Cablegate: Death Sentence Case of John Nhu Hung Nguyen
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002205
FROM AMBASSADOR BURGHARDT TO CA/OCS/ACS/EAP AND L/CA
DEPARTMENT FOR CA/OCS, CA/OCS/ACS/EAP, EAP/BCLTV, L/CA
HO CHI MINH CITY FOR CONS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC PREL VM CNARC
SUBJECT: DEATH SENTENCE CASE OF JOHN NHU HUNG NGUYEN
REF: A) Gutzmer-Short-Slater email dated July 22, 2004
(subject: Legal assistance from Chief Council's Office), B)
Hanoi 2047 and previous
1. (U) Summary. AmCit John Nguyen has been sentenced to
death for drug trafficking. Post believes that this penalty
is disproportionate to his crime, and given the state of
Vietnam's judicial system, requests clearance on talking
points supporting Mr. Nguyen's request for leniency. End
2. (U) American citizen John Nhu Hung Nguyen was first
convicted on 29 May 2002 of drug trafficking, sentenced to
20 years imprisonment, and fined 200 million Vietnamese
Dong. He was convicted of a second drug trafficking charge
on 26 February 2004 and his sentence was extended to life in
prison. In an Appeals Court hearing on 16 June 2004 his
sentence was increased to death.
EXCESSIVE AND DISPROPORTIONATE TO THE CRIME
3. (U) Mr. Nguyen's sentence far exceeds what he might have
received for a similar crime in the U.S. DEA attorneys have
informed post (ref A) that while they cannot say with
certainty what sentence Mr. Nguyen would have received in
the U.S., sentencing guidelines for his second offense call
for a sentence of 78 to 175 months, to be adjusted by such
factors as a previous criminal history, the individual's
role in the offense, and the individual's acceptance of
responsibility. Mr. Nguyen has no previous convictions in
Vietnam, and claims to have cooperated fully with Vietnamese
authorities. It is clear that, in comparison with what he
might have received in the U.S., Mr. Nguyen's sentence is
excessive and disproportionate to his offense.
VIETNAM'S LEGAL SYSTEM IS NOT RELIABLE, TRANSPARENT, OR FAIR
4. (SBU) Mission and the State Department have repeatedly
said that there are serious deficiencies in Vietnam's legal
system. Public statements, such as the Human Rights Report,
put the Department on record as saying as much.
5. (U) Sentencing guidelines exist and investigations are
generally thorough in Vietnam, but the outcome of a case can
be vulnerable to political pressure. Some defendants have
been convicted as scapegoats in the place of other seemingly
guilty defendants, or have had their convictions made on
weak or distorted evidence. Further, the GVN does not allow
domestic or international observers into trials, so
standards cannot be adequately assessed.
AUSTRALIA HAS SUCCESSFULLY MADE A REQUEST FOR LENIENCY
6. (U) Post is aware that an Australian was recently
sentenced to death for a similar drug offense. Following a
formal protest by the Government of Australia, the
Australian's sentence was commuted to life in prison.
REQUEST FOR CLEARANCE
7. (U) To avoid the appearance of interfering with
Vietnam's judicial process mission has sent diplomatic notes
to the GVN stating that it is following the case with close
interest, requesting confirmation that Mr. Nguyen's letter
for leniency be given every due consideration, and asking to
be kept informed of all developments in his case.
8. (U) Post believes that Mr. Nguyen's inordinately harsh
sentence is but one aspect of a deficient legal system. We
must not appear to be unaware of, or indifferent to the
consequences of Vietnam's legal system for this American.
As such, post requests clearance on the following talking
points to be delivered to the GVN:
- We would like to thank you for your cooperation on this
case. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials in Hanoi have
been readily available to meet with Cons and have been
helpful in monitoring the progression of this case.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that his family's
and his requests for leniency are making their way to the
- We applaud your government for taking narcotics control so
seriously. It was on the strength of Vietnam's dedication
to combating narcotics that our governments recently signed
a Letter of Agreement on Counternarcotics Cooperation,
establishing projects designed to combat the production and
trafficking of illicit narcotics and other forms of
transnational criminal activities.
- Mr. Nguyen has been convicted of a very serious crime. We
do not wish to make light of his offense or dispute his
guilt. We respect the authority of your government to
decide his sentence.
- However, we find Mr. Nguyen's sentence to be excessive and
inordinate to the crime. A criminal convicted of the same
offense in the U.S. might receive a much shorter sentence of
around 78 to 175 months. A person convicted of Mr. Nguyen's
crimes would never receive the death sentence or even life
- In light of the differing potential sentences, we ask that
you grant Mr. Nguyen's request for leniency.