Friday, February 5, 2021

Harry Dunn Case Update: Chumming the Waters of Tabloid Media

This week, the American driver in the case had her chance to enter a motion to dismiss the civil action filed against her in a Virginia court.

During oral presentations it emerged that she had taken advantage of the opportunities for family member employment overseas while being the spouse of a member of Embassy London's Administrative and Technical staff. At least, that's what I'm taking away from the news media's coverage, scattered and unreliable as it is.

That is to say, she was simultaneously an appointment eligible family member, able to work for the embassy in her own right, and also a just-plain family member of someone with diplomatic immunity. That's not a hard concept to grasp, or so you might think.

There are many ways for the U.S. government's family members to find employment abroad, and good for them. What would the State Department do without them?

Now for the question of the day: did her employment as an eligible family member negate that family member status which conveyed her spouse's diplomatic immunity to her? That's what the Dunn family spokesman / ringmaster is telling the news media, and they respond like seals clapping when someone tosses them a fish.

But, is it true?

As someone with internet access and the ability to form questions, I looked here - a publicly available source of information - and found this answer:

Family members of administrative and technical staff assigned to an embassy have full criminal immunity, testimonial immunity, and inviolability. However, they have no civil immunity ... Many foreign states will not permit a family member with diplomatic status to work unless the diplomatic status is waived. The important thing to note is that the right to waive immunity belongs to the U.S. Government; no one has a right to waive his/her own diplomatic immunity. Under the Vienna Convention rules, family members who are employed on the local economy may request the post to waive their civil or administrative immunity with respect to their employment; however, criminal immunity is preserved in every case.

So, despite the chills and trills currently running through the UK and some U.S. media, the matter of eligible family member employment is not the gamechanger they would wish. The American driver had criminal immunity as the family member of an A and T staff employee, as has long been confirmed by the UK Foreign Office and been re-affirmed by the UK High Court. Nothing about that changes.


Anonymous said...

Does the US have any domestic law providing for prosecution of US nationals who commit crimes while enjoying immunity (eg if 5he DCM shoots the Ambassador?) Under UK law Section 31 of the 1948 CJA allows this . Cases can be tried as if the indictable offence occurred in the U.K.

A potentially interesting defect, parallel to the Dunn case, is that it seems to apply only to the employee not family members and indeed only to British Nationals so the Ambassador’s Pilipino wife might be free to shoot the Administration Officer.
In the British Embassy in Tehran in 1918 the Vice Consul shot and killed the Defence Attaché, but that was tried locally under the “capitulation” regime which allowed the Consul to try cases involving British Nationals.

TSB said...

Thanks very much for your comment.

The U.S. has some offenses which carry extraterritorial jurisdiction (such as giving material support to terrorist groups), but I don’t know of any that would apply to a road traffic accident. At any rate, we haven’t charged diplomats or their covered family members in any previous case of a fatal road traffic accident abroad, and there have been many. If the DCM should shoot the Ambassador - and we actually had such a thing happen once in Equatorial Guinea during the 1980s - we would recall the DCM to the U.S. and charge him with murder.

Of course, there is always the option of the sending state waving immunity to allow local trial. The U.S. has done that in only one case, to the best of my knowledge, and that was in a highly extraordinary case of espionage committed during WWII.

Employees and family members do have different levels of immunity, which complicates things, and we do merge those categories in cases of employed tandem couples and, as seems to be the case here, with family members who take employment at the embassy after arriving in their host country.

You mention consular officials. Those present a whole other level of complexity, since their types of Vienna Convention immunity differ considerably from those of diplomatic agents and admin/technical staffs. Most importantly, consular agents are NOT immune to criminal jurisdiction. For instance, a few years ago the U.S. arrested and charged the Indian Consul-General in New York for visa fraud and crimes against her domestic employee. We also had a Vice-Consul in Italy who was charged in absentia with crimes there in a case that was eventually resolved by the host country finding her guilty of a lesser crime that did not require imprisonment.

I hope there can be some kind of resolution in the Dunn case, although I do not expect the USG to waive immunity under any circumstances.

Anonymous said...

TSB: WHO Concludes That Coronavirus "Came From Animal," Not Wuhan Lab... also unlikely that it's deadly or can be transmitted easily from person to person.
Also unlikely that Biden was bought off by China or that Dominion voting machines are owned by China. Also very unlikely that the new law being considered in Victoria Australia that prescribes a 10 year jail sentence if you resist transgender education for your children will ever become law in the rest of Australia or here in the US. (Until Biden appoints a new "reality Czar")

and finally, LOTS of Republicans in DC have questioned whether Biden actually won the election! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: The feds say he’s an extremist leader who directed rioters.

He also had top-secret clearance and worked for the FBI, attorney says. Every false flag insurrection needs personnel. This guy was military, FBI and had top secret clearance. Interesting that this story came out today. gwb

(So maybe now we know who created the Proud Boyz?)

TSB said...

GWB: I wouldn't assume much just because of this guy's government employment and security clearance. Government is the local industry, so it's common for anyone living the Washing DC area to work for the G. I estimate almost half of the adults in my immediate neighborhood have a TS clearance, and so do a good 20 percent of the entire County's population.

Anyway, a TS isn't nearly as interesting as people assume. I've had TS and more for over 30 years but I still can't find out what's going on at Area 51.

Anonymous said...

Yes on the clearances. 50 yrs ago a secret clearance was a dime a dozen and about 50% of TS's were the same. Since then it's gotten a lot worse. For awhile they addressed the problem with special categories, but I hear that's pretty much useless now. In the last decade or so my jaw has dropped watching the talking out of school, with no consequences.