Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) plans to move forward with an execution on Thursday, despite the fact that this execution unambiguously violates the United States’ treaty obligations:
Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr. is a Mexican citizen who was sentenced to death by a Texas jury in 1994 for rape and murder. Texas provided Garcia with court-appointed lawyers, but at no point during his arrest or trial did the state inform him of his right to contact the Mexican consulate, which could have provided him legal aid. This right is guaranteed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed by the U.S., Mexico, and 171 other nations. In its treatment of Garcia, Texas was in violation of international law.
It is important to note what, exactly, Texas is being asked to do here. No one questions Texas’ right to try, convict and punish Garcia, who appears to have committed an horrific crime. Nor does Texas have any obligation not to impose the death penalty on Garcia under the Vienna Convention — once Garcia is convicted using appropriate legal procedures, Texas may kill him without violating this treaty.
Rather, Texas is simply being asked to allow Garcia to speak to someone from the Mexican government before it tries and kills him, and even this is too much for Rick Perry.
Perry can get away with thumbing his nose at America’s treaty obligations because of a 2008 Supreme Court decision holding that, even though Texas’ treatment of foreign nationals such as Garcia violates international law, our treaty obligation is not “self-executing” and therefore is more or less unenforceable by the individuals it is intended to benefit.
But Texas’ refusal to honor this treaty places Perry in some very lonely company. North Korea honored the Vienna Convention when it took two American journalists captive in 2009. Indeed, Euna Lee, one of those two journalists, believes that her access to U.S. officials “protected me from any physical mistreatment by my captors.” Likewise, Iran allowed consular visits when it captured two American hikers, although its record on this issue has been spotty at best.
Because of Rick Perry’s decision to flout international law, other nations have little reason to honor the Vienna Convention when Americans are imprisoned abroad. Why should they afford us treatment that we refuse to give to their nationals in the United States? And if other nations decide not to honor this treaty, they are unlikely simply to refuse to honor it when Texans are incarcerated. No one in Iowa, California, Maryland, or Kansas got to vote for Rick Perry, but the whole national will suffer because of his recalcitrance.