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Legal news from Wednesday, February 1, 2006




Watchdog highlights corruption in international health care
James M Yoch Jr on February 1, 2006 8:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Transparency International [official website], an international corruption watchdog group, said Wednesday in its 2006 Global Corruption Report [report materials; press release, PDF] that malfeasance in both private and public sector health care systems around the world was rampant and that it included increased production of counterfeit drugs and bribery and extortion in health care management. The report recommends public access to and independent audits of health care budgets and policies; codes of conduct for health workers and private sector companies and provide ongoing anti-corruption training; independent health care monitoring at the national and international level; and rigorous prosecution of offenders. The study addresses general and financial corruption in particular countries and provides special updates on the US, including campaign finance reform, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and Congressional ethics. AFP has more.






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Ex-Enron exec says Lay, Skilling knew earnings claims exaggerated
James M Yoch Jr on February 1, 2006 8:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Mark Koenig, former executive VP of investor relations at Enron [JURIST news archive], testified in the early stages of the prosecution case Wednesday that founder Kenneth Lay [Houston Chronicle profile] and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling [Houston Chronicle profile], both on trial for fraud and conspiracy [indictment, PDF], knew about changes to quarterly earnings reports in January and July 2000 made in an attempt to surpass Wall Street estimates of the company’s financial performance. The testimony conflicts with the assertions of Skilling and Lay, who have both maintained in their defense that no financial figures were ever changed. Koenig, who pleaded guilty [US DOJ press release] to aiding and abetting securities fraud in August 2004, also told jurors that Skilling exaggerated the success of Enron’s broadband division to analysts in 2000 and 2001. AP has more.






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Alito casts first Supreme Court vote in refusal to allow Missouri execution
James M Yoch Jr on February 1, 2006 7:45 PM ET

[JURIST] New US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive; OYEZ profile] cast his first vote on the country's highest court on Wednesday in a decision to deny a request [order, PDF] to vacate the stay of execution for Missouri death row prisoner Michael A. Taylor. The Court also denied certiorari in Taylor's case in which the inmate challenged the Missouri death penalty system as racist and lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment, but Alito did not take part in that decision. Later Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed to a rehearing by the full court [AP report] in Taylor's case.

Alito, who was officially sworn in on Tuesday [JURIST report], took part in a second ceremonial swearing-in ceremony [recorded video] at the White House Wednesday afternoon. Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath, and President Bush once again praised Alito's strong character and approach to the law [transcript]. After taking the oath, Justice Alito said:

... I will just conclude by saying that the many letters that I've received over the past three months have reminded me how much the people of the United States revere our Constitution and our form of government, and how much they look to the Supreme Court of the United States to protect our form of government and our freedoms. That is an awesome responsibility. And in light of that, I think it's only -- only very simple and very sincere words are appropriate in closing. And so I simply pledge that I will do everything in my power to live up to the trust that has been placed in me.
Alito will now occupy the seat on the far right of the courtroom, which is reserved for junior justices and has been the place of Justice Stephen Breyer [OYEZ profile] since 1994, and will be responsible for taking notes and doorkeeping during closed meetings with his fellow justices. The justices will convene on February 17 to determine if any cases must be reargued [AP report] for Alito's benefit. Alito replaces the retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor [OYEZ profile], and he praised [transcript] her Wednesday, saying, "it's particularly humbling to try to succeed Justice O'Connor, to whom the country owes such a great debt of gratitude for her tremendous service." O'Connor will begin teaching a two-week course [AP report] on the US Supreme Court on Thursday at the University of Arizona College of Law. AP has more.

10:05 PM ET - Late reports indicate that in a separate order [PDF text] issued Wednesday evening, Alito split with the Court's conservatives in refusing to lift the stay of execution for Missouri death row inmate Michael Taylor. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas supported lifting the stay; Alito voted with the other five members of the Court. AP has more.





