No Comment — February 17, 2011, 2:29 pm

The Strange Story of a Double Homicide in Lahore

Raymond A. Davis is a U.S. government employee or contractor now in police custody in Pakistan in connection with the shooting of two men in Lahore on January 27. The State Department has asserted diplomatic immunity on Davis’s behalf, and Senator John Kerry has rushed to Pakistan to attempt to win his freedom. Pakistani courts and authorities are challenging the claim of immunity, though President Asif Ali Zardari is siding with the State Department.

According to Washington, the matter is simple: Davis carries a diplomatic passport and therefore has immunity. However, anyone schooled in the law of diplomacy knows that the State Department is playing fast and loose with the law. The issuance of a black passport does not confer diplomatic immunity in such circumstances; that step requires the recognition by the host state of diplomatic status. And the picture surrounding Mr. Davis is exceedingly murky. The New York Times discreetly reports facts that have been sensationalized in the Pakistani media:

American officials said that two armed men threatened Mr. Davis when he was driving alone on a busy Lahore road, and that he fired in self-defense. The statement on Friday night said that Mr. Davis was assigned as an “administrative and technical” member of the staff at the American Embassy in Islamabad. But his exact duties have not been explained, and the reason he was driving alone with a Glock handgun, a pocket telescope and GPS equipment has fueled speculation in the Pakistani news media.

David Lindorff has probed a bit more deeply into the story:

Davis (whose identity was first denied and later confirmed by the US Embassy in Islamabad) and the embassy have claimed that he was hired as an employee of a US security company called Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, which was said to be located at 5100 North Lane in Orlando, Florida. Business cards for Hyperion were found on Davis by arresting officers…

First, there is not and never has been any such company located at the 5100 North Lane address. It is only an empty storefront, with empty shelves along one wall and an empty counter on the opposite wall, with just a lone used Coke cup sitting on it. A leasing agency sign is on the window. A receptionist at the IB Green & Associates rental agency located in Leesburg, Florida, said that her agency, which handles the property, part of a desolate-looking strip mall of mostly empty storefronts, has never leased to a Hyperion Protective Consultants. She added, “In fact, until recently, we had for several years occupied that address ourselves.”

Nothing about Davis’s background would suggest that he is qualified to serve as a diplomatic or consular officer, either. To the contrary, the evidence suggests that Davis, a former Special Forces member, was working in an extremely shadowy area of security and intelligence gathering. He may be engaged in valiant and high-risk service to his country, but he is performing it in circumstances that afford little legal protection.

The State Department does routinely furnish diplomatic cover for such operatives in an effort to facilitate their work. But as the Abu Omar prosecution in Milan shows, the United States is often hesitant to invoke diplomatic immunity in such cases because some kinds of intelligence operations are inconsistent with diplomatic duties, attempts to invoke immunity may not be recognized by foreign prosecutors and foreign courts, and the effort may undermine the protections afforded legitimate diplomats.

The Davis case raises another painful issue for the United States. In order to secure Davis’s freedom, Senator Kerry and Secretary Clinton need to be able to argue to their Pakistani counterparts that the United States is capable of investigating the Lahore incident fairly and taking criminal or disciplinary action as appropriate. Davis claims he acted in self defense, attempting to stop a daytime robbery. The use of lethal force in such circumstances may well be justified. That’s the sort of call that a prosecutor would normally make after a thorough investigation.

The problem is that America’s track record shows clearly that it doesn’t investigate or act on claims involving either intelligence agents or contractors. As I noted in earlier Congressional testimony, the United States has a de facto policy of impunity for its security contractors and agents who kill or injure foreign civilians. Notwithstanding promises by both the Bush and Obama Administrations to address this problem, there has been no real progress. Moreover prosecutions showcased by the Justice Department as a demonstration of their seriousness fizzled into nothing in the courts—including the high-profile case involving the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square in 2007. Pakistani authorities would therefore be correct to dismiss any claims by American diplomats that someone like Davis would be fairly investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. There is no real prospect of either.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
“Here, a long finger of snow replaced by gray patches of dirt and rock; there, a grayish blob of ice the texture of corduroy, where once a vibrant white patch of snow lay.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans

Number of British women killed last fall by lightning conducted through their underwire bras:

2

British women wear heels for fifty-one years on average, from the ages of twelve to sixty-three.

Thousands of employees of McDonald’s protested outside the company’s headquarters near Chicago, demanding their wages be increased to $15 per hour. “I can’t afford any shoes,” said one employee in attendance, “and I want Versace heels.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today