Egyptians Act to Stop Torture, Find Justice for Khaled Said

[Update: The trial has been postponed once again to Oct. 23.]

After a two-month postponement, an important trial in Egypt is scheduled to go back into session, and Amnesty International will watch it closely to see  whether the judicial system there is ready to keep its police and security officials accountable for their actions.

The trial of two police officers accused of beating to death of a man outside an Alexandria internet café in June was discussed in an earlier blog posting here.

The officers are not accused of murder but with lesser charges. Amnesty has called upon Egyptian officials place measures to protect witnesses in the case.  But in similar situations in the past, no charges would have been filed at all. We believe the fact that the trial is being held at all is because of the great groundswell of public interest in the case.

Throughout Egypt, particularly in Alexandra and Cairo, large demonstrations have pressed authorities to pursue this case.  A new Amnesty video released this week before the trial explores why people believe this case is so important.

American officials are also watching.  Torture and death in custody has always been a significant part of the annual State Department Human Rights report on Egypt, and the last congressional delegation to meet with government officials raised the issue.  But frankly, it’s not the U.S. that is making the difference this time.

The video tells the story of why Egyptian people are demanding that the judicial authorities fulfill their obligations for justice and why Khaled Said will not be forgotten. They’ve made their leaders listen. Our support for them will show we are listening as well.

Courts Ignore Secret Affair in TX Death Penalty Case

EqJustUnderLawIn the context of the Troy Davis case, I’ve written quite a bit about how the US Supreme Court, so far, as avoided taking a definitive position on whether it’s constitutional to execute someone who can establish his innocence.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined an opportunity to decide whether a sexual affair between a judge and prosecutor resulted in an unfair trial for the defendant. 

Both of these questions ought to be no-brainers.  No, you should never execute people who have established their innocence; and yes, a judge-prosecutor romance should lead to a new trial for the defendant.  But for Charles Dean Hood, whose case the high Court brushed off yesterday, no new trial will be forthcoming.  He will remain on death row in Texas, awaiting a re-sentencing hearing on an unrelated issue.

In response, former Texas Governor Mark White, and former FBI director William Sessions, both of whom now work for criminal justice reforms with the Constitution Project, admonished the Court for its “indifference to such paramount injustice” and said:

“The relationship between the judge and prosecutor in this case breached every standard of fairness that we rightfully expect from our country’s criminal justice system, casting grave doubt on the impartiality of the trial in this case and tarnishing the reputation of the judiciary and our criminal justice system as a whole.”

A criminal justice system is only effective when the public has faith in its fairness and accuracy.  The failure of the courts in this case to address a blatantly obvious injustice can only shake public confidence in our system’s ability to be fair and get things right.  This is bad for all of us.  Our courts need to step up to the plate and hear these fundamental questions, instead of continually passing them off until they disappear.

Texas Death Sentence Overturned; Judge-Prosecutor Affair Overlooked

Back on September 16, 2009, the day before the 222nd anniversary of the US Constitution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) chose NOT to decide whether Texas death row inmate Charles Dean Hood was denied a fair trial because the judge and prosecutor in his case were sleeping together.  The court avoided taking any responsibility for this embarrassing question by ruling that Mr. Hood should have raised that particular issue earlier, even though he couldn’t – the affair wasn’t confirmed until June of 2008. 

Mr. Hood’s execution had nonetheless been postponed because of a separate issue, a claim that the jury did not properly hear mitigating evidence about his harsh childhood that might have led them to vote for a sentence other than death.  And it was on this considerably less sexy claim that the TCCA today threw out his death sentence and ruled that Charles Dean Hood should get another sentencing hearing. 

Today’s ruling contradicts a decision the TCCA made on the same issue in 2007, when they rejected a new sentencing trial.  And it once again evades the larger question:  Did the judge and prosecutor’s sexual relationship compromise Mr. Hood’s right to a fair trial?   Isn’t this affair an “obvious and outrageous constitutional violation” (as Andrea Keilen of the Texas Defender Service put it)?  A petition on THAT question is now before the US Supreme Court, supported by an impressive array of former judges and prosecutors, including a former Texas Governor.

Iraq: 128 Executions Planned

On Monday, March 9, the Iraqi government announced to Amnesty International that 128 death sentences have been ratified, and that executions would commence soon at the rate of 20 per week.  Exactly who these 128 people are, what crimes they have been condemned for, or how imminent these executions are is not known.  It is also now known how many of these prisoners facing execution might have been transferred to Iraqi authorities from US custody following the Status of Forces Agreement that came into effect at the beginning of this year.

What is known is that Iraqi trials do not always conform to international fair trial standards.

Ironically, a moratorium on executions was in place in Iraq while it was under US occupation, but that came to an end in August of 2004.  It is not known how many executions have taken place since then (at least 65 in 2006, at least 33 in 2007 and at least 34 in 2008).  By any measure, 128 executions, or 20 executions a week, would be a disturbing demonstration of enthusiasm for state killing in a country trying to recover from years of violent upheaval.

Please urge Iraqi authorities to commute these death sentences and reinstate the moratorium on executions.