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Second Gomery report recommends limiting Canada PM's power after scandal
James M Yoch Jr on February 1, 2006 6:56 PM ET

[JURIST] Quebec Justice John Gomery Wednesday released the second report [text and materials] of his judicial commission of inquiry [official website] into the Canadian sponsorships and advertising program [CBC backgrounder] scandal that developed during the term of former Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chretien [CBC profile] in the mid-1990s and later rocked the Canadian political establishment. The 240-page report entitled "Restoring Accountability" includes 18 recommendations for reining in prime-ministerial power and recovering over $50 million from the advertising kickbacks scheme which operated in the province of Quebec from 1994-2003. Conservative Party PM-designate Stephen Harper [official profile], who will take office on Monday in a new minority government, says he supports Gomery’s report and has vowed to pursue legal action to recover the missing funds, a stance that helped the Conservative leader win the January 23 Canadian federal election [JURIST report]. In his first report [text and materials], Gomery and his commission, established by Chretien successor Paul Martin [official website] almost two years ago, blamed Chretien [JURIST report] for some of the scandal since he chose to run the program from his office and had the ability to prevent mismanagement. The Toronto Globe and Mail has more.






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Environmental brief ~ EU to limit fluorinated gas standards
Tom Henry on February 1, 2006 6:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Leading Wednesday's environmental law news, the European Parliament [official website] and the Council of Ministers [official website] have reached an agreement [press release] to set a cut off date of December 31, 2012 for EU nations that wish to impose more stringent standards for fluorinated gases than the standard adopted for the EU in general. The gases are used in a variety of products including air conditioners and refrigerators, and the Council was concerned that different national standards could disrupt internal markets. EUpolitix has more.

In other environmental law news...

  • Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London [official website], announced [press release] a plan [official website] Tuesday that would require buses and trucks operating within the city to meet EU air quality standards or pay a fine. Any bus or truck built before 2001 would be subject to a fine if not fitted with an anti-pollution filter. Critics argue that the current drivers and vehicles database is inaccurate, that vehicles could be fined regardless of whether their emissions were above approved levels, that it is unknown how or if the plan would be applied to foreign vehicles, and that it would cost millions to bring existing freight truck fleets into compliance. The London Telegraph has more.

  • The seven US states that comprise the Colorado River basin reached an agreement Tuesday and submitted a proposal to the US Department of the Interior [official website] regarding water management during times of drought. The DOI Bureau of Reclamation [official website] is producing a study of proper water management for the river, and the states (Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada) had until today to have their input included in the study. Under the agreement, the operation of Lakes Powell and Mead would be modified and coordinated in times of drought to keep each at acceptable levels. The Salt Lake Tribune has more.





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EU to help Turkey set up appeals courts
Christopher G. Anderson on February 1, 2006 4:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Union [official website] will fund a program to establish appellate courts within the existing Turkish juridical system, EU officials announced Tuesday. At an estimated cost to the EU of 1.4 million euros, Turkish Ministry of Justice [official website] officials working with experts from the Council for the Judiciary in the Netherlands and the Swedish National Courts Administration will reintroduce intermediate courts of appeal that lie between first instance courts and Turkey's highest court, the Court of Cassation [official website]. The new courts are expected to relieve the Court of Cassation from its excessive workload and allow it to concentrate on clarifying Turkish case law, which has been criticized as being unpredictable. The judicial renovation is part of an extensive reform plan that Turkey must complete [JURIST report] within two years to be eligible for EU membership. The Anatolian Times has more. The EU press release is available here.






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ICTY prosecutor calls on EU to suspend membership talks with Serbia
Krystal MacIntyre on February 1, 2006 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] In an interview [in French] with Paris newspaper Le Figaro published Wednesday, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugsoalvia [official website] urged European Union officials to suspend membership talks with Serbia in order to pressure Belgrade to arrest wanted war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archive]. Carla del Ponte [BBC profile] wants Brussels to delay plans towards a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) [EU backgrounder], the first legal step towards EU membership, until Mladic is captured. Mladic is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes stemming from his involvement in the Bosnian war in the early 1990s. Serbia and Montenegro Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic has admitted to secret talks with the Mladic family, but claims that he does not know where Mladic is hiding. The Serbian Supreme Defense Council has also admitted [AP report] that retired army officers previously helped hide Mladic, but they maintain that they have no knowledge of Mladic's current whereabouts. EUObserver has more.






