Study: Pot legalization in U.S. states could hurt Mexican cartels


MEXICO CITY -- This may not weigh heavily on the minds of voters in Seattle, but if Washington and two other U.S. states decide to legalize marijuana in next week's election, the effect on drug traffickers in Mexico could be enormous.

Such is the suggestion of a new study by a Mexican think tank.

"It could be the biggest structural blow that [Mexican] drug trafficking has experienced in a generation," Alejandro Hope, security expert with the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, said in presenting the report.

Producing and distributing marijuana inside the U.S. would supply a less expensive and better quality drug to the millions of American who smoke it, Hope said. Demand for Mexican pot would decline, cutting into cartels' profits by 22% to 30%, the study calculates.

The consequences would be most dramatic, Hope added, for the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which is based in western Mexico and controls most of the marijuana production.

It is estimated that around one-third of Mexican drug gangs' income is from marijuana, surpassed only and narrowly by cocaine.

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Guantanamo terrorism convictions proving vulnerable on appeal

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
Salim Hamdan has been home in his native Yemen for nearly four years since completing his sentence at Guantanamo Bay for providing "material support to terrorism" -- six years of domestic service to Osama bin Laden as gardener, bodyguard and driver.

GlobalFocusOne of only seven Guantanamo captives to be sentenced for alleged war crimes by the Pentagon's military commissions, Hamdan had his conviction vacated this week by a unanimous federal appeals court panel on grounds that the assistance he provided the late Al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan wasn't defined as a war crime until five years after his 2001 capture.

Hamdan is already at liberty and moving on with his life, his pro bono attorney reported Thursday after informing his client by telephone that his appeal was successful. The 40-year-old taxi driver with a fourth-grade education was pleased to be cleansed of the "war criminal" label but doesn't plan to pursue an uphill battle for compensation, said the attorney, Harry Schneider of Seattle.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said the government was still reviewing the ruling and would have no comment.

The ruling will serve as binding precedent in the appeals of other Guantanamo detainees convicted for war crimes ex post facto, Schneider predicted. The next likely beneficiary of the tribunal's overreaching prosecutions, defense attorneys say, could be defiant Al Qaeda propagandist Ali Hamza Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence at the U.S. military prison in southern Cuba.

Within hours of the decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Australian convict David Hicks' lawyer announced that he would seek to have his client's guilty plea revoked and conditions of his release to Australia stricken. Attorney Stephen Kenny also said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Co. that he would pursue compensation for Hicks and an investigation of whether the Canberra government aided and abetted his wrongful imprisonment.

A kangaroo skinner who trained at an Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan before fleeing the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion, Hicks was arrested trying to cross into Pakistan and held at Guantanamo for six years. He was released to his homeland as part of his plea deal, which prohibits him from appealing his case or disclosing details of his experience for monetary gain.

Bahlul, a Yemeni like Hamdan, also was convicted at his uncontested 2008 trial of solicitation of murder in a recruiting video he produced for Al Qaeda. David Glazier, an international law professor at Loyola Law School, said legal scholars began speculating that the solicitation charge might be ruled beyond the commissions' jurisdiction after the same Washington appeals court that threw out material support as a legal charge canceled oral arguments in the Bahlul appeal just before it issued the Hamdan decision.

"There's been some discussion in the blogosphere about whether or not this means the end of conspiracy as well," said Glazier, who was a career Navy surface warfare officer before earning his law degree.

Only one of the seven Guantanamo convictions has involved crimes recognized as a violation of the international law of war: the murder, attempted murder and spying charges against Canadian Omar Ahmed Khadr, who was recently transferred to Canadian custody to serve out the six years left on his term.

Prosecutors at the military commissions have relied on material support and conspiracy to get convictions or plea bargains in the few completed cases, but Glazier argues that those "inchoate offenses" aren't considered war crimes under international law. Only after Congress passed the 2006 Military Commissions Act did the Guantanamo tribunal have jurisdiction to try suspects for those crimes, said the appeals court panel, which is made up entirely of Republican appointees.

J. Wells Dixon, senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has provided legal representation to hundreds of the nearly 800 men detained at Guantanamo since 2002, predicted that "conspiracy is the next military commissions charge on the chopping block."

"The Hamdan decision is significant because it is an illustration of the inherent problems in creating a second-rate system of justice that we make up as we go along," he said of the commissions, the original version of which was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2006, prompting a hurried redo, the Military Commissions Act, three months later.

Five "high-value detainees" facing death penalty trials for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been in the Guantanamo courtroom this week, bringing pretrial motions and theatrics to the forum.

In the first prosecution on charges widely accepted as war crimes, Army Col. James Pohl, the presiding judge, has been inundated with peripheral considerations, such as whether self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should be allowed to wear a camouflage hunter's vest in the courtroom to project a warrior image.

Pohl has also had to rule on whether mold and rodent infestation at the defense attorneys work space on the remote base compromises their ability to prepare for trial, and whether any mention of mistreatment during CIA interrogations risks revealing national security secrets.

