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Legal news from Wednesday, June 10, 2009




US citizen linked to Canada terror suspects convicted on conspiracy charges
Brian Jackson on June 10, 2009 4:05 PM ET

[JURIST] A naturalized American citizen believed to have ties to a Canadian terrorist cell was convicted [DOJ press release] Wednesday of conspiracy to commit terrorism in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website]. Syed Haris Ahmed was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists following a bench trial presided over by Judge William Duffey, Jr. Ahmed, a former student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was indicted in 2006 [JURIST report] after traveling to Washington, DC to take video footage of national monuments. The judge's written findings will be sealed until the trial of a co-conspirator, scheduled to begin in August, is completed. A sentencing date will also not be set until the other trial is over. Ahmed faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Ahmed was believed to have ties to a terrorist cell that was arrested for plotting to attack targets in Canada [JURIST report], known as the "Toronto 18" [Toronto Star backgrounder; advocacy website]. The group is accused of planning a series of violent attacks on civilians, public officials, and government buildings. Although little information was released about the minors arrested among the Toronto 18, the charges eventually laid against the 12 adult males included participating in a terrorist group, receiving training from a terrorist group, training terrorists, and importing weapons and ammunition for terrorism. Last month, one of the group's members, the first person convicted under Canada's post-9/11 terrorism law was sentenced to 36 months [JURIST reports] in prison and released by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice [official website] in consideration of the time he had already served.






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France constitutional court rejects portion of Internet piracy law
Christian Ehret on June 10, 2009 2:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The French Constitutional Council [official website, in French] ruled [decision, in French] Wednesday that certain provisions of the proposed Internet piracy law [text, in French] violate the French Constitution [text, in French]. The challenge [JURIST report] was brought by the opposition Socialist party [party website, in French] on the grounds that the bill fails to find the balance [press release, in French] between the rights of Internet users and those of copyright holders. The Socialists additionally argued that accessing the Internet is a fundamental principle [presentation, PDF, in French] that should only be limited by the courts. The bill, introduced by cultural minister Christine Albanel and supported by President Nicholas Sarkozy [official websites, in French], is aimed at reducing illegal downloads of protected works by proposing an escalating series of responses for users that are caught. The third violation would result in suspension of Internet access at the discretion of the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet [materials, in French], an administrative authority that would be bestowed with judicial power. The court found that the bill violated the freedom of communication and expression guaranteed by the constitution, extending such rights to include the freedom of accessing the Internet. The power to restrict this right, the court reasoned, should not be entrusted to an administrative authority. The court left the provisions intact that require written warnings for alleged infringers, requiring the government to go to court to impose further penalties. Christine Albanel responded to the decision [press release, in French], maintaining her intent to continue protecting intellectual property rights to promote a "civilized Internet."

The measure was approved [France 24 report] by the French Senate [official website, in French] in May by a 189 to 14 vote. In April, the controversial bill was defeated [JURIST report] by the National Assembly but was later approved [JURIST report]. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [organization website], representing the worldwide recording industry, has welcomed the legislation [press release], while it has been opposed [press release, in French] by French consumer interest group UFC-Que Choisir [advocacy website, in French] as well as cable and Internet providers [France 24 report].






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Russia judge killed by gunmen in Ingushetia province
Jaclyn Belczyk on June 10, 2009 2:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Aza Gazgireyeva, deputy head of the Supreme Court in Russia's Ingushetia province [official website, in Russian; BBC backgrounder] was shot dead Wednesday while taking her children to school in the town of Nazran, according to a regional interior ministry spokesman quoted by Russian media. Four others also sustained injuries [RIA Novosti report]. Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said that her suspected killers have been identified [ITAR-TASS report] and will be apprehended within the next two days. It is believed that Gazgireyeva may have been killed for her role in investigating an attack [RTTNews report] on Ingush police forces by Chechen militants in 2004. Gazgireyeva's death comes shortly after the interior minister of the nearby region of Dagestan was shot dead [BBC report] last week.

In recent months, Ingushetia [JURIST news archive] has seen an upsurge of violence, particularly targeted towards police and the military. Local authorities blame Muslim rebels from both Ingushetia and neighboring Chechnya [JURIST news archive], but government opponents blame increasingly harsh policing tactics including the alleged abductions, beatings, and even killings [advocacy report, PDF] of suspected militants. Last June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that Russian police have committed serious rights abuses against suspected rebel militants from Ingushetia, including abductions, torture, and killings. In April 2008, another deputy head of the Supreme Court in Ingushetia, Khasan Yandiyev, was shot and killed [JURIST report].






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UK Law Lords rule against use of secret evidence to impose control orders
Christian Ehret on June 10, 2009 1:42 PM ET

[JURIST] A panel of nine UK Law Lords [official website] decided [judgment, PDF] Wednesday that the use of secret evidence to impose controversial control orders to detain terrorism suspects violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text], ordering the cases of three suspects to be reheard. The Lords held that a fair trial is not possible where a case is decided largely on unavailable materials, reasoning that suspects should know the extent of the allegations against them. The ruling was influenced by a February European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] decision [text], which held that, even where there are national security interests, it may not be acceptable to withhold evidence that forms the grounds for suspicion in a terrorism-related case. Before the ECHR ruling, exigent national security interests could justify the withholding of relevant evidence where other measures were taken to ensure a fair trial.

