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Diplomatic Immunity, American-Style

BY LARRY ROMANOFF • UNZ REVIEW • AUGUST 28, 2022

In a recent podcast, Kevin Barrett stated that the rule of law has disappeared in the US. This is so obviously true to outsiders looking in, and is even more true of American official conduct abroad, but I find myself wondering about the extent to which Americans generally are aware of this and how it is perceived.

In days gone by, this lawlessness was usually deeply buried and obfuscated but today it seems there is no longer even a pretense of any rule of law. We see this most recently in the so-called “sanctions” the US so freely applies to countries and individuals, being no more than illegal rampaging and looting.

But there is another category that may not be as visible and yet is indicative of an extreme breakdown of the rule of law, this applying to the category of “diplomatic immunity”, real or imagined, where the US government absolutely treads on a one-way street. This article is only a brief introduction with a few examples of hundreds that could be cited.

Devyani Khobragade

On late 2013 an Indian diplomat, 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, was the Deputy Consul-General in New York, and by all reports had an excellent reputation and was honorably discharging her consular duties. But then she was suddenly charged with submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for a housekeeper. She was arrested and handcuffed while dropping her daughter off at school, was taken to a police station and strip-searched, given a body cavity search, then put into a cell with drug dealers and held there until she was finally released on $250,000 bail.[1]

The Federal Prosecutor, Preet Bharara, claimed agents had arrested her “in the most discreet way possible”, having doing so in full view of her daughter, her daughter’s friends, and most of the teachers and students. He said “there can be no plausible claim that this case was somehow an injustice”, calling her treatment “standard procedure” even for diplomatic personnel, claiming further that during her strip and cavity searches she had been “accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants are accorded, most of whom are American citizens.” He claimed these procedures were “standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself”. He said his office’s sole motivation was to uphold the law, protect victims and hold lawbreakers accountable, “no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are”.[2][3][4][5] It staggers the imagination and leaves us numb and unable to respond when faced with such incredibly shameful lies.

The mess was later blamed on a “mistake”, a claim that the low-level agent who drew up the charges against Ms. Khobragade had confused two documents – Ms. Khobragade’s US visa application and that of the employment contract with her housekeeper – and “misunderstood” Ms. Khobragade’s salary as the amount she meant to pay her maid. Yet those two documents are in an entirely different format and could not possibly have been confused one with the other. It would appear that no visa fraud actually occurred after all, and it was further discovered Ms. Khobragade was after all attached to the UN as an advisor, which function unquestionably granted her full diplomatic immunity. The US State department repeatedly refused to acknowledge her diplomatic status but let her leave the country.[6]

However, and if all the claims had been true, this really would have been at most a simple issue of a wage mis-statement which is a misdemeanor offense and not a felony, and would normally be investigated by the Department of Labor. In fact, this is a common issue with many foreign household and agricultural workers in the US, and also occurs daily with restaurant workers, but never in the history of America has a restaurant or farm owner been arrested and strip-searched because of a low-level wage or visa dispute. And for such a minor offense the bail is usually around $5,000, not $250,000. So what really happened?

Well, only a few weeks before being abruptly arrested and strip-searched in New York, Ms. Khobragade had managed to make some powerful enemies in the US pharmaceutical industry about India’s treatment of US so-called intellectual property. The Indian government and courts have taken IP actions that angered the Americans, including denial to US firms of pharmaceutical patents that were not a true innovation, and permitting compulsory licensing for production of generic medicines. The US Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) was hysterical at India’s actions, referring to “unprecedented patent revocations and denials” and accusing India of being “an outlier in the global economy”. AmCham’s “Global IP Center” held a public event in New York at which it attacked India’s practices, and at which Ms. Khobragade was “outspoken” in defense of her country’s practices, and where she engaged in “debate” with US industry executives, demanding that in future an Indian representative be given a formal place at these events to present India’s side of the story. Shortly thereafter, US officials were busy cavity-searching, humiliating, and deporting the woman who dared confront the IP kings of AmCham and the US pharma industry.

