasized the importance of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [materials] in creating the group. The CRPD said, “states are to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, and natural disaster like the occurrence of this earthquake.” The working group will also address rights of disabled persons in other countries that have suffered the effects of natural disasters, including individuals in Chile [NYT report]. The CRPD offered a statement [text] last month urging that the Haitian government, as well as other organizations assisting in the relief effort, provide the disabled, elderly and other vulnerable groups with preferential treatment in obtaining certain necessities.

Following the Haiti earthquake, observers have stressed the importance of promoting human rights [JURIST comment] during the rebuilding process. In January, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that strengthening human rights [JURIST report] is an integral part of the rebuilding process in Haiti. Earlier in January, US President Barack Obama signed a bill [JURIST report] that will allow US citizens to claim donations to Haitian relief efforts as a deduction on their 2009 tax returns. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] announced that Haitian nationals present in the US before the earthquake will be given temporary protected status and will not be deported for the next 18 months, but Haitian refugees who arrive in the US illegally will be sent back to their home country [JURIST reports].






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France prosecutors file terrorism charges against suspected Basque separatist leader
Sarah Paulsworth on March 5, 2010 11:56 AM ET

[JURIST] French prosecutors on Friday filed preliminary terrorism charges against the suspected leader of the Basque separatist group ETA [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], along with two other people who are believed to be senior members of the group. A judicial source said that the charges against the alleged ETA members stem from preparations to commit a terrorist act [AP report], including theft, forgery, and illegal arms charges. The three men, Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui, Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Moralesare, were arrested on Sunday [JURIST report] in the French village Cahan in a joint Spain-France operation. Gogeascoechea is thought to be ETA's military leader. He has been sought since 1997 for his role in planting explosives around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which was believed to be an assassination attempt [BBC report] on King Juan Carlos. The two other men - Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Morales - are wanted for separate assassinations [RFI report] that took place in 2008.

Spain has made great strides recently in its attempts to limit ETA influence. Earlier this week, the Spanish National Court [official website, in Spanish] sentenced [JURIST report] former Basque separatist party leader Arnaldo Otegi to two years in prison for promoting terrorism in a speech he gave. In January Spanish Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska ruled [JURIST report] that ETA had tried three times to assassinate former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2001 but had failed. Grande-Marlaska detailed the three assassination attempts [El Pais report, in Spanish] as part of a description of the alleged crimes of ETA leader Pedro Maria Olano Zabala, who was arrested in the Basque region earlier that month. In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] upheld [JURIST report] Spain's ban of Basque political groups Batasuna [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and Herri Batasuna for their alleged ties to ETA. In April, alleged ETA leader Jurdan Martitegi Lizaso [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish] was arrested in France, and a Spanish judge charged [JURIST reports] him with murder for a May 2008 car bombing that killed a Spanish policeman.






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Al-Bashir will 'face justice' before ICC: president judge
Patrice Collins on March 5, 2010 10:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] said Thursday that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] will eventually face justice [prepared remarks] in The Hague. Speaking in London before the British House of Commons [official website], Judge Sang-Hyun Song [official profile] addressed controversy [JURIST news archive] surrounding the ICC arrest warrant [JURIST report] issued one year ago:


The Rome Statute created the possibility for a political body – the Security Council – to refer situations to the Court. In the case of Darfur, this is what happened in March 2005. Once a situation comes before the Court, we must let justice follow its course. States must accept that judges cannot and will not take political considerations into account.

Responding to questions, Song went on to compare [Reuters report] the al-Bashir warrant with the successful surrender of Slobodan Milosevic [Guardian obituary; JURIST news archive] and Charles Taylor [case materials; JURIST news archive] to the international criminal tribunals. Addressing supporters, al-Bashir said that he would continue to travel [ST report] despite the warrant, though he declined an invitation to attend extraordinary summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) [official website] in Nairobi next week.

