RESPONDENT: Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, et al.
LOCATION: Earthquake Park
DOCKET NO.: 06-1666
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
CITATION: 553 US 674 (2008)
GRANTED: Dec 07, 2007
ARGUED: Mar 25, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 12, 2008
Gregory G. Garre - on behalf of Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, et al.
Joseph Margulies - on behalf of Munaf, et al. and Omar, et al.
Facts of the case
In 2005, Mohammad Munaf was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping by U.S. military officers acting as part of a multinational force in Iraq. Munaf's sister petitioned on his behalf for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. Soon after the petition was filed, Munaf was informed that he would be tried in an Iraqi court and transferred to Iraqi custody if convicted. Munaf filed a temporary restraining order attempting to block custody transfer.
After the Iraqi court sentenced him to death and the district court dismissed his case for lack of jurisdiction, Munaf appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit which granted an injunction against the transfer. However, the D.C. Circuit, like the district court, eventually concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over Munaf's claim, basing its decision largely on the Court's ruling in Hirota v. MacArthur 338 U.S. 197 (1948). That decision prohibited Japanese citizens held abroad by U.S. troops from filing habeas petitions to challenge sentences handed down by a military tribunal sitting in Japan but including U.S. military personnel. Petitioner urges the Court to set aside Hirota and its ruling and to base its reasoning on a string of cases reaching the opposite result. The case will be consolidated and heard along with another D.C. case, Geren v. Omar, 07-394, in which the D.C. Circuit allowed a habeas petition by a U.S. citizen held in Iraq because he had not yet been charged or convicted by an Iraqi court.
Do U.S. courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions brought on behalf of U.S. citizens detained overseas by American military authorities working as part of a multinational force?
Media for Munaf v. GerenAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 2008 in Munaf v. Geren
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 12, 2008 in Munaf v. Geren
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
I have our opinion this morning in case 06-1666, Munaf versus Geren and the consolidated case 07-394, Geren versus Omar.
These cases concerned the Multinational Force-Iraq or MNF-I.
The MNF-I is an international coalition force composed of 26 nations, including the United States.
It operates in Iraq under the unified command of U.S. military officers at the Iraqi Government's request and in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
Pursuant to the U. N. mandate, MNF-I forces engage in a variety of military and humanitarian activities, including the detention of individuals alleged to have committed hostile or war like acts in Iraq, pending investigation and prosecution in Iraqi courts under Iraqi law.
Shawqi Omar and Mohammad Munaf, the habeas petitioners in these cases, are American citizens who voluntarily traveled to Iraq and allegedly committed serious crimes there.
They were each captured by military forces operating as part of the MNF-I, given hearings before MNF-I tribunals composed of American officers who concluded that they pose treats to Iraq security and placed into the custody of the U.S. military operating as part of the MNF-I.
Family members filed next-friend habeas petitions on behalf of both petitioners in the United States Court for the District of Columbia.
In Omar's case, after the U.S. Department of Justice informed Omar that the MNF-I had decided to refer him to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq for criminal proceedings, his attorney sought and obtained a preliminary injunction barring Omar's removal from United States or MNF-I custody.
It first upheld the District Court's exercise of habeas jurisdiction, finding that this Court's 1948 decision in Hirota versus MacArthur did not preclude review.
Hirota concerned Japanese citizens who had been detained in Japan and convicted and sentence by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
We denied those Japanese citizens' leave to file habeas petitions in United States courts.
The D. C. Circuit distinguished our decision in that case on the grounds that Omar had yet to be convicted by a foreign tribunal.
Meanwhile, the District Court in Munaf's case dismissed his habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction.
The Court read our decision in Hirota to require that result because the American forces holding Munaf were operating as part of an international force, the MNF-I.
The D. C. Circuit affirmed.
It agreed with the District Court's jurisdictional holding and distinguished its prior decision in Omar which had upheld jurisdiction over Omar's habeas petition on the grounds that Munaf had been convicted by a foreign tribunal while Omar had not.
We granted certiorari in these consolidated cases to decide two questions.
First, whether United States courts had jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of American citizens challenging their detention in Iraq by the MNF-I.
Second, if such jurisdiction exists, may District Courts exercise that jurisdiction to enjoin the MNF-I from transferring such individuals to Iraqi custody or allowing them to be tried before Iraqi courts?
We begin with the jurisdictional question.
The Government acknowledges that the habeas petitioners are American citizens held by American soldiers who answer only to an American chain of command.
It, nonetheless, contends that the federal courts lack jurisdiction over the detainees' habeas petitions because the American forces holding Omar and Munaf operate as part of a multinational force.
They are, therefore, held pursuant to international authority, the argument goes, "Not United States' authority and are not within the reach of the habeas statute".
In support of its argument, the Government naturally points to our decision in Hirota in which we ruled that individual's held under authority of a multinational force could not seek habeas relief in United States courts.
We reject the Government's jurisdictional argument.
The habeas statute, 28 U. S. C. Section 2241(c) provides that a federal district court may entertain a habeas application by a person held "in custody under or by color of the authority of the United States".
The disjunctive “or” in the statutory language I just read makes clear that actual custody by the United States suffices for jurisdiction even if that custody could be viewed as under the color of another authority such as the MNF-I.
Now, as for Hirota, that slip of the case, only nine sentences long, differs from the present case in several respects.
Hirota did not involved United States citizens and the Government asserted that the detaining authorities in that case were not subject to a United States chain of command.