Scottish court upholds Libyan Lockerbie bomber’s conviction

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – A Scottish court rejected on Friday an appeal to overturn the conviction of a now-deceased Libyan man found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing which killed 270 people.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, an intelligence officer who died in 2012, was jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents of the Scottish town in the deadliest militant attack in British history.

In March, an independent Scottish review ruled that his family could launch a third appeal due to a possible miscarriage of justice. But on Friday, five judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland rejected that.

“The bombing of Pan Am 103 is, to this day, the deadliest terrorist attack on UK soil and the largest homicide case Scotland’s prosecutors have ever encountered in terms of scale and of complexity,” said Lord Advocate James Wolffe, Scotland’s chief legal officer.

“The evidence gathered by Scottish, U.S. and international law enforcement agencies has again been tested in the Appeal Court and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi stands.”

Megrahi’s son Ali said the family were heartbroken and planned to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, their lawyer Aamer Anwar said. “He maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya,” Anwar said.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988 en route from London to New York, carrying mostly Americans on their way home for Christmas.

After years of wrangling and sanctions against Libya, Megrahi and a second man Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima went on trial before Scottish judges at a special court in the Netherlands.

Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum 27 years, while Fahima was found not guilty.

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Megrahi, who denied involvement in the attack, died in Libya in 2012 after being released three years earlier by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds due to prostate cancer.

Former leader Muammar Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and paid compensation to families, but did not admit personally ordering it.

However, Megrahi’s family and some relatives of the Scottish victims have always doubted his guilt and Libya’s responsibility, and say the truth has yet to come out.

At hearings in November, the family’s lawyers argued his conviction had rested on flawed evidence, saying prosecutors had failed to prove a link between clothing in the suitcase carrying the bomb and Megrahi.

Last month, the United States unsealed criminal charges against a third alleged conspirator Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former senior Libyan intelligence official currently in Libyan custody.

The Justice Department accuses Masud of carrying the bomb from Libya to Malta in a suitcase and setting its timer.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by William James and Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. appeals court deals blow to Democrats’ bid to get testimony from ex-White House lawyer McGahn

By Jan Wolfe

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday, in a victory for the Trump administration, ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a Democratic-led House of Representatives panel seeking to enforce a subpoena issued to former White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

In a 2-1 decision likely to be appealed, a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the House Judiciary Committee’s lawsuit had to be dismissed because Congress had never passed a law authorizing such litigation.

“Because the Committee lacks a cause of action to enforce its subpoena, this lawsuit must be dismissed,” Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith wrote for the majority.

The committee had sought testimony from McGahn, who left his post in October 2018, about President Donald Trump’s efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that documented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

McGahn declined to testify before the committee after the Justice Department advised him to defy the subpoena. The Trump administration has sought to block congressional investigations into the president.

“We note that this decision does not preclude Congress (or one of its chambers) from ever enforcing a subpoena in federal court; it simply precludes it from doing so without first enacting a statute authorizing such a suit,” Griffith added.

The ruling did not address an argument by the Trump administration that senior presidential advisers could not be forced to testify to Congress about official acts.

A House Judiciary Committee spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit to force McGahn to testify has bounced around in the courts for a year.

On Aug. 7, a larger panel of D.C. Circuit judges ruled that the House panel had “standing” to sue, but sent the case back to a three-judge panel to address other issues.

Under U.S. law, standing is just one requirement for filing a lawsuit. A litigant must also point to a “cause of action,” or recognized legal theory.

Monday’s decision could still be reheard by a larger panel of D.C. Circuit judges, or appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Federal prosecutors to fight Boston Marathon bomber’s appeal

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a memorial for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath near the race's finish line, on the second day of jury selection in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston, Massachusetts January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

BOSTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Thursday will urge a federal appeals court to uphold Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s conviction and death penalty sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file a brief urging the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to reject Tsarnaev’s arguments that he was deprived of a fair trial when a judge declined to move the case out of the city rocked by one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Their arguments are due by midnight EDT (0400 GMT Friday).

