[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Thursday in the consolidated cases of Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report] that federal courts have jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed by American citizens detained abroad by US military personnel, even if the military is operating under a multinational force. Although the Court found such a right exists, it rejected the appeals of two Americans held in US custody in Iraq who had sought to use US courts to challenge their foreign convictions, holding that:
Munaf and Omar are alleged to have committed hostile and warlike acts within the sovereign territory of Iraq during ongoing hostilities there. Pending their criminal prosecution for those offenses, Munaf and Omar are being held in Iraq by American forces operating pursuant to a UN Mandate and at the request of the Iraqi Government. 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. Habeas corpus does not require the United States to shelter such fugitives from the criminal justice system of the sovereign with authority to prosecute them.
For all the reasons given above, petitioners state no claim in their habeas petitions for which relief can be granted, and those petitions should have been promptly dismissed.
Read the Court's opinion per Chief Justice Roberts, and a concurrence [texts] by Justice Souter. AP has more.
Mohammad Munaf [JURIST news archive] was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, and the US Court of Appeals for the DC 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 had ruled that Shawqi Omar [JURIST news archive], arrested for allegedly harboring insurgents in Iraq, had a right to argue his case in US courts. The appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi courts [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. In March, 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.