A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] ruled Tuesday that an Iraqi national can stand trial in US civilian court for terrorism-related crimes. Chief Judge Thomas Russell, in an 11-page opinion, rejected [Courier-Journal report] arguments made by Waad Ramadan Alwan that, under the Geneva Convention, he could only be prosecuted in Iraq. Alwan is an Iraqi citizen who allegedly carried out numerous improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against US troops in Iraq, according to the Department of Justice [press release text]. Russell determined that the Geneva Civilian Convention [treaty text] does not bar concurrent jurisdiction by foreign and US courts and that, although Alwan claimed that the federal law under which he was charged was intended only to protect diplomatic personnel overseas, in fact the statute may be extended to criminalize insurgent and terrorist activities in other countries even though those same acts may be punishable in Iraqi courts as well. Alwan is charged with conspiracy to kill US nationals abroad, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives) against US nationals abroad, distributing information on the manufacture and use of IEDs, attempting to provide material support to terrorists and to al-Qaeda in Iraq and conspiracy to transfer, possess and export Stinger missiles. Alwan and another former Iraq resident, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, both of whom currently reside in Bowling Green, were charged there in May in a 23-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury. Each faces a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of all the charges.
Alwan is one of only a handful of foreign nationals prosecuted in the US for alleged terrorism offenses [JURIST report] in a US-occupied territory such as Iraq or Afghanistan during wartime. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] and others have also objected to holding the trials of Alwan and Hammadi in federal court, but they have cited security concerns and said they should be prosecuted before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. McConnell and others also have said the defendants do not deserve the full protection of the Bill of Rights accorded to civilian defendants. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] has consistently advocated [JURIST report] that terror suspects should be tried in civilian courts, though has not found support from Congress. In April, Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other co-conspirators will be tried before a military commission [JURIST report] for their roles in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Holder, who wanted the accused be tried before a federal civilian court [JURIST report], referred the cases to the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US.