Sunday, 10 August 2008
The Washington Post - Editorial
In carrying out two executions, the state endangers Americans
Friday, August 8, 2008; A16
THE STATE of Texas had an opportunity this week to display a victor's
grace. Instead, it rebuffed pleas by the U.S. secretary of state and
the U.S. attorney general for help in resolving an international
dispute and in the process gave the back of its hand to the country
and its obligations.
The issue involved two foreign nationals on Texas's death row. The
leading case involved José Ernesto Medellín, a Mexican national whom
the state executed Tuesday for his part in the 1993 gang rape and
murder of two Texas girls. There is little doubt that Mr. Medellín
was guilty: He confessed to the crimes just hours after his arrest,
and his conviction was upheld by state and federal appeals courts.
But Mr. Medellín, who spoke fluent English and had lived in the
United States since he was a child, later challenged his conviction
because Texas law enforcement officials failed to inform him of his
right under the Vienna Convention for Consular Affairs to speak with
the Mexican consulate. The state, which admitted the error, became
the subject of a dispute with Mexico before the International Court
of Justice, the judicial arm of the United Nations.
The ICJ found that Mr. Medellín and 50 other Mexican nationals on
death row in the United States were entitled to "review and
reconsideration" of their cases because of Vienna Convention
violations. President Bush ordered Texas to comply, but the state
balked, citing state laws that prevented reopening the matter. In
March, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Texas, concluding that the
ICJ ruling was not binding domestically and that the president
overstepped his bounds in trying to force the state's compliance. The
court, however, acknowledged that the United States had breached its
duties under the Vienna Convention. Justice John Paul Stevens, who
was part of the majority, urged the state to voluntarily comply or to
work toward a reasonable resolution so as to mend the breach.
Instead, Texas set this week's execution date for Mr. Medellín, which
all but foreclosed the possibility of a legislative or diplomatic
solution. In refusing to give the federal government more time, Texas
has now increased the possibility that foreign countries will not
recognize in a robust way the rights of U.S. citizens detained
abroad. Yesterday, Texas executed a second foreign national,
Heliberto Chi, a Honduran whose lawyers made arguments about his lack
of consular access.
Texas should be commended for agreeing to support federal court
review for some of the other Mexican nationals on death row. The
state must be held to that promise. And all states and municipalities
must be conscientious in the future to ensure that foreign nationals
are informed of their right to consular access.