Wed February 9, 2011

In Pakistan, Jailed American's Case Stokes Fury

The case of a U.S. Embassy employee accused of murder in Pakistan threatens to spin out of control and plunge U.S.-Pakistan relations to a new low.

The jailed American, identified as Raymond Davis, set off a furor after admitting that he fatally shot two Pakistani men who he told police had threatened him with armed robbery.

As the case reaches the highest levels of government, U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter has told President Asif Ali Zardari that the detained American is being held illegally and pressed for immediate release.

As U.S. pressure mounts, so does public anger over what is widely seen as another example of American impunity.

But the case of the American has raised questions as well as passions since his arrest two weeks ago. Confusion reigned this past week at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where angry reporters wanted answers. But the ministry spokesmen failed to provide information on questions as basic as: Is Davis a diplomat entitled to immunity? If not, why not? Will he be released? Will he be tried? Is Davis really his name?

The Pakistani government has taken refuge behind the courts, saying no government action can be taken as long as Davis is in judicial custody.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told Pakistan's president and the country's army chief that the jailed American is a diplomat whom the Vienna Convention shields from prosecution and arrest. The convention also makes clear that the sending government, in this case the U.S., determines the status of its embassy employees.

But Ahmer Bilal Soofi, an expert on international law, says Pakistan's 1972 statute implementing the Vienna Convention muddies the legal waters by giving Pakistan discretion to determine who is and who isn't a diplomat.

"The federal government is scratching its head, struggling [with] what stand to take, how to bridge this gap between the Vienna Convention and the deficient implementing law," Soofi says.

Courts will just look at the domestic law, not the Vienna Convention, as they weigh the charges against Davis, he says.

As grave as Davis' actions were, the Americans say they do not strip him of his immunity. But the U.S. silence on key questions is helping to keep the controversy alive. Those questions include: What exactly is the job of this U.S. diplomat? What kind of diplomat carries a loaded gun? And where is the vehicle that rushed to Davis' rescue and hit another Pakistani, killing him?

"Frankly, the whole thing stinks," says Rashed Rahman, a Pakistani newspaper editor.

Rahman says the refusal to plainly state the facts has given rise to all manner of conspiracy theories and hatred directed at the Americans.

"Despite all the aid you give us, despite all the good things you do for us, you do have a few friends here but not too many," he says.

That sentiment was manifested at a demonstration last weekend called in solidarity with Muslims in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Highly charged speakers used the occasion to condemn Davis and give advice for the Pakistani police holding him.

"Just give him electric shocks; he will confess everything," said Amir Hamza, a leader of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group that organized the demonstration. "He will confess to bombings in Peshawar. He will confess to bombings in Lahore. He will confess that all terrorism is being committed by America.

"If he does not confess, hand him over to us. We will make him confess."

Rahman, the editor, says the anti-American fury on the streets is further weakening an already feeble Pakistani government.

"Even if it were to wish theoretically to somehow paper this whole affair over and let go of this guy, I think they would find it extremely difficult politically to do so in the present circumstances," he said.

Davis is due back in court Feb. 14. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.