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Legal news from Tuesday, June 13, 2006




Pentagon says no need for independent probe into Guantanamo suicides
James M Yoch Jr on June 13, 2006 8:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense [official website] has rejected a demand by Amnesty International [advocacy website] for an independent investigation into last weekend's three detainee suicides [JURIST report] at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention center. A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that no independent probe was needed and maintained that the military would investigate the deaths itself. Military officials have also asserted that the detainees purposefully concealed their suicides [JURIST report] from guards. In calling for an independent inquiry [press release], Amnesty also criticized remarks by US officials characterizing the suicides as acts of warfare [Telegraph report] waged to elicit sympathy and reiterated the group's position that the detention facility should be closed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [advocacy website] will visit Guantanamo Bay in the coming days to assess the overall mood of the camp in the wake of the suicides. The European Parliament approved a motion [BBC report] Monday calling for the US to close Guantanamo, echoing previous calls to close the base [JURIST report]. At a summit in Vienna next week, the European Union also plans to discuss a closure with President Bush, who has said that closing the base is possible [JURIST report]. Also, Saudi Arabian officials have renewed calls to release Saudi detainees [JURIST report] at Guantanamo into their custody. AFP has more.






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US military will not classify parts of new interrogation field manual, officials say
James M Yoch Jr on June 13, 2006 7:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The new US Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation [current text] will not contain a classified section, despite warnings from some in the Department of Defense [official website] that disclosing certain techniques would undermine the ability of interrogators to extract information, military officials said Tuesday. Interrogation techniques originally slated to be classified will be released publicly in the new manual or abandoned by the military. Defense officials considered classifying portions [JURIST report] of the manual to prevent enemy combatants from preparing for interrogations, but Congress resisted the idea, contending that it would cast doubt on US compliance with the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials]. Last week, DOD officials said the manual would not include references [JURIST report] to Article 3 [text], the provision common to all four of the 1949 Conventions that bans "cruel treatment and torture" and "humiliating and degrading treatment" of detainees.

The Pentagon has been working on a new version of the manual since the prisoner abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] surfaced in 2004, but has struggled to come to an agreement [JURIST report] on revisions. Delays in releasing the manual have been attributed to attempts to legitimize different interrogation techniques and allow the Army to obtain timely intelligence from prisoners, while complying with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST document], which explicitly prohibits any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of persons in US custody. AP has more.






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Former Atlanta mayor sentenced to over two years in prison for tax evasion
James M Yoch Jr on June 13, 2006 7:09 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell [Wikipedia profile] was sentenced to 2 1/2 years imprisonment Tuesday for three tax evasion charges on which he was convicted in March [JURIST report]. Judge Richard Story of the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website] also ordered Campbell to pay $62,823 in unpaid taxes and $6,300 in fines. Campbell, who served as mayor from 1994 to 2002, was charged [DOJ indictment summary, PDF] in 2004 with taking bribes of more than $160,000 in exchange for city contracts during his administration. A jury acquitted him, however, of federal bribery and racketeering charges, prompting his attorneys to attack the tax evasion charges as an end-run around the other verdicts.

Campbell, who faced imprisonment up to nine years, was the focus of a seven-year investigation by the US Attorney's Office in Atlanta [official website] that resulted in convictions of 10 other city officials. AP has more. WSB-TV has local coverage.






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FDA planned to approve morning-after pill, ex-commissioner testifies
Joe Shaulis on June 13, 2006 4:06 PM ET

[JURIST] A former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration [official website] testified in a deposition [text, PDF] that the agency postponed a decision to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B emergency contraceptives [product backgrounder] while it considered how to restrict nonprescription access only to females 17 and older. Dr. Lester Crawford [official profile], a veterinarian who led the FDA for three months before resigning [JURIST report] amid charges that the delay was politically motivated [JURIST report], said the announcement last August was not intended to be a denial of over-the-counter sales. Rather, he expected then that the FDA would resolve the enforcement issue within six to nine months. A Government Accountability Office report [PDF] released in November characterized the FDA's review of Plan B as procedurally "unusual" [JURIST report]. The Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website] has sued the FDA in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B for all ages.

