Supreme Court weighs federal habeas rights of US citizens held by military in Iraq

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in the consolidated cases of Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1666, and 07-394, where the Court is considering whether federal courts have jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed by American citizens detained by US military personnel operating under a multinational force. The cases also present the issue of whether a federal court would have jurisdiction over a habeas petition filed by an American citizen if a foreign court convicted the citizen of a crime, but the citizen is still in the physical custody of American authorities. Mohammad Munaf [JURIST news archive] was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in April 2007 that it lacked authority to interfere [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] with the Iraqi court case. Two months earlier, however, the same court ruled that Shawqi Omar [JURIST news archive], arrested for allegedly harboring insurgents in Iraq, has a right to argue his case in US courts. The appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi courts [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. Earlier this month, Munaf's conviction was overturned [JURIST report] by an Iraqi appeals court. Lawyers for the detainees argued that because they are in US custody, they should have access to US courts, but several justices seemed to reject that argument, noting that could lead to any Multi-National Force-Iraq detainee challenging their arrest in US courts. AP has more.

The Court also heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] in United States v. Ressam [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-455, where "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam is challenging his conviction under 18 USC § 844(h)(2) [text], which authorizes a mandatory minimum ten year jail term for anyone carrying explosives while committing a felony. In Ressam's case, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the count [PDF opinion] as the underlying felony - lying on customs papers - was not related to the explosives charge. Ressam has been sentenced to 22 years in prison [JURIST report] for plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999. US Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued the case on behalf of the government. AP has more.

ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: No Refuge from Habeas: Protecting US Citizens Held by US Forces | Comment: Oral arguments in Munaf and Omar

 

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