Judiciary Lebanon

Lebanon judiciary can handle Beirut explosion probe: Minister – Al Jazeera English

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem says there is ample reason to distrust Lebanon’s judiciary, but last week’s Beirut explosion is a “chance” for this vital institution to earn public trust by holding those responsible accountable.

Many have cast doubt on the ability of the country’s weak judicial authorities to carry out a full and transparent investigation into the devastating explosion that killed more than 170 people and wounded some 6,000 others. Dozens are still missing.

“Much of the criticism is warranted due to the slow pace of work and some politicisation, but this case is a chance for the Lebanese judiciary to prove they can do their jobs and win back the confidence of the people,” Najem told Al Jazeera.

Public pressure and the international coverage of the explosion would also likely push matters in the right direction, she said.

“It’s going to be hard for them to do things like they were done in the past.”

The 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that blew up on August 4 were kept at Beirut’s port for nearly seven years with the eventual knowledge of many top political and security officials – yet nothing was done to prevent such a disaster from happening.

Those who have called for an international investigation include French President Emmanuel Macron and prominent rights groups, as well as many survivors and relatives of the victims.

“We’re not in a position today that allows us to give a chance to the judiciary,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of research, told Al Jazeera.

“When you look at the judiciary’s track record in the past with regards to justice in general and all the grave violations the Lebanese people have endured, there’s just no trust with something of this magnitude.”

Najem countered: “My starting point is always the Lebanese judiciary because I don’t want to create a system where every time there is an important issue I go to the international. We can use international experts but my role is to try to improve the judiciary here.”

Investigation ‘already internationalised’

Najem said the investigation had already brought in international experts, notably French police officers and forensic specialists, to investigate the site of the explosion.

Marie-Claude Najem

Marie-Claude Najem [File: Reuters]

The involvement of the French public prosecution was due to the existence of French casualties, she said, giving the investigation an international angle. French Ambassador Bruno Foucher, in a tweet, went as far as calling the French involvement “a guarantee of impartiality in the investigations and of speed”.

Investigations initially proceeded under the military court, and 19 people were arrested including the current and former customs chiefs and the head of the Beirut port authority.

The judiciary is due to interrogate four former public works ministers – nominally in charge of overseeing the port – on Friday.

Debris and damaged vehicles are seen in the port area, after a blast in Beirut, Lebanon August 11, 2src2src. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Debris and damaged vehicles are seen in the port area, after a blast in Beirut, Lebanon [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

In its last session before Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced its resignation on Monday, the cabinet referred the investigation to the judicial council.

The council is the highest court in Lebanon, reserved for cases deemed to affect national security, such as the assassination of former president-elect Bashir Gemayel during the country’s 1975-90 civil war.

Maalouf said the court “lacks transparency and the ability to follow the judicial process”.

While Najem had proposed a name for a judicial investigator at the council who would take over the investigation once appointed, the country’s Higher Defence Council turned down her choice on Wednesday, without publicly providing an explanation.

At the time of publishing, no investigator had yet been selected.

Allocating responsibility

Najem said there were two forms of responsibility in the case, political and legal.

“We carried out our political responsibility by resigning,” she said. “The legal responsibility is to show who should have done something about it, who was supposed to stop it, rather than who knew about it.”

Her ministry was informed of the presence of the ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port on July 27 – just over a week before the explosion took place. But Najem said she was not responsible – her ministry was not concerned with the matter given that there was a case related to the dangerous cargo already in Lebanon’s courts.

“It is not within my powers to interfere,” she said.

Najem added that she understood that people wanted more than accountability; that they wanted revenge from top officials who knew the highly explosive material – used in bombs and fertilisers – was there for so many years but failed to act.

But she said energy should be focused on first holding people legally accountable, then changing the country’s byzantine bureaucracy, public administration – and eventually the political system that enables such disasters to occur.

“To where this case will eventually go, no one can know,” she said. “The only thing I can say today, as minister of justice, is that I want justice to be done. I want the truth to be told to the Lebanese people and I want the people responsible to pay for it.

“Not out of revenge, but legally speaking – just like in any other country in the world.”

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Judiciary Senate

Senate Judiciary hearing on race and policing practices amid civil unrest – Reuters



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The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing to examine issues involving race and policing practices raised by the death of George Floyd and the civil unrest that has swept the U.S.


