American in Iraq looks to Supreme Court
WASHINGTON – Lawyers for an American citizen facing a death sentence in Iraq said Friday they will ask the Supreme Court to review the man’s case.U.S. courts have “no power or authority” to step in now that Muhammad Munaf has been convicted by an Iraqi criminal court for a role in the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, a federal appeals court ruled.The appeals court noted that Munaf is held in Iraq by U.S. military personnel, but added that they are part of a multinational force authorized by the U.N. Security Council in coordination with the Iraqi government.However, the three-member appeals panel said that recent Supreme Court rulings “are grounds for questioning” the appeals court’s decision.Munaf’s lawyer, Joseph Margulies, pointed to that language in saying he will ask the Supreme Court to take the case.In October, Iraqi-born Munaf was convicted and sentenced to death by an Iraqi judge. Munaf claimed his trial was flawed and his confession coerced.A naturalized U.S. citizen for seven years, Munaf was working as a translator and guide for the three Romanian journalists abducted in 2005. The Romanian government had alleged that Munaf assisted in the March 2005 kidnapping. Munaf’s attorneys said he was held with the three journalists for 55 days before they were released. The Romanian Embassy turned Munaf over to U.S. authorities in Baghdad.”The suggestion that a U.S. citizen can be detained indefinitely by U.S. soldiers at a U.S. prison in Iraq, with no access to a U.S. court, is chilling,” said Margulies. “We agree with the court of appeals that the Supreme Court has to take this case to ensure that the U.S. government cannot secrete U.S. citizens in prisons beyond the law.”The appeals court said it was constrained by a 59-year-old Supreme Court precedent. Japanese citizens held in Japan were unsuccessful in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to review their trial by a military tribunal authorized by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander for the occupying allied powers. At the time, the justices said they were unable to step in because the sentencing tribunal was not a tribunal of the United States.”We are not free to disregard” the Supreme Court precedent from 1948 “simply because we may find its logic less than compelling,” the appeals court said in the Munaf case. Supreme Court rulings granting detainees at Guantanamo Bay access to U.S. courts are grounds for questioning the “continued vitality” of the 1948 ruling, the appeals court added.In February, a different three-judge panel of the same appeals court blocked the Pentagon from transferring another American citizen, Shawqi Omar, to an Iraqi court to face charges he supported terrorists and insurgents. Unlike Munaf, Omar has not been convicted of a crime.The appeals court ruling follows Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court to refrain for now from stepping into the controversy over the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.