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U.S. Citizens at extreme risk!

7 July 2011

… maybe not of execution … not in Mexico anyway,  which is relatively civilized (and doesn’t have a death penalty), but any of us who are U.S. citizens, and travel abroad, or live abroad, are in imminent danger of having our rights violated, in the event we are arrested or detained for any reason… “thanks” to Rick Perry and the State of Texas.

At least some Texans get it.  From the San Antonio Express-News:

Unless Gov. Rick Perry grants a last-minute reprieve, the state of Texas will put Humberto Leal to death today in Huntsville. Leal may well be guilty of the gruesome murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio in 1994. That’s not the most contentious issue of his case.

What is being contended is U.S. compliance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1969, which requires nations to notify consular officials if a foreign national “is arrested or committed to prison or to custody pending trial or is detained in any other manner.”

Leal is a Mexican citizen. Yet officials in the Texas criminal justice system never informed him of his right to contact Mexican consular officials, nor did they inform those officials that a Mexican national was in their custody on a murder charge.

The notification might not have made any difference in the outcome of Leal’s trial. But proceeding with his execution without following the Vienna protocol will have dangerous consequences for Americans who live, work or travel abroad.

If we do not comply with our obligations under the Vienna Convention,” John B. Bellinger III, who was the U.S. government’s senior international lawyer in the administration of President George W. Bush, told the New York Times, “we put at risk Americans, including Texans, who travel and may be arrested overseas.

If this case sounds familiar, it should. In 2008, the Bush administration argued at the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a retrial for Texas convict Jose Medellin, a Mexican national convicted of murdering two Houston girls. The court ruled that only Congress could require states to comply with the Vienna protocol by passing a federal law.

In the absence of such a law, Perry refused to halt Medellin’s execution. Three years later, there’s still no law.

While there’s no reason to believe Perry will act differently in the case of Leal, there are once again compelling reasons why he should. The bigger issue is that Congress must act.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act. That’s too late to be of any consequence in the Leal case.

But if Congress does pass the measure, it would finally help ensure U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention. That, in turn, would strengthen the legal protections of Americans citizens who are detained or charged with crimes in other countries.

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