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Legal news from Tuesday, November 16, 2010




Rights group urges Egypt to investigate death of man allegedly tortured in police custody
Sarah Paulsworth on November 16, 2010 3:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called Tuesday for Egyptian authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate [press release] the death of 19-year-old Ahmed Shaaban who was allegedly tortured in police custody. Shaaban went missing from his hometown in Alexandria, Egypt, on November 7 and was found dead in a canal near where he lives on November 11. According to Ahmed Shaaban's family, his body was covered in bruises. They accuse police officers from Sidi Gaber police station of torturing and killing Shaaban. According to AI, the family received an anonymous phone call one day after Shaaban went missing saying they he was in custody at Sidi Gaber and being subjected to torture. "These disturbing allegations of enforced disappearance and death in custody, and possibly unlawful killing by police, must be immediately and fully investigated by an independent body," said Malcolm Smart, AI's director for the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt's Ministry of Interior denies [AP report] the Shaaban family's accusations and says they have no record of Shaaban being arrested. However, reports have surfaced that Shaaban and his friend Ahmed Farraq Labib were accused of stealing a mobile phone [EGY News report, in Arabic] on the day that Shaaban went missing. Labib is currently in police custody at Sidi Gaber.

Sidi Gaber police officers are also currently under investigation for another incident in which a man was dragged out of a cafe and publicly beat to death [HRW report]. According to the US State Department's Human Rights Report for Egypt, in 2009, there were 30 reported instances of torture in police custody [report]. Egypt investigated some of these, and, in several of the cases, punished the responsible officers and made them pay compensation to the victims. In 2008, Egypt suspended 280 police officers [JURIST report] alleged to have abused their power and committed human rights violations.




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Federal judge denies motion for mistrial in ex-Guantanamo detainee trial
John Paul Putney on November 16, 2010 2:34 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday denied a defense motion for mistrial in the trial of ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani [GlobalSecurity profile; JURIST news archive]. The motion came after an anonymous juror's note was read in court, indicating that the juror was alone in her views and was being attacked for her conclusions [NYT report]. The juror requested to be removed or replaced. The note came on the third day of deliberations in the high-profile case, which is the first of the Obama administration's attempts to try prominent terror suspects in federal court [LAT report]. Judge Lewis Kaplan denied the juror's request and instructed the jury to continue their deliberations. In denying the motion, Kaplan noted that it was unrealistic to expect a unanimous verdict so soon [Bloomberg report] given the size of the trial record, which has swelled to 2,200 pages with hundreds of pieces of evidence.

Ghailani faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Tanzania and Kenya. The trial began in October with opening statements, following a delay when Kaplan barred key US government witness [JURIST reports] Hussein Abebe from testifying. In July, Kaplan ruled that Ahmed Ghailani is not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is fit to stand trial [JURIST report]. In June, Kaplan denied a request from Ghailani to be exempt from prison strip searches, citing security concerns [JURIST report]. In May, Kaplan refused to dismiss criminal charges against Ghailani despite claims that he had been tortured in prison. Kaplan held that even if Ghailani was mistreated while in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] custody, there was no connection between that and the current prosecution [JURIST report].




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UK government settles with 16 Guantanamo detainees over torture allegations
Julia Zebley on November 16, 2010 2:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UK government on Tuesday announced a settlement with 16 Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees over allegations of torture. Details of the settlement agreement, which are legally bound to a confidentiality agreement, have not been released, although at least seven detainees are expected to receive compensation, with at least one recieving over one million pounds [AP report]. In return, the 16 detainees—12 of whom had filed suit and four of whom were planning to—agreed to drop a lawsuit [JURIST report] against MI5 and M16 [official websites], Britain's domestic and overseas intelligence agencies, respectively. Although many of the detainees receiving settlement are British citizens, some are not and may be offered asylum as part of the settlement. At least one is still detained in Guantanamo Bay. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark [official profile] made a statement to the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon, clarifying that the settlement was not an admission of guilt:

A joint statement [text] by the heads of M15 and M16, "welcome[d] the conclusion to the mediation which allows the agencies to concentrate on protecting national security." Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] is expected to comment on the settlement later Tuesday.

The British government has not shied away from the Guantanamo Bay controversy, launching an investigation into torture allegations in May, as well as ruling that state intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence [JURIST reports] in their defense against abuse. This issue came up in the ongoing case of Binyam Mohamed [JURIST news archive], a British citizen formerly detained in Guantanamo Bay who is thought to be included in the settlement. Mohamed was returned to the UK in February 2009 after charges against him were dismissed [JURIST reports] in October 2008. Mohamed had been held at Guantanamo Bay for four years on suspicion of conspiracy to commit terrorism [JURIST report].




