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Updated 03/02/2007

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—March 2, 2007

1. Americans ordered to stand trial in Italy for rendition kidnapping
2. Federal appeals court denies Guantánamo detainees access to U.S. courts
3. U.S. soldier pleads guilty to rape and murder of Iraqis
4. Released Iraqi prisoner details abuse in U.S.-run detention center
5. Justice Department terrorism statistics found to be inaccurate
6. Nongovernmental organizations promote plan to fix abusive government policies

1. Americans ordered to stand trial in Italy for rendition kidnapping
On Feb. 16 an Italian judge ordered 26 Americans and five Italians to stand trial for the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, in February 2003. Twenty-five of the Americans are considered CIA agents, including the former CIA station chiefs of Rome and Milan. One of the Italians charged is the former head of Italian intelligence, Nicolo Pollari. Nasr was allegedly kidnapped from Milan, transferred to Germany and then to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. Nasr, released from Egypt in early February, was under investigation by the Italian government for terrorist activity at the time of the kidnapping. U.S. State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger said that if an extradition request was received, the U.S. government would refuse to hand over any of the 26 men, meaning the trial would proceed without the presence of the defendants. [AP, 2/16/07; The Australian, 2/18/07; Reuters, 2/28/07; past story: HRWT News Update, 12/15/06] 

2. Federal appeals court denies Guantánamo detainees access to U.S. courts
On Feb. 20 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba do not have the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. The suit filed by lawyers for 63 Guantánamo detainees challenged the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which deprived those the president labeled as “enemy combatants” of reprieve in U.S. courts. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Judith Rogers said that Congress exceeded its powers by barring habeas corpus rights for the detainees. [JURIST, 2/20/07; Christian Science Monitor, 2/21/07; more info: Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit ruling, 2/20/07]

3. U.S. soldier pleads guilty to rape and murder of Iraqis
U.S. Army Sgt. Paul Cortez pled guilty on Feb. 22 for his involvement in the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl and the murder of her parents and sister. Cortez and three other soldiers gang raped Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, and after killing her and her parents, they attempted to destroy evidence of the crime by burning the girl’s body. Cortez was sentenced to 100 years in prison, but will be eligible for parole in 10 years because of an Army regulation that provides parole eligibility after 10 years for all sentences more than 30 years but less than life. Cortez is the second of the four soldiers to reach a plea agreement; the remaining two still await trial. [Reuters, 2/20/07; Alternet, 2/23/07; Irish Times, 2/23/07]

4. Released Iraqi prisoner details abuse in U.S.-run detention center
The New York Times on Feb. 18 published a former Iraqi prisoner’s account of abuse at the hands of U.S. forces. Laith al-Ani was held in Camp Bucca, an U.S.-run jail in southern Iraq, from October 2004 to January 2007. He was never charged with a crime and officials have refused to give details as to why he was detained or released. According to al-Ani, American guards regularly used abusive practices, including electric Taser shocks to the tongue, prolonged solitary confinement, deliberate exposure to long periods of extreme heat and cold, and food “not fit for dogs.” The U.S. is currently holding about 15,500 prisoners in Iraq. [NY Times (full text in Intl Herald Tribune), 2/18/07]

5. Justice Department terrorism statistics found to be inaccurate
The inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department, Glenn Fine, released a report on Feb. 20 outlining how an audit of the Justice Department’s terrorism statistics found major inaccuracies. The report states that crimes such as immigration violations, marriage fraud, and drug trafficking were counted as terrorism-related activities despite a lack of supporting evidence. Fine blamed “haphazard” methods of data collection for the inaccuracies, rather than an intentional inflation of statistics. The data is used to evaluate progress in fighting terrorism and to assist in determining aspects of the Justice Department’s budget. [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/07; AP, 2/21/07; more info: Inspector General’s Audit Report]

6. Nongovernmental organizations promote plan to fix abusive government policies
Twenty-two nongovernmental organizations sent a letter to Congressional leaders on Feb. 22 outlining a 10-point plan to correct the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies. The “Ten Steps to Restore the United States’ Moral Authority” include restoring habeas corpus rights for detainees, ending renditions, abolishing secret prisons, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and protecting victims of human rights abuses from being labeled terrorists. Signers of the letter included the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other rights groups, as well as religious groups including branches of the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church. In related news, Human Rights Watch released a report on Feb. 27 listing 38 missing men who are thought to have been held in secret CIA prisons. [HRW, 2/22/07, Commondreams, 2/22/07, HRW, 2/27/07]

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