WASHINGTON – The United States would deny foreign aid to countries that block extradition of criminal suspects under a measure approved by both houses of Congress despite objections from the State Department.
The provision, which must survive final negotiations between the House and Senate before it goes to President Bush, was partly inspired by the case of Josiah Ray Fulton (search) of Hampton, Ga., a Marine, assigned to White House security, who was murdered outside a Washington night club in 2002.
Fulton's suspected killer fled to Nicaragua, which has refused to extradite him because life without parole was a possible punishment.
"That's a percentage of my tax dollars going to Nicaragua, and they're protecting my son's killer," said Fulton's father, David Fulton. "To me, it's an admission of his guilt. If they thought he was innocent, send him back. Let him stand trial."
As of Thursday afternoon, the Nicaraguan embassy had not responded to interview requests. The Organization of American States declined to comment.
Last week, the Senate approved 85-13 an amendment by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to the bill that funds the State Department and foreign operations.
Under Chambliss' measure, a similar version of which recently passed the House, countries would lose their foreign aid money for refusing extraditions of any suspects facing life in prison or a lesser offense. Many nations block extraditions in death penalty cases, but Chambliss says an alarming number are trying to limit possible prison terms too — even for murder suspects.
"Nicaragua just thumbs their nose at us, saying, 'The heck with you. We're not going to send this guy back to you, but we'll gladly take your tax money,'" Chambliss said. "There's just something un-American about that. The more I got to thinking about that, the more infuriated I got."
Before the Senate overwhelmingly approved Chambliss' proposal, Matthew Reynolds, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, circulated a letter on Capitol Hill opposing it.
Reynolds said there are more than 100 American treaties dictating extradition, and the measure would cut off funding for some of the country's strongest allies. Reynolds listed several examples, including Colombia, which has extradited more than 200 citizens to the United States in three years but sometimes won't extradite suspects facing life imprisonment.
"The amendment may also cause serious disruptions to our broader bilateral law enforcement relationships as well as other areas of vital U.S. concern," Reynolds wrote, citing security and trade as other matters it could affect.
Rep. Nathan Deal, the Georgia Republican who sponsored the House version, said he has been concerned about the issue since 2001, when the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled life imprisonment without parole was unconstitutional. Deal says other countries have an even lower threshold, including Spain, which he said typically doesn't extradite suspects facing more than 20 years.
Although the legislation would block most foreign aid money to countries refusing to comply, it would not affect funds for law enforcement and drug prevention. Deal said it would effectively block almost half of the $66 million Mexico traditionally gets from the United States — and other countries would lose more.