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Munaf’s Iraqi conviction nullified

An Iraqi court, the Federal Cassation Court, has overturned the conviction and death sentence of a man who has dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, Mohammad Munaf, whose challenge to his detention by the U.S. military in Iraq will be heard by the Supreme Court on March 25. Munaf’s attorneys on Friday notified the Court of the Iraqi court decision, and asked that the Justices consider it along with Munaf’s appeal. The letter from counsel can be found here, and an English translation of the Iraqi court’s opinion can be downloaded here [large file size].

Munaf was one of six individuals convicted of the kidnap-for-hire in Iraq of three Romanian journalists in March 2005. Each of the six was sentenced to death by hanging. Munaf has remained in U.S. military custody prior to being turned over to Iraqi authorities to carry out the sentence.

In its ruling, dated Feb. 19, the Federal Cassation Court in Iraq noted that three of the six individuals had confessed to a role in the kidnapping. It also said that another individual had explicitly confessed to the kidnap operation. But, it concluded, that an investigative court “has not ascertained the role” that Munaf and two others may have had. It also ruled that the investigation court should have made efforts to document statements made by the kidnapped journalists. It also noted a difference in the names of the journalists in the lower court ruling and in the charge sheet.

In view of these errors, the Cassation Court concluded, all of the decisions of the lower court had to be overturned, and the case had to be sent back to pursue the investigation further.

It is unknown what impact, if any, this ruling will have on the Supreme Court’s consideration of Munaf’s challenge to being held in U.S. military custody in Iraq. Munaf’s appeal (Munaf v. Geren, 06-1666) is to be heard by the Court simultaneously with a government appeal in another military detention case involving a man who has U.S. and Jordanian citizenship, Shawqi Ahmad Omar (Geren v. Omar, 07-394). The D.C. Circuit Court ruled in opposite ways in the two cases on whether a U.S. court could hear a habeas challenge to the two men’s detention by the U.S. military forces in Iraq.