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Jury urges 'not guilty' rape verdict for Uganda opposition leader
Christopher G. Anderson on February 1, 2006 3:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Ugandan court officials announced Wednesday that a jury has recommended that Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], currently beset by several legal actions he claims are politically-motivated, be found not guilty of raping a woman in 1997 and 1998. Besigye's fate nonetheless remains unclear, as a High Court judge must still announce the final verdict in the case. Besigye also faces charges for terrorism and illegal firearms violations [JURIST report]. Earlier Wednesday, the Ugandan Constitutional Court [official website] dropped all military court martial charges against Besigye [JURIST report], ruling that facing charges in both civilian and military courts for the same alleged crime is unconstitutional, though portions of the decision will be appealed [VOA report] by both the government and the Uganda Law Society. Besigye is challenging the 20 year rule of President Yoweri Museveni [official website; BBC profile]. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have also protested the charges against Besigye [HRW press release]. BBC News has more.






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Japanese rally against female imperial succession proposal
Krystal MacIntyre on February 1, 2006 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Over 1,000 protestors gathered in Tokyo Wednesday to rally against a proposed change to the 1947 Imperial Household Law [text], which would allow women and their children to ascend to Japan's Chrysanthemum throne [Wikipedia backgrounder], one of the world's oldest monarchies. Last year, in response to a succession crisis created because no male heirs having been born in the family since 1965, a government panel recommended changing the succession law [JURIST report] to allow the first-born child, irrespective of gender, the right to ascend to the throne. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi [official profile] has promised to introduce reform legislation [JURIST report]. If the change is approved, Princess Aiko, granddaughter of Emperor Akihito [official profile], could become the first reigning empress since the 18th century. Opinion polls have shown a majority of public support for the change, but some conservatives, including 29 lawmakers within Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) [party website] are strongly opposed to the proposal. Opponents instead have suggested reviving abolished princely houses in order to continue male succession to the throne. Another rally is scheduled in Tokyo next month, where over 10,000 are expected to attend. Reuters has more.






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Chile appeals court rules Pinochet can be tried on Operation Colombo charges
Christopher G. Anderson on February 1, 2006 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] A Chilean appeals court ruled Wednesday that former dictator Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is healthy enough to stand trial for alleged human rights abuses stemming from the 1975 Operation Colombo [Wikipedia backgrounder] massacre. The ruling, one of several concerning whether Pinochet will stand trial for abuses committed during his regime, clears the way for prosecutors to bring Pinochet to trial on accusations that he was involved in the killings of 119 political dissidents during the 1975 massacre. In addition to corruption and tax evasion charges [JURIST reports], Chile's courts have been considering whether to lift Pinochet's immunity and whether he is competent to stand trial on charges in multiple rights cases, including alleged torture at Villa Grimaldi, crimes committed as part of the so-called Caravan of Death and alleged kidnappings during Operation Condor [JURIST reports]. Pinochet, who suffers from mild dementia, diabetes, and arthritis, claims that the dissidents who disappeared in 1975 were killed during armed combat between rival factions who opposed his regime. AFP has more.






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Spokane diocese offers $45.7M to settle clergy sex abuse cases
Krystal MacIntyre on February 1, 2006 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane [official website] has offered a $45.7 million settlement to 75 clergy sex abuse [JURIST news archive] complainants. Some observers wonder how the diocese can afford the settlement since filing for bankruptcy [Seattle Times report] from previous sex abuse lawsuits. The settlement offer must be approved by the US Bankruptcy Court and each of the individual victims within 120 days. If the settlement is accepted, the diocese must pay 80% of the $45.7 million by October 2007. The settlement will cover all plaintiffs who have already filed suit, but no provision has been made for those who file suit in the future. A bankruptcy judge has already ruled that the property of the diocese's 82 individual parishes can be sold or mortgaged to help cover the cost of the settlement. That ruling is currently on appeal. The Spokane settlement offer comes a day after court approval of an $85 million clergy abuse settlement [JURIST report] in Kentucky. AP has more.