Defense lawyers in a brief filed in December acknowledged that their client, then 19, carried out the April 15, 2013, attack along with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a gunbattle with police days later.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant that nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included “heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families.”

Many victims of the blasts at the packed finished line of the race lost legs.

Defense lawyers said U.S. District Judge George O’Toole also ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defense from telling jurors about Tsarnaev’s brother’s ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, they said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, “an angry and violent man” who had embraced radical Islam.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 25, is a prisoner in the federal “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado.

Prosecutors in a filing earlier this month previewing their opposition brief said they planned to argue that Tsarnaev’s right to a fair trial was not violated.

A federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The bombing killed three people: Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell. Tsarnaev shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26.

A park dedicated to Richard’s memory opened this month on the Boston waterfront.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)

Boston Marathon bomber appeals conviction, death sentence

FILE PHOTO: People hold candles during a vigil at the Town Common in Wilmington, Massachusetts, April 20, 2013. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – Lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Thursday asked an appellate court to overturn his conviction and death penalty sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev, 25, argued in a brief filed with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that a lower-court judge’s refusal to move the case to another city not traumatized by the bombings deprived him of a fair trial.

FILE PHOTO: A photograph of Djohar Tsarnaev, who is believed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, is seen on his page of Russian social networking site Vkontakte (VK), as pictured on a monitor in St. Petersburg April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

FILE PHOTO: A photograph of Djohar Tsarnaev, who is believed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, is seen on his page of Russian social networking site Vkontakte (VK), as pictured on a monitor in St. Petersburg April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

The attorneys acknowledged that their client, then 19, carried out the attack along with his now-deceased 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant that nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included “heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families.”

“The pre-trial publicity was damning: the more a prospective juror had seen, the more likely she was to believe that Tsarnaev was guilty and deserved the death penalty,” Tsarnaev’s lawyers wrote in a 500-page brief.

They said U.S. District Judge George O’Toole also ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defense from telling jurors about Tsarnaev’s brother’s ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, they said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, “an angry and violent man” who had embraced radical Islam.

The appeal came after a federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race on April 15, 2013, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The same jury later found that Tsarnaev deserved execution for six of the 17 capital charges of which he was found guilty, which were related to the bomb he personally placed at the marathon’s finish line.

That bomb killed 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest fatality, and 23-year-old Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu. The bombing was one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with police four days after the bombing, which ended when Tsarnaev ran him over with a stolen car.

The manhunt for Tsarnaev ended when he was found hiding in a boat dry-docked in Watertown, Massachusetts.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown)

U.S. pastor appeals for release, lifting of travel ban: lawyer

FILE PHOTO: U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir, Turkey July 25, 2018. Demiroren News Agency, DHA via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Christian American pastor standing trial in Turkey on terrorism charges has appealed to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban, his lawyer told Reuters on Monday.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have spiraled into a full-blown crisis over the trial of pastor Andrew Brunson, who was in custody for 21 months in a Turkish prison until he was transferred to house arrest last week.

President Donald Trump last week threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey unless it frees Brunson, who is accused of helping the group Ankara says was behind a failed military coup in 2016. Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty of the charges, which he denies.

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo

The appeal document seen by Reuters said although Brunson was freed from jail, the pastor was still deprived of his freedom and was unable to return to his normal life and carry out his religious duties.

Brunson’s lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said it would take the Turkish court in Aegean province of Izmir, where Brunson stood trial, three to seven days to make a decision on the appeal request.

His next hearing as part of the trial is scheduled for October.

Brunson was accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in which 250 people were killed. He was also charged with supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.

Gulen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Speaking to reporters during his trip to South Africa, Erdogan said Turkey would stand its ground in the face of Trump’s sanctions threat.

It was not clear what would be the nature of sanctions threatened by Trump but Washington was already working on bills related to Turkey.

