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Legal news from Wednesday, September 5, 2007




Federal judge temporarily blocks Noriega extradition to France
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 5, 2007 7:12 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge William Hoeveler temporarily blocked the French extradition of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] Wednesday to give Noriega's lawyers time to argue that his rights will not be fully protected in France. Defense lawyers will have until 9 AM local time Thursday to present their case for why the former dictator should not be turned over to French authorities, and US prosecutors will have three hours to respond. Noriega is wanted in France to face charges of money laundering through French banks. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [AP report] to 10 years in jail in 1999, but France has agreed to hold a new trial if he is extradited. Noriega's lawyers had argued that France's request was superseded by his status as a US prisoner of war and that under the Geneva Conventions the US must return him home to Panama upon his release.

Noriega, who has spent the last 17 years in US custody, including 15 years in federal prison on drug trafficking and racketeering charges, is set to be released [BOP materials] on September 9, 2007, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons [official website]. Noriega, a former US ally who ruled Panama as a military dictator for six years, was ousted by US troops in 1989. After going into self-exile in Panama City, he was flushed out by US troops in 1990, surrendered and was taken to Miami, where he was put on trial. His initial sentence of 40 years in prison was later reduced to 30 years [NYT report] after he persuaded officials that he helped promote US interests in Latin America during the Cold War. In 2001, a Panama judge convicted Noriega of corruption [AP report], bringing his sentence time in that country to 90 years, following a previous conviction in 1995 for conspiracy to commit murder, which prompted calls for his extradition back to Panama [BBC report]. Noriega hopes to challenge the murder charge after his release this year. AP has more.






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Australia government appeals Haneef visa reinstatement
Caitlin Price on September 5, 2007 4:26 PM ET

[JURIST] An Australian government solicitor Wednesday filed an appeal [case summary] contesting last month's Federal Court of Australia decision [text; JURIST report] to reinstate the work visa of Dr. Mohammad Haneef [JURIST news archive], who was detained by Australian authorities in July in connection with July's attempted UK car bomb terror attacks [JURIST report]. Australian Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kevin Andrews revoked Haneef's work visa and placed him under "immigration detention" shortly after he was granted bail by a magistrate, and later said that he had revoked the instrument on "character test" grounds under the Migration Act [text]. Haneef's visa was reinstated in full by the court, but Andrews maintains that his decision to cancel it was in the "national interest" and that the court's ruling was a misinterpretation of the Act. Wednesday's appeal was filed in the Federal Court in Brisbane, and if unsuccessful Andrews said the government is prepared to appeal to the High Court of Australia [official website]. AFP has more.

Haneef, who has not been implicated by UK authorities in the attacks, was detained as a terror suspect for 25 days for allegedly providing reckless material support to the suspected terrorists. The terror charge against him was dropped [JURIST reports] after the Australian director of public prosecutions reviewed the case and concluded that there was insufficient evidence [press release]. Haneef has since been allowed to return to India, but the Australian Federal Police said in August that he is still considered a suspect [JURIST report]. He has said that he wants to return to work as a doctor at the Gold Coast Hospital in Queensland, Australia.






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Boston 'Big Dig' epoxy supplier pleads not guilty in ceiling collapse
Caitlin Price on September 5, 2007 3:58 PM ET

[JURIST] An anchoring and fastening product manufacturer pleaded not guilty [AG press release] Wednesday to criminal charges stemming from the July 10, 2006 ceiling panel collapse in Boston's $15 billion Big Dig [official website] tunnel project that killed one person. Power Fasteners [corporate website] was indicted [press release; JURIST report] last month on one count of involuntary manslaughter based on allegations that Powers was aware that the wrong kind of its epoxy product was being used to anchor three-ton cement ceiling tiles but failed to alert project managers either through marketing materials or when specifically asked. Powers has maintained that it was unaware that its epoxy product would be used to support the ceiling of the tunnel. If convicted, Powers faces a maximum fine of $1,000 but a conviction may also aid the civil lawsuits that Massachusetts has also filed against Powers and construction contractors. A pretrial conference is set for October 16. Reuters has more.

In July, the National Transportation Safety Board [official website] concluded that the ceiling collapse was most likely caused [press release; report, PDF] by the "inappropriate use of an epoxy anchor adhesive" by construction contractors Gannett Fleming, Inc and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff [corporate websites]. The "Big Dig" project, which began construction in 1991, is the most expensive highway project in the United States and has cost approximately $15 billion. The charge against Power Fasteners is the first criminal action taken in connection with the collapse. The Massachusetts attorney general has said that the criminal investigation is ongoing.






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Israel inheritance law draft drops anti-gay language
Caitlin Price on September 5, 2007 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Israel's justice minister has dropped language from a proposed amendment to the nation's inheritance law that would define common law marriage to be between a man and a woman, according to a statement made to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) [advocacy website] Tuesday. Daniel Friedmann [official profile] informed the ACRI that he no longer plans to alter the language of the original bill, which allows "partners who live together in a common household" to legally receive inheritances. Friedmann said that he had originally intended to include legislative notes to discourage courts from interpreting the revised text to bar inheritance by unmarried and same-sex couples, but after harsh criticism [Haaretz report] he now plans to drop the limiting language altogether.

