[JURIST] Recent US-led inspections of Iraqi-run prisons in Baghdad and Tal Afar have revealed signs of prisoner abuse [press briefing transcript] and overcrowding, a US military official said Friday. Maj. Gen. William Webster, who commands security forces in Baghdad, confirmed there is a problem of overcrowding, but denied the existence of any evidence of recent abuse in the facilities:
As a result of the investigation surrounding the Jadriya facility, otherwise known as the bunker facility where a number of detainees were found to be abused, the Iraqi government and General Casey's headquarters has initiated a series of inspections of detention facilities throughout Iraq. And the first two of those inspections were conducted on MOI or interior facilities, and they're -- while there were overcrowded conditions, there was no -- there were no signs of recent abuse. There were detainees who talked about having been abused before, and some of them showed signs of that. And this committee of both the Iraqi government and the U.S. government and the coalition are continuing their investigation and inspections.
The investigation was prompted by the recent exposure of secret prisons [JURIST report] run by Iraqi security forces where detainees were abused and tortured. The discoveries have led to rumors [JURIST report] that Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr [CBS profile] will resign, and frustrated US efforts to transfer control of all existing prisons to Iraqi forces. Reuters has more.
[JURIST] Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko [JURIST news archive] on Friday spoke out against pending constitutional changes [JURIST report] that will lead, in his opinion, to an "unbalanced and ineffective government", and suggested a national referendum to decide the matter. The changes to the country's constitution [text], scheduled to take effect on January 1, will strip Yushchenko's power to nominate a prime minister and other key cabinet positions, and also require Ukranian Parliament [official website] approval of all other key appointments. The constitutional changes were part of a reform package [JURIST report] agreed upon by Yushchenko and other party leaders last year to end the disputed Ukrainian presidential election. Reuters has more.
[JURIST] The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston [official website] has made an offer to settle nearly 200 pending clergy sex abuse [JURIST news archive] lawsuits, lawyers representing plaintiffs in the litigation said Friday. The settlement offer would require that all pending lawsuits be divided into three tiers. Tier one and two plaintiffs would be paid from the settlement fund by an arbitrator, with an expected average payment to each plaintiff of $75,000. Claims falling into tier three would be excluded from the fund, requiring plaintiffs to go to trial. While there is no clear indication if the offer will be accepted, an attorney representing 55 plaintiffs called the offer "cold and callous". Reuters has more.
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Thursday upheld the dismissal [ruling text, PDF] of a suit alleging religious discrimination against General Motors (GM) [corporate website]. Writing for the court, Judge Ann Claire Williams supported the decision to dismiss the lawsuit because the corporation's Affinity Group [group website] diversity program treated all religions equally by prohibiting the promotion of any religion. The suit, brought by Indianapolis GM plant worker John Moranski, alleged that the program discriminated against religion since it did not permit the formation of an interdenominational Christian group. Although the program allows groups of people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, women and veterans, and people of Hispanic, African or Asian ancestry, it prohibits groups with any religious affiliation. AP has more.
[JURIST] Chile's Santiago Court of Appeals voted 21-3 Friday to strip Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive; BBC profile] of political immunity in respect of a fraud charge against the 90-year-old former dictator, who was fingerprinted and photographed by Chilean police [JURIST report] on Wednesday in connection with a human rights proceeding for which his immunity had likewise been lifted. The fraud charge stems from an ongoing investigation into the embezzlement of millions of dollars of public funds during Pinochetís rule from 1973-1990. In November, Pinochet was formally indicted for tax evasion [JURIST report] related to foreign bank accounts he held in at Riggs Bank in Washington, DC after a Chilean court lifted his immunity [JURIST report] in respcet of that charge. EFE has more.
[JURIST] Defying a gag order by the UK Foreign Office [official website], former British ambassador [BBC report] to Uzbekistan [JURIST new archive] Craig S. Murray has posted two documents to his weblog suggesting that despite government denials, the British government knowingly received intelligence information obtained by torture. The first document is a collection of telegrams sent from Murray between 2002 and 2004 in which he raised concerns that the information from Uzbek security forces was being extracted through torture. The second document is a letter from a Foreign Office legal advisor that cites to the UN Convention Against Torture [text] but opines that receiving and possessing information obtained by torture is not illegal, although admitting it as evidence would likely not be permitted. Murray, who was forced out of his position last year after becoming an outspoken critic of Uzebekistan's human rights record, was denied clearance to refer to the documents in a book. He has urged other bloggers to post the materials on their own sites. Earlier this month the UK House of Lords ruled that the UK courts were indeed prohibited from using evidence possibly obtained through torture [JURIST report; Murray op-ed on the case], and that the government had to indicate where evidence against suspected terrorists had been obtained. The Independent has more.
