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Legal news from Tuesday, August 1, 2006




US Senate passes bill to allow drilling in Gulf of Mexico
James M Yoch Jr on August 1, 2006 8:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate voted 71-25 [roll call] Tuesday to approve the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 [S 3711 text; bill summary], which would allow oil and gas drilling in about 8.3 million acres of federal waters in the central Gulf. The bill garnered broad support in the wake of soaring gas prices, but its critics asserted that the drilling would not take place in areas other than the Gulf, nor would it begin for several years.

The legislation will also need to be squared with a bill passed by the US House of Representatives in June [JURIST report], the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act [HR 4761 text], which would end the offshore drilling moratorium on 85 percent of the coastal waters surrounding the US - a measure that has been renewed by Congress every year since 1981. The Senate and House are expected to begin reconciling the bills when they return from their summer hiatuses in September. AP has more.






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Burundi police arrest former VP, seven others in coup plot
James M Yoch Jr on August 1, 2006 8:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in Burundi [CIA backgrounder] on Tuesday arrested five former government officials, including Vice President Alphonse Kadege, as well as a rebel leader and two others suspected of plotting a coup to overthrow the African nation's government, according to intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Adolphe Manirakiza. Police were also searching for former President Domitien Ndayizeye's spokesman, Pancrace Cimpaye, and have reportedly seized several other officials' residences [BBC report] in relation to the plot.

Violence between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis has racked Burundi since its 12-year civil war [Global Security backgrounder], which was sparked by the assassination of the country's first democratically elected Hutu president in 1993. AP has more.






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Amnesty urges Haiti to free political prisoners
James M Yoch Jr on August 1, 2006 7:38 PM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International [advocacy website] urged Haiti's government Tuesday to release political prisoners being held indefinitely pending trial. According to the human rights group, about 2,000 people are under "prolonged detention," and close to 100 of them could be political prisoners. Amnesty called on Haiti to initiate trial proceedings under legitimate criminal charges or release the political prisoners, including hundreds of supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide [BBC profile] who were been detained [JURIST report] by the transitional government of Gérard Latortue [Wikipedia profile].

Amnesty identified four Aristide proponents - Annette Auguste, Yvon Antoine, Paul Raymond and Georges Honoré - as among those in prolonged detention. The four prisoners were formally charged with criminal conspiracy in April 2006 and have been detained since their arrests between March 2004 and July 2005. Last week, Haitian authorities freed former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune [JURIST report] to await charges on a provisional release after being held [JURIST report] since Aristide was ousted in 2004 [JURIST report] on accusations that he orchestrated a massacre in La Scierie that February. Amnesty International has more.






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Federal appeals court allows prosecutors to review NYT phone records in leak probe
Joe Shaulis on August 1, 2006 4:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Federal prosecutors may review two New York Times reporters' phone records while trying to determine who leaked information about a terrorism investigation, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Tuesday. A three-judge panel held [opinion text, PDF] that "on the present facts," neither common-law privilege nor the First Amendment protected the Times from disclosing the subpoenaed records. "We see no danger to a free press in so holding," Circuit Judge Ralph K. Winter [official profile] wrote in the majority opinion. Winter continued:

Learning of imminent law enforcement asset freezes/searches and informing targets of them is not an activity essential, or even common, journalism. Where such reporting involves the uncovering of government corruption or misconduct in the use of investigative powers, courts can easily find appropriate means of protecting the journalists involved and their sources.
Circuit Judge Robert Sack [official profile] dissented [PDF text], noting that he agreed with much of the majority opinion but arguing that the case should have gone to trial for prosecutors to justify their need for the phone records. The Second Circuit vacated a February 2005 district court decision [PDF text; JURIST report] granting summary judgment to the Times.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald [official profile] in Chicago requested the phone records after the Times reported in late 2001 that the federal government was about to raid the offices of two Islamic charities with suspected links to terrorism and freeze their assets. After the Times refused to disclose the records, Fitzgerald threatened to subpoena the phone company, leading the Times to file a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment blocking Fitzgerald from making that move. AP has more.





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Judge delays fraud trial for UK Enron bankers
Joe Shaulis on August 1, 2006 3:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A US magistrate in Houston agreed Tuesday to delay the trial of three former British bankers facing fraud charges related to the Enron scandal [JURIST news archive] so that two of the defendants can hire American lawyers. A trial had been scheduled for Sept. 11, but Magistrate Stephen Smith granted the defendants' request [JURIST report] and ordered the men to update the court on their progress - Giles Darby on Friday and Gary Mulgrew on next Tuesday. The third defendant, David Bermingham, has already hired Dan Cogdell [profile], a criminal defense attorney from Houston.