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Federal appeals court upholds New Hampshire school Pledge of Allegiance law
Sarah Posner on November 16, 2010 1:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that a New Hampshire law requiring schools to schedule voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) [advocacy website], its members Jan and Pat Doe, and their three children, who are students at New Hampshire public schools, brought the lawsuit against the US government, the Hanover and Dresden school districts and the School Administrative Unit. The suit challenged the 2002 New Hampshire School Patriot Act [text], which requires schools to authorize a time during the day for the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. FFRF claims that the recitation of the pledge in New Hampshire's public schools violates the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Equal Protection Clause,p and Due Process Clause of the US Constitution [Cornell LII backgrounder], as well as the New Hampshire Constitution and federal and state law. Upholding the law, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch wrote:
In reciting the Pledge, students promise fidelity to our flag and our nation, not to any particular God, faith, or church. The New Hampshire School Patriot Act's primary effect is not the advancement of religion, but the advancement of patriotism through a pledge to the flag as a symbol of the nation.
The appeals court's ruling affirms a 2009 district court ruling. Plaintiffs were represented by atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive], who plans to request a rehearing [AP report] by the full First Circuit.

Other federal courts have also upheld similar state laws. In October, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the words "one state under God" in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance do not violate the First Amendment. In March, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that teacher-led recitation of the pledge in public schools does not violate the constitution. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] part of a Florida law that requires students in grades kindergarten through 12 to obtain parental permission in order to be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.




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Thailand extradites accused Russia arms dealer to US
Maureen Cosgrove on November 16, 2010 12:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Thai government on Tuesday extradited alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to the US to stand trial. The Thai Cabinet [official website, in Thai] approved the extradition [Bangkok Post report] and handed Bout over to US law enforcement officials for immediate departure to the US. Bout has been fighting extradition since 2008 when he was arrested and accused of running an arms trafficking network in South America, Africa and Afghanistan. Upon arrival in the US, Bout faces charges stemming from a 2008 indictment [text, PDF] for selling weapons to a terrorist group and conspiring to kill US nationals. The Russian Foreign Ministry [official website, in Russian] opposes the extradition [press release], claiming political motivation fueled the Thai government's decision:
There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout is a consequence of the unprecedented political pressure exerted by the United States on the government and judicial authorities in Thailand. All this can only be characterized as interference in the administration of justice and calls into question the independence of Thailand's judicial system and of decision making by the Thai authorities.
The Russian government maintains that Bout is innocent. If convicted in the US, Bout faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In October, the Bangkok Criminal Court paved the way for Bout's extradition to the US when it dismissed money laundering and fraud charges [JURIST report] against him. In an attempt to avoid extradition to the US, Bout appealed the decision [JURIST report], requesting that the charges be reinstated. In August, a Thai appeals court ruled that Bout must be extradited [JURIST report] to the US within three months or be released from Thai custody. The court's decision overturned a ruling by the Bangkok Criminal Court in August 2009, refusing to extradite Bout [JURIST report] on the basis that the accusations made by the US were not cognizable under Thai law. Bout has been in Thai custody since he was arrested [Interpol press release] in a joint operation carried out by US and Thai authorities in which Bout allegedly sought to sell arms to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [CFR backgrounder].




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US House votes to ban animal cruelty videos
Eryn Correa on November 16, 2010 11:29 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted Monday to ban animal cruelty or crush videos, revising the 1999 legislation [18 USC § 48 text] that was struck down by the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] in April. The Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act of 2010 [HR 5566 text, PDF] maintains that creating, selling or distributing animal crush videos, which feature small animals being tortured or killed, is a crime punishable with up to five years in prison.The revised legislation more narrowly defines what constitutes a crush video, excluding videos depicting "customary and normal veterinary or agricultural husbandry practices," as well as videos of hunting, fishing or trapping. Originally passed by the House in July, the Act slightly alters the language approved by the Senate in September and will now go back for reconsideration.

The House was forced to revise the Act following the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Stevens, in which the 1999 law was struck down [JURIST report] for being substantially overbroad and therefore in violation of the First Amendment [text]. Legislators hope that the new amendments to the law will afford it greater enforceability and staying power in their efforts to ban crush videos. Following the Supreme Court's decision, animal rights activists focused on the narrowness of the ruling, as well as the dissent, and called on [JURIST comments] Congress to revise the law.




