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Mexican Abductee Wins Right to Seek Damages

Appeals court sides with doctor kidnapped in 1990 on DEA orders and later acquitted.

June 04, 2003|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said department lawyers were reviewing the 108-page decision and would have no immediate comment.

Legal experts, including Washington attorney Carter Phillips, who represented the former Mexican policeman who carried out the Camarena kidnapping, predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would review the 9th Circuit ruling.

Tuesday's decision upheld a 3-0 decision issued by a smaller panel of 9th Circuit judges on Sept. 11, 2001.

In seeking a rehearing, lawyers for the Justice Department said that "the necessity of maintaining this extraterritorial arrest authority is highlighted by the recent tragic events of Sept. 11."

"If, for example, the FBI had learned of the planned attacks and somehow had been able to secure the arrest of [Osama] bin Laden in Afghanistan before Sept. 11," the earlier 9th Circuit decision "could raise questions as to whether an extraterritorial arrest serving such vital U.S. national security interests would have given rise to civil liability under U.S. law."

Alvarez's lead lawyer, Paul Hoffman of Venice, said he was "dancing in the street" after reading Tuesday's decision. The ruling vindicates his position that the government can't do anything it wants regardless of international law, Hoffman said.

View of Ruling

Diane Amann, an international law professor at UC Davis Law School, praised the majority opinion as a carefully written ruling "that balances the rights of the individual against the needs of government law enforcement."

"The majority is not acting out of thin air. It is interpreting and applying a statute [the Alien Tort Claims Act] passed by the very first Congress of the United States, and no subsequent Congress has felt the need to amend or change the statute."

Amann also said she believed the ruling "has no direct effect" on individuals that U.S. forces captured in Afghanistan and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The fact that both the majority and the dissent disagreed sharply on the ramifications of the ruling "is emblematic of the struggles judges are feeling these days," Amann said.

"In the post-Sept. 11 environment, judges are much more aware of the potential consequences of decisions based on international law and decisions that affect cross-border relationships."

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