Showdown over a Texas execution
The state plans to execute a Mexican national on Aug. 5, despite objections of the World Court.
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Medellin has lived in the US since age 3 and speaks fluent English, but because he never obtained US citizenship he was entitled to be notified of his right to consult with Mexican consular officials after his arrest. As part of his original case, a Texas judge ruled that the lack of consular notification in Medellin's case had not undercut the fairness of his trial. But the World Court ordered a new hearing anyway.Skip to next paragraph
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In an effort to resolve the international dispute, President Bush issued a memorandum directing the Texas courts to conduct the new hearings. Again, Texas refused.
The issue went to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in March that both the World Court decision and the president's memo were not binding on the Texas courts. That cleared the way for Medellin's execution.
But it didn't absolve the US government from compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and compliance generally with World Court decisions enforcing the convention.
"There is no doubt that the US has an international obligation here, and it sure looks like it won't comply with it," says Duncan Hollis, a professor and international law expert at Temple University's Beasley School of Law.
Notorious in Texas
The Medellin case is notorious in Texas. Medellin admitted involvement in the gang rape and murder of two girls. The girls, ages 14 and 16, took a shortcut home through the woods, where they were spotted by members of a street gang. Medellin and other gang members chased the girls, raped them, and then killed them to prevent them from reporting the crime.
The case is becoming notorious for another reason. It threatens to undercut US standing in the world by suggesting a lack of respect for the ICJ, analysts say.
Some legal experts warn that the government's posture could endanger Americans traveling, living, or working overseas.
"Americans who are detained abroad may well lose the critical protection of ensured access to United States consular officers," wrote Lucy Reed, president of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), in a recent letter to leaders in Congress.
Ms. Reed and nine past presidents of ASIL are urging Congress to quickly pass legislation to create a legal mechanism to enforce the World Court ruling.
A measure was introduced in Congress, but there has been no effort to pass the bill, or even debate it. Analysts say the issue is radioactive in an election year.
"On the one hand this is a story of international law and treaty obligations that bind the United States of America," says Professor Hollis. "On the other hand this is the story of a gangbanger in Texas who raped and killed two teenaged girls."
Hollis adds, "Somebody in Congress may see the value of protecting the treaty obligations and the national interests of the United States and also be concerned about the political fallout for voting for a statute that might be used against them [in an election campaign] because you are perceived as soft on crime."