Day 3: Closing Arguments in Legal Hearing Concerning US Political Prisoner Alex Saab’s Diplomatic Status

Free Alex Saab Movement Marches to National Assembly of Venezuela, Denounces Kidnapping of Diplomat by US

Stansfield Smith, ChicagoALBASolidarity.org

After day one and day two of the hearing, December 12-13, the case of Alex Saab’s diplomatic immunity wrapped up on the third day, December 20. Judge Robert Scola in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida will make his decision by the end of this month.

Saab’s defense explained that to determine whether Alex Saab is entitled to diplomatic immunity, the judge must answer three questions: “First, did the sending state, Venezuela, appoint Mr. Saab as a special envoy for the purpose of obtaining humanitarian aid in the form of food, medicine and oil? Second, did the receiving state, Iran, accept Mr. Saab as a special envoy? And third, was Mr. Saab in transit on the mission at the time of his detention and extradition?”

These have been established with documented evidence in the previous two days of court, evidence the prosecution initially tried to dispute, but failed to substantiate their claims that the Venezuelan and Iranian government documents presented were fake.

At one point the judge raised, probably the US government’s final argument, “So, why, in this case, shouldn’t I accept, as conclusive, the views of the State Department that he doesn’t have diplomatic status because we don’t recognize the Maduro regime as a legitimate government in Venezuela?”

The defense replied, “as you can see from some of the evidence that has been put in, some of the papers that have been put into evidence, our government still routinely deals with the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry. We still deal with the government of Venezuela, notwithstanding that the current president doesn’t recognize President Maduro.”

Surprisingly, the judge later asked this question: “In our country, we have a former president who claims that he is still the legitimate president, that he didn’t lose the election… As the self-recognized president of the United States, would some other country have to recognize people traveling with those diplomatic passports issued by somebody who claims he was the — is still the president, but not recognized by our government?”

It is ironic, if not laughable, that he raises this in relation to Venezuelan President Maduro and Special Envoy Alex Saab when the one who has paraded around the world with his entourage declaring himself the legitimate Venezuelan president is Juan Guaido. 

Saab’s defense effectively answered, “I think the big difference here is this is a diplomatic mission from the country of Venezuela to the country of Iran that did not depend on traveling through the United States. So, there was no need for the United States to be told of Mr. Saab’s status. The United States had nothing to do with the mission. It was the country of Venezuela and the country of Iran. (And both recognized him as a diplomat).”  

The prosecution did argue that the US has a right to make its own decision whether to recognize Alex Saab as a diplomat: “an illegitimate or unrecognized foreign individual [President Maduro] providing and granting status to another foreign individual [Alex Saab], in no way, shape, or form provides any kind of status that should be recognized here by this Court.” They added that Saab may have acted as a courier, but that does not make him an actual diplomat.

The prosecution in its closing argument before the judge again raised plausible doubt on the credibility of the defense witnesses. They also stated that the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations applies only to permanent diplomats, not temporary ones, such as Special Envoys, which is Alex Saab’s diplomatic status. They argued the UN Convention on Special Missions does, and the US has not signed on to that. 

The defense lawyers countered by referring to a previous case in US courts, “when the State Department [in a US court] did certify [Saudi Arabia] Prince Abdulaziz as a diplomat, a special envoy for matters related to the government of Saudi Arabia to the United States, it cited in its certification the Vienna Convention on diplomat relations and the Diplomatic Relations Act so that the State Department, itself, took the position that Prince Abdulaziz, as a special envoy, was covered by that treaty, and that is fundamentally inconsistent with what the government is saying now.”

The prosecution summed up for the judge four possible avenues by which he could find Saab has no diplomatic immunity:

  1. Members of the democratically elected Venezuelan government have no protections in the US because the US declares Juan Guaido to be president of Venezuela;
  2. The Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity does not apply to Alex Saab because the Convention applies to permanent diplomats, which Saab is not;
  3. The judge could follow Active State Doctrine, which says that a nation is sovereign within its own borders, and its domestic actions may not be questioned in the courts of another nation. Cabo Verde initially arrested Saab and its courts did not recognize his diplomatic immunity, so the judge can follow that precedent.
  4. The court can rule that since the US has not signed the UN Special Missions Convention (for Special Envoys), it has no legitimacy in US courts.

Only a supremely arrogant colonizing country would have the gall to reject the results of democratic elections in another country and instead appoint its own president for that country, as the US has done with its puppet Venezuela president Juan Guaido. The third argument almost matches the first in absurdity, as the US is violating this Active State Doctrine by denying the sovereignty of the entire Venezuelan government and is questioning in US court Venezuela’s action of appointing Alex Saab a diplomat. 

How will the judge decide? Possibly it is mere coincidence that on Friday, December 16, just before the judge in the Saab case is to render a decision, the US Senate – unanimously – approved the Law to Prohibit Operations and Leasing with the Illegitimate Authoritarian Regime of Venezuela (BOLIVAR Act)  To this offensive Senate vote, the Venezuelan government responded in part, “With this bill, which seeks to make unilateral coercive measures irreversible, it is confirmed that these same sectors have no interest in seeing a development process in Venezuela or any improvement in the quality of life of our population, much less that they are interested in guaranteeing free and fair elections, as they are promoting more obstacles and hostile measures against the country.”

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