Preet Bharara later confirmed in an autobiography that Devyani Khobragade was indeed strip-searched and cavity-searched, and acknowledged, “That could have and should have been avoided, given that no one would have sought pretrial detention.”[7]

 A bit too little and a bit too late.

The official position of all civilised nations toward a foreign diplomat resident in their countries is that “He is a diplomat and has the privileges of a diplomat. If you’re a diplomat and you commit any crime, the case is investigated and is forwarded to your embassy. That’s what the law says and we work within the law”. However, the official position of the American government toward foreign diplomats in the US is different. A State Department “guidance paper” for American law enforcement officials on how diplomatic immunity works even at the highest levels says that “diplomatic immunity is not intended to serve as a license for persons to flout the law and purposely avoid liability for their actions. The purpose of these privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient and effective performance of their official missions on behalf of their governments.”

In short, a foreign diplomat in the US has no immunity against prosecution by the US government for offenses real or imagined, but US citizens in other nations, diplomats or not, have full immunity even when clearly engaged in illegal activities that include drunk or reckless driving, espionage, and murder.

There are literally hundreds of cases where US consular officials in all countries regularly flout domestic labor and many other laws. American employment contracts in other countries are regularly violated with impunity, and typically specify that all staff issues including compensation will be decided exclusively by the US consular staff with no recourse to either domestic or US law – contract wording that is itself illegal, since no contract anywhere can eliminate recourse to local courts. But then, these are Americans, and their world is apparently different than ours. Americans in all countries violate both domestic tax laws and their visa status, in all cases being protected by the US government claiming “diplomatic status” for those who are clearly non-diplomats.

Raymond Davis

Here is another incident, this one from the other side of the fence. In January of 2011, CIA agent Raymond Davis was driving down a street in Lahore, Pakistan, when he stopped at a red light. A motorbike carrying two Pakistani Intelligence agents keeping Davis under surveillance due to suspicion of criminal activities, pulled in front of his car. Davis drew an automatic weapon and killed both men, claiming they had attempted to rob him and that he acted in self-defense.[8][9]

But the documented facts from multiple witnesses clearly proved that Davis initiated the violence. When the motorcycle stopped in front of his car, Davis first fired five shots through the windshield, killing one man and injuring the other, then got out of his vehicle, shot four more rounds into the two men as they lay on the pavement, then four more shots into one man’s back as he was trying to crawl away, killing him as well. Witnesses testified that Davis then walked back to his car, called for backup on a military radio, then took photos of the men he had just killed. One witness who watched from his restaurant across the street, said he was amazed at the American’s manner. “He was very peaceful and confident. I was wondering how he could be like that after killing two people,” he said.

Minutes later, four Americans in a Toyota jeep with fake registration plates left Davis’ home and made a frantic but unsuccessful attempt to reach Davis and rescue him. Finding their vehicle trapped in a traffic jam, they crossed the median and traveled against the oncoming traffic, colliding with a motorcycle and killing the driver. After the accident, they fled the scene and drove at high speed to the US Embassy, jettisoning many bits of evidence along the way including 100 bullets, knives, gloves, a blindfold. Witnesses later told police that one American opened the door to their vehicle, displayed a rifle and threatened to kill anyone who got in their way.

Davis also attempted to escape in his vehicle but was apprehended and charged with double murder, espionage and the illegal possession of a firearm. Although Davis was part of the CIA’s Global Response Staff, he was at the time doing some contract espionage work for Xe Services, the private company formerly known as Blackwater that was involved in a multitude of scandals in Iraq that included mass murders and many other crimes. Items recovered from Davis’s car included a Glock handgun, an infrared light, a portable telescope, GPS equipment, two mobile phones, a satellite phone, 9mm ammunition, multiple ATM and military ID cards, multiple ID cards from several different US consulates, facial disguise and makeup, and a camera. According to Pakistani officials, Davis’ camera contained photos of “prohibited areas such as installations along the border with India”, stating “This is not the work of a diplomat. He was doing espionage and other activities”.[10][11][12][13]

Then-US President Obama demanded that Pakistan free “our diplomat” under the Vienna convention rules, and the State Department exerted fierce and unrelenting pressure on Pakistan to release Davis. US officials insisted Davis was a diplomat doing “technical and administrative work” at the embassy and had to be treated as such, though he was a common criminal in the country on a tourist passport, had no diplomatic credentials and no consular functions. Pakistani officials demanded the US turn over for questioning the men in the Embassy who had attempted to rescue Davis and had killed the motorcyclist, but the Americans refused and spirited the men out of Pakistan. Davis was released after the families of the two killed men were paid $2.4 million in what is called “blood money”.

