Thursday, December 29, 2022

Harry Dunn Case Redux: Cosplay Justice Was Good Enough


In the end, all it took to reconcile the Dunn family's demands for justice with the UK government's political embarrassment over the reality of diplomatic immunity was a pretense of a criminal trial. 

Pretend that the defendant is present in a UK court room, and listen to someone in a powdered wig pronounce a stern suspended sentence (while acknowledging she is powerless to impose any actual sentence in reality) and all the players will go away more or less satisfied. 

Since we're learning lessons, here are two important lessons that I think my own government is missing. 

First, we should take a big cue from how the UK handled immunity when one of its diplomats killed a cyclist in a road traffic accident, which was by the offending diplomatic leaving the host country and neither he nor the UK ever mentioning it again. What, no lawsuit? No request to waive immunity? No extradition request? No moralizing? No public vendetta against the diplomat involved? No, there was none of that. 

Second, we should adopt the UK's practice of denying the public any information about incidents in which it claimed immunity on behalf of its diplomatic staff. Take a look at the quick brush-off the Foreign Office gave to a 2014 request in FOI release: diplomatic immunity claimed by British diplomatic staff:
FOI ref: 0995-14 explains that diplomatic immunity has been claimed on a small number of occasions and if the details were to be released it could lead to the individuals concerned being identified. It has therefore been withheld under section 40 (personal information) of the Freedom of Information Act
"Personal information," right. You wouldn't want any personal information, or even identities, getting out or else the UK press might stalk and harass your people. 

If we're in a lesson-learning mood, I hope those two lessons will get absorbed over here. Next time - and of course there will be a next time - just stonewall. 

Money Motivates These Georgia County Court Clerks


Crazy and corrupt it may be, but the law in Georgia allows county court clerks to keep as their personal income the $35 processing fees they collect when their courthouse is used as an acceptance facility for U.S. passport applications. 

Atlanta News First, Superior court clerks legally pocketing thousands in passport processing fees:
In 2021, Cobb’s superior court clerk raked in more than $220K, while Fulton’s pocketed $360K in passport processing fees, on top of their salaries.
Impressive! Government is not a philanthropic activity, after all. And, mind you, the clerks earned that money the hard way - $35 at a time. 

I hadn't known that there are alternatives to using a U.S. Post Office or U.S. Passport Agency or Center when applying for a passport, but there are, and paying a $35 fee to those alternative acceptance facilities is legit, actually

So what I want to know now is where does Georgia find court clerks with the incredible stamina and enough hours in the day to process that many passport applications? I mean, the one in Fulton County is doing more than 10,000 applications a year, or 27 or so every day assuming she works 365 days a year. When you figure in that she must also be doing some Fulton County work, too, that is really extraordinary. 

According to the linked Atlanta News First story, some Georgia legislators are planning to end this sweet deal by amending state law to prohibit clerks keeping the fees as personal income. 

Well, I guess that's the right thing to do. But then, don't expect those clerks to show the same superhuman motivation when they're processing those passports for free.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Who? Who? Who? Who Said My Dog Bites? Who? Who? Who?

There are distburbing relevations about President Biden's relations with his Secret Service detail in a book that's coming out in January (here), with some quotes released today.
President Joe Biden was so disturbed by the Secret Service’s handling of text messages sought by the House January 6 select committee that he stopped speaking candidly in the presence of special agents assigned to his protection detail, a new book on the Biden White House has revealed. 
In The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House, author Chris Whipple writes that Mr Biden’s discomfort with the post-Trump era agency began early on in his presidency, when it became clear that “some of” the agents charged with protecting him from assassination were strong supporters of the man he defeated in the 2020 election, former president Donald Trump. 
-- snip -- 
He added that Mr Biden’s trust in his protection detail was further shaken by a March 2021 incident involving a Secret Service agent and his then-three-year-old German Shepherd, