This week in winning hearts and minds
Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier, has shot and killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore.
Monday, Feb 21, 2011 06:22 ET
In terms of understanding how the U.S. is perceived in the Muslim world — and why some people might become sufficiently enraged to give up their own lives to attack us — consider the following:
(1) On January 27, Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier, shot and killed two Pakistani citizens in that nation’s second-largest city, Lahore, using a semi-automatic Glock pistol. Davis claims he acted in self-defense when they attacked his car to rob him — both of the dead were armed and had lengthy records of petty crimes — but each was shot five times, and one was killed after Davis was safely back in his car and the victim was fleeing. After shooting the two dead, Davis calmly photographed their bodies and then called other Americans stationed in Pakistan (likely CIA officers) for assistance; one of the Americans’ Land Rovers dispatched to help Davis struck and killed a Pakistani motorcyclist while speeding to the scene. The Pakistani wife of one of Davis’ victims then committed suicide by swallowing rat poison, saying on her deathbed that she had serious doubts that Davis would be held accountable.
For reasons easy to understand — four dead Pakistanis at the hands of Americans, two of whom (at least) were completely innocent — this episode has become a major scandal in that nation. From the start, the U.S. Government has demanded Davis’ release on the grounds of “diplomatic immunity.” But the very murky status of Davis and his work in Pakistan has clouded that claim. The State Department first said he worked for the consulate, not the embassy, which would make him subject to weaker immunity rights than diplomats enjoy (State now says that its original claim was a “mistake” and that Davis worked for the embassy). President Obama then publicly demanded the release of what he absurdly called ”our diplomat in Pakistan”; when he was arrested, Davis ”was carrying a 9mm gun and 75 bullets, bolt cutters, a GPS unit, an infrared light, telescope, a digital camera, an air ticket, two mobile phones and a blank cheque.” Late last week, a Pakistani court ordered a three-week investigation to determine if Davis merits diplomatic immunity, during which time he will remain in custody. And now it turns out, according The Guardian last night, that ”our diplomat” was actually working for the CIA:
The American who shot dead two men in Lahore, triggering a diplomatic crisis between Pakistan and the US, is a CIA agent who was on assignment at the time. . . . Based on interviews in the US and Pakistan, the Guardian can confirm that the 36-year-old former special forces soldier is employed by the CIA. “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. . . . He served in the US special forces for 10 years before leaving in 2003 to become a security contractor. A senior Pakistani official said he believed Davis had worked with Xe, the firm formerly known as Blackwater.
A few caveats are in order here. Though The Guardian uses unusually strong language for its claim (“the Guardian can confirm”), the reporting appears based mostly if not entirely on Pakistani sources and is entirely anonymous (though Davis’ CIA connection has been speculated from the start and never denied by the U.S. Government). Most countries, including the U.S., have on occasion been forced to release perpetrators of heinous crimes because they had “diplomatic” status (or were family members of diplomats): including murder, rape and pedophilia, and it often (and understandably) engenders public rage. The U.S. is hardly alone in spying under diplomatic cover. And the general custom is that once a person enters a country with a diplomatic passport — as Davis did here — they are entitled to immunity regardless of their specific work. In sum, both the factual and legal issues here are both unclear and complex (The Guardian today has an excellent article [link fixed] gathering all the known facts, while The Washington Post‘s “fact-checking” feature reviews the international legal issues and “withholds judgment” on who is right).
But several points are quite clear. There’s the gross hypocrisy of the U.S. State Department invoking lofty “rule-of-law” and diplomacy principles under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — the very same State Department that just got caught systematically violating that convention when WikiLeaks cables revealed that U.S. “diplomats” were ordered to spy on U.N. officials and officials in other countries. Then there’s the delusional notion — heard mostly from progressives with romanticized images of the State Department — that WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables was terrible because it’s wrong to undermine “diplomacy” with leaks, since the State Department (unlike the Big, Bad Pentagon) is devoted to Good, Humane causes of facilitating peace. As this episode illustrates, there’s no separation among the various arms of the U.S. Government; they all are devoted to the same end and simply use different means to accomplish it (when the U.S. Government is devoted to war, “diplomatic” functions are used to bolster the war, as Colin Powell can tell you).