Joshua Walde

In another incident, in August of 2013 an American diplomat, Joshua Walde, an information management officer at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, was driving his SUV at a high rate of speed when he made an illegal turn, crossed the highway center line, and rammed into a full mini-bus, killing a father of three whose widow was six months pregnant, and seriously injuring eight other people.[14] (15) US Embassy officials in Nairobi took advantage of Walde’s diplomatic immunity and rushed the American and his family out of Kenya the next day, leaving the crash victims with no financial assistance. Officials noted that embassy employees are typically evacuated “for medical evaluations” after traumatic events but also are flown out of a country “to avoid any possible retribution”. Hilary Renner, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington, said the embassy extends “its deepest condolences” to the family of the dead man, and “wishes a speedy recovery” to those injured.

Anne Sacoolas

More recently we had the case of Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an American employed at a UK consulate, who was formally charged in the death of British teenager Harry Dunn. Sacoolas was driving her car on the wrong side of the road, perhaps while impaired, and crashed into Dunn’s motorcycle, killing him. Sacoolas spoke later to the police, but then immediately headed for the airport and left the UK, claiming “diplomatic immunity” when of course she had none. However, the Americans refused to release her to return to the UK to stand trial.[16][17] Once safe at home in the US, Ms. Sacoolas offered to perform some “community service” as penance. Here are some media details if you are interested in more information:[18][19][20][21][22][23]

Julia Bravo

A current case is that of an American soldier in Italy, a young woman named Julia Bravo, who has been charged with vehicular homicide. Prosecutors in Pordenone, in Italy’s Northeast, charged the 20-year-old female soldier stationed at the US Air Force’s Aviano Air Base with vehicular manslaughter in the auto death of a young boy in Italy.

According to witness testimony, Bravo had left a disco in the small hours of the morning, was subsequently seen driving erratically on the road, drove over and through a traffic circle, crossed a median, crashed through a group of road signs at high speed and hit a group of young boys walking on the roadside, killing one of them instantly. According to an eyewitness who had been partying in the same club, Bravo was so drunk “she couldn’t even turn the ignition on”, and at first drove off in the opposite direction of her military base. The police said her blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit.

The dead boy’s mother said, “We all know that the soldiers on the Aviano base in this area do what they like, that they don’t respect the rules. There have been many incidents in the past that involved American troops. They have the freedom to do whatever they like and not be punished.” The mother told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that she wanted the soldier tried in Italy. “I don’t trust the American justice system.” However, the chance of that appears slight since the US Embassy is apparently exerting enormous pressure on the Italians to have the woman sent to the US for a “prosecution” which will never take place.[24][25][26][27][28]

However, being American, our sympathies must lie with the perpetrator. Her lawyer told the Italian media that his client was “extremely emotionally exhausted” from expressing her remorse and apologising to the family.

Capt. Richard Ashby

There have been many such occurrences involving US military personnel in countries throughout Europe and Asia, and invariably with the US applying immense diplomatic and military bullying to prevent Americans from being subject to the laws of any country. One notable case occurred some years back where a Capt. Richard Ashby, flying a military jet aircraft in Northern Italy, was displaying what he boasted as a “daredevil stunt” and severed the cables of a cable car line at an Italian ski resort, sending 20 people to their death. The military restrictions prohibited flight below 1,000 feet above ground level and at speeds more than 500 mph. Ashby was flying his aircraft at little over 300 feet and at more than 1,000 Kph when the accident occurred.[29][30][31]

Italian prosecutors had wanted four US airmen, including Ashby and his co-pilot, Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, and three officers from the US base at Aviano, to face charges of manslaughter and endangering the safety of transport, but the Americans bullied the Italians into surrendering the prisoners to an American court. Naturally, all were found not guilty of all charges. The Italians were infuriated, but there was nothing to be done. People still ask today why has no one has even been held to account for that tragedy.[32][33]

Epilogue

One of the distressing features of today’s world is that it is not only the US that has apparently abandoned any pretense of adhering to a rule of law; most other Western nations are as guilty, and some perhaps even more so.