In February, the ICC Appeals Chamber ordered [JURIST report] the Trial Chamber to reconsider adding an additional charge of genocide to the al-Bashir warrant. ICC prosecutors appealed the decision [JURIST report] not to charge al-Bashir with genocide in July. The warrant, which charges al-Bashir with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, has been a source of tension, with Egypt, Sudan, the African Union [JURIST reports], and others calling for the proceedings against al-Bashir to be delayed, and African Union leaders agreeing [JURIST report] not to cooperate with the ruling. Al-Bashir is accused of systematically targeting and purging the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa, three Arabic-speaking ethnic groups, under the pretext of counterinsurgency since 2003.





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Uighur Guantanamo detainees seek remand to district court for new trial
Steve Dotterer on March 5, 2010 9:05 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for seven Chinese Muslim Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] filed a motion [text, PDF] Thursday to remand proceedings from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official websites]. The motion comes just days after the US Supreme Court [official website] ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the appeals court to reconsider the case of Kiyemba v. Obama [docket; CCR backgrounder] in light of the fact that each of the remaining Uighurs has received an offer of resettlement by another country. The detainees' counsel argues that additional fact-finding at the district court level is necessary in light of the resettlement offers. The circuit court has yet to take any action on the case.

Of the 22 Uighurs originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, 17 have accepted offers of relocation to other countries. Six Uighurs were transferred to Palau, four to Bermuda, five to Albania, and two, still in US custody, have accepted offers of resettlement to Switzerland [JURIST reports]. Palau announced [AFP report] it would accept the remaining five Uighurs, but the detainees subsequently rejected the offers. China considers the Uighurs to be terrorists, raising concerns [JURIST report] in the Obama administration that the prisoners will be tortured if repatriated.






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UK PM defends legality of Iraq invasion
Daniel Makosky on March 5, 2010 8:57 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official profile] testified [video] to the Iraq Inquiry [official website] on Friday that he remains convinced that the decision to participate in the 2003 Iraq invasion was the appropriate course of action. Brown discussed his approval of military funding while serving as head of the Treasury [official website] during the invasion as well as his later actions as prime minister. He stated that in the former capacity, he received information from intelligence agents that he deemed credible and "led [him] to believe that Iraq was a threat that had to be dealt with." Brown explained that Saddam Hussein's refusal to comply with UN directives necessitated a response from the international community:


I believe we made the right decision for the right reasons, because the international community had for years asked Saddam Hussein to abide by international law and the international obligations that he had accepted. Fourteen resolutions were passed by the United Nations, and at the end of the day, it was impossible to persuade him that he should abide by international law. Now my feeling is and still is that we cannot have an international community that works if we have either terrorists who are breaking these rules or, in this case, aggressor states that refuse to obey the laws of the international community.

Brown also outlined three primary "lessons" from the invasion, stressing the importance of "proper structures of decision making," securing a "just peace," and increasing international cooperation in any future interventions.

Last month, former UK Foreign Ministry secretary Jack Straw [parliamentary profile] testified [JURIST report] that he did not ignore legal advice that the invasion of Iraq lacked basis in international law. Former chief legal adviser to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] Sir Michael Wood [UN profile, PDF] told the Iraq Inquiry in January that he had advised the Foreign Ministry that the invasion was illegal [JURIST report]. Wood testified that the invasion was "contrary to international law" because it was never authorized by the UN Security Council [official website], and that Straw had rejected his advice at the time. Earlier in January, the Iraq Inquiry released [JURIST report] a 2002 letter [text, PDF] from Goldsmith to former secretary of defense Geoffrey Hoon [personal profile] in which he warned the Cabinet that the Iraq invasion was not supported by international law. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair [official profile; JURIST news archive] is also facing criticism over the legality of the Iraq War. In testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, former UK international development secretary Clare Short said that Blair was "misleading" and "deceitful" [JURIST report] with the Cabinet and parliament regarding the Iraq invasion.





