U.S. v. Alvarez-Machain (amicus) – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1992

In a decision which caused widespread shock and dismay in the legal community and among human rights activists, the Supreme Court ruled in June 1992 that U.S. officials may kidnap a foreign national in his own country and bring him to the U.S. for trial. CCR and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in October 1991. In it, we asserted that when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents kidnapped Dr. Humberto Alvarez, they violated the 1980 U.S.­ Mexican extradition treaty, which specified only two options when one state formally seeks a national of the other: extradition or domestic prosecution.

Alvarez was charged with assisting in the torture and murder of a DEA agent in Mexico. After informal efforts to obtain his extradition from Mexico were unsuccessful, the DEA offered a reward for his capture.

Alvarez was then kidnapped in Mexico and flown to the U.S.; his kidnappers received the promised payment from the DEA. The brief charged that validating such kidnapping would imperil all extradition treaties between the U.S. and other countries, treaties which “serve the over­ arching purpose of preventing international conflict by providing agreed-upon standards whereby parties may cooperate to avoid retaliatory invasions of territorial sovereignty.”

Despite arguments from the U.S. human rights community and from the government of Mexico itself, the Supreme Court concluded that the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty did not specifically prohibit kidnappings, and therefore posed no bar to Alvarez’s prosecution in the U.S. The court refused to apply customary international law, although it acknowledged that internationai law does prohibit a government from kidnapping people from the territory of another sovereign nation.

This case is a further extension of the U.S. government’s dangerous claim that it has the right to assert its power anywhere in the world, even over the objection of the local government.

Michael Ratner, Beth Stephens, Peter Weiss, Jose Luis Morin, and David Cole, with Harold Hongju Koh and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School