Think of Canada during the recent truckers’ protest in Ottawa. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first had the nation’s law enforcement agencies track down the ownership of the vehicles and extort the insurance companies into canceling the insurance on all the trucks. When that failed, they used every manner of access to determine the identity of all protesters and forced the banks to freeze the accounts of all participants. When that still failed to frighten off the protesters, Trudeau had the local governments begin seizing the semi-trailers and selling them ($150,000 to $200,000 each) “to pay the costs of monitoring the protest”. All actions were openly and reprehensibly illegal, against all manner of law and justice, but seemingly of no concern.

It is incredible, unbelievable, that the government of any civilised country, the so-called democracies and “free nations”, could behave in such a manner, and yet this is where we are. The few examples in this essay are of rampant criminality and the immunity that comes with uncontrolled power in the hands of the wrong people. It is no longer a matter of law but of power to do. The US government recently confiscated the entire assets of Afghanistan’s central bank and arbitrarily decided to “donate” the money to American 9-11 victims. That is not different than seizing the assets of Russia’s central bank, and keeping the money, not different than seizing a $100 million yacht owned by an innocent individual, and selling it and keeping the money – because he’s Russian.

We see articles today warning us of the impending degeneration of the US and the West into totalitarian fascism, but that’s a delusion: we’re already there, but nobody seems to know. If you are on the wrong side of the political fence today, your life could easily become miserable and short. Dissidence is no longer a requirement; innocent questioning of the official narrative will be sufficient. By the time everyone wakes up, it will be too late and we will be in the middle of World War Three.

Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. ([Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons]).

His full archive can be seen at https://www.bluemoonofshanghai.com/ + https://www.moonofshanghai.com/

He can be contacted at: 2186604556@qq.com

Notes

[1] https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2020/10/01/devyani-khobragade-whose-arrest-led-to-india-us-spat-made-envoy-to-cambodia.html#:~:text=Devyani%20Khobragade%20was%20charged%20and%20arrested%20by%20US,by%20paying%20her%20less%20than%20the%20stipulated%20wages

[2] IFS officer Devyani Khobragade, who was stripped searched in US, promoted after 7-month wait

https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/oct/27/ifs-officer-devyani-khobragade-who-was-stripped-searched-in-us-promoted-after-7-month-wait-1890490.html

[3] Who is Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat at the center of the firestorm?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/indias-devyani-khobragade-advocated-for-womens-rights-but-underpaid-her-nanny/2013/12/20/13e23688-69a2-11e3-8b5b-a77187b716a3_story.html

[4] Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade leaves US under immunity

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/10/devyani-khobragade-to-leave-us-under-diplomatic-immunity

[5] U.S. officials made a mistake that led to Indian diplomat’s arrest and strip search over visa application for maid

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529122/Devyani-Khobragades-arrest-strip-search-result-mistake-US-officials-claims-lawyer.html

[6] Devyani Khobragade: Diplomat row charges dropped in US

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-26554245

[7] Preet Bharara says diplomat was strip-searched, could’ve been avoided

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/former-prosecutor-preet-bharara-says-diplomat-devyani-khobragade-was-strip-searched-could-ve-been-avoided/story-QsrVh6iiCF4RIirCRke1qM.html

[8] American who sparked diplomatic crisis over Lahore shooting was CIA spy

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/20/us-raymond-davis-lahore-cia

[9] US gives fresh details of CIA agent who killed two men in Pakistan shootout

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/21/raymond-davis-pakistan-cia-blackwater

