The Brancatelli File



March 11, 1999 -- So what would you think if I told you that a big, industrial democracy arrests foreign nationals, denies them their right to contact their embassies, then executes them if they are convicted?

And what would you think if I told you that this big country has been informed that its policy of denying foreign nationals the right to consult their embassies is a violation of international treaties? And what would you think if I told you that this preening, self-righteous nation freely admits it violates the rights of arrested foreign nationals?

My guess is that you, as a right-thinking frequent flyer, would be afraid to travel to this repugnant place. My guess is that you think no business trip is worth putting yourself at risk because this nasty pseudo-democracy so cavalierly disregards its treaty obligations and the rights of frequent-flying foreign nationals.

Now, fellow travelers, here's the rub: That big, slimy industrial democracy routinely arresting foreign nationals, denying them their right to consult their embassies, and then executing them upon conviction, is the United States.

No, you didn't read that wrong. The country blithely violating its international treaty obligations and shamelessly denying foreigners the right to consult their embassies is the good, old U.S. of A. You know, America, the nation that pompously lectures the world about their human-rights obligations. You know, America. Our America, home of the free and land of the brave.

In case you missed it--and you surely did because the mainstream press couldn't be bothered to cover it--the state of Arizona executed a German national on March 3 for his role in a 1982 murder. The German citizen, Walter LeGrand, was executed even though he was never granted his right to contact the German embassy. The state of Arizona doesn't even deny that it violated LeGrand's rights. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court did not stop the execution of the 37-year-old German. A request for clemency from German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and an appeal for a delay from the World Court in Hague went unheeded.

Now let's get a couple of things straight before we get any further. First of all, this is not an isolated U.S. indiscretion. The state of Virginia executed a Paraguayan citizen last year even though it violated his right to consult with his embassy. Secondly, the issue of consular consultation is not a matter of interpretation or courtesy. It is unambiguously detailed in Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, which the United States signed in 1969. (Read the treaty for yourself by surfing to Moreover, the United States government officially supports the Vienna Convention and routinely invokes it to protect U.S. citizens when they are arrested or detained overseas.

Lastly, this is not a matter of guilt nor a polemic about the death penalty. There seems to be no question that Walter LeGrand brutally murdered a man in a botched bank robbery and was aided by his brother Karl LeGrand, who was executed on February 24. The crime was heinous and despicable. And regardless of your personal feelings about the death penalty, executions are legal under Arizona law.

What is at issue is the fact that the brothers were denied their Vienna Convention rights. Prosecutors in the case admit the brothers were never informed of their right to consult the German Embassy at the time of their arrest. Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull further admits the LeGrands were not advised of their right to consular assistance during their trial. That, too, is a violation of the Vienna Convention.

If you're squeamish about defending the rights of convicted murderers--or if, somewhere in your soul, you're thinking, "Well, the bastards only got what they deserved,"--get over it. The fight for your travel rights--and the battle for your protection under the Vienna Convention--are not fought over traffic tickets or customs violations. They're fought when governments smugly deny people like the LeGrand brothers their rights because they know the bastards are guilty and should hang for their crime.

Worst of all, Arizona officials, including the governor, dismiss the violation of the LeGrand brothers' Vienna Convention rights by claiming they were accorded the same protection that any U.S. citizen receives.

Well, you know, that ain't the standard. I don't want to be traveling in Turkey knowing that the Turkish government won't be granting me my Vienna Convention rights, but I'll get the same protection that any Turkish citizen gets. I don't want to be traveling in China and have some provincial official tell me I can't call my embassy, but, don't worry, I'll be accorded the same protection that any Chinese citizen receives.

If I'm traveling and I get in trouble, I want to know that I can call the U.S. Embassy. I want to know that I'll get help in my language and get explanations within the context of a legal system I understand.

As Americans, we demand that fundamental right when we travel overseas. As Americans, we demand that other countries observe our Vienna Convention protections.

As Americans, when are we going to demand that the United States offer foreign travelers the same rights and protections?

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.