The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld basic legal rights for Americans held abroad by the U.S. military, but said the safeguards do not apply in the case of two U.S. citizens held in Baghdad.
The unanimous decision came in the cases of Shawqi Omar, taken into custody in Iraq on charges of assisting a terrorist network, and Mohammad Munaf, whose death sentence by an Iraqi court was recently overturned. Munaf has been accused in Iraq of setting up the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists.
Held by the U.S. military at Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport, both men are Sunni Muslims who say they will be tortured if turned over to the Iraqi government. They had gone to U.S. courts to challenge their detention and block their transfer to Iraqi authorities.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that U.S. courts are not allowed to intervene in a foreign criminal proceeding and "pass judgment on its legitimacy."
"Iraq has a sovereign right to prosecute Omar and Munaf for crimes committed on its soil," Roberts wrote.
The justices ruled that essential protections do extend to American citizens held overseas by the U.S. military operating as part of a multinational force. At the same time, however, the court said those protections provide Omar and Munaf with no legal relief.
The Constitution Project, a private group, praised the portion of the decision on protections for U.S. citizens and criticized what it said was the legal absurdity of the Bush administration's position.
The administration argued that U.S. courts lack authority to review the claims of Munaf and Omar because they are held abroad by a multinational force, of which the United States is only a part.
The court agreed with a separate administration argument that nations including Iraq have criminal jurisdiction over those within their borders.
Arrested in 2004 by U.S. soldiers at his home in Baghdad, Omar was to have been transferred to Iraqi courts for trial, but a U.S. district court blocked the move.
In a case that is continuing, an Iraqi court recently reversed Munaf's death sentence.
The combined cases are Munaf v. Secretary of the Army, 06-1666, and Secretary of the Army v. Omar, 07-394.