US facing world court defeat over executions

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The Independent US

The United States is expected to lose a case in the International Court of Justice this week over the execution of two German nationals who were tried and sentenced in Arizona without access to German consular officials.

The US has admitted violating the 1963 Vienna Convention concerning the rights of foreign nationals. The Arizona authorities failed to inform Karl and Walter LaGrand of their rights to assistance from the German government, and refused to delay the 1999 executions even after formal protests from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister.

President George Bush weathered heavy criticism in his trip to Europe over the execution of Tim McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, the first federal prisoner to be killed in almost 40 years.

The LaGrand brothers were born in Augsburg to a German mother and American father and moved to the US as children. They were found guilty of murdering a rural bank manager during a botched robbery in 1982.

Only 10 years later, when almost all avenues of appeal were exhausted, did the German government learn of the LaGrands. Karl was killed by lethal injection, but Walter opted for the gas chamber to help publicise his case. Gassing is outlawed in most US states as cruel and unusual punishment.

Between the executions, the world court urged the US to reprieve Walter and said it should pay damages for killing Karl. The court has no real power, but a similar ruling by the International Court of Justice could prove a real embarrassment. The US has asked the court not to impose any penalty.

Judge Gilbert Guillaume will announce his ruling in The Hague on Wednesday. His decision will be final, and unappealable.