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Former US official to plead guilty in Iraq reconstruction bribe scheme
Holly Manges Jones on February 1, 2006 1:45 PM ET

[JURIST] A former US official with the Coalition Provisional Authority [official website] in Iraq has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges that he stole over $2 million in rebuilding funds and awarded contracts to an American businessman in exchange for more than $1 million in cash and goods. Robert Stein, Jr. [Wikipedia profile] admitted his role in the conspiracy in a signed document filed in a US District Court, which indicates that he used the stolen money to purchase jewelry, machine guns, cars, and an airplane, and was also given plane tickets, alcohol, cigars, and cash for awarding contracts to construction companies owned by Philip Bloom [Wikipedia profile]. Stein's signed statement includes e-mails between the two men which discuss the fake contracts and list a new police academy and renovated library as some of the projects given to Bloom's companies. Bloom also faces federal conspiracy and money laundering charges [JURIST report] and five US Army officers were allegedly involved [JURIST report] in the scheme. Stein is expected to appear in court Thursday to enter his guilty plea. AP has more.






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Portugal same-sex marriage bid prompts court challenge
Krystal MacIntyre on February 1, 2006 1:44 PM ET

[JURIST] In the first attempt of its kind in Portugal [government website, English version], two women on Wednesday tried to register their same-sex marriage and are waiting to receive a formal response, expected Thursday. A lawyer representing the women said that they do not expect approval of their registration and have already filed an appeal with the courts based on the Portuguese constitution [PDF text], which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. The couple will argue that two women have the same right to marry as a man and a woman. Portugal's civil code currently bans same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. Also Wednesday, left-wing opposition members presented a motion in Parliament [official website in Portuguese] to allow same-sex marriage, but the ruling Socialist party has yet to announce its position in the matter. Spain, Portugal's European neighbor, legalized same-sex marriage [JURIST report] last year, but some members of Portugal's parliament do not feel that the predominantly Roman Catholic country is ready for such a move. Reuters has more. From Lisbon, Publico has local coverage [in Portuguese].






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Human rights groups say tsunami relief campaign marred by abuses
Holly Manges Jones on February 1, 2006 1:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Three human rights groups Wednesday criticized the global aid campaign [ActionAid press release] created to assist those affected by the 2004 tsunami disaster [JURIST news archive], saying it has "trampled" on the human rights of many survivors. The Habitat International Coalition, the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, and ActionAid International [advocacy websites] said the relief effort has been successful in some respects, but also indicated that thousands of survivors do not have adequate healthcare and are still living in substandard housing. The human rights groups also revealed discrimination in aid distributions, arbitrary arrests, and sexual- and gender-based violence. The groups' report [text PDF] is based on visits made last November to over 50,000 people in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Maldives. Reuters has more.






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Massachusetts women sue Wal-Mart for not stocking emergency contraception
Krystal MacIntyre on February 1, 2006 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Three Massachusetts women on Wednesday filed suit against Wal-Mart [corporate website], alleging that the retail chain is in violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act [text] because their pharmacies do not stock emergency contraception. The law states that all pharmacies in the state must provide all "commonly prescribed" medications. Last year, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law [text; JURIST report] which requires all hospitals to stock emergency contraception and allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription. The law does not, however, require pharmacies to carry emergency contraception. The women, joined by Planned Parenthood Massachusetts [advocacy website], NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts [advocacy website; news release], and Jane Doe Inc. [advocacy website] are seeking a court order from the Suffolk Superior Court to require Wal-Mart to stock emergency contraception in all 44 of their Massachusetts pharmacies. AP has more.






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France high court overturns colonial history law
Greg Sampson on February 1, 2006 1:04 PM ET

[JURIST] France's Constitutional Council [official website], the country's highest court, has struck down [court materials, in French] a clause in a 2005 French law [text, in French; Guardian report] that requires teachers to stress the positive aspects of French colonialism. The court reasoned it was "outside the competence of the legislature" to make such a determination. Earlier this year, French President Jacques Chirac said the law should be overturned [JURIST report] and last week referred the case [JURIST report] to the constitutional court. Xinhua has more. Le Monde has local coverage [in French].






