- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

A federal judge yesterday turned down an emergency motion by attorneys for an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen to prevent the U.S. military from surrendering the translator and convicted kidnapper to Iraqi officials to face the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Washington rejected arguments by Mohammad Munaf that an Iraqi trial violated his due process protection as a U.S. citizen, ruling that Munaf is in the custody of a multinational entity and cannot invoke the U.S. court’s jurisdiction.

Munaf’s attorneys had sought a writ of habeas corpus — an order to bring their client to the courtroom to determine whether he was lawfully imprisoned or should be released — to stop his transfer to Iraq, where he faces execution.

Judge Lamberth said, “No court in our country’s history … has ever found habeas corpus jurisdiction over a multinational force comprised of the United States acting jointly with its allies overseas.”

The ruling strikes at the heart of arguments by several detainees who have challenged the multinational designation as incorrect, saying the prisons where they are being held are operated by the U.S. military.

Munaf was convicted and sentenced to death last week by an Iraqi judge in the March 2005 kidnapping and detention of three Romanian journalists in Iraq, who were held for 55 days before their release. His attorneys argued that their client was never confronted with the evidence against him and was prevented from presenting exculpatory evidence.

A naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000, Munaf worked as a translator and guide for the journalists at the time of their kidnapping and was accused of assisting in the plot. The kidnapping was orchestrated by a group that called itself the “Muadh Ibn Jabal Brigade,” and demanded a ransom and Romanian troop withdrawal from Iraq.

The journalists’ release was secured by a raid by military troops under the command of Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Judge Lamberth called the MNF-I “a coalition authority” operating with the power of the United Nations to detain prisoners who pose a threat to security in Iraq.

Since the raid, Munaf has been detained by MNF-I troops at Camp Cropper, a military installation located at Baghdad International Airport.

Judge Lamberth said in the ruling that Munaf appeared Oct. 12 before a three-judge trial panel in Iraq to face kidnapping charges under the Iraqi Penal Code and was accompanied by his Iraqi counsel. The judge said Munaf had the opportunity to “submit any evidence or bring any witnesses” but only reiterated his position that he was innocent and that a prior confession was coerced.

The judge also said that although Munaf claimed two U.S. military officers attended the hearing, including an American general “who told the judge in open court that the defendants should all be convicted and sentenced to death,” there was no evidence to support the claim.

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