Newsbrief: DEA Can't Kidnap People in Other Countries, Federal Court Rules 6/6/03

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In a case that originated with the murder in Mexico of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the DEA "had no authority to effect an arrest and detention of a Mexican citizen in Mexico, and he may now pursue civil remedies under US law for his abduction by Mexican citizens acting on behalf of the DEA." Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain was believed by the DEA to be involved in Camarena's torture and murder and, frustrated by Mexican government intransigence, the agency hired a group of Mexican citizens to kidnap Alvarez-Machain and transport across the border to El Paso.

Alvarez-Machain was charged in Camarena's death, but was acquitted when his case finally went to trial. But that didn't happen until after a lengthy legal battle that ended with an astounding Supreme Court ruling that his illegal kidnapping from a foreign countrydid not bar him from being tried in the US. Alvarez-Machain returned to Mexico upon his acquittal, but sought to sue the US government for violating international law and the US Alien Claims Tort Act, with representation from the ACLU of Washington's Drug Policy Project. That claim was challenged by federal attorneys, ending up in the 9th Circuit.

"We must decide whether the forcible, trans-border abduction of a Mexican national, Humberto Alvarez-Machain, by Mexican civilians at the behest of the Drug Enforcement Administration gives rise to a civil claim under United States law," began the 9th Circuit's opinion. "In an earlier, related proceeding, the Supreme Court acknowledged, without deciding, that Alvarez "may be correct" in asserting that his abduction was "shocking" and "in violation of general international law principles." United States v. Alvarez-Machain, 504 U.S. 655, 669 (1992). "We now address the question left unanswered..."

Now that court has made clear what the Supreme Court couldn't see: It's a crime to kidnap someone from another country with no legal authority.

The full opinion in ALVAREZ-MACHAIN v. US, No. 99-56762/56880 (9th Cir. June 03, 2003) is available online at:

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Issue #290, 6/6/03 Editorial: Courage and Perseverance | Thousands Rally in NYC to Demand Repeal of Rockefeller Drug Laws | Medical Marijuana Cultivator Rosenthal Sentenced to One Day, Plus Probation | DEA Uses RAVE Act Threats to Block Montana NORML/SSDP Benefit | Dems on Drugs: The Presidential Contenders and Their Drug Policies | In a Strong Reversal, Congress Prohibits Drug Czar from Running Ads Against Ballot Measures and Candidates | Newsbrief: Texas Governor Signs Bill Freeing Tulia 14 | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- No in Oklahoma | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- Yes in Missouri | Newsbrief: Feds Reject MPP Complaint Against Drug Czar | Newsbrief: The Next Prohibition? Surgeon General Supports Banning Tobacco | Newsbrief: Belgian Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect | Newsbrief: DEA Can't Kidnap People in Other Countries, Federal Court Rules | The Reformer's Calendar

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