The defendants, known as the Natwest three, were extradited to the US [JURIST report] to face seven counts of wire fraud [indictment, PDF] each for allegedly entering into a secret agreement with former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow to illegally receive money. While on bail awaiting trial, the defendants must remain in the Southern District of Texas and wear electronic monitoring devices. The Houston Chronicle has more.






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Military hearings begin for US soldiers charged with murdering Iraq detainees
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 2:22 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military court on Tuesday began Article 32 [JAG backgrounder; USMJ text] hearings, similar to civil grand jury proceedings, to determine whether four Army soldiers charged [JURIST report] with premeditated murder of Iraqi detainees will face courts-martial. The four men from the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] - Sergeant Raymond Girouard, Specialist William Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey Clagett and Specialist Juston Graber - are accused of deliberately murdering three Iraqi detainees and then covering up the murders during a May 9 raid on an alleged insurgent training camp near Tikrit.

Last week, the New York Times reported that another member of the squad in question, Sgt. Lemuel Lemus, gave a sworn statement depicting the events of the alleged murder [JURIST report]. The soldiers originally agreed that the captured detainees had broken free during a morning raid, and were shot while trying to escape and attack the squad. Lemus' account, however, depicts purposeful murder and even alleges that Squad Leader Girouard cut Hunsaker to enhance the legitimacy of their account. Lawyers for Clagett and Hunsaker dispute Lemus' account, and claim that Colonel Michael Steele, the well-known brigade commander that led a botched 1993 mission in Somalia depicted in the book and movie Black Hawk Down [Wikipedia backgrounder], ordered the soldiers to kill all military-age men prior to the raid. Steele has indicated that he will refuse to testify at the Article 32 hearing. Reuters has more.






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Senators question FDA nominee about timing of Plan B announcement
Joe Shaulis on August 1, 2006 2:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Democratic senators criticized the acting director of the US Food and Drug Administration [official website] Tuesday for the timing of the agency's announcement that it would reconsider allowing some over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception. Monday's surprise announcement [FDA press release] came on the eve of a confirmation hearing [committee materials] for Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach [official profile], the acting FDA commissioner and President Bush's nominee to lead the agency permanently. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) [official website] accused von Eschenbach of putting "ideological concerns" before science, while Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) [official website] speculated that the decision was a "delaying tactic." Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) [official websites] threatened to block von Eschenbach's nomination until the FDA makes a final decision on the so-called morning-after pill, marketed by Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. [corporate website] under the brand name Plan B [product backgrounder]. Von Eschenbach said his decision was based on medical data, echoing remarks in his prepared statement [PDF text] that the FDA should be "guided by sound science and vigorous analysis of evidence."

On Monday, the FDA released a letter [text] from von Eschenbach to a Barr subsidiary, asking the company to amend its application to market Plan B for over-the-counter sale. Among the changes von Eschenbach requested was raising the minimum age to purchase Plan B from 16 to 18. In a lawsuit seeking over-the-counter Plan B sales for all ages, a former FDA commissioner testified that the agency delayed a decision [JURIST report] while it considered how to restrict nonprescription access only to females 17 and older. AP has more.






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Russia arbitration judge declares Yukos bankrupt
Joe Shaulis on August 1, 2006 1:40 PM ET

[JURIST] A Russian arbitration court judge declared oil company Yukos [corporate website; JURIST news archive; corporate website; Wikipedia backgrounder] bankrupt Tuesday and said the company may be liquidated to pay creditors. The decision, which had been expected, confirms a vote taken by Yukos' creditors last week. A Yukos lawyer described Tuesday's decision as a "death sentence" for the company, once the primary producer of oil in Russia [JURIST news archive]. Yukos' bankruptcy supervisor, Eduard Rebgun, will be paid 1.8 million rubles ($67,000 US) a month to liquidate the company.

To pay off Yukos' back taxes, the company's largest production unit was sold [JURIST report] in 2004 to a state-controlled oil group. That conglomerate, OAO Rosneft [corporate profile, English version], now ranks as one of Yukos' largest creditors, along with the Federal Tax Service. Yukos' downfall began after its founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky [JURIST news archive], was convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] in May 2005 - a prosecution that critics contend was politically motivated, despite denials by Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website; BBC profile]. AP has more. MosNews has local coverage.






