updated 3/25/2008 7:49:46 AM ET 2008-03-25T11:49:46

Two Americans who are being held by the military in Iraq want U.S. courts to keep them from being transferred to Iraqi custody, another Supreme Court case that tests executive authority in wartime.

The Bush administration is telling the justices that U.S. courts are powerless to intervene in the cases of Mohammad Munaf and Shawqi Omar because they are being held by international forces, not the U.S. military. The court is hearing arguments in the cases Tuesday.

Omar, who also holds Jordanian citizenship, is accused of being a senior associate of the late insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The U.S. government said Omar was harboring an Iraqi insurgent and four Jordanian fighters at the time of his arrest in October 2004 and also had bomb-making materials.

Munaf, an Iraqi native who has been held since May 2005, was implicated in the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists, convicted by an Iraqi court and sentenced to death. The conviction has since been thrown out, but the legal issue is unchanged for the Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has said that Omar, who once served in the Minnesota National Guard, has a right to make his case in a U.S. court. A different panel of judges from the same appeals court ruled against Munaf, but the court distinguished the case from Omar's based on Munaf's conviction.

The Associated Press filed a brief in the case, asking the court to reject the administration's arguments that people held by the military in Iraq have no access to American courts. The AP has been fighting the detention of photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held by the U.S. military without charges for nearly two years. He waited 20 months before his first hearing in an Iraqi court.

In a second case Tuesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey will argue that the court should reinstate the conviction of would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam on an explosives charge that an appeals court threw out. Ressam was convicted on eight other counts, which remain in effect.

Mukasey presided over high-profile terrorism trials while a federal judge in New York, but he has never argued a case at the high court. He will be following many previous attorneys general, including most recently Janet Reno, who stood up before the justices to argue the government's position. President Bush's first two attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, did not argue before the court.

The justices also are expected to issue decisions in cases previously argued.

The consolidated custody cases are Munaf v. Geren, 06-1666, and Geren v. Omar, 07-394. The other case is U.S. v. Ressam, 07-455.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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