Iraqi Court Overturns American's Death Sentence in 2005 Kidnapping Case

An American held in Iraq by the U.S. military has had his conviction and death sentence overturned by an Iraqi court, the man's American lawyer said Friday.

Iraqi-born Mohammad Munaf, a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000, has been held by the U.S. military since May 2005. He was convicted in 2006 on charges he helped in the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad.

Munaf's lawyer, Joseph Margulies, said the Iraqi Court of Cassation reversed the conviction and sentence because it could not determine the role Munaf and other defendants played in the kidnapping from the court record. The Iraqi prosecutor supported the court's decision, Margulies said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Munaf is part of a pending Supreme Court case in which he and another naturalized American, Shawqi Omar, are trying to prevent the military from handing them over to the Iraqis.

The Bush administration argues that they should not be able to contest their pending transfers in U.S. courts since they are being held not by the United States, but by coalition forces in Iraq.

The administration, in its Supreme Court filing, said, "Munaf admitted on camera, in writing, and in front of the Iraqi investigative court that he participated as an accomplice in the kidnapping for profit of the Romanian journalists."

Munaf has said his confession was coerced.

It is unclear what will happen to Munaf now or how the Iraqi court decision will affect the Supreme Court case.

Earlier Friday, the AP, reporters groups and advocates for press freedoms urged the Supreme Court to reject the administration's arguments that people held by the military in Iraq have no access to American courts.

The government's view, if ratified by the court in a case that will be argued in March, would make it harder for journalists and others who are detained in the heat of battle, particularly in urban areas, to seek their freedom, the organizations said in a legal filing.

The AP has been fighting the detention of photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held by the U.S. military without charges for 22 months. He waited 20 months before his first hearing in an Iraqi court.

"It is critical that detainees be promptly afforded a meaningful hearing before a neutral decisionmaker so they have an opportunity to demonstrate their civilian status or rebut the allegations against them," the groups said.

The AP was joined by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, the PEN American Center and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"A system of unchecked and unreviewable detention would have devastating consequences for the many journalists and other civilians in Iraq and in future areas of military conflict," the organizations said.

The consolidated cases are Munaf v. Geren, 06-1666 and Geren v. Omar, 07-394.