Saturday, October 14, 2006

Iraq: American Citizen Sentenced to Death

Well, at least Alberto Gonzales is consistent.

An American citizen has been sentenced to death in Iraq for his alleged part in a kidnapping there and his lawyers are complaining about the trial process, lack of due process and one is filing a habeas corpus petition on his behalf - all rights that the US government has stripped away from the detainees it's holding in Gitmo, Bagram, and its secret prisons around the world. Why would these lawyers think the Justice department would give anything but a nod to Iraq's flawed system?

A U.S. citizen who allegedly orchestrated the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists near Baghdad last year was sentenced to death in an Iraqi court Thursday, prompting his lawyers to ask a federal judge in Washington to block the U.S. military from transferring him to the Iraqi government.

Mohammad Munaf, 53, has been in U.S. custody since May 23, 2005, when he was arrested during a military raid to rescue the Romanian journalists nearly two months after they were snatched. Authorities have alleged that Munaf -- who had ushered the journalists into Iraq and was acting as their guide and translator -- posed as a kidnap victim but was actually involved in a conspiracy for ransom and led them into a trap.
Lawyers representing Munaf in the United States said that his conviction in the Iraqi court is a farce and that he was not allowed to present evidence or witnesses in his defense. In an emergency motion filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Munaf's attorneys asked the U.S. government to intervene and argued that Munaf made incriminating statements only after "threats of violence and sexual assault against him and his family."

How many years have detainees in US custody been decrying exactly the same things? Worse, they weren't just victims of threats, they were actually tortured. The Bush administration has no problem using coerced tesitimony if it can prove their cases against so-called 'enemy combatants' so how can these lawyers expect that they would come to this prisoner's defence? In fact, the Justice department won't intervene:

Justice Department lawyers have argued in court documents that the United States should not step in because the Iraqi government has a right to try people for crimes and that the U.S. military is merely holding Munaf on Iraq's behalf and acting as a multinational force. A Justice Department spokesman said there has been no change in that position.

To add some mystery to the case:

Munaf's Iraqi attorneys reported that the Central Criminal Court judge was prepared to dismiss the charges at a hearing on Thursday but that two American officials -- including an unnamed general -- stepped into the courtroom and requested a private meeting. The judge returned 15 minutes later and sentenced Munaf and four other defendants to death without hearing additional evidence, according to a sworn statement by Sean Riordan, a legal intern at the Brennan Center who spoke with Munaf's attorney in Baghdad.

"In 36 years practicing law in Iraq, [the lawyer] had never before seen or heard of a death sentence being handed down without deliberation or consideration of the merits," Riordan said in the statement filed in Washington yesterday.

A US general interfered in the case? What was that private meeting about? How did it result in such a quick decision by the judge?

The accused and his lawyers deserve some serious answers about what happened but with the Bush administration possibly aiding the Iraqi courts to execute an American citizen, it's doubtful anything will happen before the man is actually dead, if even then.

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