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EU court says states must verify potential threats before banning immigrants
Holly Manges Jones on February 1, 2006 12:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website; EU backgrounder] on Tuesday ruled [judgment text] that immigration lists barring non-Europeans from EU countries must comply with the principle of freedom of movement [EU background materials] and that EU members states must investigate [ECJ press release, PDF] whether the presence in the EU of persons on the list poses a true threat. The case before the court involved two Algerians who were married to Spanish citizens but were barred from being in Spain because of an immigration blacklist that applied to all EU countries except the UK, Ireland and Denmark. Germany placed the two on the Schengen Information System [EU backgrounder; Wikipedia backgrounder], but the reason for one was only that he had been convicted of driving without a proper license. The court's ruling mandates that member states "must verify whether the presence of those persons constitutes a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society" before banning them from entering the Schengen countries. EUPolitix.com has more.






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Mine safety nominee says laws adequate, stricter enforcement needed
Greg Sampson on February 1, 2006 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] During testimony before the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions [official website] on Tuesday, Richard Sticker, George Bush's nominee to head the Mine Safety and Health Agency [official website], told senators that current mine safety laws were adequate, and that problems arise because of insufficient enforcement. President Bush first announced Stickler's nomination [press release] to the post in September, but the nomination did not receive substantial scrutiny until the mining disaster in Sago, West Virginia on January 2, in which 12 miners died. Both the West Virginia and federal governments began focusing on mining safety, and both governments moved quickly [JURIST report] to fix the known problems that led to the incident. Critics of the Stickler nomination, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) [official website] and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) [official website] voiced their frustrations with the nominee. Clinton stated her intention to perform a "close analysis" of Stickler's health and safety record, while Kennedy said he intends to vote against confirmation. The committee offers hearing materials. USA Today has more.






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Iran president calls for Bush to face 'people's tribunal'
Greg Sampson on February 1, 2006 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official website; BBC profile] on Wednesday called President George Bush a "warmonger" and said he should be brought before a "people's tribunal" to answer for American actions in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and elsewhere that are "killing people by the million." During his annual State of the Union address [White House materials; JURIST report] on Tuesday, President Bush for his part described Iran as "held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people" and called for a "free and democratic Iran." Reacting to Bush's speech, Ahmadinejad said Bush has "no right to talk about liberty or human rights" and also described the US as "implicated everywhere where there is war and oppression." In the same speech, Ahmadinejad reacted harshly to the news that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council [official website] have agreed to ask the IAEA to put Iran's nuclear program before the entire council [JURIST report]. Ahmadinejad said that the Iranian people would not submit to the any decision the Security Council might make about Iran's nuclear program. The 35-member board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [official website] will meet Thursday to determine whether to refer Iran to the Security Council and to consider a report released Tuesday [JURIST report] that asserts that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. AFP has more.






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Federal judge asked to dismiss Connecticut No Child Left Behind lawsuit
Lauren Becker on February 1, 2006 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for the US Justice Department on Tuesday urged a federal judge to dismiss Connecticut's lawsuit challenging the No Child Left Behind Act [PDF text], arguing that the state understood the law's requirements when officials accepted federal education funding and therefore cannot avoid obligations under the law. Connecticut filed the lawsuit [PDF complaint; JURIST report] in August 2005, alleging that the law is an unconstitutional unfunded federal mandate. The DOJ also argued Tuesday that Connecticut brought suit prematurely before exhausting administrative remedies within the Department of Education. US District Judge Mark Kravitz, who did not immediately rule on whether to dismiss the lawsuit, expressed concern that a ruling in favor of Connecticut would allow other states to choose select portions of the federal law to follow. AP has more.






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Israeli police evacuate illegal West Bank settlement after high court ruling
Lauren Becker on February 1, 2006 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] Israeli police Wednesday forcibly evacuated a West Bank Jewish settlement [BBC report] at Amona and demolished nine houses illegally built on Palestinian land after the Israeli Supreme Court [official website, English version] rejected a last-minute appeal by residents. The outpost, along with many others, was set for evacuation under the road map peace plan [PDF text], which calls for the removal of all unauthorized settlements constructed since March 2001. Last November, Israel's High Court ruled that the Amona settlement should be demolished, rejecting settlers' arguments that their homes were built with permission from the Israeli government. A 2005 Israeli government study concluded that 105 Jewish settlements on the West Bank are illegal [JURIST report] and should be immediately removed. Earlier this month Israeli Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official profile] asked his defense minister to draw up a plan [JURIST report] for removing the remaining 24 settler outposts. As Israeli troops evacuated the Amona settlement Wednesday, protestors clashed with police in the most violent protests since the general Gaza pullout [JURIST news archive] last year. AP has more.