The U.S. Senate has demanded a block on sales of F-35 jets to Turkey unless Trump certifies that Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. citizens.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams)

Facebook releases long-secret rule book on how it polices the service

FILE PHOTO: A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person's eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By David Ingram

MENLO PARK, Calif. (Reuters) – Facebook Inc on Tuesday released a rule book for the types of posts it allows on its social network, giving far more detail than ever before on what is permitted on subjects ranging from drug use and sex work to bullying, hate speech and inciting violence.

Facebook for years has had “community standards” for what people can post. But only a relatively brief and general version was publicly available, while it had a far more detailed internal document to decide when individual posts or accounts should be removed.

Now, the company is providing the longer document on its website to clear up confusion and be more open about its operations, said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of product policy and counter-terrorism.

“You should, when you come to Facebook, understand where we draw these lines and what’s OK and what’s not OK,” Bickert told reporters in a briefing at Facebook’s headquarters.

Facebook has faced fierce criticism from governments and rights groups in many countries for failing to do enough to stem hate speech and prevent the service from being used to promote terrorism, stir sectarian violence and broadcast acts including murder and suicide.

At the same time, the company has also been accused of doing the bidding of repressive regimes by aggressively removing content that crosses governments and providing too little information on why certain posts and accounts are removed.

New policies will, for the first time, allow people to appeal a decision to take down an individual piece of content. Previously, only the removal of accounts, Groups and Pages could be appealed.

Facebook is also beginning to provide the specific reason why content is being taken down for a wider variety of situations.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has become a dominant source of information in many countries around the world. It uses both automated software and an army of moderators that now numbers 7,500 to take down text, pictures and videos that violate its rules. Under pressure from several governments, it has been beefing up its moderator ranks since last year.

Bickert told Reuters in an interview that the standards are constantly evolving, based in part on feedback from more than 100 outside organizations and experts in areas such as counter-terrorism and child exploitation.

“Everybody should expect that these will be updated frequently,” she said.

The company considers changes to its content policy every two weeks at a meeting called the “Content Standards Forum,” led by Bickert. A small group of reporters was allowed to observe the meeting last week on the condition that they could describe process, but not substance.

At the April 17 meeting, about 25 employees sat around a conference table while others joined by video from New York, Dublin, Mexico City, Washington and elsewhere.

Attendees included people who specialize in public policy, legal matters, product development, communication and other areas. They heard reports from smaller working groups, relayed feedback they had gotten from civil rights groups and other outsiders and suggested ways that a policy or product could go wrong in the future. There was little mention of what competitors such as Alphabet Inc’s Google do in similar situations.

Bickert, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, posed questions, provided background and kept the discussion moving. The meeting lasted about an hour.

Facebook is planning a series of public forums in May and June in different countries to get more feedback on its rules, said Mary deBree, Facebook’s head of content policy.

FROM CURSING TO MURDER

The longer version of the community standards document, some 8,000 words long, covers a wide array of words and images that Facebook sometimes censors, with detailed discussion of each category.

Videos of people wounded by cannibalism are not permitted, for instance, but such imagery is allowed with a warning screen if it is “in a medical setting.”

Facebook has long made clear that it does not allow people to buy and sell prescription drugs, marijuana or firearms on the social network, but the newly published document details what other speech on those subjects is permitted.

Content in which someone “admits to personal use of non-medical drugs” should not be posted on Facebook, the rule book says.

The document elaborates on harassment and bullying, barring for example “cursing at a minor.” It also prohibits content that comes from a hacked source, “except in limited cases of newsworthiness.”

The new community standards do not incorporate separate procedures under which governments can demand the removal of content that violates local law.

In those cases, Bickert said, formal written requests are required and are reviewed by Facebook’s legal team and outside attorneys. Content deemed to be permissible under community standards but in violation of local law – such as a prohibition in Thailand on disparaging the royal family – are then blocked in that country, but not globally.

The community standards also do not address false information – Facebook does not prohibit it but it does try to reduce its distribution – or other contentious issues such as use of personal data.

(Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Jonathan Weber in Singapore; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Neil Fullick)