MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Next month the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the complicated case of an American citizen named Mohammad Munaf. He was detained by the U.S. military in Iraq, but tried in an Iraqi court for kidnapping, and he was sentenced to death.
Today, his lawyers formally notified the Supreme Court that the Iraqi appellate court has set aside Munaf's conviction. That's because the supposed basis for his conviction - a transcript of his confession and written statements of witnesses against him - could not be found.
NPR's Nina Totenberg explains.
NINA TOTENBERG: Born in Baghdad, Mohammad Munaf emigrated to Romania as a student in 1980. Ten years later, he moved to the U.S. with his wife and eventually became a U.S. citizen, maintaining residences in both New York and Bucharest.
In 2005, three Romanian journalists asked Munaf to travel with them to Iraq as a paid translator. Shortly after their arrival in Iraq, the group was kidnapped and held for two months. After they were freed, the Romanians were turned over to the Romanian Embassy, and Munaf was taken to the U.S. Embassy. He subsequently was detained by the U.S. military acting under the U.N. multinational force authority.
Nearly a year and a half later, he was convicted by an Iraqi trial court of complicity in the kidnapping and sentenced to death. He appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that he should not be turned over to the Iraqis until he has a chance to rebut the charges against him in the U.S. court.
The Bush administration, however, contends that the U.S. courts have no right to hear the case of anyone being held by the multinational force in Iraq. And in briefs filed with the court, the administration contends that Munaf confessed to being involved in the kidnapping on camera, in writing, and in front of an Iraqi investigative court. If there is such a confession, however, there apparently is no record of it.
Today, Munaf's lawyers filed with the Supreme Court a decision by the Iraqi appeals court reversing Munaf's conviction because the prosecutor and the court could find neither Munaf's alleged confession nor the statements of the witnesses against him, namely the other Romanians who were kidnapped.
This is only the latest example of missing evidence in the case. The prosecution of Munaf could not begin under Iraqi law without a complaint. According to Munaf's lawyers, that complaint was made by a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant who told the Iraqi court the Romanian Embassy had authorized him to appear on its behalf. The lieutenant later said the authorization was documented in a letter. But the letter is nowhere in the record, has not been seen by Munaf or his lawyers, and the Romanian government has repeatedly denied it authorized the lieutenant to speak on its behalf.
There are other conflicts between the Iraqi courts' account of the case and the U.S. government brief filed with the Supreme Court. But according to Bush administration sources, the U.S. government intends to pursue its claim that it can turn a U.S. citizen over to the Iraqis for investigation, trial, and possibly execution, and that the U.S. courts have no role to play.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.