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Supreme Court Asked To Save American

An American facing a death sentence in Iraq turned to the Supreme Court on Monday in an effort to keep the military from handing him over to Iraqi authorities.

Papers filed with Chief Justice John Roberts asked the court to allow Mohammad Munaf to remain in military custody until U.S. courts resolve whether U.S. forces can turn over Americans who are suspected terrorists to the Iraqi government.

Munaf was convicted and sentenced to death by an Iraqi judge last month on charges he helped in the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad. He claimed his trial was flawed and his confession was coerced.

Munaf sought a federal court order to prevent his transfer.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said last month that he had no authority to intervene because the Iraqi-born Munaf, who became a U.S. citizen in 2000, was being held by coalition military forces, not by the U.S. military alone.

The U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit also declined to step in, but ordered the military to hold off on handing Munaf over to the Iraqis until the Supreme Court rules in his case.

Whether the U.S. military or coalition forces have custody of Munaf is at the heart of a legal fight over the fate of American citizens being held in Iraq. Critics say it is disingenuous because the prisons Munaf and others are being held in are operated by the U.S. military.

The appeals court in Washington is considering the similar case of Shawqi Omar, an American citizen accused of being a top al Qaeda lieutenant in Iraq. A different federal judge blocked Omar's transfer and the appeals court, which heard arguments in September, has yet to rule.

The Supreme Court also deliberated the following cases Monday:

  • Andre Wallace had a two-year window in which he could file a civil rights claim for false arrest. Now the Supreme Court is trying to figure out whether that two-year clock started in 1994, when he was arrested, or in 2002, when Illinois courts ruled his arrest was illegal, reversed his conviction and freed him from jail. The justices expressed sympathy for Wallace, but showed some skepticism toward his case. Chief Justice John Roberts said allowing Wallace to sue could subject police officers to lawsuits years after an incident.
  • The court rejected a request by a shipyard repair company to hear a negligence case in which a Gloucester, Mass., fishing vessel sank in a North Atlantic gale, killing the four-man crew. A state jury and a Massachusetts appeals court found that the shipyard, Rose's Oil Service Inc., negligently repaired the Italian Gold in the months before it went down in September 1994. The issue involves the doctrine of implied indemnity. Under it, stevedores and other marine contractors give ship owners an implied warranty of workmanlike performance, and the failure to do so gives rise to a ship owner's right to be compensated for a loss.
  • The Supreme Court turned down California's request to reinstate the death sentence for a man who took revenge on his therapist by murdering her husband. The court without comment let stand a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that commuted the sentence of William Clark of Los Angeles from death to life in prison without parole. In 1982, Clark threw gasoline and a lighted flare into his former therapist's home, killing Ava Gawronski's husband, David. Gawronski suffered disfiguring burns. Clark confessed to the crime. He said it was intended to cause Gawronski to suffer the same emotional pain that he claimed to have suffered when she abruptly discontinued counseling him.


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