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Libby lawyers outline defense strategy
Tom Henry on February 1, 2006 9:22 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers representing I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [CBS profile] on Tuesday offered details regarding his likely defense to charges that he lied to investigators about his role in exposing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted in the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive] but has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to charges [PDF indictment; JURIST report] of obstructing justice, perjury and making false statements. The lawyers indicated that they would likely argue that any statements found to be untrue were a result of innocent confusion or faulty memory rather than intentional deception. They stressed that Libby was focused on more important national security matters at the time he made the statements. Libby's lawyers are also requesting the use of classified evidence [JURIST report] and plan to subpoena journalists [JURIST report] and news organizations for reporters' notes and records. The New York Times has more.






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Congress set to extend Patriot Act another month as talks continue
Tom Henry on February 1, 2006 8:50 AM ET

[JURIST] After efforts to reach a long-term renewal of the USA Patriot Act [PDF text] stalled again [JURIST report] last week, Congress is set to approve another short-term extension of the legislation to allow continued negotiations on the balance between civil liberties and the war on terror. Sixteen key provisions [DOJ report, PDF] of the Patriot Act were set to expire at the end of last year, but members of Congress were unable to reach an agreement [JURIST report] on a long-term extension before Christmas, and instead passed a one-month extension [JURIST report] that will expire February 3. The US House of Representatives is due to vote Wednesday on a second extension that will last until March 10, and a Senate vote is expected to follow before Friday. Senate Democrats and four Republican senators are pressing for more civil liberties protections to be incorporated in the renewal legislation. AP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Patriot Act | Op-ed: PATRIOT Games: Terrorism Law and Executive Power






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Saddam and defense lawyers continue boycott as trial resumes
Jeannie Shawl on February 1, 2006 8:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The Saddam Hussein trial [JURIST news archive] resumed in Baghdad Wednesday with Hussein, four co-defendants, and defense lawyers boycotting the proceedings [JURIST report] in protest against the new chief judge. Ra'uf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman [BBC profile] was named chief judge after Rizgar Mohammed Amin [JURIST news archive] resigned [JURIST report] earlier this month. At the last trial session Sunday, Abdel-Rahman promised stricter courtroom control [JURIST report] but the strategy produced chaos. Wednesday's session at the Iraqi High Criminal Court - formerly the Iraqi Special Tribunal [official website] - began with a half-hour closed hearing [AP report] to deal with "procedural issues", according to the court, though it is not clear who was present for that part of the session. Proceedings were then opened to the public, and Abdel-Rahman said that a five-judge panel would consider a prosecutorial request to force all defendants to attend the trial. He also told the remaining three defendants, whose lawyers were boycotting the session, that defense lawyers would be appointed to represent them so long as the boycott continued.

Also Wednesday, Hussein's defense team continued their push to have Abdel-Rahman sacked [JURIST report] due to the judge's alleged bias. Khaled al-Dulaimi said Wednesday that Abdel-Rahman had been tried in absentia and sentenced to life in prison during Hussein's regime and that the judge had belonged to a Kurdish opposition party that "was an enemy" to Hussein. There have also been reports that Abdel-Rahman had been detained and tortured by Hussein's security agents in the 1980s. AP has more.






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International brief ~ Ugandan court declares Besigye military trial illegal
D. Wes Rist on February 1, 2006 8:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Leading Wednesday's international brief, the Ugandan Constitutional Court [official website] has declared that a military court-martial of Ugandan opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is illegal and ordered all charges against the defendant dropped. The court held that the concurrent trials of Besigye in the civilian criminal justice system and in the General Court-Martial (GCM) of the Ugandan military on charges arising from the same facts are a violation of double jeopardy principles. The court also held that the charges levied against Besigye of terrorism and illegal firearms violations [JURIST report] were not military in nature and did not allow the GCM to try a civilian. Besigye still faces charges in the civil criminal justice system for rape and treason [JURIST report]. Uganda's Monitor Online has local coverage.