[10] CIA killer Raymond Davis released by Pakistani authorities

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2011/03/pkst-m18.html

[11] CIA contractor Ray Davis freed over Pakistan killings

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12757244

[12] Revealed: What CIA agent was really doing in Lahore as it emerges even Pakistan officials are ‘worried for his safety’

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1359324/CIA-agent-Raymond-Davis-Lahore-Pakistan-officials-worried-safety.html

[13] Pakistan defiant in face of US pressure to free CIA agent

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/21/raymond-davis-cia-agent-pakistan

[14] https://www.rt.com/news/us-diplomat-flees-kenya-accident-979/

[15] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/02/diplomat-kenya-car-crash/2612229/

[16] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9280351/Harry-Dunns-family-lawyer-hits-diplomat-Anne-Sacoolas-offers-pay-funeral.html

[17] https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/case-against-anne-sacoolas-over-death-of-harry-dunn-can-go-ahead-in-us-judge-rules/ar-BB1dKA18

[18] Anne Sacoolas to face UK court over death of Harry Dunn

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/dec/13/harry-dunn-anne-sacoolas-to-face-criminal-trial-in-the-uk-over-teenagers-death

[19] ANNE SACOOLAS has reached a “resolution” with Harry Dunn’s family after the teenager was killed in a car accident with her behind the wheel in 2019.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10079907/anne-sacoolas-us-diplomat-wife-harry-dunn-death/

[20] Anne Sacoolas: Harry Dunn suspect ‘willing to do community service’

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-56326406

[21] Case against American woman accused of killing a UK teenager can go ahead in the US, judge rules

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/17/us/harry-dunn-anne-sacoolas-damages-intl/index.html

[22] The fugitive: US spy’s wife Anne Sacoolas is pictured driving HER children on the school run in America after fleeing Britain following car crash that killed teenager Harry Dunn

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7971307/Pictured-Anne-Sacoolas-fled-justice-road-crash-killed-Harry-Dunn.html

[23] US woman who killed teen biker Harry Dunn wouldn’t face prosecution in America, lawyer claims

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/09/uk/anne-sacoolas-harry-dunn-community-service-intl-gbr/index.html

[24] U.S. servicewoman in Italy charged with vehicular homicide in drunk driving accident

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2022/aug/23/julia-bravo-us-servicewoman-italy-charged-vehicula/

[25] American service member, 20, is arrested in Italy for hitting and killing 15-year-old boy with her car while ‘driving drunk’

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11137855/American-soldier-arrested-Italy-hitting-killing-15-year-old-car-drunk.html

[26] Drunk US soldier kills boy in Italy

The American airwoman hit the 15-year-old while driving four times over the legal blood alcohol limit

https://www.rt.com/news/561418-american-pilot-drunk-driving-italy/

[27] US soldier held in Italy for allegedly killing 15-year-old while driving four times over legal alcohol limit

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/crime/soldier-italy-drunk-driving-teen-killed-b2150353.html

[28] US soldier under house arrest in Italy after driving drunk, killing teen

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/world/2022/08/24/US-soldier-under-house-arrest-in-Italy-after-driving-drunk-killing-teen

[29] 20 die as US warplane hits cable car in Italian resort

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/20-die-as-us-warplane-hits-cable-car-in-italian-resort-1142753.html

[30] 20 Die in Italy As U.S. Jet Cuts A Ski Lift Cable

https://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/04/world/20-die-in-italy-as-us-jet-cuts-a-ski-lift-cable.html

[31] Cable Car Plunges in Italy, Killing at Least 14 People

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/23/world/europe/italy-cable-car.html

[32] US pilot who killed twenty on ski gondola acquitted

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1999/03/ital-m06.html

[33] Cavalese cable-car disaster: It’s 20 years since a US aircraft killed 20 people in the Dolomites and still no one accepts responsibility.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/cavalese-cable-car-disaster-us-aircraft-deaths-trentino-20-1998-italy-dolomites-lake-garda-responsibility-air-force-a8184771.html

August 28, 2022 - Posted by | Timeless or most popular |

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