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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Hussein Informant Can’t Argue Duress, Court Says

(CN) - An Iraqi man living in Detroit was properly barred from claiming he was under duress when he acted as an informant for Saddam Hussein, the 6th Circuit ruled.

Najib Shemami, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was indicted by the FBI for telling Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) about Iraqi expatriates living in the United States. Shemami allegedly identified four Iraqi-Americans who acted as guides for the U.S. military in Iraq, identified possible candidates for the Iraqi presidency after the U.S. invasion and related information about military operations he saw in Turkey.

The U.S. government also said Shemami profited off illegal smuggling during the U.S. embargo. Prosecutors said Shemami brought was operating a business, but Shemami said he was a humanitarian who brought money, clothing and medicine to family friends in Iraq.

After charging Shemami with conspiracy, acting as a foreign agent without notifying the attorney general, violating the International Emergency Economics Powers Act (IEEPA) and making false statements to the FBI, a Michigan federal judge precluded Shemami from presenting a duress defense.

Shemami eventually agreed to plead guilty only to the IEEPA violation, as long as he could appeal the decision that barred him from claiming duress.

On March 29, the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati declined to find that the Eastern District of Michigan's decision violated Shemami's Sixth Amendment rights.

"Subsequent to his indictment, Shemami told the FBI that he had provided certain information to the IIS, but that he did so 'because he had to,'" Judge Jane Stranch wrote for the court's three-judge panel. "He noted his November 2002 arrest while in Iraq and stated that he was blindfolded and taken to an unknown location, and warned by Iraqi police officers not to carry large sums of money into the country."

Shemami was given two pre-trial opportunities to present evidence in support of his duress defense, Stranch found.

The evidence Shemami offered consisted of his own testimony about being imprisoned and tortured by the Iraqi Intelligence Service in the 1960s, a video showing atrocities carried out by the Iraqi regime, two History Channel videos on Saddam Hussein's regime, and testimonies that were not directly connected with Shemami's experience.

But Shemani failed to show how he had no alternative to break the law during four voluntary trips he made to Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

"Shemami offers no explanation as to why he continued to return to Iraq and place himself in harm's way even after run-ins with the IIS, nor does Shemami make any allegations that the IIS had an ability to reach him in the United States," Stranch wrote.

"Somewhat surprisingly, Shemami's brief to this court explains the real reason he gave the IIS information about fellow expatriates - that he had personal squabbles with those individuals and wanted revenge - not because he was afraid of retribution by the IIS," the ruling continues.

Since Shemami did not argue that the duress test he failed was arbitrary, and because he failed to provide sufficient evidence of duress, the appellate panel affirmed the federal judge's decision to exclude his duress defense during trial.

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