Separately, Crawford is under criminal investigation [JURIST report] by a grand jury for alleged financial wrongdoing and making false statements to Congress. The Center for Reproductive Rights is scheduled to depose [press release] Crawford's predecessor as FDA commissioner, Dr. Mark McClellan [official profile, PDF], on Tuesday. The lawsuit is Tummino v. Von Eschenbach [CRR materials]. AP has more.






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Canada high court hears arguments on permanent terror detentions
Joe Shaulis on June 13, 2006 3:24 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for three men Arab Muslim men argued before the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] Tuesday that a program allowing the government to indefinitely detain and deport foreigners with suspected ties to terrorism is unconstitutional. The three men - Adil Charkaoui, Hassan Almrei and Mohamed Harkat [case summaries] - contend that their detentions breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text; CDCH materials]. Suspected of membership in al Qaeda, the men were arrested on special security certificates [CBSA backgrounder] authorized by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act [text]. Suspects can spend years fighting deportation while courts hear sensitive intelligence evidence against them, often in closed session without defense attorneys present. As a result, a lawyer for one of the men argued, suspects can be branded as terrorists without a fair hearing. But Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin seemed dubious of challenges to the legislation, asking "What does the world do with somebody who is truly dangerous wherever they go. Is freedom really an option?... [A]re not the only options permanent detention in a country like Canada or sending them back to a country that may be worse?"

The security certificates have existed since 1978 and have been used six times since 2001. Last year Sacha Trudeau, the younger son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who was the architect of the 1982 Charter, denounced the certificates [JURIST report] during a court hearing for a Syrian held in solitary confinement for four years. The policy has also been criticized by organizations such as Amnesty International Canada [advocacy website]. Canadian Press has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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UN rights commissioner to establish independent probe of East Timor violence
Joe Shaulis on June 13, 2006 2:28 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official website] told the UN Security Council [official website] Tuesday that he has asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] to establish an independent commission that will investigate the recent surge in violence [JURIST report] in East Timor [JURIST news archive]. "The sad events of recent weeks reflect shortcomings not only on the part of the Timorese leadership, but also on the part of the international community, in adequately sustaining Timor-Leste's nation-building process," Annan said [statement text], noting that the Timorese foreign affairs minister had requested the UN investigation. UN special envoy Ian Martin [official profile], who returned from the southeastern Asian republic last week, briefed the council on recommendations to quell the violence, including sustained international assistance to the Timorese police service.

At least 21 people in East Timor have been killed in clashes between soldiers and police [BBC report] in the past month. The UN sent more than 2,000 international peacekeepers to the Timorese capital of Dili, but that mission expired in May. Australia, which provided most of those peacekeepers, urged the Security Council on Tuesday to extend that mission and to create a new mission under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter [text]. "Given what has happened, we are now having to reassess our own presence on the ground," Annan told reporters [transcript; reported video] after leaving the Security Council meeting. Also on Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced [statement] that the first phase of a relief operation was complete, with the arrival in Dili of 150 tons of supplies to house some 63,000 Timorese who have fled looting and violence. AFP has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.






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Egypt parliament considers judicial reform bill
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 1:59 PM ET

[JURIST] The Egyptian Parliament [official website] has sent an anticipated judicial reform bill prepared by the Ministry of Justice back to Egypt's Cabinet to iron out controversial points, including the Justice Ministry's right to assess the performance of judges, the role of the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) in supervising judges, and government control over SJC appointments. Reformist judges have criticized the draft bill, saying it does not give them enough judicial independence and proclaiming they will continue to push for judicial freedom from government control. If the Cabinet fixes the points of contention in the draft bill, it will go to Egypt's upper level of parliament, the Shura Council, and the People's Assembly for approval. The Cabinet will meet Wednesday in an unusual session to approve the final text [AKI report].

