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The great state of Texas executed a man last week. In and of itself, this is hardly newsworthy. However, this particular man was a citizen of Mexico and not of the United States. This single execution could lead to a foreign crisis.
Humberto Leal Garcia, 38, was convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old San Antonio girl in 1994. He was sentenced to death and has remained on death row since that time. A U.N.-backed tribunal court ruled in 2004 that Garcia was one of dozens of Mexican nationals sentenced to death by U.S. courts who had been denied their right to legal help from the Mexican consulate, violating a U.N. treaty.
The U.S. is part of a treaty that grants the right of consular assistance to all foreigners charged with a crime. The U.N. court’s decision was even endorsed by then-President George W. Bush. However, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the U.N. decision, stating only Congress had the power to force states to review criminal cases.
Obama administration lawyers and a number of foreign policy experts expressed concern over the execution. However, Garcia was executed by lethal injection at the Texas death chamber in Huntsville despite the concerns.
In June, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced legislation to force state courts to review the cases of Mexican nationals, but no further action has been taken on the bill. Late Thursday afternoon, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., who stated in a brief that Garcia’s execution violated international law and could do “irreparable harm” to U.S. foreign policy interests. Verrilli argued that the court should grant Garcia a stay of execution until Congress could vote on Sen. Leahy’s legislation.
In a 5-4 decision, the court rejected his argument. “Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be,” the unsigned majority decision declared. A dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer, however, said that the majority was “wrong in each respect” in its decision to reject the petition.
A number of legal experts, military officials and prominent Republicans backed the appeal. Donald J. Guter, a retired rear admiral in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps, who signed a letter endorsing the Obama administration’s appeal, called the case “terrible” and said he had “no sympathy” for Garcia.
“I’m looking to protect American citizens and American service members who travel overseas, and making sure they have the protection of the treaty,” said Guter, now president and dean of the South Texas College of Law. “I think we need to take a step back and ask what principle is at stake here, and what’s best for American citizens,” he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry declined to intervene in the Garcia case, and the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons voted on Tuesday to allow the execution to proceed. “Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling,” said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Perry. “If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws.”
Remember Michael Fay? He was the American that was lashed six times in Singapore for vandalism. The canings created an international controversy. Most Americans were outraged that Singapore punished the American teenager.