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At Supreme Court: Americans accused in Iraq want U.S. judge

Key issue: Do citizens held by the US military in a foreign war have constitutional protections?

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When an American commits a crime overseas he or she is subject to arrest and prosecution under the laws of that foreign country.

But what happens when the country is Iraq and the detaining authority is the US military? Can the US government turn one of its own citizens over to Iraqi authorities for harsh interrogations, criminal prosecution, and a potential death sentence?

That's the circumstance that arose in two different cases of Americans detained by the US military in Iraq. American judges are in disagreement about how to treat such cases. On Tuesday, the issue arrives at the US Supreme Court.

The primary question is whether United States citizens being held by the US military in a foreign war zone are entitled to constitutional protections – including the right to have a neutral American judge examine the legality of his or her detention.

The two US citizens, Mohammad Munaf and Ahmed Omar, are accused of involvement in plots to kidnap and ransom foreigners in Iraq. Both say they are innocent.

Government lawyers say the two men are merely trying to use the US courts to avoid having to answer in Iraq for their alleged crimes.

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