- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

NEW YORK Angered by Arizona's execution of two of its nationals, Germany yesterday opened a World Court lawsuit against the United States by warning visitors to America of "tragic consequences" should they run afoul of U.S. law.
Gerhard Westdickenberg, chief representative of the German government, told the International Court of Justice based in The Hague that U.S. police and justice officials repeatedly fail to notify consulates or embassies when a foreign national is taken into custody.
"This state of affairs is of great significance," Mr. Westdickenberg told the court's 15 international judges. "Not just for Germans, but for all foreign nationals arrested in the United States, and could have particularly tragic consequences in cases in which, like in ours, the death penalty may be imposed."
Two brothers, Walter and Karl LaGrand, were executed in Arizona last year for a botched 1982 bank robbery in Tucson, Ariz., in which the branch manager was stabbed to death and a bank clerk critically wounded.
Germany maintains that in the United States, "poverty and inadequate counsel are … the two 'key variables' determining whether capital punishment is sought, imposed and carried out… .
"Indigent defendants, like the LaGrands, are most likely to have ineffective lawyers and thus are disproportionately likely to receive death sentences," a document summarizing Germany's case says.
The lawsuit does not contest the United States' right to use the death penalty, but contends the LaGrands' rights were violated when they were detained and not given the option of contacting their consular representative.
American lawyers will address the court today.
Germany, which abolished capital punishment after World War II, wants the court to declare that the United States "violated its international legal obligations."
The German delegation also is demanding that America pay unspecified reparations and "provide Germany a guarantee of the non-repetition of the illegal acts."
Although its judgments are binding under international law, the World Court has no independent means to enforce compliance.
"The United States has acknowledged to the German government that the Arizona authorities did not comply with [the] Vienna Convention requirement that they tell the LaGrand brothers that they could have German consular officials notified of their detention," a State Department official said yesterday. "We are convinced that the failure … did not affect the outcome" of the trial.
He also said the recent flurry of similar complaints from governments would have no impact on the administration of justice or the use of the death penalty by states.
Last week, a Mexican rapist and murderer was put to death in Texas over the objection of his government, which said it could have provided a better legal advice if it had been aware of the situation.
Ottawa last year objected to death of a Canadian murderer, also in Texas, on the same grounds.
And a confessed Paraguayan rapist was executed in Virginia in 1998, over the objections of the State Department and U.S. Supreme Court, which urged the state to commute the sentence to life imprisonment in deference to the demands of that government.
Karl LaGrand died in Arizona's gas chamber in February 1999, and Walter followed him a month later one day after World Court issued an emergency order to postpone the execution until it could hear his case.
Arizona officials knew at the time of their arrest that the defendants were German, but never notified the proper authorities, Germany says. The government says the LaGrands themselves told the German government about their plight in 1992, after other prisoners told them of their rights.
Although born in Augsburg, Germany, the LaGrands were taken as children to America after their German mother married a U.S. serviceman.
"A case like the LaGrands could happen any time again," Mr. Westdickenberg said. He quoted Amnesty International figures that 87 foreigners are currently on death row in the United States. Since 1993, he said, the Vienna Convention had been violated in 11 of those cases.

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