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House committee adopts Armenian genocide resolution
Matt Glenn on March 5, 2010 7:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] voted 23-22 Tuesday to adopt a resolution [H Res 252 text] that recognizes the Ottoman Empire's treatment of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as genocide [JURIST news archive]. In his opening remarks [text], committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) [official website], noted that every country must face uncomfortable issues its past, and continued, "[i]t is now time for Turkey to accept the reality of the Armenian Genocide." The non-binding resolution:


calls upon the President in the President's annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.

Obama administration officials had urged the committee not to hold the vote [NYT report], fearing that such a resolution could damage relations with Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan [official website, in Turkish] condemned the resolution [press release, in Turkish], denying the charges and warning the resolution could harm Turkey's relationship with the US and Armenia. Turkey also recalled its ambassador to the US Thursday. It is not known whether the full House of Representatives will vote on the resolution. A similar resolution was passed by the committee in 2007, but it never reached the House floor [JURIST reports].

In October, Armenia and Turkey signed an accord [JURIST report] normalizing relations and opening the border between the two countries. Despite the apparent appeal of the agreement, there is opposition by factions in both countries. Many Armenian nationalists want Turkey to acknowledge the killings of 1.5 million Armenian citizens during World War I, which many refer to as the "Armenian Genocide" [BBC backgrounder]. Turkey has long disputed [Al Jazeera report] the numbers, and has said the killings were a result of a civil war that took place after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Turkey has expressed concern over its ally Azerbaijan, which has been fighting [DW report] with Armenia over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Turkey closed its border to Armenia in 1993 after Armenian separatists began fighting with Azerbaijani military to show its support for the preservation of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.





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Europe rights court hears case against Russia by bankrupt Yukos oil company
Zach Zagger on March 5, 2010 7:31 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Thursday heard an unlawful prosecution case [press release] brought by bankrupt oil company Yukos [JURIST news archive] against the Russian government for allegedly illegally prosecuting the company for tax violations. Representatives of Yukos said they brought the case in the ECHR because they believed that would not recieve a fair hearing in a Russian court. They are seeking USD $98 billion in damages [AP report], the value of a subsidiary that a Russian court ordered Yukos to sell to in order to pay the liabilities. Yukos filed the claim [text] with the ECHR in August 2004, alleging that tax assessments between 2002-03 "had been arbitrary, unlawful and disproportionate" and that the assessments "had not been based on any reasonable and foreseeable interpretation of the domestic law."

On Wednesday, Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive], criticized [JURIST report] the Russian justice system as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. Both he and former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are serving time on tax evasion and fraud charges, but Lebedev successfully challenged [JURIST report] the legality of his arrest and was awarded USD $14,300 in damages and legal fees by the EHCR. The two are currently on trial on additional related charges of money laundering and embezzlement, to which they have pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports]. Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive].






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US cleric pleads guilty to lying to FBI about New York City subway bomb plot
Matt Glenn on March 5, 2010 6:33 AM ET

[JURIST] Imam Ahmad Afzali pleaded guilty Thursday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] to charges of lying to FBI agents in connection with a plot to detonate explosives in the New York City subway system. Afzali faces up to six months in prison [AP report] and must leave the country within 90 days after being released from prison. Afzali, a New York City cleric, was arrested in September for tipping off terror suspects that the FBI was gathering intelligence on them. Sentencing is set for April 8 [Reuters report].

Last month, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced superseding indictments [JURIST report] against Adis Mendunjanin and Zaerein Ahmedzay, two men accused of planning to bomb subways in New York City. Mendunjanin previously pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] on similar charges. Ahmedzay and Mendunjanin are accused of operating alongside Najibullah Zazi [JURIST news archive], who pleaded guilty [JURIST report] last month to terrorism charges for planning the subway attacks. Afzali, while working as an informant for the FBI, told Zazi agents were asking about him. Afzali claims that he did not realize that the extent or nature of Zazi's involvement.






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