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California high court rules illegal immigrants eligible for in-state tuition
Carrie Schimizzi on November 16, 2010 9:42 AM ET

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[JURIST] The California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday that illegal immigrants are eligible to receive in-state tuition benefits at California's public colleges and universities. The plaintiffs in the class action suit, brought by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) [advocacy website], had alleged [complaint, PDF] that an exemption in California Education Code section 68130.5(a) [text] violates § 1623 of the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 USC § 1623(a)], which prohibits states from allowing illegal immigrants to receive postsecondary education benefits on the basis of residence unless citizens of the US are eligible to receive the same benefits without regard to residency status. § 68130.5(a) provides an exemption for nonresidents attending California colleges and universities who attended a California high school for at least three years. Justice Ming Chin, writing for the majority, held that § 68130.5(a) does not violate Federal Immigration law due to the fact that the exemption is not based on formal legal residency:
Because the exemption is given to all who have attended high school in California for at least three years (and meet the other requirements), and not all who have done so qualify as California residents for purposes of in-state tuition, and further because not all unlawful aliens who would qualify as residents but for their unlawful status are eligible for the exemption, we conclude the exemption is not based on residence in California. Rather, it is based on other criteria. Accordingly, section 68130.5 does not violate section 1623.
Illegal immigrants will remain ineligible to receive state or federal financial aid benefits. Kris Kobach, counsel for IRLI says he will appeal the case [Reuters report] to the Supreme Court.

The IRLI lawsuit was one among many immigration suits currently pending across the country. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] denied motions to dismiss a class action lawsuit [JURIST reports] challenging the constitutionality of the controversial Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. Under the law, it is designated a crime to be in the country illegally, and immigrants unable to verify their legal status could be arrested and jailed for six months and fined $2,500. In September, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled that two ordinances passed by the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to live or work in the town are unconstitutional [JURIST report].




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Lebanon police arrest radical Muslim cleric convicted of terrorism
Zach Zagger on November 16, 2010 8:08 AM ET

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[JURIST] Lebanese authorities on Monday arrested Syrian national and radical Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri Mohammed, less than a week after he was convicted of terrorism by a military court. Bakri was after a gunfire riddled car chase arrested [LAT report] in the northern city of Tripoli where he had been living. He was convicted in absentia [JURIST report] last week for belonging to an armed group that carried out terrorist acts against Lebanese soldiers in 2007 and was sentenced to a life term. He claims that he never received a summons or an arrest warrant and had refused to turn himself in. Bakri is known for having praised the 9/11 hijackers as "the magnificent 19" and practices the same sect of Sunni Muslim as Osama bin Laden. He has been living in Lebanon since 2005 where US security experts fear that terrorist supports have found refuge amongst the Lebanese Sunni population.

Bakri was living openly in Lebanon appearing regularly on television and talking with Western journalists. He previously lived in the UK for 20 years until he fled to Lebanon in 2005 after being named in an investigation by British authorities for allegedly making remarks in support of the London bombers [JURIST reports]. Bakri also reportedly praised insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan while vowing not to inform authorities of any information he learned about future terrorist attacks. In 2005, he denied talking about the bombings and said he planed to return to London. While living in Britain, Bakri headed the now-dissolved Islamist group al-Muhajiroun.




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Bosnia authorities arrest Srebrenica war crimes suspect
Zach Zagger on November 16, 2010 7:01 AM ET

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[JURIST] A suspected Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) war criminal was arrested [press release] Monday in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during the end of 1992-95 Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives]. The Prosecutors Office for BiH [official website] announced that Dragan Crnogorac was arrested in the city of Banja Luka on suspicion for having committed genocide under Article 171 of the BiH criminal code [text, PDF]. Crnogorac was a police officer who is alleged to have shot Bosnian Muslim men and boys [CP report] after the town of Srebrenica fell in July 1995. More than 8,000 men were killed in what is the worst massacre since the Nazi era. The war crimes division of the Prosecutors Office will conduct the questioning and then decide whether to further pursue the case.

In August, Spanish officials extradited accused Montenegrin war criminal [JURIST report] Veselin Vlahovic, known as the "monster of Grbavica," to Sarajevo. He is wanted on three international arrest warrants, including one for the rape, torture and murder of more than 100 women and children and is expected to face genocide charges before the country's war war crimes court [official website], established in 2005 to assist the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. Also in August, the court issued genocide charges against four former Bosnian Serb soldiers in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre alleging that they were all members of the 10th Sabotage Detachment in the army of Republika Srpska. They are accused of participating in the murder of more than 800 Bosnian Muslims during the massacre. In April, the court convicted two men of genocide, Radomir Vukovic and Zoran Tomic, for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre and sentenced each to 31 years imprisonment.




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