The judicial reform bill comes in response to several protests organized primarily to support two judges who were put before a disciplinary panel [JURIST report] for revealing that some of their colleagues had allowed fraud [JURIST report] in last November's parliamentary elections. Hisham el-Bastawisi, one of the two judges put before the disciplinary panel, dismisses the draft bill as a ruse, saying "the government doesn't want judicial reform, or reform of any kind...They're just trying to fool us with this new draft law." IPS has more.
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Federal judge dismisses criminal charge against WR Grace in asbestos case
Joe Shaulis on June 13, 2006 1:32 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge has granted a defense request to dismiss a criminal charge [indictment, PDF] that W.R. Grace & Co. [corporate website] and its executives knowingly endangered miners and residents of Libby, Montana [city website] by concealing health risks from asbestos contained in vermiculite [EPA backgrounder]. Chief US District Judge Donald Malloy [official profile] of the District of Montana [official website] ruled in an order [text, PDF] dated last week that the charge is barred by a federal statute of limitations [text]. The defendants argued, and Malloy agreed, that the indictment does not allege an "overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy" within the five-year period. Malloy considered the motion to dismiss even though it was filed three months after a court deadline because "the government throughout much of the case has been a step slow in complying with its discovery obligations."

Grace and the seven executives were indicted by a grand jury [JURIST report] on conspiracy charges in February 2005. Prosecutors allege that hundreds of people in Libby have been sickened by exposure to asbestos from Grace's vermiculite mine, and some have died. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] an order that Grace pay the Environmental Protection Agency [official website] $54.5 million to clean up the closed mine, which has been declared a Superfund site [EPA backgrounder]. A trial in the criminal case [court materials] is scheduled for September. AP has more.






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AMA clarifies medical ethics standards for MDs supervising prisoner interrogations
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 1:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Medical Association [official website] has passed a measure clarifying its ethical guidelines [press release], which prohibit doctors from participating in torture or coercive interrogations. The AMA on Monday reiterated its contention that a doctor's duty is to heal a patient, and cannot take any part in prisoner interrogations. The AMA added that doctor-patient confidentiality still applies to detainees, and that doctors cannot participate in executions nor make a detainee well enough for execution. Dr. Priscilla Ray, chair of the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs [official website], stated:

Physicians must not conduct, directly participate in, or monitor an interrogation with an intent to intervene, because this undermines the physician's role as healer. Because it is justifiable for physicians to serve in roles that serve the public interest, the AMA policy permits physicians to develop general interrogation strategies that are not coercive, but are humane and respect the rights of individuals.
The refined AMA guidelines, which have confused military doctors in the past, follow allegations that physicians or psychiatrists have helped in interrogations at the US detention centers at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archives], and serve to remove "ambiguity for physicians who must make decisions about their involvement in interrogations."

The US Department of Defense [official website] issued comprehensive guidelines [JURIST report; PDF text] last week for the treatment of detainees that direct doctors to force-feed detainees who endanger their own lives as a result of a hunger strike, sparking criticism from the AMA, the American Psychiatric Association and the World Medical Association [press releases]. Reuters has more.
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Nepal government releases Maoist rebels jailed under Gyanendra anti-terror laws
Joe Shaulis on June 13, 2006 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] As expected [JURIST report], the new government of Nepal [official website; JURIST news archive] dropped terrorism charges against 190 Maoist rebels on Tuesday and freed them from jails in nine cities, a Home Ministry spokesman said. About 160 rebels are still incarcerated but will be released once courts issue individual orders. The communist rebels faced charges such as murder and kidnapping under an anti-terrorism law [JURIST report] instituted by the government of King Gyanendra [official profile; BBC profile], whom the Parliament has stripped of key powers [JURIST report] in recent months.

Since protests forced Gyanendra to reinstate Parliament [JURIST report] in April, the new government and rebel leaders have agreed to a cease-fire as peace talks have resumed. Hundreds of rebels held on less-serious charges have already been freed. AP has more. eKantipur.com has local coverage.






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Red Cross to visit Guantanamo Bay after suicides
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 12:18 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [advocacy website] will visit the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] in the coming days, in an effort to assess the overall mood of the camp in the wake of three detainee suicides [JURIST report] last weekend. Though the unscheduled visit will not be an inquiry into the three suicides, the ICRC hopes to find out what happened from the detaineees' perspectives. The ICRC is the only independent agency authorized to visit detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and does not discuss its concerns from visits with officials running Guantanamo.

