Federal judges may not exert the power of the US courts to
prevent the American military in Iraq from turning a US citizen over
to Iraqi courts for criminal prosecution.
In a 9-to-0 decision announced on Thursday, the US Supreme Court
ruled against two American citizens seeking to prevent their
prosecution in Iraqi courts for alleged crimes.
The high court said that even though American citizens enjoy a
constitutional right to test the legality of their detention before
a neutral judge, American judges do not have jurisdiction to hear
such habeas corpus petitions when the detention takes place overseas
at the request of a sovereign country.
"Those who commit crimes within a sovereign's territory may be
transferred to that sovereign's government for prosecution," wrote
Chief Justice John Roberts for the court.
The ruling comes in two consolidated cases of US citizens accused
of involvement in separate plots to kidnap and ransom foreigners in
Iraq. Both say they are innocent.
In one case, Munaf v. Geren, the US citizen-detainee was turned
over to Iraqi authorities and convicted. In the other, Geren v.
Omar, a federal judge ordered US forces not to turn the American
over for trial.
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., later ruled that the
federal courts retained jurisdiction over the American who had not
yet been tried by the Iraqis. But the same appeals court ruled that
it had no jurisdiction to consider the case of the citizen-detainee
who had already been tried and convicted by the Iraqis.
In its ruling on Thursday, the high court said both habeas corpus
petitions should have been promptly dismissed.
"Petitioners concede that Iraq has a sovereign right to prosecute
them for alleged violations of its law. Yet they went to federal
court seeking an order that would allow them to defeat precisely
that sovereign authority," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "Habeas
corpus does not require the United States to shelter such fugitives
from the criminal justice system of the sovereign with authority to
Government lawyers had argued that the two men were trying to use
the US court system to avoid being held accountable in the Iraqi
courts for their alleged crimes.
The two men are Mohammad Munaf and Shawqi Omar.
Mr. Munaf is a dual US-Iraqi citizen. He is suspected of plotting
with Iraqi gunmen who kidnapped and ransomed three Romanian
journalists in March 2005. Munaf had been hired by the journalists
as a translator and guide.
The journalists were eventually released. But Munaf was detained
and questioned by the US military. He was held in open-ended
detention without charge in an American military prison in Baghdad.
Lawyers working on Munaf's behalf filed a habeas corpus petition
with a federal judge in Washington. In response, US officials turned
Munaf over to Iraqi authorities.
Munaf's lawyers complained that as a Sunni Muslim, their client
might face torture at the hands of Iraqi investigators working to
obtain a confession.
According to the government's brief in the case, "Munaf admitted
on camera, in writing, and in front of the Iraqi investigative court
that he participated as an accomplice in the kidnapping for profit
of the Romanian journalists."
But the brief also notes that Munaf recanted his confession at
trial, saying the statements had been coerced. …