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UK appeals court upholds ruling quashing control orders for terror suspects
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 1:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Court of Appeal ruled [text] Tuesday that six terror suspects cannot be detained without charge under so-called control orders [BBC backgrounder], which are used when there is not enough evidence to prosecute. UK Home Secretary John Reid [official profile] had appealed a High Court ruling [JURIST reports], arguing that it had contained "misunderstandings and errors." The High Court ruled [text] in June that the orders authorizing the electronic monitoring or house arrest of terror suspects based on insufficient evidence to try them violate the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], but a government lawyer told the Court of Appeal that the High Court misapplied the language of the convention and that Parliament tailored the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 [text], which authorizes the orders, to pass muster under the convention. Control orders allow the government to impose house arrest and electronic surveillance on suspects and to forbid them from using mobile phones and the Internet. Reid said he would change the control orders, but will also appeal Tuesday's ruling. BBC News has more.

The Court of Appeal also handed down a second judgment [text] in a related case Tuesday, ruling that a lower court judge "was in error in holding that the provisions for review by the court of the making of a non-derogating control order by the Secretary of State do not comply with the requirements of [ECHR] Article 6." The second case involves a man identified only as "MB," who the British government alleges intended to go to Iraq to fight coalition forces. Justice Sullivan, the same High Court judge who ruled in the above case, in April held that control orders, as applied to MB, violated his right to a fair trial [ruling; JURIST report] under the Human Rights Act [text], which incorporates ECHR rights into British law, and were an "affront to justice."






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Iran president dismisses UN Security Council resolution on nuclear program
Joe Shaulis on August 1, 2006 1:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Iran [JURIST news archive] will not abide by a UN Security Council resolution [JURIST report] ordering it to stop enriching uranium, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official profile, English version; BBC profile] said Tuesday in an address on state television. Ahmadinejad said "the peaceful use of nuclear fuel production technology" is Iran's "right," promising not to give in to pressure from the UN. Iran's Foreign Ministry and its UN ambassador had already rejected the resolution [Reuters report].

UN Security Council Resolution 1696 [text], adopted by a 14-1 vote Monday, gives Iran until August 31 to halt uranium enrichment and threatens sanctions if it does not comply, although it requires additional Security Council discussion before sanctions can actually be imposed. AP has more.






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UK spy agency chief refuses to testify in parliament rendition probe
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 12:41 PM ET

[JURIST] Eliza Manningham-Buller [BBC profile], the head of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 [official website], has refused to testify before a joint parliamentary human rights committee [official website] investigating terror practices, saying she can appear before only the Intelligence and Security Committee [official website] because it safeguards sensitive information. The human rights committee released correspondence with Manningham-Buller on Tuesday in a report [text, PDF] on counterterrorism strategies and human rights. The lawmakers demanded to know from Manningham-Buller whether Britain obtains information from suspects tortured overseas and whether the US had used British airports in alleged extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] flights.

The human rights committee suggested that Britain set up an independent watchdog to monitor MI5 and MI6 [official website], the international intelligence service, and recommended that terrorism suspects held without charge be compensated for their time. AP has more. From the UK, the Guardian has local coverage.






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Congo opposition party claims fraud in presidential election
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 11:59 AM ET

[JURIST] The Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) [party website, in French; Wikipedia backgrounder], an opposition group and former rebel group, on Tuesday alleged widespread election fraud in Sunday's election [AP report], and threatened to challenge the election in court if the results are not fixed. The RCD noted cases of ballot stuffing and biased election officials during the poll - the first democratic presidential election in 40 years - saying that Rwandan Hutu rebels [BBC backgrounder] interfered with the election to garner more votes for Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila [BBC profile]. Azarias Ruberwa [Wikipedia profile], the RCD presidential candidate, also accused Kabila's party of bribing voters and threatened to bring his case to the Supreme Court.

Though election officials have asked the candidates not to claim a preliminary victory while officials count the votes, presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba [Wikipedia profile] told reporters that his party had a strong lead in six of the country's eleven provinces, while Kabila supporters in the town of Bakavu began to celebrate a Kabila victory. Official results are due by August 20 [AllAfrica.com report]. Reuters has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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US Army general who ran Gitmo, oversaw Iraq detentions resigns with honors
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 11:15 AM ET

[JURIST] US Army Major General Geoffrey Miller [Wikipedia profile], the former commander of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], retired [press release] from the Army Monday with honors. Miller ran Guantanamo from 2002 to 2004, and served as a consultant at the Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] in Iraq during 2003, where he has is alleged to have recommended the use of dogs as a harsh detainee interrogation tactic. Rights groups have criticized Miller's receipt of the Distinguished Service Medal, calling the honor another example of military officials failing to hold accountable those responsible for abusive conditions.