[JURIST] Kentucky lawmakers are bracing for renewed debate over public displays of the Ten Commendments after a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] upheld a display of the Ten Commandments [ruling text, PDF] in a Mercer County, KY courthouse in a ruling last week. The display, unlike other public displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky which were ruled unconstitutional earlier this year [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court, was originally accompanied by other historical documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich distinguished the cases because the Mercer County display did not demonstrate a religious intent or purpose, nor were the Ten Commandments more prominent than the other documents on display. His reasoning paralleled the Supreme Court's in another Ten Commandments ruling this year when it permitted a display of the Commandments on the Texas state capitol grounds [JURIST report] that included other historical documents and had existed for almost 40 years. Suhrheinrich denied that the First Amendment mandated a "wall of separation" between church and state, and contended that in similar Ten Commandment cases, a court must decide whether a reasonable person would find that the display is a government endorsement of religion, not whether a reasonable person would find it offensive. From Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal has more.
The latest appeals court ruling makes it likely that the 2006 General Assembly in Kentucky will revisit the issue. Two state representatives, one Democrat and one Republican, have prefiled proposals for allowing displays of the Ten Commandments by the state government. Rep. Rick Nelson (D-Middlesboro) is calling for a constitutional amendment permitting displays provided that they are accompanied by other historical documents. Rep. Stan Lee (R-Lexington) proposes a display of the Ten Commandments in the state Capitol as part of a larger display of historical documents. AP has more.
[JURIST] The Adoption and Children Act [text], a new UK law effective Friday, has for the first time granted unmarried and same-sex couples in England and Wales the right to adopt children. The new legislation is designed to encourage adoption and find homes for the 1,000-2,000 children who fail to be adopted each year. Previously, only married or single people could become adoptive parents. Other provisions of the act include giving biological parents the right to initiate contact with children they gave up for adoption and allowing foster parents to apply for continuous guardianship until the child reaches 18. The UK Department for Education and Skills provides background materials. BBC News has more.
[JURIST] AP is reporting that the US Department of Justice has begun an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic surveillance [JURIST news archive] program first disclosed [JURIST report] in a New York Times article earlier this month.
10:53 AM ET - Justice Department officials revealed the existence of the probe on condition of anonymity, given its sensitive subject matter. AP has more.
11:58 AM ET - The DOJ launched the probe after receiving an official request from the National Security Agency [official website], which has been conducting the domestic intercepts. This is the second major leak investigation involving the Bush administration; Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is still leading a probe into the alleged White House leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame [JURIST news archive]. AP has additional coverage.
2:47 PM ET - In a statement [text] responding to the announcement of the probe, the American Civil Liberties Union Friday called for US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to call off the investigation, saying:
President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of U.S. citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistleblowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.
The ACLU has already called [Dec. 21 letter to Gonzales] for the appointment of an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute officials who authorized warrantless domestic surveillance.
[JURIST] Senior officers in the British Army [official website] have been briefed on protecting the reputation of the armed services in the midst of close judicial scrutiny of soldiers' conduct in Iraq, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper Friday. The British military has come in for sharp public criticism in the wake of the court martial of paratroopers accused of killing an Iraqi [Times report], allegations of war crimes in connection with the death of an another Iraqi who died in British custody [BBC report], and pre-trial comments of a judge describing the situation in Iraq as "dreadful." Major General Bill Rollo, assistant chief of the general staff, warned colleagues that with an ongoing deployment in Iraq and 4000 troops going to Afghanistan in 2006, "there is more to come." Of the 184 Iraq incidents at one under point under legal investigation, 164 were closed, "one case was still under investigation, five trials had been completed, five were awaiting a trial, five were still with army prosecutors, one was with the chain of command and three had been dealt with summarily", according to the newspaper. The Guardian has more.
