Friday, June 13, 2008

US top court rules against Americans held in Iraq

US top court rules against Americans held in Iraq

By James Vicini

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Federal judges cannot block U.S. military officials from turning over two Americans held in Iraq to local authorities who want to prosecute them for involvement in the insurgency or criminal activity, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

The high court's decision was a defeat for two Americans who say they are innocent and who are being held by U.S. soldiers at Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in the court's opinion that the two lawsuits should have been promptly dismissed.

Their lawyers say the two men might be tortured or even killed if they are transferred to Iraqi custody and that they should have access to U.S. courts to challenge their detention and to stop their transfer to Iraqi authorities.

One case involved Mohammad Munaf, an Iraqi-American with dual citizenship. He was convicted in Iraq and sentenced to death for his suspected role in the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists. His conviction was later overturned by an Iraqi court and his case sent back for further investigation.

The other case involved Shawqi Omar, an American-Jordanian citizen who is accused of being a senior associate of the late insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., and then a U.S. appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi custody.

The Bush administration has argued that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over the cases, partly because the two men are being held under the auspices of multinational forces in Iraq, of which the U.S. contingent is only a part.

The United States has about 146,000 troops in Iraq after it led an invasion more than five years ago.

The court rejected the administration's arguments that the two men have no rights whatsoever to habeas corpus -- the right to challenge their imprisonment.

Roberts said the right extends to American citizens held overseas by American forces operating subject to an American chain of command. But he held that U.S. courts do not have the power to block their transfer to a foreign country for criminal prosecution.

Roberts said the two men's claim that they would be tortured if transferred to Iraqi custody was a serious concern. But he said the issue had to be addressed the political branches of government, not the judiciary.

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