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LIIBULLETIN: Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar

On Tuesday March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Munaf v. Geren (06-1666) and Geren v. Omar (07-394), both appealed from the United States Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit (2007). The cases present the Supreme Court with another chance to address habeas corpus issues raised by the international war on terrorism. Omar and Munaf, both American citizens, were detained in Iraq by U.S. military forces operating as part of a multi-national military coalition. While still in custody of the U.S. military in Iraq, Omar filed a habeas corpus petition in the D.C. District Court, asking that he either be released or brought to the U.S. for trial. The District Court granted the habeas petition and issued an injunction preventing the U.S. military forces from transferring Omar to Iraqi custody. Munaf, however, was transferred to Iraqi custody, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. The same D.C. District Court denied Munaf’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that since he had been convicted in a foreign court, the U.S. federal courts no longer had habeas jurisdiction.

The writ of habeas corpus “has for centuries functioned as the ‘symbol and guardian of individual liberty’” and is used today in a wide variety of detention cases, including those by the executive branch undertaken as part of the war on terror. (Omar v. Harvey, 479 F.3d 1, 5 (D.C. Cir. 2007), citing Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. 54, 58 (1968)). The power of a federal district court to entertain a petition for habeas corpus from an American citizen detained on American soil is firmly established. The question that arises in these cases is whether the same court has the power to hear a habeas petition from American citizens detained in the international war on terrorism by U.S. authorities acting as part of a multi-national force on foreign soil.

The full analysis, including a comprehensive set of links to briefs on both sides of the argument, is here: