Supreme Court hears Iraq immunity cases; insurgent sentenced

The US Supreme Court April 20 heard oral arguments in Iraq v. Beaty and Iraq v. Simon, two cases that will determine whether Iraq has sovereign immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts in cases involving misdeeds that occurred during the Saddam Hussein regime. The plaintiffs in both cases sued the Iraqi government, alleging that they were detained and tortured during the 1990s Gulf War.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) creates exceptions to the general rule that states cannot be sued in US courts for states designated as sponsors of terrorism. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit found in both Beaty and Simon that the Iraqi government was subject to suit under the the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Counsel for the Iraqi government argued that the plain language of the statute grants Iraq immunity from suit because it is no longer designated a terrorism sponsor. Counsel for the respondents argued, The FSIA “says if you are the victim of torture by a nation designated as a state sponsor of terror and that designation changes so that you are no longer on that list, then you still have a cause of action under the FSIA. The fact that the country changes its ways and gets de-designated doesn’t change that result.” (Jurist, April 20)

Meanwhile, the first Iraq war insurgent to be prosecuted in a US court was sentenced to 25 years in prison April 16. After video recordings of his plans were played in court, Wesam al-Delaema, 36, an Iraqi-born Dutch citizen, was sentenced by Judge Paul L. Friedman in a US District Court in Washington DC for conspiring to kill Americans in Iraq. But because the sentence will be served in the Netherlands, al-Delaema may spend much less than a quarter-century behind bars. “I’m not the final word here,’ Judge Friedman admitted.

Under an agreement between the United States and the Netherlands, al-Delaema was extradited to the US two years ago on condition that he be tried in a civilian court rather than before a military tribunal, and that he be returned to the Netherlands to serve his sentence. “I didn’t agree to that,” Judge Friedman said. “The executive branch did.”

Al-Delaema pleaded guilty in federal court in February to conspiracy to murder US nationals, one of six counts in an indictment returned in September 2005. He also pleaded guilty to assaulting a jail guard in December 2007, knocking him unconscious. An 18-month term for that crime will be served concurrently. (NYT, April 17)

See our last post on the Iraq and the politics of the insurgency.

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