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Legal news from Wednesday, December 28, 2011




Guantanamo rule change to require review of attorney letters in 9/11 case
Jamie Davis on December 28, 2011 3:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] Navy rear Adm. David Woods [official website], commander of the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison facility, has proposed a new rule that would require military officials to review all legal correspondence between lawyers and the detainees accused of involvement in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks [JURIST Feature], the AP reported [text] Tuesday. The new rules would require all correspondence to the five detainees to undergo a security review by officials from law enforcement and the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website]. Woods has not yet signed the proposed rule change, but it was sent to lawyers for the prisoners with an order for them to sign and agree to the change. Lawyers for the prisoners responded to the proposed rule with a written memo stating that they did not agree to the rule because it violates attorney-client privilege and would erode their clients' right to counsel that is afforded by the US Constitution [text] and asked for more time to review the rule. The detainees, whose arraignment is anticipated to occur in 2012, include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].

Lawyers for detainees at Guantanamo have raised concerns previously with practices used at the prison. In November, lawyers complained specifically about the infringement on attorney-client privilege [JURIST report] in a letter directed to the attention of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs. The attorneys alleged that those working with the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) seize, open, interpret, read and review attorney-client privileged communications, actions which the attorneys argued are unlawful. The five detainees have been held at Guantanamo since 2006 when they were transferred there from the custody of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In April, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the trials [JURIST report] for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other detainees are set to be held before a military commission. This was a change from Holder's previous position to conduct the trials in federal civilian court [JURIST report].




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Egypt court resumes Mubarak trial
Jamie Davis on December 28, 2011 2:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Wednesday resumed the trial of ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] after a month-long adjournment. The trial was adjourned [JURIST report] in October in order to allow the court time to rule on a motion made by lawyers representing the victims' families to have the three judge panel in the case removed. Lawyers for the victims argued that they were not given enough time [Al Jazeera report] to question Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi [GlobalSecurity profile], head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder] currently ruling Egypt. In December, the court rejected the motion and fined the prosecution for making the request. Mubarak is facing charges of complicity in the deaths of more than 800 protesters [JURIST report] during the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt [JURIST news archive] that resulted in Mubarak stepping down in February [JURIST report]. The trial lasted a few hours on Wednesday and is due to resume again on January 2.

The trial for ex-president Mubarak has been tumultuous. In September, violence broke out in the courtroom when plaintiffs and their lawyers clashed with Mubarak supporters. In August, presiding Judge Ahmed Rifaat decided to end live TV broadcasts [JURIST report] of subsequent proceedings amid protests from the families of victims and praise from several courtroom lawyers who opposed the broadcasts. Officials chose a new location for Mubarak's trial for security reasons after reporting [JURIST reports] that the trial would take place at a convention center in downtown Cairo. In July, an Egyptian criminal court postponed the trial [JURIST report] of former interior minister Habib el-Adly, who also faces murder charges in relation to the pro-democracy demonstrations, so it would coincide with Mubarak's trial. If convicted, Murabak could face the death penalty.




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UN rights groups urge probe of torture and killings by Haiti police
Jerry Votava on December 28, 2011 12:48 PM ET

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[JURIST] The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Section of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) [official websites] issued two reports [text; press release] on Tuesday detailing activities such as torture and unlawful killings allegedly carried out by Haitian National Police (HNP) [official website, in French], and urged Haitian leaders in investigate and prosecute those responsible. The first report [text, PDF] illustrates the context of the state of affairs in which the HNP have been operating, and then focuses on the death of eight people over five cases to detail their mistreatment and alleged unlawful deaths between October 2010 and May 2011. The report goes on to present what it sees as patterns of behavior found in the cases including police justifications of crossfire, lack of investigation by prosecutors, and procedural delays of investigations by judges. The report also notes that to date, no police officers have been held responsible for the deaths detailed by the report. The report recommends:
actions to ensure that justice is rendered in each of these five cases and also recommends that the authorities as well as the international community take additional steps to support the many officers of the HNP who are trying to fulfill their duties to ensure that the police is a respected institution, having the trust of the Haitian people; an institution that is fully capable of fulfilling its responsibilities that are essential for the country's future.
The second report [text, PDF, in French] details the specific case of the alleged torture and murder of Serge Demosthene in June 2011. The report questioned "the Haitian authorities, compliance with the right to life, the right to be free from torture, and norms governing arrest, as well as respect for judicial independence."

