Monday, October 08, 2007

Bush Gets One Half Right, After A Mighty Effort To Get It All Wrong

President George Bush and the state of Texas are going to the Supreme Court, with the President arguing that a Mexican national on the Texas death row should be spared the death penalty. If you are like me, when you first heard this you shook your head and exclaimed "wha?!".

The government of Mexico does not have a death penalty, and they have been advocating on behalf of 51 Mexican nationals on death row around the nation. They rest their case upon the Geneva Conventions which stipulate that foreign nationals arrested by another nation should be given access to legal help from their nations consul. The United States relies upon the Geneva Conventions to insist that our citizens be allowed representation in other nations, and even used the convention while suing the Iranians over the 1979 hostage crisis.

Mexico sued the United States in the International Court Of Justice, and won their case. President Bush has decided to accept that ruling because ignoring it would harm the interests of American citizens abroad. Yet even while accepting this one particular judgement, the President has decided to withdraw from the accord which gives the ICJ oversight on such matters because he believes their interpretation of the convention in question is wrong.

You were probably wondering about that high pitched howling noise you heard from down south a couple of years ago. That was the State of Texas reacting at all of this. They say that neither the ICJ, or the President have any business whatsoever in this matter. The state says that President Bush is trying to intervene in a matter which should be strictly a question decided by the courts, and they aren't talking about those panzy international courts either!

What a confusing mess. The President thinks this guy should be executed, but is taking the state of Texas to the Supreme Court to stop the execution, after accepting the ruling by the international court, but withdrawing from the court because of the decision.

Here's my take on all this. Let us consider a possible scenario. Imagine being a servicemember in Okinawa Japan and, for whatever reason, winding up in jail. As an American you have the right to be seen by representatives of our embassy. Now imagine that you were not given that right, and were convicted of whatever it is that you were accused of. America sues Japan in the only way that we can, which is an international court. If we won, how would we Americans react if the provincial government of Okinawa insisted that none of that mattered: that the central Japanese government and the international court did not have any bearing on their provincial affairs. We would be outraged, and rightly so.

If it is an international affair then nearly by definition the President has an interest in the matter. Even if he does try to get it wrong and is forced to get it right. The constitution of the United States vests the President with the right to conduct international affairs. If a particular state behaves in a manner which violates America's international treaty obligations, that is a matter which the President has the constitutional obligation to correct, states rights or no.

Also Texas' plea that this is a judicial matter, and the President is asserting executive power where he doesn't have any is absurd. It's not like the President has marched the national guard into the prison to take the convict off of death row. The President is relying upon the courts to uphold the international conventions, which affirms the courts role in this rather than disgarding that role.

If anything, I am disposed to harp on President Bush for gathering too much executive power. The fact that Texas is trying to score points which I typically agree with, but do not in this case, should say something.

That said, the President should realize that the International Court ruled in a way that protects foreign nationals around the world. This ruling affirms the rights of Americans as much as it affirms the rights of Mexicans. We should not withdraw because we don't like the effects of this particular ruling, even as it affirms American interests around the world.

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