Control orders allow the British government to conduct surveillance and impose house arrest on suspects where there does not exist enough evidence to prosecute. The orders can also be used to forbid the use of mobile phones and the Internet. In February, a UK counter-terrorism official said that some suspects living under control orders have managed to maintain contact [JURIST report] with terrorist organizations. Control orders were first introduced [JURIST report] by the government of former prime minister Tony Blair in 2005 and, apart from being politically controversial, have already run into problems in the courts [JURIST report]. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions in October that the government can continue to impose control orders on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders issued under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 violate human rights.






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Palau offers to accept Uighur Guantanamo detainees
Jaclyn Belczyk on June 10, 2009 1:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Palau President Johnson Toribiong has said that his country is willing to accept [AP report] 17 Uighur detainees held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives], according to a statement provided to the Associated Press Wednesday. A senior US official said later Wednesday that the US is still considering [AFP report] Palau's offer and that no final arrangement has yet been reached. Palau Ambassador to the US Hersey Kyota [official profile] said that the agreement would contain US aid for Palau. The Constitution Project [advocacy website] welcomed [press release] the possible agreement with Palau, saying it would "finally bring[] some modicum of justice for the 17 Uighurs at Guantanamo."

The Uighurs' release was ordered [opinion and order, PDF; JURIST report] by a US district court in October, but that decision was overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website], and the Uighurs remain in custody. They have appealed [JURIST report] to the US Supreme Court [official website]. Last week, the Canadian government refused a US request to accept the Uighur detainees. In May, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives [official website] proposed a bill [JURIST report] that, if passed, might block a proposed plan to accept up to seven Uighur detainees [JURIST report] into the US after US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced in March that the US would consider accepting all 17 detainees [JURIST report]. The US government has determined that the Uighurs are not unlawful enemy combatants [10 USC § 948a text; JURIST news archive], but have been linked with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) [CFR backgrounder], a militant group that calls for separation from China and has been a US-designated terrorist group since 2002. The US has rejected China's calls to repatriate [JURIST report] the Uighurs, citing fear of torture upon their return.






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Europe rights commissioner urges countries to welcome Guantanamo detainees
Christian Ehret on June 10, 2009 11:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Council of Europe (COE) [official website] Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] on Tuesday sent a letter [text] to all member states urging them to welcome certain released Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. The letter, addressed to all 47 COE member states, called on the states to cooperate with and contribute to US plans to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive] by accepting detainees who are cleared for release. Hammarberg's request followed his visit to Washington, DC where he met with US President Barack Obama and other officials to emphasize that the detainees should be "tried in accordance with international human rights law standards" or "released in full respect of the principle of presumption of innocence." Hammarberg also called for the US to provide reparations [press release] to those who were unlawfully detained. Stating that there are approximately 50 detainees who are currently cleared by authorities but cannot be repatriated for various reasons, Hammarberg asked the member states to follow the example already set by some countries, saying:


While Council of Europe member states have accepted their own nationals who had been in Guantanamo, certain others, such as Albania, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom, have also accepted non-citizens from Guantanamo. Authorities from a number of other member states have made public their willingness to accept non-citizen Guantanamo detainees. ... It is beyond doubt that a number of the Guantanamo detainees are in need of international protection. Reliable reports have indicated that some of those released and returned to their home countries have suffered serious human rights violations, such as torture and unlawful detention.

Although he assured the countries that accepting detainees is purely voluntary, Hammarberg stressed that cooperation with the facility's closure will strengthen the fight against terrorism while affirming the purpose of the Council of Europe to preserve human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The commissioner's request follows an agreement [JURIST report] made last week by the Council of the European Union [official website], which set forth the terms of accepting detainees in a way that would minimize any danger posed to other member states. The council agreed that member states should only receive detainees who are officially cleared for release, do not face prosecution in the US, and have compelling reasons to not return to their home countries. The council also reaffirmed that the US still bears the primary responsibility for finding residence for former detainees. In March, US officials met with leaders from the EU to discuss plans [JURIST report] to transfer detainees to European countries. Many countries have indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Tunisia, Lithuania, Ireland, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain, while Italy [JURIST reports] and the Netherlands [AFP report] have said they will not accept detainees.





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Guantanamo ex-detainee pleads not guilty to US embassy bombings
Christian Ehret on June 10, 2009 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to allegations of involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Tanzania and Kenya. The plea was delivered during his initial appearance before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Having been held at the Guantanamo facility since 2006, Ghailani was transferred [JURIST report] to New York on Tuesday to face 286 separate counts including involvement in the bombings and conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda to kill Americans worldwide. His transfer marks the first time a detainee from the facility has been brought to the US for prosecution. If found guilty, Ghailani could face the death penalty [AFP report].