"Regardless of the underlying conduct and the quality of evidence the government presents at trial, there is no certainty that those convictions will stand" federal civilian court review, Dixon said. "For the Obama administration to continue to pursue military commissions charges is a real gamble."


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Photo: Artist's sketch shows alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, right, speaking with a member of his legal team during a hearing at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Credit: Janet Hamlin


Radical cleric, 4 others extradited to U.S. for terrorism trials

Supporters of radical Muslim cleric protest ahead of his extradition
LONDON -- A radical Muslim cleric who applauded the Sept. 11 attacks and four other terrorism suspects were bundled onto U.S. government planes at a British military base early Saturday and extradited to the United States to face terrorism charges, a British official confirmed.

Abu Hamza Masri and four other terrorism suspects left RAF Mildenhall air base on two planes that had flown in from Washington and New York, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The extradition brought to a close a years-long legal battle waged by Masri to evade U.S. justice for allegedly trying to set up a training camp in Oregon for anti-U.S. insurgents to be sent to the fight in Afghanistan. Masri, who had called  during incendiary sermons at a London-area mosque for nonbelievers to be put to death, on Friday lost his final legal bid to avoid being shipped to the United States to face charges. He is also accused of taking part in kidnappings of Western tourists in Yemen.

"I am pleased the decision of the court today meant that these men, who used every available opportunity to frustrate and delay the extradition process over many years, could finally be removed," Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.

Abu Hamza MasriShe said Britain and the U.S. had "put plans in place so that tonight these men could be handed over within hours of the court's decision. It is right that these men, who are all accused of very serious offenses, will finally face justice."

Britain’s High Court rejected Masri’s last-minute petition to block his extradition on medical grounds. The judges said there was an “overwhelming public interest” in seeing the extradition carried out and that there was no reason the controversial imam could not find adequate treatment in the U.S. for his ailments, including depression and diabetes.

In addition to Masri, the judges cleared the way for four other terrorism suspects to be extradited, including two men accused of involvement in the deadly 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Masri, who has only one eye and uses metal hooks for hands, is notorious for his militant sermons. He exasperated the British and U.S. government for years with his continued appeals to British and European courts against being sent to the U.S.

In April, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, upheld previous rulings in favor of Masri’s extradition, a decision seen as an important victory for transatlantic relations and cooperation in counter-terrorism matters. Last month, the same court rejected Masri’s appeal to revisit the case.

After their defeat in the Strasbourg court, Masri’s lawyers filed a last-ditch appeal to Britain's High Court, pleading for extradition to be suspended because of their client’s deteriorating health. Masri was  in a British prison serving a seven-year sentence for inciting racial hatred when he was taken to the RAF base late Friday.


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Photo: Demonstrators protest Friday outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London against the extradition of five terrorism suspects to the United States. Radical cleric Abu Hamza Masri and the other four were flown from Britain early Saturday to the U.S. Credit: Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images

Insert: Abu Hamza Masri in 2003. Credit: Adrian Dennis / European Pressphoto Agency

Filipinos face 12 years in prison for online libel under new law


Filipinos who libel others on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere online could be jailed for up to 12 years under a law that went into effect Wednesday in the Philippines.

The new law against cyber-crime includes a disputed provision that imposes much steeper penalties for committing libel on the Internet than offline. It allows police to shut down websites and do some monitoring of email and online activity without a warrant.

Fears of an increasing government grip on online speech set off a firestorm this week among Filipinos, who have been dubbed some of the most avid users of social media in the world. Rights groups warn that existing libel laws are already vague enough for criticism of the government to be deemed criminal.

“The Philippines was considered a regional leader in Internet freedom,” said Sanja Kelly of the international rights group Freedom House. “This law puts it closer to more authoritarian states.” Even clicking "like" on an offending Facebook post could be construed as libel under the broadly written law, the rights group warned.

Internet freedom groups, journalists and bloggers in the Philippines blacked out their websites Wednesday in protest, calling the new law an unconstitutional trampling of free speech rights. Some took to the streets to protest. Several petitions have already been filed with the Supreme Court challenging the law.

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Europe tackles torture allegations that were swept aside in U.S.

European courts trying torture cases
When CIA agents nabbed an Egyptian cleric on the streets of Milan, Italy,  and whisked him off for interrogation in a country that turned a blind eye to torture, they violated international law and were justly sentenced to prison, Italy's highest court has ruled in a landmark case against the U.S. counter-terrorism tactic known as "extraordinary rendition."

GlobalFocusThe final judgment by Italy's Court of Cassation on Wednesday upheld the convictions of 23 American operatives for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. Their five- and seven-year prison terms meted out by a lower court three years ago were not only upheld but extended by two years, although it appeared unlikely that  any of the convicted U.S. operatives would be surrendered to serve their time.

