The Ransoming of Raymond Davis

ANALYSIS, 21 Mar 2011

Pratap Chatterjee – The Guardian

What does the United States’ record on justice and human rights look like after it has paid to get its alleged CIA killer out of jail?

You are accused of shooting two Pakistani citizens. Pay $2.3m. Get out of jail free.

If it sounds like a line from a chance card in a game of Monopoly, where the richest player wins, welcome to the world of life and death in Pakistan where the Obama administration has paid “blood money” to spring a CIA agent suspected of two killings from jail on Wednesday.

Raymond Davis, a former Blackwater contractor, who was employed by the CIA in Pakistan, was arrested for the killing of two Pakistani citizens in Lahore on 27 January 2011. One of the men was shot in the back as he was running away. The US government first claimed that Davis was protected by diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Conventions. On Friday, US officials paid the two victims families a reported $2.3m; and Davis was released less than seven weeks after he went to jail. (Compensation to families of civilian victims of US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan amounts to a few thousand dollars per person, if anything is paid at all.)

Consider the case of Shane Bauer, a freelance journalist, and a good friend of mine. We worked together to expose US funding of death squads in Iraq. On 31 July 2009, he was arrested by Iranian border guards while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan, an area I too have hiked in. Almost 20 months later, he is still a prisoner in Iran, where the US government has barely lifted a finger to help him.

The charges against Bauer – who is accused of working for the CIA – are spurious. Indeed, his reporting has uncovered US government complicity in war crimes. But that may be exactly why he is getting so little help from Washington. The stakes are not that high in Bauer’s case: if the US government would be willing to sit down and talk, rather than pursue its game of nuclear brinkmanship, Bauer would go free.

The German government has done this for their journalists. Last month, Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, travelled to Tehran to secure the release of Jens Koch and Marcus Hellwig, who had spent 20 months in jail.

The Obama administration did the same for Laura Ling and Euna Lee in August 2009. Bill Clinton, the former US president, went on a mission to Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong Il, after which the two journalists were set free. Since Ling and Lee were investigating the North Korean government, it was an easy bargain.

The message that the Obama administration sent in Islamabad on Wednesday is loud and clear. If you work for the CIA, the US government will pay your way out of jail even if you are being held on murder charges. But if you are, like Shane Bauers, a US citizen wrongfully accused of being a spy but whose work has exposed the US government’s shame, your case will be no kind of priority.

So, for a murder suspect a ransom is paid, while an innocent citizen is left to rot. Does this contrast suggest an administration committed to human rights, the rule of law and freedom of the press?

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