Diplomatic Immunity, American-Style

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by Larry Romanoff, The Unz Review:

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.

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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]

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 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.

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