By Arun Kumar
Washington, Dec 22 (IANS) India-born US prosecutor Preet Bharara has thrown the book at an Indian diplomat over alleged visa fraud in the name of equality before law, “no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.” Contrast this with the lengths Uncle Sam has gone to save the skin of its diplomats and non-diplomats alike accused of exploiting their domestic help, or even rape, murder and worse.
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, has recalled “a similar but much worse row in January 2011” when a CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two men in a crowded street in Lahore. The US claimed that Davis carried a diplomatic passport, but Pakistan’s Foreign Office found that Davis’ name had been included on the list of diplomats serving in Pakistan only after he had committed the murders, he noted in an article in The Beast.
But once his real identity was revealed “The Pakistani government avoided embarrassing President (Barack) Obama, who had been misled into publicly insisting on Davis’ diplomatic status,” Haqqani wrote.
Eventually, Davis was set free by a Pakistani court after his lawyers reached a financial settlement with the victims’ families under Pakistan’s Islamic ‘blood money’ law, he recalled and US conveyed America’s regret over the loss of life caused by Davis.
Peter Van Buren, who blew the whistle on the State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, “We Meant Well”, has in his blog lifted the lid on the cases of several other US diplomats who have gone scot free after various crimes.
“Not paying a fair wage is wrong,” he wrote commenting on the Khobragade case, but “What is also wrong is for the State Department to be following a double-standard in what it expects from foreign diplomats, and what it expects from its own.”
Citing court documents, he mentions the case of US diplomat Linda Howard and her husband accused of raping and enslaving an Ethiopian woman tricked into accompanying them as their domestic servant to Japan, and forced to work for less than $1 per hour.
A Virginia federal judge awarded the victim $3.3 million in damages on a default judgment against the couple. But the diplomat retired from the State Department with full pension and then fled the country.
Earlier this year in Kenya, an American diplomat who police say was speeding, crossed the centre line in his SUV and rammed into a full mini-bus, killing a father of three whose widow is six months pregnant. The embassy, according to Van Buren, then rushed the American and his family out of Kenya the next day, leaving the crash victims with no financial assistance to pay for a funeral and for hospital bills for the eight or so others who were seriously injured.
In another case of abuse and visa fraud, Harold Countryman, a US diplomat assigned to Seoul, South Korea, along with his spouse Kimberly, brought a Cambodian woman to work for them in the US with a falsified US visa application. On being caught, the couple pleaded guilty to visa fraud, and are paying the Cambodian woman $50,000 in restitution, Van Buren said. Harold Countryman, the diplomat, only received probation, however.
In another case, Kerry Howard, the community-liaison officer at the US Consulate in Naples, claims she was bullied, harassed and forced to resign after complaining about the consul general’s Donald Moore’s alleged office trysts with subordinates and hookers. One subordinate was allegedly forced to have an abortion.
In yet another case of sexual assault, Chuck Lisenbee, a former State Department Beirut security officer who was being probed for allegedly sexually assaulting local guards, is now a special agent in Washington for the Office of Diplomatic Vehicles, Enforcement and Outreach, Van Buren said, citing a State Department phone directory.
Former US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, accused of soliciting “sexual favours from both prostitutes and minor children” was also allowed to retire in July of this year, Van Buren claimed.
Back in 1993, one Tokyo embassy US diplomat identified as Thurmond Borden, brought a Filipino woman, 40 year-old Lucia Martel to work as a domestic contracting to pay her a monthly salary of $1500 but was forced to work for 18 hours a day.
Lucia eventually tried to sue the Bordens, and organized protest marches outside the US embassy. The State Department, however, claimed diplomatic immunity on Borden’s behalf and the Japanese legal system dropped the case.
According to Van Buren, State Department records list Borden now as the head of the Consular Section in Jakarta where, among other tasks, he has the responsibility for issuing maid visas to US diplomats’ domestic help bound for the US.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)