In response to the three suicides, the European parliament passed a motion [BBC report] Monday calling for the US to close Guantanamo, echoing previous calls to close the base [JURIST report]. The European Union also plans to discuss a closure with President Bush at a summit in Vienna next week. President Bush has stated that closing the base is possible [JURIST report], pending the forthcoming US Supreme Court decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], which is expected to determine the legality of military trials for terror suspects held at Guantanamo. The Times has more.






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Libya judge adjourns retrial of Bulgarian nurses for second time
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 11:48 AM ET

[JURIST] The Libyan retrial of five Bulgarian nurses [JURIST report] and one Palestinian doctor accused of infecting over 400 patients, primarily children, with the HIV virus, resumed Tuesday before presiding judge Mahmoud Haouissa adjourned until June 20, stating that the prosecution and defense both need additional time to prepare evidence and witness lists. Haouissa postponed the retrial once before [JURIST report] in May, saying the lawyers lacked the proper papers to go forth with the case. When the case resumes, the Libyan court will have one hearing per week to avoid tiring the defendants, who have been held in custody for seven years. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed the Libyan government [JURIST report] to release the captive nurses in April, saying, "this is a humanitarian case and it is time for them to come home."

The six medics were first convicted in May 2004 and sentenced to death [JURIST reports] for deliberately infecting the children, but the Libyan Supreme Court overturned the convictions [JURIST report] last December and ordered a retrial. Bulgaria and its allies, including the US and the European Union, contend the nurses are innocent and maintain that their confessions were coerced through torture. The six health workers, detained since 1999, previously argued that the children were infected with the disease prior to treatment by the accused. Nine police officers and one doctor were acquitted [JURIST report] of torturing the health workers [HRW report] last year. Reuters has more. The Bulgarian News Network has local coverage.






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Federal judge dismisses suit challenging 'In God We Trust' on US currency
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Frank Damrell of the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] brought by atheist Michael Newdow [case website] against the US government, arguing that the words "In God We Trust" on US currency violate Newdow's rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In his 18-page opinion [PDF text], Damrell rejected Newdow's argument that the 1977 US Supreme Court decision Wooley v. Maynard [text], a case that struck down a New Hampshire law requiring citizens to display license plates with the motto "live free or die" inscribed on them, supports his contention that citing God on US currency burdens his right to freely exercise his atheistic beliefs. Damrell noted that currency, unlike passenger vehicles, does not represent its operator and instead cited a 1970 ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], Aronow v. United States, rendering "In God We Trust" a "patriotic or ceremonial character" with no government establishment or endorsement of religion.

Newdow plans to appeal the district court ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and said he is optimistic about his chances because he previously won a case [JURIST report] on behalf of his daughter in the Ninth Circuit where he argued that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause [Duke Law case backgrounder]. On appeal, however, the US Supreme Court dismissed the case [JURIST report], holding that Newdow lacked standing to bring the suit on behalf of his daughter. Reuters has more. The Sacramento Bee has local coverage.






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Australia federal government nixes civil unions law in capital district
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 10:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock [official website] said on Tuesday that Australia's national government has overturned [press release] the recent Civil Unions Bill 2006 [legislative materials] enacted by the legislature in the Australian Capital Territory [official website], the federal district that includes the capital city Canberra. The government of Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official profile] and his Cabinet announced plans to overrule the law [press release; JURIST report] last week, saying that the law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage is unacceptable. Under a provision [text] in the ACT Self-Government Act of 1988, the federal government may disallow any ACT enactment within six months.

The government's decision to override the civil unions law takes effect at midnight. Governor-General Michael Jeffrey [official website], meanwhile, is considering a request [ABC report] from the ACT government to stop the federal government's efforts to overrule the law. Reuters has more. From Australia, the Daily Telegraph has local coverage.

6:16 PM ET - ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell said Tuesday that the territory recognized that there was "only an outside chance" that the Senate would overrule the federal government's decision to overturn the civil union bill. Corbell said that the ACT legislature would consider reintroducing similar legislation, but called for Ruddock to identify specific clauses the federal government found unacceptable so that the ACT's second try at a civil unions law would not similarly fail. The Sydney Morning Herald has more.






