By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 7, 2007
A federal appeals court in Washington ruled yesterday that U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction to intervene in the case of a U.S. citizen who was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to death in an Iraqi criminal court, deciding that prior case law prevents the judges from hearing a petition challenging his detention.
Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss the case of Mohammad Munaf, who has been in U.S. custody in Iraq since May 23, 2005. Munaf had asked U.S. courts to review the nature of his incarceration, via a habeas corpus petition, but the three judges unanimously decided that his conviction in a foreign court precludes them from stepping in.
"American citizenship cannot displace the fact of a criminal conviction in a non-United States court and permit the district court to exercise jurisdiction over Munaf's habeas petition," Judge David B. Sentelle wrote for the panel, concluding that U.S. courts have "no power or authority to hear this case."
Munaf was arrested during a military raid to rescue a group of Romanian journalists kidnapped while on assignment near Baghdad in 2005. U.S. officials alleged that Munaf, who was escorting the journalists on a reporting trip through Iraq, posed as a kidnapping victim in support of a ransom conspiracy, and that Munaf allegedly confessed to elements of the crime, according to court papers. Munaf, 53, is an Iraqi native who was granted U.S. citizenship in 2000 and moved to Romania in 2001 with his wife and three children.
Though Munaf was taken into U.S. custody, he was tried in Iraq's Central Criminal Court and was convicted of kidnapping. The same court sentenced him to death, prompting his lawyers to file petitions in U.S. courts to prevent his transfer to the Iraqi government.
Aziz Huq, a lawyer at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice who represents Munaf, said lawyers will appeal yesterday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Huq argued that the opinion "cries out for Supreme Court review" because it relies on case law from World War II that, the judges wrote, uses "less than compelling" logic.
"So long as you are a U.S. citizen and are being held by a U.S. entity, you should be able to have your case heard," Huq said.