In other international legal news ...

  • While Nepalese King Gyanendra [official profile] was giving a nationally televised speech [text] on the anniversary of his dismissal of democratic government and assumption of autocratic rule [JURIST report], hundreds of activists were arrested for protesting Gyanendra's rule and for declaring February 1 a "black day" of mourning for Nepal. Even though recent attempts at municipal elections have had poor response, Gyanendra has promised that all democratic institutions in Nepal will be operating once again within the year. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Nepal [JURIST news archive]. NepalNews.com has local coverage.

  • Members of parliament in Chad [government website in French, CIA backgrounder] have voted to extend their own term limits by one year, citing lack of funds for an election as the reason. According to a spokesperson for President Idriss Deby's cabinet, which introduced the bill, the current dispute between Chad and the World Bank [official website] over the allocation of oil income means that the country cannot afford to hold national elections scheduled for mid-2006. Opposition party legislators have accused Deby of using the financial crisis as an excuse to keep parliament stacked with members of his political party. Deby must ratify the bill before it becomes law. IRIN News has more.

  • Indonesia's Judicial Commission has announced a plan to pursue reform of the country's Supreme Court through the use of agency regulation instead of formal legislation. The choice was made to allow all 49 current Supreme Court justices to be subjected to the same criteria that future applicants to the bench will have to pass. The reform focuses on rooting out corruption in the judiciary, including judicial support staff, and encouraging justices to work harder to expand their judicial knowledge by covering continuing legal education expenses. The regulation will also increase salaries of Supreme Court justices, as the current salary falls just above the country's poverty level, a fact officials say encourages bribing of top level judges. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Indonesia [JURIST news archive]. The Jakarta Post has local coverage.





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Annan: Kosovo progress slowed by intimidation of judges, corruption
Tom Henry on February 1, 2006 8:22 AM ET

[JURIST] In a report [PDF text] to the UN Security Council [official website] Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed "serious concern" [UN News report] with the slow progress in implementing eight benchmarks set by the UN for Kosovo [UN Interim Administration website], which Annan attributed to the intimidation of judges, corruption and security issues. Annan wrote:

Intimidation threatens the rule of law and the justice institutions across Kosovo and deters foreign investment. Political leaders of all parties need to lead a campaign against intimidation of, and assaults against, witnesses, police, judges, prosecutors and corrections service staff. Policies of zero tolerance and tough sentencing are needed.
The benchmarks set for Kosovo include promoting the rule of law, establishing democratic institutions, ensuring protection for ethnic minorities, and securing property rights. Annan urged Kosovo's leaders to "renew their efforts to ensure substantive, accelerated and sustainable progress." The recent death [BBC report] of Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova on January 21 has further hindered discussions. Annan's report to the Security Council follows a warning last week that Kosovo has not moved quickly enough to implement international standards [JURIST report] on human rights, democraticization, ethnic tolerance and law enforcement. AP has more.





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Putin says new NGO law aimed against 'puppeteers abroad'
Angela Onikepe on February 1, 2006 5:04 AM ET

[JURIST Europe] At his annual news conference [video, audio and transcripts in English] Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended a new Russian law [JURIST report] restricting the activities of domestic and foreign-based non-governmental organizations - including a number of international human rights groups - and subjecting them to stringent financial disclosure requirements. The controversial law, signed January 10 but not made public until a week later [JURIST report], provides Russian authorities with an unprecedented level of control, including the right to close NGO offices in Russia should it be deemed that their activities "threaten Russia's independence or sovereignty." Putin said: "We are for their funding being transparent... we don't want them led by puppeteers from abroad." At the marathon Q/A session that ran more than three hours before a crowd of almost 1000 journalists [Kremlin press release], the Russian president also defended Russia's continuing relations with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has faced criticism for silencing political opponents, and Russia's support of Uzbekistan's severe crackdown on activists. BBC News has more.

Angela Onikepe is an Associate Editor for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. She is based in the UK.






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