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] addressed national security concerns for bringing terrorism suspects into the US by releasing a fact sheet [press release] showing the government's past competence in detaining and prosecuting other alleged terrorists. The same New York federal court has previously indicted individuals for their role in the embassy bombings, including four defendants who were successfully sentenced to life in prison. The DOJ's announcement [JURIST report] last month that Ghailani would be tried in federal court followed the ordered review of all Guantanamo detainees pursuant to plans to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive].






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Supreme Court allows Chrysler sale to proceed
Christian Ehret on June 10, 2009 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday night released an order [opinion, PDF] allowing the sale of Chrysler Group assets to Italian automaker Fiat [corporate websites] to proceed. The two-page opinion vacates a temporary stay [JURIST report] issued on Monday by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [official profile, PDF] on the grounds that the petitioners did not meet their burden of showing that a delay is justified. In determining the request for delay, the Court considered whether the petitioners had demonstrated a "reasonable probability" that four justices will consider the issue meritorious, a "fair prospect" that a majority of the Court will conclude the lower court's decision erroneous, and a "likelihood that irreparable harm will result from the denial of a stay." The stay was requested [JURIST report] by consumer groups, three Indiana pension and construction funds and others. Chrysler and Fiat reportedly finalized their deal [WSJ report] Tuesday night.

Also on Tuesday, the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] approved a plan by the Chrysler Group to sever ties with 789 dealers [opinion, PDF] as Chrysler attempts to navigate bankruptcy. Judge Arthur Gonzalez approved the action, meaning that the dealerships can no longer sell or offer repairs [Washington Post report] to customers with Chrysler automobiles under the badge of an authorized dealer.

The pension and construction funds alleged that the use of Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) [materials] funds to finance the bankruptcy is unconstitutional. The consumer groups challenged the sale on the grounds that the terms would limit their ability to recover for product liability actions. The Court's order did not address these issues. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] approved the sale [JURIST report] of most of the Chrysler's assets to Fiat, but said the deal could not be completed until the Supreme Court heard the matter. The ruling upheld a previous decision [JURIST report] by the Bankruptcy Court.






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First Circuit rules prison may restrict sexually explicit inmate mail
Eszter Bardi on June 10, 2009 7:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion text] Tuesday that a Massachusetts regulation prohibiting prisoners from receiving sexually explicit mail is constitutional. The petitioners challenged the portions of 103 CMR § 481.15 [text, PDF], which regulate the receipt of sexually explicit pictures in the mail and the display of sexually explicit or suggestive images, as violating the First Amendment freedom of speech [Cornell LII backgrounders] provision. In ruling that the regulation did not violate petitioners' constitutional rights, the court found that a legitimate government interest existed in the promulgation of the regulation, which was aimed at ensuring prison safety and security. The court also found that alternative means exist for exercising First Amendment rights that are not prohibited by the regulation, that the correctional officials deserve heavy discretion in finding that the receipt of sexually explicit material would impact the facility negatively, and that the burden of proving viable alternatives to the law were was not met by the petitioners. The other constitutional challenges to the regulation were also rejected as not sufficiently developed.

The Massachusetts prison commissioner defended the regulation on the grounds that it was designed to promote prison safety and security. Violence and rape continue to be problems in the US prison system. In July 2006, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] reported [text, PDF] that sexual violence in US prisons, perpetrated by both inmates and prison staff, often goes unreported [JURIST report] because abused inmates fear a reprisal or do not trust prison staff. In May 2006, The UN Committee against Torture [official website] urged the US to do more to protect domestic prisoners and suspects from violence and threats of violence. In 2005, the DOJ released its first report [text, PDF; JURIST report] on prison rape in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 [DOJ backgrounder], but admitted that most incidents were probably never reported and their numbers could not reliably be estimated. The report says [official press release] that authorities verified almost 2,100 cases of sexual violence out of more than 8,000 reported cases.






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US military still holding more than 11,000 Iraqi prisoners
Brian Jackson on June 10, 2009 7:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The US-led Multi-National Force (MNF) [official website] in Iraq said Tuesday that it is still holding 11,057 Iraqi prisoners [press release] in three separate camps throughout the country. The prisoners currently held in the three US camps, Camp Taji, Camp Cropper, and Camp Bucca, will either be released or transferred to Iraqi authorities as the military works to transfer control of the prisons to the Iraqi government. Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq, is expected to be the first to close when the total prison population drops below 8,000. The other two facilities will close by August 2010, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF] that went into effect in January and requires all US troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011. A fourth US-run prison, Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive], was transferred back to Iraqi control [JURIST report] in 2006 following the release of photographs depicting prisoner abuse by US military personnel.

In November, Iraqi human rights activists said they were concerned about the treatment of detainees [JURIST report] due to be transferred from US military custody to Iraqi authorities under the then-proposed SOFA. In August, the US military said that it has released more than 10,000 Iraqi detainees [JURIST report] over the past year. In November 2007, US military forces in Iraq released 500 detainees [JURIST report] at a joint ceremony with the Iraqi government at Camp Victory outside Baghdad.






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