This strange story might jump-start your imagination. This college-educated middle-class teenage girl from Sweden went backpacking to see her world and ended up in a variety of East African dungeons. International diplomacy played a part in returning her home safely, but she'd innocently bumbled into crap so deep that she owes her rescue more to Miracles and Magic than diplomacy.
The states of my part of the USA -- New England -- chose decades ago to stop executing human beings, but some states like Florida and Texas have evolved a very different politic in which executions are wildly popular vote candy, and no politician who opposes or tries to end capital punishment can hope to rise to power in Texas or Florida these days. The last time I checked, something around 85 percent of Texas voters favor keeping capital punishment.
"The Rule Of Law" gets talked about a lot these days. What the local laws are isn't too important. What's important is that every person gets the benefits of all the local laws that apply to his or her situation. The government and most of its citizens may be very angry at someone in its dungeon, but The Rule Of Law forbids the government from taking shortcuts, or ignoring its own laws, in deciding what to do with the dungeon resident.
As Texas was speeding Jose Medellin through its Execution Assembly Line, the authorities skipped a step. Medellin is a citizen of Mexico. And the USA is a signator to an international treaty that guarantees that every foreigner accused of a crime and tossed into a US dungeon has a right to promptly see a consular representative of his own government.
Part of Texas' argument in the Medellin appeals has been that the state of Texas is NOT a signator of these international treaties, and so never had an obligation to tell Medellin that he was entitled to a visit from the Mexican consul.
If ever there was a US president who wanted to enable the savage vote candy of Texas, and wanted to tell an international treaty that recognizes rights for accused Mexicans to go fuck itself, it is former Texas Governor George W. Bush. Part of how he got where he is today directly involves his demonstrated enthusiasm for Texas' Death Row.
But apparently this is one of the very rare international and human-rights controversies during the Bush presidency where the federal government feels obliged to take the side of the foreign guy in the dungeon, and oppose Texas' efforts to snuff him.
During the heyday of the Roman Empire, you could be anywhere in a vast swath of Eurasia or Africa, and if you got into a really nasty, dangerous jam, all you had to say was "Civis Romanus sum" -- "I am a Roman Citizen" -- and suddenly the local lynch mob backed off. US citizenship is very similar. For about two centuries, the USA has spread the word to everybody on the planet that if they fuck with an American citizen, the consequences could involve prompt naval or aerial bombardment, all the way up to Regime Change.
An American abroad can still get into Deep Shit -- he can commit nasty crimes, face local laws, and even be put to death -- but US diplomats hover to make sure every US citizen is treated in accord with the Rule Of Law, and gets every right and protection local law promises. We're very quick to point to this international treaty to demand the American get all his rights.
Now the Supreme Court has to decide if the treaty works in both directions. Does "Civis Mexicanus sum" have any force or meaning in a Texas dungeon? Or is Texas a sovereign nation within a sovereign nation, and under no obligation to recognize any pact the US federal government has signed with the world's other sovereign nations?
Monday 30 April 2007
U.S. court to decide
case of Mexican
on death row
by James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether President George W. Bush had the authority to direct a state court to comply with an international tribunal's ruling in the case of a Mexican on death row in Texas.
The justices agreed to review a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that concluded Bush had exceeded his constitutional authority by intruding into the independent powers of the judiciary.
The case involved Jose Medellin, who was denied the right to meet with a consular officer from Mexico after his arrest for murder.
The World Court in The Hague in 2004 ordered the United States to review the cases of Medellin and 50 other Mexican death row inmates because U.S. officials failed to tell them of their right under the Vienna Convention to talk to consular officers immediately after their arrests.
Bush in 2005 decided to comply with the World Court's ruling and he directed state courts to review the 51 cases to determine whether the violation of their rights caused the defendants any harm at trial or at sentencing.
Bush's action caused the Supreme Court to dismiss an earlier appeal by Medellin without deciding the merits of the dispute and to send the case back to the Texas courts.
After losing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Medellin's attorneys again appealed to the Supreme Court. They said the Texas court has put the United States in violation of its undisputed treaty obligations.
Bush administration attorneys supported Medellin's appeal. They said Bush acted within his authority and that the Texas court invalidated a presidential action "on a matter of international importance."
Medellin, a gang member, was sentenced to death in state court for the 1993 rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston. The brutal killings stemmed from a gang initiation.
Lawyers for the state opposed the appeal. They said Bush exceeded his authority and that he cannot pre-empt Texas criminal law.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments and decide the case during its upcoming term that begins in October.
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