Human rights advocates concede that  the legal judgment against rendition is mostly symbolic. Unless Italy seeks extradition -- something Washington has been fighting fiercely, leaked diplomatic cables suggest -- the only punishment the Americans are likely to face is the threat of arrest if they travel to Europe or nations elsewhere that might elect to fulfill commitments under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Despite the limited reach of the Italian court's decision, rights advocates have applauded the ruling as evidence that European courts are willing to bring to justice those who violate the law in the so-called war on terror, even though the U.S. government has declined to do so.

Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who brought the case against the Americans and a few Italian intelligence agents complicit in Nasr's abduction, declared that the high court ruling is a definitive judgment that rendition is "incompatible with democracy." He said a government decision on whether to seek extradition wouldn't be expected until the high court issues its full written opinion, which could take two to three more months.

The CIA did not respond to a call and email from The Times asking for comment on the Italian court ruling and whether the agency is advising the convicted Americans against foreign travel.

The United States has an extradition treaty with Italy, and any request for Washington to deliver the Americans to serve their prison terms would be difficult for the U.S. government to ignore, said former Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo Bay war-crimes tribunal who was forced to retire after criticizing U.S. handling of terrorism suspects.

"If the Italians were to submit an extradition request, there would be no legal basis for us not to comply," Davis said. "I’m sure there’ll be a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic wrangling on the Italian government not to submit the request."

The Italian case isn't the only one threatening to spotlight legal breaches by American agents since Sept. 11, Davis said. He pointed out that most of the legal actions abroad in defiance of the Obama administration's decision to "look forward, not back" on counter-terrorism excesses are coming from allied countries, "not Iran or Cuba or Venezuela."

Abu Omar insertA Spanish judge in 2009 ordered an investigation of torture allegations at Guantanamo Bay. Polish authorities are demanding full disclosure of the former government's complicity in CIA detention and interrogation of rendition subjects at a remote secret prison there. The British government has paid compensation to citizens and legal residents released after abusive CIA interrogations, including plaintiffs whose cases were thrown out of U.S. courts when the George W.  Bush and Obama administrations claimed that to try them would expose "state secrets." In Canada, the government has apologized to and compensated Maher Arar, a citizen nabbed by U.S. agents while traveling home from Tunisia in 2002 and sent to Syria for "enhanced interrogation."

Nasr, an Egyptian-born imam, was suspected of recruiting men from his Milan mosque to fight U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the impetus for his Feb. 17, 2003, abduction and delivery to a secret interrogation site in his homeland. He said he was beaten, bound and blindfolded for months in a cold cell and subjected to electrical shocks to his genitals while being questioned.

A lower Italian court found the 23 Americans guilty in 2009 and sentenced former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady to seven years in prison and the others to five years' detention. The high court stiffened those sentences by two years and sent back to the lower court several cases against Italian agents involved in the Nasr rendition that had been dismissed on immunity claims.

While the Italian judiciary, like that of the United States, has no power to enforce its rulings if the government fails to request extradition, the rendition judgment serves a powerful symbolic purpose in branding those who would violate laws against torture as criminals, said Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program of the American Civil Liberties Union. He pointed out an array of other legal challenges to rendition and warrantless detention brought by former terrorism suspects that are making their way through foreign and multinational courts.

The Italian ruling this week, Dakwar said, "sent a strong message that if the United States fails to hold accountable its own officials for human rights violations that European countries will do so."


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Photo: A police officer stands guard at the Milan trial of 23 Americans involved in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian cleric. European and international courts are prosecuting cases of alleged torture of terrorism suspects despite the U.S. government's policy against exposing its counter-terrorism practices to the judgment of the courts. Credit: Giuseppe Cacace / AFP/Getty Images

Insert: Egyptian-born cleric  Hassan Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, says he was kidnapped in Milan and tortured in an Egyptian prison. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press

After South Africa police shot miners, miners charged with murder


Two weeks after dozens of striking miners were shot dead by police in a bloody incident that shocked South Africans, state prosecutors have filed charges -- against fellow miners.

Authorities charged 270 miners with murder in the slayings of 34 colleagues under a controversial law often used under apartheid, South African media reported Thursday.

“It's the police who were shooting, but they were under attack by the protesters, who were armed, so today the 270 accused are charged with the murders” of those who were shot, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Frank Lesenyego told the Associated Press.

The decision outraged many South Africans, who argued the law was being abused for political purposes. “Even if it was true that the miners provoked the police, this could never, ever, make them liable for the killing of their comrades,” University of Cape Town constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos wrote, calling the decision bizarre, shocking and shameful.

The charges lodged by prosecutors are so dubious that they are plainly political, he said. “They have acted with fear, favor and prejudice to advance some or another political agenda, further eroding the little trust South Africans might still have left in them,” De Vos concluded.

South African police have argued that they had no choice but to fire on the charging armed miners at the Lonmin platinum mine after lesser measures, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, failed to disperse them. The protesting miners had walked off the job to demand higher wages.

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