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Legal news from Wednesday, May 2, 2007




Senate committee subpoenas Gonzales for Rove emails
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 8:28 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] issued a subpoena [PDF text; press release] to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] Wednesday, demanding that he turn over any e-mails he received from White House political adviser Karl Rove [official profile] relating to the US Attorney firing scandal [JURIST news archive]. A White House spokesman accused the Committee of trying to create a media event and suggested that it should instead accept a White House offer [PDF text; JURIST report] to interview Rove in a private questioning session, not under oath. Gonzales has insisted that there was nothing improper [JURIST report] about the US Attorney firings.

A series of emails released by the Department of Justice in March revealed that Rove originally suggested firing all 93 US Attorneys [JURIST report] in January 2005, contradicting earlier assertions by the White House that the idea first came from former White House counsel Harriet Miers. The same month, the Senate Judiciary Committee panel subpoenaed [JURIST report] Rove, Miers, and former DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, rejecting Bush's interview offer. The House Judiciary Committee panel later subpoenaed Rove, Miers, and several aides [JURIST report] to testify in a concurrent investigation. Reuters has more.






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Oregon Senate approves domestic partnership law
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 7:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The Oregon Senate [official website] passed a bill [HB 2007 text] Wednesday allowing same-sex couples to enter into contractual domestic partnerships with the same state benefits as married couples. The measure covers state benefits including inheritance, child custody, and hospital visitation rights, but does not affect federal benefits for married couples. The bill passed the state House [JURIST report] last month and now goes to Gov. Ted Kulongoski [official website], who has said [press release] he will sign it. Kulongoski has also said he will sign a second piece of legislation [SB 2 text] protecting individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation. That bill would ban discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and create a civil cause of action for violations of the act. AP has more.

Currently, Vermont, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Maine and Washington are the only states that recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. The Washington State Senate passed a domestic partnership bill [JURIST report] in March. Late last month, the New Hampshire Senate voted [JURIST report] in favor of a bill already passed by the state House allowing same-sex civil unions. Also in late April, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage [JURIST report] in New York.






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Egypt sentences reporter to jail for film of 'police torture'
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 6:11 PM ET

[JURIST] An Egyptian court Wednesday sentenced a television reporter with Al Jazeera [media website] to six months in prison for producing a film that depicts police torture. Howayda Taha [AELME profile] was tried in absentia for her role in creating a film that Egyptian authorities say includes phony shots of Egyptian police torturing suspects. Al Jazeera responded that the footage in question was a reenactment of actual scenes of torture by actors. Taha was first detained by Egyptian authorities [Reporters Without Borders report] in January as she was leaving the country at the completion of filming. She was charged with "harming Egypt's national interest" after prosecutors discovered the videotapes in her baggage, but was released on bail.

Human rights groups maintain that torture is commonplace in Egyptian police stations, but Egyptian authorities have denied the allegations. Last month, Amnesty International released a report [text; JURIST report] criticizing Egypt for systematic human rights abuses of detainees in its police stations, military camps, and centers run by State Security Investigations (SSI). RTT has more.






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China outlaws human organ trade
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 4:52 PM ET

[JURIST] China has officially banned the sale of human organs effective Wednesday following an April 6 decision [JURIST report] by the State Council [official website], according to reports by Chinese state media. Any doctors caught trafficking in organs will have their licenses revoked, any hospitals caught will be suspended from performing organ transplants for at least three years, and any government officials caught will be dismissed. Traffickers will also be subject to steep fines. The new rules still allow transplants of non-organ human tissue such as cells, corneas or marrow.

International human rights groups allege that China routinely harvests organs [JURIST report] from executed criminals and accident victims without the consent of the donors' families, a charge that China has long denied. In March, an anonymous senior Chinese Supreme Court [official website] official told [JURIST report] the state Xinhua News Agency that China uses the same strict organ donation procedures when accepting organs from executed criminals as it does with any other organ donations, but doubt exists as to how the requirement for informed consent [JURIST report] is enforced. In March 2006, the Chinese Ministry of Health [official website, in Chinese] issued a general ban on the sale of human organs [JURIST report] that took effect on July 1, 2006. The Ministry also issued new regulations [JURIST report] in August 2006 to counter unauthorized international trade in organs, including rules that would restrict the number of hospitals permitted to perform transplants. AFP has more.