Miller's retirement was postponed until after the court-martial of US Army Sergeant Santos Cardona, who was convicted of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib when he used unmuzzled dogs during interrogations [JURIST reports]. In testimony during Cardona's court-martial, Miller denied recommending the use of dogs during interrogations [JURIST report]. Although Miller will not face disciplinary action for the allegations against him, he could be called back to active duty to face a court-martial, though military officials say the move will not likely happen. Pentagon officials last year refused to reprimand Miller [JURIST report] as recommended by two generals investigating abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Reuters has more. The Los Angeles Times has additional coverage.






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Libby lawyers seek to use memory expert in CIA leak trial
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Attorneys representing I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense profile; JURIST news archive], the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, on Monday asked US District Judge Reggie Walton to allow expert testimony from a memory specialist at Libby's upcoming trial relating to his role in the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive]. In a court filing, Libby's attorneys said that testimony about how human memory works and why it fails will help a jury consider whether Libby lied to federal investigators about his knowledge of the CIA leak scandal, which revealed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby's attorneys will argue that Libby became confused during the investigation because several government witnesses misremembered facts, Libby was more focused on issues he considered more important at the time, and he did not intentionally misrepresent his knowledge of the leak. If allowed, Dr. Robert A. Bjork, the chairman of the Department of Psychology at UCLA, will likely testify that Libby could have easily confused minor details of conversations about Plame.

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. NBC News has more.






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DOJ appeals ruling allowing NSA wiretapping lawsuit to proceed
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 9:43 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers from the US Department of Justice on Monday appealed [petition, PDF] a federal court decision [JURIST report] that allowed a challenge to the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] to go forward, arguing to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] that the lawsuit could expose state secrets and jeopardize national security. US District Judge Vaughn Walker [official profile] of the Northern District of California [official website] ruled [order, PDF] on July 20 that the broad media coverage of the surveillance program had neutralized any danger of disclosing state secrets, and allowed the lawsuit to move forward.

In April, the Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest [PDF] in the class action lawsuit [EFF case backgrounder; JURIST report] brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website] against telecommunications giant AT&T alleging that AT&T violated citizens' rights to privacy and several federal statutes when it allowed the NSA to use its infrastructure to wiretap US citizens as part of the Bush administration's surveillance program. Walker's ruling was the first in several federal lawsuits to go against the government's attempts to invoke the state secrets privilege for the surveillance program. Government attorneys for the twenty lawsuits have asked the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation [official website] to consolidate all the cases [JURIST report] so it could invoke the state secrets privilege and seek to have the cases dismissed, while the plaintiffs asked to have Walker in San Francisco handle the cases. AP has more.








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Pinochet questioned by Chile judge in ex-army chief assassination probe
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 9:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive] was questioned Monday by Judge Alejandro Solis about the assassination of General Carlos Prats [official profile, in Spanish; Wikipedia profile] shortly after Pinochet came to power following a 1973 coup [BBC backgrounder]. Prats, the army chief before Pinochet, opposed the coup. Solis said Pinochet answered all the questions and that there were no problems during the meeting. Pinochet's lawyer added that Pinochet answered the questions to the best of his ability, even in failing health.

Pinochet has denied involvement in the Prats assassination. An agent from Pinochet's security services was convicted [BBC report] in 2000 of direct participation in the assassination, and several others have been indicted. Last year, the Chile Supreme Court [official website] reinstated immunity for Pinochet in the Prats case, after he appealed a lower court ruling [JURIST reports] stripping Pinochet of immunity. Pinochet, however, currently faces other human rights and tax evasion charges [JURIST reports] despite efforts to avoid prosecution due to his failing health. AP has more. From Santiago, La Nacion has local coverage.






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Guantanamo Bay detainees attacked guards hundreds of times: DOD records
Jaime Jansen on August 1, 2006 8:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Detainees at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] have used items found in their cells to attack military guards hundreds of times, according to Pentagon memos [DOD materials] released through a Freedom of Information Act request by conservative legal group Landmark Legal Foundation [advocacy website]. The Defense Department documented more than 440 reports of detainee attacks on guards at an average of three incidents per week from December 2002 through July 2005. The number of attacks increased dramatically in July 2005 when dozens of detainees began a hunger strike [JURIST report], and attacks also tend to increase during the Christmas season. Detainees also reportedly pretended to commit suicide in a bid to lure guards into their cell to attack them on the same day that three detainees hung themselves in their cells [JURIST report] in June.

Guantanamo executive officer Lt. Col. Michael J. Nicolucci noted that many of the detainees have been in the camp since it opened in 2002, and they have learned the prison procedures and "try to turn them against" the guards at the prison. Although the incident reports shed light on the environment inside Guantanamo, the names of all guards and detainees involved in the attacks were redacted from the documents, making it impossible to know if attacks were widespread throughout the prison, or a result of a small group of detainees. AP has more.






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