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Court: American to face death penalty in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal appeals court refused to intervene Friday in the case of a U.S. citizen facing a death sentence in Iraq for his role in the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad.

A three-judge panel said it is unable to step into the case because Muhammad Munaf was convicted by an Iraqi criminal court.

Courts in the United States have “no power or authority” to intervene in a case brought by an Iraqi court of nationwide jurisdiction and administered by the government of Iraq, wrote Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Sentelle noted that Munaf is held in Iraq by U.S. military personnel, but added that they are part of a multinational force authorized by the U.N. Security Council in coordination with the Iraqi government.

The appeals court upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who also pointed to the fact that Munaf was being held by coalition military forces, not by the U.S. military alone.

“American citizenship cannot displace the fact of a criminal conviction in a non-United States court and permit” U.S. courts to step into the case, Sentelle wrote.

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

The Romanian government had alleged that Munaf assisted in the March 2005 kidnapping. Munaf’s attorneys said he was held with the three journalists for 55 days before they were released. The Romanian Embassy turned Munaf over to U.S. authorities in Baghdad.

The appeals court ruling follows Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court to refrain for now from stepping into the controversy over the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.