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House Judiciary

House Judiciary Dems file brief in Flynn case, accuse DOJ of ‘corruption’ in dropping charges – Fox News

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee jumped into the Michael Flynn case Wednesday, filing an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief arguing for why Judge Emmet Sullivan should not sign off on the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case.

The committee claimed that the DOJ’s decision had signs of “corruption” and was influenced by President Trump. The brief cited the case against former Trump associate Roger Stone and the Mueller report as evidence for why further examination of the department’s action was needed.


“Few things are more corrosive to the rule of law — and the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system — than the injection of partisanship, favoritism or corruption into prosecutorial decisions,” the brief said. “In this case, the impropriety is barely concealed.”

The court filing followed another brief by retired Judge John Gleeson, who Sullivan appointed to file a brief on the issue. Both briefs cited language in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that says case dismissals may be requested “by leave of court” in claiming that not only was judicial oversight of the DOJ’s motion permitted, but necessary.

“When considered in light of the well-established supervisory role of federal courts, the history of Rule 48(a)’s enactment powerfully demonstrates that Rule 48(a) contemplates a role for the federal judiciary in detecting — and preventing — politically motivated dismissals of criminal charges,” the Democrats argued.

They went on to claim that Attorney General Bill Barr’s history makes review of the motion an even greater importance. They cited Barr’s summary of the Mueller report that Democrats said “clearly minimized the Special Counsel’s findings about the president and his associates,” the decision to reverse course regarding the DOJ’s sentencing recommendation for Trump adviser Roger Stone and Barr’s failure to testify before them to address these matters.


“And, here, the need for judicial oversight is even more pronounced because Attorney General Barr has stonewalled congressional oversight at every turn,” the brief said, “depriving the House Judiciary Committee of any opportunity to question Barr about his mischaracterization of the Mueller Report, his role in the sentencing of Roger Stone, or the policies he has put in place to facilitate the improper politicization of prosecutorial decisionmaking.”

The committee referenced Trump’s statements in support of Stone prior to the DOJ’s change in sentencing recommendations and in support of Flynn prior to the motion to dismiss as evidence that the DOJ’s decision was politically influenced.

“The Department’s decision to request dismissal of this case is thus the latest in a series of decisions that ‘represent a systemic breakdown of impartial justice at the Department of Justice and suggest overt political bias, including corruption,’” they said.

Still, they recognized the possibility that there was nothing wrong with the motion to dismiss, and called for a hearing so the judge could take a closer look.


“There may be a perfectly legitimate explanation for the government’s change of heart. But the facts currently available to the public, the Committee, and this Court evoke corruption,” they concluded. “Without an evidentiary hearing, this Court — and the American people — can only speculate about the true reasons underlying the department’s decision.”

The DOJ moved to dismiss the case against Flynn — Trump’s first national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI before trying to withdraw that plea — claiming the FBI interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”

The motion to dismiss came after unsealed FBI notes revealed that there had been a question regarding what the purpose of Flynn’s interview was: whether the aim was to find out the truth or to get him to lie and thus subject him to being prosecuted or fired. Flynn ended up facing charges and being terminated from the NSA job.

“General Flynn was set up by the Comey cabal,” a Republican spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee said in a statement in response to the brief. “It’s amazing how House Democrats, who were once so concerned about civil liberties, are willing to ignore their principles for sake of their obsession with removing President Trump from office and destroying the lives of his associates.”

In a tweet following the filing of the brief, Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., accused Barr of politicizing the Justice Department and called the motion to dismiss “flagrant in its injustice.”

Fox News reached out to the Justice Department for comment, but they did not immediately respond.

In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, though, Barr claimed that Sullivan was encroaching on the Justice Department’s authority.


“The argument is that it’s always been understood that decisions whether to pursue an individual through the prosecution process or holding them criminally accountable is vested in the executive branch and not the courts,” Barr said. “And he is essentially, in our view, trying to set himself up as an alternative prosecutor.”


Before any evidentiary hearing takes place, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Friday over whether Sullivan can refuse to grant the motion. Flynn asked the Circuit Court for a writ of mandamus – in which the higher court orders the lower court judge to fulfill their duties – that would force Sullivan to grant the dismissal.

Sullivan said in a court filing that mandamus is inappropriate at this stage because there remains the possibility he could still dismiss the case on his own.

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