In July, the OHCHR spoke on the importance of Haiti improving its human rights record [JURIST report], including trying ex-president Jean-Claude Duvalier [BBC backgrounder]. In May of 2010, a spokesperson for the MINUSTAH announced that the mission had launched an investigation [JURIST report] into the shootings of dozens of prisoners in a jail riot following the January 12, 2010 earthquake [JURIST news archive].




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US extradites woman suspected of war crimes to Bosnia
Alexandra Malatesta on December 28, 2011 11:39 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US has extradited Rasema Handanovic, a woman accused of killing Bosnian Croat civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian Civil War [JURIST news archive], according to US officials Tuesday. Handanovic, along with Edin Dzeko who was extradited last week, served in a unit of the Bosnian Army that attacked a village [AP report] in Trusina on April 16, 1993, resulting in the death of 18 civilians. Fellow combatants testified to having witnessed Handanovic personally shoot wounded victims in the head [Reuters report], some multiple times. Handanovic, who immigrated to the US and became a citizen in 2006, lived with her family in Oregon. She faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

A number of cases have been opened in relation to the Bosnian Civil War. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] confirmed the indictment [JURIST report] of former police officer Bozidar Kuvelja in March for his role in a 1995 massacre. In February, French authorities arrested Milorad Momic [JURIST report] under an international arrest warrant for his suspected involvement in war crimes. Last August, Spanish officials extradited accused Montenegrin war criminal [JURIST report] Veselin Vlahovic, known as the "monster of Grbavica," to Sarajevo. He was 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 crimes court.




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Federal judge rules BP not negligent in Alaska oil spill
Alexandra Malatesta on December 28, 2011 9:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Alaska [official website] on Tuesday dismissed the petition of federal prosecutors, finding that British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website; JURIST news archive] was not negligent in a 2009 oil spill. Because the spill, which released 13,500 gallons of oil onto the North Slope of Alaska, was not a result of BP's negligence, BP did not violate the terms of its probation. BP's probation began as a result of a 2007 conviction [AP report] when the company was found negligent for spilling 200,000 gallons of oil on the North Slope in 2006. Prosecutors linked the two spills as evidence of BP's negligence by arguing that in both instances the pipes had frozen and BP ignored the signs of rupturing and leaking in order to cut costs. The pipe had been partially or fully frozen for at least six months before the expanding ice caused it to rupture [Alaska Dispatch report]. Judge Ralph Beistline dismissed this argument stating that the 2009 spill was a result of a unique alignment of circumstances and that BP adhered to accepted industry practices [WP report] and reasonably addressed the situation. Beistline also dismissed prosecutors' claim that the migration of the oil into US waters was a violation of the Clean Water Act [33 USC § 1251 et seq. text]. The decision is a victory for the oil company [Reuters report] struggling to recover its image after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].

Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP, as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come to light. In November, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi remanded a lawsuit [JURIST report] by the Mississippi attorney general against the administrator of the BP $20 billion Deepwater Horizons reparations fund. In July, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed consolidated racketeering claims against BP [JURIST report] in connection with the spill brought under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq. text]. Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in August 2010 against BP for damages to the state's coast and economy, claiming that the oil giant has failed in its efforts to accept responsibility for the oil spill. In July 2010, a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] was filed against the company in a Louisiana state court alleging that its negligent actions led to the spill and that BP was further negligent in its oversight of the cleanup effort, resulting in volunteers falling ill due to inadequate protective equipment. One month prior, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would review whether any criminal or civil laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP.




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