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Saddam judge cuts off defense witness testimony
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 9:58 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman [BBC profile], the chief judge in the Saddam Hussein trial [JURIST news archive], told the courtroom Tuesday that this would be the last day the court would hear defense witnesses, fostering speculation that the trial will end soon. Abdel-Rahman cut off defense witnesses despite complaints by American defense lawyer Curtis Doebbler [Wikipedia profile] on Monday that the court is rushing the defense through their case [JURIST report], even though the prosecution had five months to present its case [JURIST report]. Doebbler also complained that the court ignored defense motions and intimidated defense witnesses. Last month, four defense witnesses were detained on perjury charges [JURIST report] after three alleged that some of the 148 Shiites that Hussein and his seven co-defendants are accused of executing are still alive, while a fourth witness claimed the prosecution bribed him to lie during testimony. All four witnesses recanted their testimony [JURIST report] late Monday, claiming they were coerced into testifying.

Abdel-Rahman also banned [Reuters report] Hussein's half brother and co-defendant Barzan al-Tikriti from the courtroom Tuesday, after throwing him out of court Monday. When the defense concludes its case, the prosecution and defense will present closing statements and the five-judge panel presiding over the trial at the Iraqi High Tribunal [official website] will adjourn to render a verdict. AP has more.

10:54 AM ET - At the close of Tuesday's hearing, Abdel-Rahman directed the prosecution to present closing arguments on Monday and scheduled defense closing arguments for July 10. AP has more.






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ACLU asks federal appeals court to compel CIA to turn over interrogation documents
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 8:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] on Monday asked the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] to force the US Central Intelligence Agency [official website] to turn over two documents relating to the CIA's overseas interrogation practices under the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text; DOJ materials] request. The ACLU wants the documents - a directive signed by President Bush giving the CIA authority to set up detention centers outside the US to interrogate prisoners and a Department of Justice [official website] memorandum outlining interrogation methods the CIA could use against al Qaeda members - in order to force the CIA to reveal how much authority it has been given to interrogate detainees since Sept. 11, 2001. The government, however, has refused to confirm or deny that the documents exist, even though the ACLU argues that confirming the documents exist would not jeopardize national security or reveal intelligence gathering methods. The Second Circuit heard arguments Monday to determine whether the documents fall outside of FOIA as the government argues, but the court first needs to determine if the documents exist and what they contain. The government believes that confirming the existence of the documents, which have allegedly been linked to media reports, will reveal how the CIA operates and threaten national security. A federal district court judge ruled [PDF text] in favor of the government last fall, prompting the ACLU to appeal [PDF text].

The panel of three judges seemed split on the government's argument, trying to determine whether the CIA refused to confirm or deny the existence of the documents because of national security, or to avoid political embarrassment as the ACLU alleged. Peter Skinner, the lawyer representing the government, seemed apologetic during his vague arguments, noting that he could not explain much of the government's argument because of classified information. Anemona Hartocollis of the New York Times has more.






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No criminal charges against Rove in CIA leak case
Jaime Jansen on June 13, 2006 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Karl Rove [official profile], President Bush's top political advisor, will not face criminal charges in the three-year investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's name [JURIST news archive], according to a letter Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald [official profile; investigation website] sent to Rove's attorney Robert Luskin on Monday. Fitzgerald investigated [JURIST report] whether Rove tried to conceal his conversation with a TIME magazine reporter a week before the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the media. The investigation originally focused on much more serious allegations, including whether Rove misrepresented his role in the case to President Bush.

Fitzgerald did not indict Rove [JURIST report] with former Dick Cheney aide I. "Scooter" Libby [defense website; JURIST news archive] last October, but extended the probe into Rove's involvement under a second federal grand jury [JURIST report]. Rove had testified to a grand jury on five different occasions throughout the investigation. Libby has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to obstruction of justice and perjury charges [PDF indictment; JURIST report] in connection with the investigation into the leak of Plame's identity. Luskin declined to comment further about the CIA leak case because of the pending case against Libby. David Johnston of the New York Times has more.






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