The Israeli Succession Law was passed in 1965; in 1999, a commission led by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel was established to revise the law. Freidmann advanced the more restrictive version of the bill after discussions with the leaders of ultra-Orthodox Shas [party website] party. Haaretz has more.






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Arkansas AG denies certification of ballot measure on unmarried adoption ban
Gabriel Haboubi on September 5, 2007 2:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel [official website] Wednesday issued an advisory opinion [PDF text] rejecting certification of a voter-backed ballot proposition that would ban adoptions by unmarried couples. The measure, submitted by the Family Council of Arkansas [advocacy website], would prevent unmarried couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, from adopting children or acting as foster parents. McDaniel cited inconsistencies between the proposed ballot title and language in the text of the measure as the source of his concerns. His opinion also addressed technical faults in the proposed ballot measure. McDaniel invited the Family Council to resubmit the ballot proposal once corrections are made. Speaking to the AP, McDaniel said that the proposition will likely be certified once it incorporates his suggestions.

In 2004, an Arkansas circuit judge struck down a 1999 ban on gay foster parents [JURIST report] as unconstitutional. Last year, the Arkansas Supreme Court [official website] upheld the decision, finding no connection between homosexuality and child-rearing ability [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. The Family Council believes that a blanket ban on unmarried couples acting as foster or adoptive parents would be more likely to survive court challenges. AP has more.






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Canada finds no evidence of torture in Afghanistan detainee transfers
Gabriel Haboubi on September 5, 2007 1:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The Canadian Army [official website] Tuesday announced that independent investigators have found no evidence [press release] to support allegations [JURIST report] that the army "may have aided or abetted the torture of detainees" by transferring them from Canadian to Afghan custody. Amnesty International Canada [advocacy website] and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy website] brought complaints against the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) [official website] in February, alleging complicity by Canadian personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The investigation was conducted by two superintendents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [official website], as the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service [official website], which normally conducts such inquiries, is in the direct chain of command of the CFPM.

Scandal erupted in April when the Toronto Globe and Mail reported [text] that more than 30 terrorism suspects had been tortured by Afghan investigators after being transferred from Canadian custody. As a result of the public outcry, Canada signed a new agreement regarding detainee transfers [JURIST report] with the Afghan government, giving Canada the right to inspect detainees following their transfer. A separate investigation regarding detainee abuse while in Canadian custody is ongoing [JURIST report]. Canadian Press has more.






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Pakistan Supreme Court hears legal challange to Musharraf
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Wednesday heard the first set of arguments in a legal challenge to the rule of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile]. The lawsuit challenges the fact that Musharraf is both the country's president and army chief, and alleges that any bid for re-election by Musharraf would be unconstitutional. Reuters has more.

On Monday, the Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association announced a campaign [JURIST report] to defeat Musharraf's expected re-election bid. Earlier this year, Pakistani lawyers led a four-month campaign to reinstate suspended Pakistani Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] after Musharraf suspended him in March for alleged judicial misconduct. Chaudhry was reinstated in July, with all charges of misconduct [JURIST reports] dismissed.






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US slams Myanmar constitution talks
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 11:45 AM ET

[JURIST] On a visit to Sydney, Australia to attend the 2007 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit [official website], US President George W. Bush said Wednesday that it was "inexcusable" for the recently-concluded constitutional convention in Myanmar to have excluded opposition party National League for Democracy [Wikipedia backgrounder]. US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said [transcript] earlier that the constitutional talks were counter to the establishment of democracy and called upon Myanmar's military junta to release hundreds of detained activists who oppose the government. Casey added:

I think our simplest response to it is we view it as a total sham. The delegates to this convention were hand-picked by the regime. They haven't been allowed to engage in any open debate. And of course, they also excluded the National League for Democracy, which is Burma's largest political party...It's not at all a step toward democracy. And I think the international community and certainly the United States is going to continue to call for a genuine and real and inclusive dialogue between the regime and the legitimate forces of democracy in the country.
The reactions come after the convention issued a set of guidelines [NYT report] that, if enacted, would ensure the military regime's ongoing rule.

The constitutional convention completed its final session [JURIST reports] on Friday as international pressure increased for the government to release demonstrators [JURIST report] arrested in August for participating in a peaceful protest against a recent rise in fuel prices. It is not yet clear who will draft the actual constitution or how that process will occur, but the Myanmar government has pledged to put the resulting document to a vote in a national referendum. Myanmar has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988. Talks on a new national charter have been underway for 14 years. Bloomberg has more.