[JURIST] The Canadian-based International Mission for Iraqi Elections [official website; press release] established in 2004 to advise and consult on the Iraqi electoral process agreed Thursday to review the results of Iraq's December 15 parliamentary elections [JURIST news archive] in the wake of large-scale protests in Iraq over against alleged fraud [JURIST report] in the poll. The IMIE investigation will encompass post-election complaints, political entity participation, and post-election audits. In an interim report [IMIE text] presented earlier this month the group concluded that "while there is some concern over technical and procedural issues highlighted by the assessment reports, the election in Iraq has generally met international standards." The decision to conduct a further review was praised by Sunni Arabs and secular Shiite groups, who had previously called for an international review of the vote [JURIST report]. Although about 1,500 complaints about the elections were received, the overall result is not expected to change. Preliminary poll results [IECI text, PDF] show the governing Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance [BBC profile], has a significant lead, but final results are not expected until January. The UN, although previously unwilling to conduct a review itself, welcomed the announcement of the IMIE initiative, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan issuing a statement [text] saying "It is critical that those Iraqi groups who have complained about the conduct of the election are given a hearing...This team of assessors, which was not involved in the conduct of the elections, offers an independent evaluation of these complaints." AP has more.
[JURIST] Switzerland's Supreme Court [official website, in German] Thursday overturned a lower court ruling [JURIST report] and decided to extradite former Russian nuclear minister Yevgeny Adamov [Kommersant profile; JURIST news archive] to Russia, rather than to the US, where he has been indicted for diverting $9 million [JURIST report] in US Department of Energy aid money designed to improve nuclear safety to his personal business. Adamov was indicted by a Pittsburgh grand jury in May on charges of conspiracy to transfer stolen money and securities, conspiracy to defraud the US, money laundering and tax evasion. The Swiss Supreme Court reasoned that Adamov should be tried in Russia because he is a Russian citizen and his crimes were committed there. Adamov, who has been in prison since his arrest [JURIST report] 8 months ago, was reportedly "delighted and satisfied" with the ruling. AP has more.
[JURIST] A federal judge has refused a request made six months ago by former Enron [JURIST news archive] CEO Jeffrey Skilling [BBC profile] to dismiss the ten insider trading charges filed against him. Skilling is alleged to have sold $26 million in stock while in possession of non-public information about the company's financial situation, but argued the indictment failed to specify what information he had when he made the trades. In his opinion made public Thursday, US District Judge Sim Lake [Houston Chronicle profile] also refused to remove a paragraph from Skilling's indictment [text, PDF] alleging he directed former Enron Investor Relations head Mark Koenig to mislead analysts. Koening has already pleaded guilty [BBC report; DOJ press release] to securities fraud and is expected to testify against Skilling. Skilling's trial on 35 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors is now scheduled to begin on January 30 [JURIST report] after a two-week postponement [JURIST report] was granted following a guilty plea [JURIST report] Wednesday by former Skilling co-defendant Richard Causey. AP has more.
[JURIST] In a letter to US President George W. Bush, the chief Iraqi defense counsel for Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] has urged Hussein's immediate release in order to restore peace in Iraq, and has condemned the ousted president's current trial [JURIST news archive] as a farce riddled with false witnesses and lies. In a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters, Khalil Dulaimi [JURIST news archive] wrote that by freeing Hussein, who he claimed was completely innocent and "beloved by millions of Iraqis", "you [i.e. Bush] will win the favor of the Arabs and Muslims and the entire world" and would avoid a civil war in Iraq. Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial for retaliatory torture and killings of more than 140 people in Dujail in 1982. Reuters has more.
[JURIST] US military authorities at the Guantanamo [JURIST news archive] detention facility announced [statement, PDF] Thursday that the number of participants in the ongoing hunger strike at the prison has surged, reaching an acknowledged total of 84, including 48 who have joined the action since last Sunday. The Pentagon defines a hunger striker as someone who has refused food for nine days or more. The number of Guantanamo hunger strikers has varied since the latest action began in August in protest at camp treatmant and a lack of hearings. The US Southern Command statement says that "This technique (hunger striking) is consistent with al-Qaida training and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention and bring pressure on the United States Government to release them."
The US has force-fed some of the hunger strikers to prevent them from dying, but after some detainees alleged harsh treatment - such as inserting feeding tubes without anesthesia and reusing tubes without sanitization - their lawyers won a court order [JURIST report] in October mandating that they be notified by the Defense Department before their clients could be force-fed, and directing the government to provide detainee medical records from before the hunger strike so that their conditions could be better assessed. Thursday's Southern Command statement insists that "Enemy combatants on voluntary fast are closely monitored by medical professionals, receive excellent medical care, and when required, the appropriate amount of daily nutrition and hydration through enteral feeding." Reuters has more.
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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news weblog, powered by a team of 20 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.