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Canada set to adopt law fixing federal election dates
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 4:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Senate [official website] Wednesday passed a US-style bill to have federal elections on fixed dates every four years [Privy Council backgrounder]. An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act [Bill C-16 text and materials] requires that an election be held on the third Monday of October four years after the last federal election, although the chief electoral officer has limited discretion to change the date if it's found to be inappropriate for some reason. Opposition parties can still force an earlier vote if a minority government loses a confidence vote in the Canadian House of Commons. The bill is scheduled to receive royal assent and become law Thursday.

Former Minister for Democratic Reform Rob Nicholson [official profile] introduced the bill [JURIST report] last year on behalf of Canada's new Conservative government to promote "greater fairness" in the Canadian electoral system, since current rules let the prime minister choose the date for the general election and tell the governor general to dissolve Parliament. According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile], this allows the ruling party to set the time of the election to its own advantage. CBC News has more.






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Pakistan protestors injured, arrested at Chaudhry rally outside Supreme Court
Bernard Hibbitts on May 2, 2007 3:25 PM ET

[JURIST] Several Pakistani protesters and an opposition lawmaker were injured and dozens of people were arrested Wednesday after members of a religious party tried to break through a police line to bring water to hundreds of lawyers and opposition activists gathered in front of the Supreme Court building in Islamabad to show their support for suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] as he attended the latest session of his disciplinary hearing before the country's Supreme Judicial Council. Police responded with batons and the protesters responded by throwing rocks. Inside, the five judges on the disciplinary panel announced they would adjourn and meet again Thursday to consider Chaudhry's case. AP has more. IANS has additional coverage.

Chaudhry was technically made "non-functional" [JURIST report] by a March 9 order of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. No specifics were provided at the time of his suspension but documents subsequently disclosed [JURIST report] suggest he was officially removed on suspicion of misusing his influence to get his son jobs and promotions. Lawyers and opposition leaders critical of the move say, however, that the suspension was an assault on the independence of the country's judiciary and an indirect bid by Musharraf to continue his eight-year rule in an election year.






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Turkish PM calls for constitutional reform after presidential election ruling
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 3:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [BBC profile] Wednesday said he would push for constitutional amendments to change Turkey's system for electing its president. Under the proposed amendments, the president would be elected by a direct vote rather than chosen by parliament. The announcement is an attempt to calm political tensions after the Turkish Constitutional Court voided [JURIST report] a parliamentary vote in support of Erdogan's presidential candidate, Islamist-leaning Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul [official website], because a quorum of legislators did not participate. Erdogan accused the Court of hurting democracy in its decision and said he would support dissolving parliament and holding an early parliamentary election to ensure that Turkey's leaders were chosen by the people rather than the courts. The announcement came just as the Turkish parliament prepared to vote on holding elections as early as June 24.

In the last week, about 1 million protesters have marched [JURIST report] in streets of Istanbul to protest Gul, the nation's only presidential candidate and a member of the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish; Wikipedia backgrounder]. Critics have accused Gul of harboring secret plans for Islamist reforms to Turkey's strongly secular state. The Turkish army, which has ousted four presidents in four decades and regards itself as the guardian of the secular constitution [text], has also warned against instituting any Islamist reforms. Bloomberg has more. The Guardian has additional coverage.






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French judges attempt search of presidential palace in Djibouti murder probe
Brett Murphy on May 2, 2007 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] Two French judges accompanied by police officers on Wednesday attempted to search France's presidential palace as part of an investigation into the 1995 death of French judge Bernard Borrel [advocacy website, in French] in Djibouti. The search was targeted at the African affairs department, however, the judges were not granted access to the building. A presidential spokesperson said that the magistrates were refused entry because the French constitution ensures immunity for the head of state.

In February, a French magistrate judge issued a second summons [JURIST report] to Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh [IRIN backgrounder] requesting testimony in the investigation. Djibouti officials maintain that the death of Borrel, who advised the Djibouti justice ministry until he was found dead in a ravine, was a suicide, though French investigators suspect he was murdered. Borrel's death has increased tensions between France and Djibouti, a former French colony. In February, Djibouti asked the International Court of Justice to arbitrate a dispute between the two countries [JURIST report] regarding France's investigation of the alleged 1995 murder. Djibouti maintains that France has no right to summon Djibouti officials because of diplomatic immunity. Reuters has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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Uzbekistan court sentences HRW rights activist to seven years
Jeannie Shawl on May 2, 2007 11:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Human rights activist Umida Niyazova was sentenced to seven years in prison after an Uzbek court convicted her Tuesday of illegal border crossing, smuggling, and distributing Islamic extremist propaganda. Niyazova worked for Human Rights Watch [advocacy group] and was arrested earlier this year after returning to Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan on charges of crossing the border illegally and smuggling materials allegedly supporting an extremist religious group known as Akramiya [Wikipedia backgrounder]. She fled to Kyrgyzstan after being briefly detained in December, but returned to the country after being told the criminal investigation against her was closed.