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Bulgaria president, lawmakers collaborated with communist-era secret police: panel
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] A Bulgarian special panel investigating the country's communist-era police records said Tuesday that current Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov [official profile] and 19 other lawmakers collaborated with the country's communist-era secret service [Wikipedia backgrounder]. The panel, created under legislation declassifying communist-era files [JURIST report], has published a list of 138 people who collaborated with the secret service. Parvanov insists that he is included on the list merely because he wrote a book review for a person who turned out to be a secret service agent, but opponents say that Parvanov ordered the destruction of many of the files on his specific involvement.

The panel will continue to review the files of those suspected of collaborating with the secret service, including public officials and journalists. The legislation that created the commission, however, includes no recommendation for punishment if officials are found to have done so. AP has more.






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Rights groups file lawsuit over Arizona illegal workers law
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 10:33 AM ET

[JURIST] The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund [advocacy website] and other civil rights groups filed a lawsuit in federal court [complaint, PDF; ACLU press release] Tuesday against the state of Arizona claiming that the Legal Arizona Workers Act [AZ HB 2779 materials] is unconstitutional and could lead to discrimination against minorities, especially Latinos. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chicanos Por La Causa and Somos America [advocacy websites], alleges that the new law, which requires that businesses check their employees' employment eligibility with a federal database or risk having their business license revoked, violates both the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process and federal immigration law that makes use of the database voluntary.

When Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed the legislation [JURIST report] in July, she called the law "the most aggressive action in the country against employers who knowingly or intentionally hire undocumented workers." Meanwhile, in Mexico over the weekend, Mexican President Felipe Calderon denounced US immigration policies during his first state of the union address [text; JURIST report], promising to fight for the rights of Mexicans living in the US and protesting the "unilateral measures" taken by the US to make "the persecution and humiliating treatment of undocumented Mexican workers worse." Calderon also insisted that Mexico will continue to advocate comprehensive immigration reform [JURIST news archive] that is favorable to Mexico and will continue to "categorically" oppose the construction of a 700-mile fence [JURIST news archive] on the US-Mexico border. The East Valley Tribune has more.






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UK judge says all citizens and visitors should have samples in DNA database
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Lord Justice Stephen Sedley said Wednesday that all UK citizens and visitors should have their DNA included in the national DNA database [UK Home Office backgrounder; POST backgrounder, PDF] because the current repository is insufficient. Sedley said that the UK DNA database, the world's largest at 4 million samples, has a disproportionate amount of samples from ethnic minorities and typically includes only those who have been arrested by police. Richard Thomas, head of the UK Information Commissioner's Office, agreed that the system has flaws, but expressed concerns that a nationwide database could be very intrusive to personal privacy.

The DNA database program compiles the DNA of all arrested crime suspects and creates a permanent file, even if a suspect is later cleared of the crime. Last year, the chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality [official website] said that he planned to investigate possible racial biases [JURIST report] in the nation's crime-fighting DNA database in the wake of reports that 77 percent of the UK's black men ages 18 - 34 would be entered into the database, while only 22 percent of young white men and 6 percent of the general population were expected to be included. AP has more. The Independent has local coverage.






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Iranian-American journalist cleared to leave Iran though charges still pending
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 9:42 AM ET

[JURIST] Iranian-American journalist Parnaz Azima has been granted permission to leave Iran [RFE/RL report] after months of being held in the country due to security-related charges against her, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) [media website] said Tuesday. Azima, employed by a Persian service of RFE/RL, originally traveled to Iran in January to visit her sick mother, and upon arrival Iranian authorities confiscated her passport. Azima told RFE/RL on Wednesday that she will leave Iran as soon as possible, but that the charges against her remain open [RFE/RL report].

Azima's passport was returned to her one day after Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari [WWC profile; JURIST news archive] left Iran following months of detention [WWC timeline, DOC; WWC materials] in the country for her involvement in an alleged plot "against the sovereignty of the country." Still in custody is Open Society Institute consultant Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh [OSI press release]. Earlier this summer, Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi accused the Iranian government of interfering in judicial affairs to prevent Esfandiari's release [JURIST report] and of denying lawyers access to Esfandiari [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Frattini considering EU plane passenger data-sharing system
Brett Murphy on September 5, 2007 9:06 AM ET

[JURIST] EU Justice, Freedom, and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini [official profile] said Wednesday that the European Union will move forward with plans to establish an EU-wide airline passenger data recording system despite privacy concerns because the threat posed by terror attacks remains high. Frattini's comments came on the same day that German authorities announced the arrests of three suspected terrorists [press release, in German] who were allegedly planning attacks on both the US-NATO Ramstein Air Base and the international airport in Frankfurt. The German Federal Prosecutor [official website, in German] said that the arrests of the three Islamic militants occurred on Tuesday afternoon, after which they appeared before a judge in the Federal Court of Justice [official website, in German] during a closed hearing. The group, who allegedly trained at terrorist camps run by the Islamic Jihad Union in Pakistan, had amassed nearly 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide - enough to produce a bomb with the equivalent force of 1,200 pounds of TNT.

In July, the EU and US reached a new agreement on passenger data-sharing [JURIST report] under which air carriers will transmit passenger data directly to the US Department of Homeland Security within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the US. AP has more.






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