Thursday, August 31, 2006

Vox clamantis in Darfur: Can anyone hear it?

While it's business as usual at the United Nations (what with Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and all), the poor people of Darfur are about to get another genocidal thrashing at the hands of murderous thugs posing as human beings. When will this horrible situation be acted upon by the decent people of the world? How can our leaders ignore this any longer. We all know the answer, don't we? So, what are we going to do about it?

Shaky Darfur Peace at Risk as New Fighting Looms By LYDIA POLGREEN Published: August 31, 2006 EL FASHER, Sudan, Aug. 30 So far, negotiations over a proposed United Nations force to shore up the shaky peace in Darfur have limped along with no sign of compromise. The opposing sides in the conflict now seem headed toward a large-scale military confrontation, bringing Darfur to the edge of a new abyss — perhaps the deepest it has faced.

“Unfortunately, things seem to be headed in that direction,” said Gen. Collins Ihekire, commander of the beleaguered 7,000-member African Union force that is enforcing a fragile peace agreement between the government and one rebel group. Nearly four months after signing the agreement, the government is preparing a fresh assault against the rebel groups that refused to sign. Years of conflict have already killed hundreds of thousands of people here and sent 2.5 million fleeing their homes. But that may be a prelude of the death likely to come from further fighting, hunger and disease. In the past few months, killings of aid workers and hijackings of their vehicles, mostly by rebel groups, have forced aid groups to curtail programs to feed, clothe and shelter hundreds of thousands of people.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why can't an accused plead guilty to capital murder?

There has to be something wrong if a defendant like this who is accused of capital murder cannot plead guilty. In most cases where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, it does little to help a defendant avoid the death penalty at the sentencing phase if he cannot show at least the beginnings of remorse by acknowledging his culpability, especially where a jury will shortly thereafter determine whether there are sufficient mitigating circumstances precluding eligibility for death. The idea that he will be better off hoping for error as he requires the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt seems highly speculative and very shaky to me. It is far more probable that the presentation of graphic, emotionally devastating evidence of guilt to a jury who believes the defendant is denying obvious guilt will create a hanging mood before the sentencing phase begins. Although the rest of this story offers some possible explanations, my sympathies extend to the defendant who tried to enter an immediate plea of guilty. There is nothing stopping a subsequent psychological examination regarding mental capacity, etc. Guilty pleas can be withdrawn if improvidently entered.

Haq tries to enter guilty plea By Natalie Singer Seattle Times staff reporter

Naveed Afzal Haq, accused in the Jewish Federation shootings, confers with his attorney C. Wesley Richards on Thursday. The man accused of killing one woman and wounding five others at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle surprised everyone in the courtroom, including his own attorney, when he attempted to plead guilty Thursday to nine felonies, including a charge that could result in the death penalty.

But after objections from Naveed Afzal Haq's attorney, who said he was concerned about Haq's mental competency, the judge ordered the arraignment to be continued until Tuesday, and no pleas were entered. After the charges against him were read aloud in King County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Haq turned and whispered into the ear of defense attorney C. Wesley Richards."My client has indicated he would like to enter guilty pleas," Richards told Judge Michael Trickey. "I have concerns about his reasoning."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pro bono legal services under attack in Iran

This report from Amnesty International is deeply disturbing.

Amnesty International is alarmed at the continuing erosion in the human rights situation in Iran, highlighted by the announcement that the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR, in Persian, Kanoon-e Modafean Hogooge Bashar), co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been banned.

The banning of the CDHR, and threats of arrest against its members should they continue their work, strikes at the heart of the struggle for human rights in Iran. The targeting of the CDHR is symbolic of the climate of intimidation and harassment endured by Iran’s community of human rights defenders in the course of their work.

On 3 August, the Ministry of Interior announced that the CDHR had been banned. A statement by the Secretariat of the Committee for Article 10 of the Law on Party and Organization Activities said “…any activity under the name of Kanoon-e Modafean Hogooge Bashar is illegal and violators will be prosecuted accordingly”.

The CDHR was established in 2002, by Shirin Ebadi. Its members include some of Iran’s leading human rights defenders and lawyers. The CDHR has made an inestimable contribution to the development of a culture of human rights in Iran, and the efforts of other human rights defenders in Iran have been bolstered its work.

The CDHR has three stated roles, reporting violations of human rights in Iran; providing pro-bono legal representation to political prisoners; and support to the families of political prisoners. Its members have pursued high profile cases of impunity, and defended high profile victims of human rights violations. Lawyers for the CDHR represented the family of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist who died in Evin prison in June 2003, and prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji.

In the midst of all the media confusion about what is going on in the Mideast, this sure seems to me like a very troubling objective development. Think what you want about Amnesty International, but they occasionally are spot on the heart of the matter.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Combat stress defense?

Here is more on the rape/murder case being presented to the U.S. military court (Article 32 investigation) in Baghdad. It looks like "combat stress" may be offered as a defense of some kind. Again, death penalty trial counsel are often asked to defend what many would think is "the indefensible."

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A U.S. military court deciding whether four soldiers should be court-martialled for rape and murder heard on Tuesday how troops were "driven nuts" by combat stress and got high on Iraqi cough syrup. Private First Class Justic Cross described how conditions "pretty much crushed the platoon", which lived in constant fear of being killed in the Mahmudiya area south of Baghdad where the rape and murders took place in March. "It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up. You just hit a point where you're like, 'If I die today, I die'. You're just walking a death walk," he said.

On Monday, the court at Camp Liberty heard graphic testimony of how three of the soldiers took turns raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before murdering her and her family. The case has outraged Iraqis and led Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to call for a review of foreign troops' immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. Mahmudiya is part of what Iraqis call the "Triangle of Death" for its frequent attacks and kidnappings by insurgents and al Qaeda militants.

Private First Class Jesse Spielman, 21, Specialist James Barker, 23, Sergeant Paul Cortez, 23 and Private First Class Bryan Howard, 19, face charges of rape and murder among others. If court-martialled after the Article 32 hearing -- the military's equivalent of a U.S. grand jury -- and found guilty, they could face the death penalty. The hearing began on Sunday and is expected to last several days.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Will there be a capital court martial?

I will be keeping my eye on this case as it progresses. It will almost certainly raise important questions about the death penalty. For those who practice in this area, the brutality of the alleged crimes is not unprecedented. In the U.S., charges like these are almost always tried as capital offenses. Can there be a "fair trial" under these circumstances? Is there a difference between Article 2 and Article 3 courts when it comes to the death penalty?

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi army medic described a scene of horror to a U.S. military hearing on Sunday that will decide if four U.S. soldiers are to be court-martialled for the murder and rape of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family.

The medic, who was not named, said that when he entered the house in Mahmudiya in March, he found 14-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi naked with her legs spread and burnt from the waist up, with a single bullet wound beneath her left eye. He also told the hearings he had found her six-year-old sister in an adjacent room with the back of her head blown out, and the bodies of both parents riddled with bullets.

The Mahmudiya case, the fifth involving serious crimes being investigated by the U.S. military in Iraq, has outraged Iraqis and led Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to call for a review of foreign troops' immunity from Iraqi prosecution. The court heard testimony from three Iraqi witnesses on Sunday, the first day of proceedings. But the media covering the event were only allowed to record the comments of the medic, who said he was ill for weeks after witnessing the crime scene.

Military prosecutors are expected to lay out their case against Private First Class Jesse Spielman, Specialist James Barker, Sergeant Paul Cortez and Private First Class Bryan Howard, who face charges of rape and murder among others. If court-martialled and found guilty, they could face the death penalty.