Diplomatic Status Is Usually Reflected On U.S. Visas

The U.S. government is fighting for the release of Raymond Davis, who is being held in Pakistan after allegedly killing two Pakistani men in what is being called a thwarted robbery attempt. U.S. officials say Davis has diplomatic immunity. William Taft IV, a former legal adviser to the State Department, talks with Steve Inskeep about diplomatic immunity.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

U.S. officials have now acknowledged that Raymond Davis, the American jailed in Pakistan, was working for the CIA. Davis is accused of killing two men in the city of Lahore, but says he was defended himself when they tried to rob him. American officials contend Pakistan should not be holding Davis in jail, that he has diplomatic immunity and should be shielded from local laws. William Taft IV, a former State Department legal adviser, tells us the rules for diplomatic immunity are remarkably simple.

Mr. WILLIAM TAFT IV (Former State Department Legal Adviser): When the visa is issued by the state, it will say that this person has diplomatic status.

INSKEEP: Do they have to be doing what they say they were doing on their papers in order to have the diplomatic immunity cover them?

Mr. TAFT: No. I don't think that that is a necessary thing. I mean, people can do all sorts of normal things that would not be described on their passport.

INSKEEP: But then - and we're speaking hypothetically, here. We don't have good information about Raymond Davis. But suppose you are in the country as a security contractor, and it turns out you were doing spy work. Can the host country say, well, we're taking away your diplomatic immunity, you're finished, you're going to court?

Mr. TAFT: No. If you have diplomatic immunity, you have it. And you don't lose it simply because you are not pursuing your professional activities. Many diplomats have been asked to leave the country to which they've been posted because they were spies.

INSKEEP: The worst they can do is send you home?

Mr. TAFT: That's what is typically done in a case where a state finds a person who is doing things that they disapprove of.

INSKEEP: Does murder change the picture at all?

Mr. TAFT: Murder would only change the picture, vis-a-vis, the sending state. Normally, the sending state would disapprove of that and take it up as a matter of criminal justice on their own.

INSKEEP: Was there any specific case that prompted this body of law to evolve and to be so strong that no matter what you do as a diplomat, you're supposed to just be sent home, at worst?

Mr. TAFT: I think it really just evolved over time. It's absolutely essential that states be able to have their representatives protected from what could be extremely capricious and unjustified prosecution by a place where they happen to be doing official business.

INSKEEP: You don't want to go to a foreign country and deliver an unpleasant message to the host government and be clapped in prison for delivering an unpleasant message, I suppose.

Mr. TAFT: No, you certainly don't, although it has happened.

INSKEEP: Now, Pakistan's presidential spokesman has said what Pakistani officials have said a number of times: This is in the hands of the Pakistani courts. Is a Pakistani court the appropriate place to hear this question of whether Mr. Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be sent home?

Mr. TAFT: That would normally be determined by the court. But the government of Pakistan would be appearing in the court and advising them as to his status, because they would know that, because they would have issued the visa.

INSKEEP: So does that mean, then, that it is the government of Pakistan's job to go into that court and say, look, Raymond Davis has immunity, you ought to get him out of here?

Mr. TAFT: I think that they should do that. They should explain the terms of the visa that was issued to him, and the court should respect what they are told.

INSKEEP: So it is not unusual at all that a diplomat with immunity would get in trouble with a foreign country. That happens all the time. But what is unusual here is that someone would challenge that immunity and that the case would hang fire for a while, as the case of Raymond Davis has done.

Mr. TAFT: This is an unusual situation. It should've been able to be resolved much more promptly. And Mr. Davis is in jail. And if he has immunity, he shouldn't be there.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Taft, thanks very much.

Mr. TAFT: You're very welcome.

INSKEEP: William Taft IV was a legal advisor to the Department of State during the George W. Bush administration.

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