Human Rights Watch has said the trial was politically motivated [press release] and called on the EU "to make the release of rights defenders a necessary precondition for any further easing of sanctions against Uzbekistan." Sanctions were imposed [JURIST report] in November 2005 in response to the Uzbek government's failure to allow an independent investigation into the May 2005 Andijan uprising [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive], during which thousands of demonstrators protesting the trial of 23 businessmen on religious extremism charges stormed a prison [JURIST report], allowing about 2,000 inmates to escape. In response, government troops killed as many as 500 demonstrators [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Iraqi parliament receives draft oil revenue bill
Brett Murphy on May 2, 2007 10:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament on Wednesday received a draft oil law [JURIST news archive] that would regulate how profits from the country's oil wells will be shared by the different ethnic groups in the country. President Bush has said he believes that the agreement will help to end violence in Iraq, and has urged Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to see the measure approved. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said Wednesday that political parties in Iraq have agreed to work on enacting the law by the end of May.

Kurdish legislators in the Iraqi National Assembly [official website, in Arabic] said Monday that they will vote against the draft law [JURIST reports] because some provisions of the bill violate a February agreement with Kurdish lawmakers. In February, the Kurds agreed to support the draft bill [JURIST report] after lengthy negotiations [JURIST report], but the bill was since amended to give almost 93 percent of Iraq's proven oil reserves to the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company. Negotiations over the legislation have been a source of tension [JURIST report] in Iraq for months as Kurds are adamant about retaining control of Iraq's oil resources [Global Policy backgrounder] in the northern regions. Other government leaders pressed to give the central Iraqi government control over oil revenues and approval rights for any contracts with other countries or international companies to pump oil, since oil revenues are the main source of income to Iraq [JURIST news archive]. Reuters has more.






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Supreme Court refuses to bar Guantanamo detainee transfer to Libya
Jeannie Shawl on May 2, 2007 10:35 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] refused Tuesday to prevent the US military from transferring Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Abu Abdul Rauf Zalita to his home country of Libya, rejecting Zalita's arguments that he faced a "grave risk of arbitrary detention, torture, persecution and extrajudicial assassination" after being returned to Libya. In a one-sentence order [PDF text], the Court rejected Zalita's application for an injunction, which was opposed [PDF text; addendum, PDF] by the Bush administration. Solicitor General Paul Clement argued that the Military Commissions Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive] bars US courts from considering Zalita's claims.

Zalita was determined to be an "enemy combatant" in 2005 by a Guantanamo Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD materials]. According to Clement's Supreme Court filing, "The unclassified summary of the evidence presented to the CSRT explains that [Zalita] was a member of a known terrorist organization, received weapons training by that group, traveled to Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in December 2001, and then fled to Pakistan, where he was captured." AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.






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State eavesdropping up, federal domestic wiretaps technically down in 2006: report
Bernard Hibbitts on May 2, 2007 10:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of domestic wiretap applications granted by US state judges rose 20 percent in 2006 to 1,378, while federal judges granted only 461 applications, a drop of 26 percent, according to a new report filed [press release] by the Administrative Office of the US Courts [official website]. The figures released Monday in the 2006 Wiretap Report [PDF, text] did not include national security wiretaps supposed to be cleared through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which were the subject of a separate report [PDF text; JURIST report] sent by the US Department of Justice to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi under the terms of the Patriot Act.

The reported drop in federal domestic wiretap authorizations was actually something of a statistical anomaly, with the Department of Justice telling the Administrative Office that the

apparent decrease in the reported use of wiretaps in federal investigations does not reflect a large number of complex and/or sensitive investigations that continued into 2007 "and thus could not be reported to the Department of Justice by the deadlines, as well as some federal investigations that were under court seal." It is DOJ's belief that had these matters been included, the data "would not reflect any perceptible decrease in the use of court-approved electronic surveillance by federal law enforcement agencies."
Most of the state wiretaps were sought in four states: 430 California (430); New York (377); New Jersey (189), and Florida (98). The general dominance of state over federal wiretaps is thought to be largely a function of increased state responsibility for drug-related investigations as federal agencies have been drawn into more national security and anti-terrorism efforts. AP has more.





