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Legal news from Friday, December 23, 2011




Military court hears closing arguments in intelligence leak case
Dan Taglioli on December 23, 2011 3:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] A US military court heard closing arguments Thursday at the pre-trial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], which will determine whether he will face a court martial for his alleged role in the largest intelligence leak in US history. Manning, who served as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces 22 criminal charges and possible life imprisonment [CNN report] for leaking a controversial classified video [YouTube video] of a 2007 US helicopter strike in Iraq and nearly 750,000 classified US military and State Department [official website] documents, much of which landed on Wikileaks [website] last year. The Article 32 hearing, the military justice system's rough equivalent of a grand jury hearing, is conducted publicly and the defense is allowed to cross-examine witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. At the hearing, Manning's lawyers accused prosecutors of overreaching [Reuters report], saying the massive release of documents caused no harm to national security, and asking the court to throw out charges of aiding and giving intelligence to the enemy. They also urged the court to dismiss several other counts, saying overall security within Manning's unit was lax. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense that could bring the death penalty, but the prosecution has said it intends to seek life in prison for the soldier. Manning's attorney focused his closing remarks on urging the prosecution to seek a prison term of no more than 30 years. Manning will not know for several weeks whether he will face a court martial.

A US Army [official website] panel of experts declared Manning competent to stand trial [JURIST report] in April. Manning's prosecution has sparked heated debate between defenders and critics. Those who support Manning's actions refer to him as courageous for acting as a whistleblower [advocacy petition] against government crime and corruption. He has been compared to famous US whistleblowers such as Frank Serpico and Daniel Ellsberg [personal websites], who leaked information regarding corruption in the New York Police Department and the Pentagon, respectively. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [WP profile] has criticized the video [WSJ report], claiming it provides the public a view of warfare "as seen through a soda straw." He noted that public attention was not drawn to what was discovered by US ground forces following the helicopter gunfire, including AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He also said that terrorist organizations are made up of combatants who do not wear enemy uniforms. In August, lawyer Charles Lugosi [profile] wrote that Patriot Act provisions and criminal sanctions placed on whistleblowers like Manning violate the Constitution [JURIST commentary] and fundamentally challenge the legitimacy of the rule of law and American democracy. Lugosi noted that individuals, through websites and social networking, can expose modern injustice and raise the conscious awareness of the public to worthy causes and crusades.




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China court sentences dissident to nine years in prison
Dan Taglioli on December 23, 2011 2:58 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Chinese court Friday sentenced human rights advocate Chen Wei to nine years in prison, the toughest ruling issued this year in the ongoing government crackdown on dissidents, rights activists and protest organizers. Chen, 42, was sentenced after a two hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion [Reuters report] of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which Chen published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. He was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February. The vast majority of those detained have been released without charges or on bail, but officials apparently wanted to make an example of Chen, and China's party-run courts rarely find in favor of defendants in trials for political charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the sentence unacceptable and urged Chinese authorities to release Chen immediately [press release]. His sentence is the third-longest term ever handed down for inciting subversion in China.

The two longer sentences for subversion convictions belong to Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who has been serving an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] since 2009, and Liu Xianbin, who was jailed for 10 years in March. In May the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] called for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia [JURIST report] after being jailed for a subversion conviction in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. Earlier this week prominent civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] was sent to prison for three years for violating his probation, the first sign that he is still alive [JURIST report] since having disappeared 20 months ago, presumably at the hands of the authorities. The US Department of State [official website] in June urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to release protesters arrested for their Tiananmen Square involvement and account for those missing or killed during the suppression. The State Department also urged China to protect universal human rights afforded to peaceful dissenters, and to release those that had been detained or placed under house arrest.




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Federal judge rules financier Stanford competent to stand trial
Sarah Posner on December 23, 2011 10:43 AM ET

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[JURIST] A federal judge ruled Thursday that financier Allen Stanford [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is mentally competent to stand trial for orchestrating a $7 billion Ponzi scheme affecting investors in both the US and Latin America. The decision came after a three-day hearing [Reuters report] in which U.S. District Judge David Hittner decided that Stanford was able to assist his lawyers in preparing for trial. Stanford has been in federal custody since his arrest in June 2009. His lawyers were unsuccessful in arguing that he suffered from retrograde amnesia and diminished mental capacity [Bloomberg report] as a result of head injuries sustained during a 2009 assault while in prison. Doctors and psychologists at the prison hospital have accused Stanford of faking symptoms of amnesia. The trial is scheduled to begin on January 23.

In February, Stanford filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] accusing federal agents of violating his constitutional rights. The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, named 12 defendants, including members of the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites]. Stanford alleged that the defendants used "abusive law-enforcement methods" to pursue a frivolous civil suit [JURIST report] against him in order to gather evidence for his criminal prosecution. In January, a federal judge indefinitely postponed [JURIST report] Stanford's trial, citing a chemical dependency that prevented Stanford from standing trial. In June 2009, Stanford pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 21 charges of fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction.




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Thai flood victims file complaint against government
Sarah Posner on December 23, 2011 10:09 AM ET

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[JURIST] Victims of Thailand's flood crisis filed a complaint Thursday with Thailand's Central Administrative Court [official website] alleging that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra [BBC profile] and state agencies caused further damage during one of the countries worst floods. The complaint was issued on behalf of 352 victims [Bangkok Post report] against the prime minister, Bangkok governor and five state agencies for mishandling the response to the flood, which lasted from July through November 2011. The complaint called for individual compensation for property damage and for the government to establish a victims' fund. In total, the flooding killed approximately 600 people and affected about 2.4 million others in the country. Hundreds of thousands of people were put out of work [AFP report] as a result of the flooding and Thailand's economy took a major hit, with a reduction in tourism and production.

The Thai government has also faced international criticism for its strict laws and its human rights record. Earlier this month, Thai-born American citizen Joe Gordon was sentenced [JURIST report] to two-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty to violating Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code [text], which criminalizes insulting the country's royal family. The UN has condemned [JURIST report] the law, saying that the law prohibits freedom of speech. In August, the UN urged the Thai government to improve measures to combat human trafficking [JURIST report], as well as protect the rights of migrant workers. The trafficking trade in Thailand is predominantly used for sexual and labor exploitation, with child trafficking especially rampant.




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