-- UPDATE at 10:30 PM --
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a statement today after I had already published the post below. He rebutted various assertions made by the Indian press and politicians about the treatment of Dr. Khobragade by the U.S. legal system, and noted the general lack of concern that they have shown for the victim in this case, who of course is also an Indian.
Most importantly to me, he stated that the DSS agents arrested Dr. Khobragade "in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained." Not then handcuffed, but presumably was later. Anyway, if his description of the arrest is accurate, then it was done with discretion and intelligence. I'd still like to see DSS make a statement about that itself, but so far so good.
I've been panning for gold nuggets in the stream of Indian news media updates on the arrest of India's NYC Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade, and found a couple good ones.
First, there is the interesting counter allegation that U.S. Government agencies are facilitating the real visa fraud in this case, which was committed by Dr. Khobragade's maid when she absconded from her employer and ran to an immigration lawyer. A timeline helps to understand that allegation:
The India news media is spinning this as a case of the USG facilitating immigration fraud, i.e., of helping the maid (former maid, now the USG’s witness in a criminal case) to legalize her presence in the U.S., and to bring her family over as well.
In a second interesting development, the Indian government is considering a proposal to make the domestic household help of its diplomatic employees direct-hire employees of the Indian government “in order not to fall foul of minimum wages laws in developed countries.”
Third, the Indian government may be trying to shift Dr. Khobragade's assignment from its New York Consulate to its Mission to the United Nations, in a ploy to obtain for her full diplomatic immunity versus the more limited consular immunity she currently holds. (See this handy pamphlet for an explanation of the difference.) As the Indian press noted, the only problem with this genius scheme is that the U.S. State Department would have to agree to recognize her new status.
Fourth, the U.S. Marshal’s Service spokesperson confirmed that Dr. Khobragade was indeed strip-searched during prisoner intake at a U.S. Courthouse. She helpfully noted that the U.S. Marshal's Service was not the arresting agency – the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service was – and the USMS merely kept Dr. Khobragade in custody until she was released on bail. The search, like the DNA collection swab and the “available and suitable holding cell,” was a matter of standard procedure. The State Department Spokesperson likewise said yesterday that the DSS agents were following standard procedure by handcuffing Dr. Khobragade before transporting her to the custody of the Marshals Service. With everything done so impeccably in accordance with standard procedures, what could the Indians possibly complain about?
The appeal to “standard procedures” reveals the cultural difference in play here. When Indians look at how Dr. Khobragade was arrested, they see an unnecessary, even outrageous, use of force and violation of her personal dignity. Why arrest her by surprise while she was taking her young children to school, and why handcuff her? Since there was no good reason to do that, they assume we intended to inflict abuse upon her for some hidden purpose, maybe one connected to her status as a Dalit, or untouchable (not that any of the Americans involved – with the possible exception of the Indian-born U.S. Attorney – would have known or cared about her caste identification).
But to the Americans involved, the arrest was an impersonal matter. Just mindless, mechanical, process. Individuals have no need, or even opportunity, to exercise judgment when they simply follow procedure. The fact that Dr. Khobragade was treated exactly like everyone else who was under arrest and being processed at the U.S. Courthouse that day is assumed to be a solid defense against any charge of mistreatment, because standard procedure absolves the individuals who implement it of personal responsibility. “I’m not paid to think,” as some people say. If the arrestee and her home country infer any actual motive from our treatment of her, well, that’s their problem. They give us too much credit for independence.
Fifth, the Indian press is reporting details of an e-mail Dr. Khobragade sent to collegues in which she describes the prisoner intake procedures and says that she broke down in tears many times. The strip-searching part of her arrest has now overwhelmed all other considerations, including the main one of her alleged visa fraud, in the Indian mind.
This business is escalating from a diplomatic incident into a Mexican soap opera.