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Senate Intelligence Committee holds hearing on Bush wiretapping proposal
Brett Murphy on May 2, 2007 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate Intelligence Committee [official website] questioned top intelligence officials, including National Intelligence Director John M. "Mike" McConnell and National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander [official profiles], Tuesday at a hearing [committee materials] on the Bush administration's proposed amendments to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. Committee members appeared skeptical about the proposed amendments [text], which would subject more people to electronic surveillance within the United States, despite McConnell's assertion that the bill is necessary to bring the law in line with technological advances because intelligence is "actually missing a significant portion of what we should be getting." Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WA) [official website] questioned whether the amendments were truly necessary, and was joined by Republican Vice Chairman Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) [official website], in a demand for the administration's legal documents on the warrantless wiretapping that occurred after September 11.

The Bush administration proposed the bill last month, a week after McConnell began circulating the amendments [JURIST reports]. AP has more.






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ICC issues Darfur arrest warrants for Sudan ex-interior minister, militia leader
Jeannie Shawl on May 2, 2007 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court [official website] has issued arrest warrants [press release; ICC Q&A] for two top suspects accused of committing war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan, according to an announcement from the court Wednesday. Ahmad Muhammad Harun [arrest warrant, PDF], former Sudanese interior minister and current humanitarian affairs minister, faces 20 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture, and 22 counts of war crimes, including attacks against the civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging. Former militia leader Ali Muhammad Al Abd-Al-Rahman [arrest warrant, PDF], also known as Ali Kushayb, faces 22 counts of crimes against humanity, including deportation and torture, and 28 counts of war crimes, including intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, and rape.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] initially asked the ICC to issue summonses [JURIST report] for Harun and Kushayb in February. In its decision [PDF text] last week, the ICC concluded that there were "reasonable grounds to believe that Ahmad Harun, by virtue of his position, had knowledge of the crimes committed against the civilian population and of the methods used by the Militia/Janjaweed; and that in his public speeches Ahmad Harun not only demonstrated that he knew that the Militia/Janjaweed were attacking civilians and pillaging towns and villages, but also personally encouraging the commission of such illegal acts" and that Ali Kushayb personally planned attacks against civilians and intentionally contributed to the commission of crimes carried about by militia members under his command. The ICC concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects would not voluntarily present themselves to the ICC and therefore issued arrest warrants rather than summonses. Moreno-Ocampo said Wednesday that the pre-trial chamber's decision "confirmed the strength" of the prosecution's evidence [press release], which was gathered "under very difficult circumstances." He also stressed that the ICC arrest warrants mean that "the Government of the Sudan has a legal duty to arrest Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb."

Ali Kushayb had been scheduled to face trial [JURIST report] in Sudan in March on charges of kidnapping, sequestration, arson and murder against civilians, but the trial was delayed [JURIST report] after he filed an appeal in the case. Sudan has repeatedly rejected the ICC's jurisdiction [JURIST report] over the Darfur situation [ICC fact sheet; ICC case materials], and if Sudan tries Kushayb on the same charges he faces at the ICC, the ICC may lose jurisdiction over the case. Moreno-Ocampo has previously said that the Sudanese investigation against Kushayb does not overlap with the ICC's case [press briefing transcript]. Kushayb has rejected the ICC's accusations [JURIST report]. AP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Darfur | Op-ed: Instrument of Justice: The ICC Prosecutor Reflects [Luis Moreno-Ocampo]






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FISC approved record number of surveillance, search warrants in 2006: DOJ
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 2, 2007 8:38 AM ET

[JURIST] A secret court approved a record number of US government requests to search or eavesdrop on suspected terrorists or other persons for "foreign intelligence" purposes in 2006, endorsing all but one warrant, according to statistics [DOJ letter, PDF] made public by the US Department of Justice Tuesday. According to a three-page letter to House leaders filed under the annual reporting requirements of the Patriot Act [text], the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder; membership list] okayed a total of 2,176 warrants, more than twice the number it approved in 2000, before the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2005, FISC approved 2,072 applications [DOJ letter] for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hartling said the Department could not yet say how many times the FBI secretly sought telephone, Internet and banking records about US citizens and residents without going to the FISC for approval, because it was still investigating the FBI's use of controversial national security letters [ACLU backgrounder]. In 2005, the FBI issued national security letters on 3,501 US citizens and legal residents. In April, the Bush administration officially proposed amendments [JURIST report] to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive] that would subject more people to electronic surveillance within the United States. AP has more.






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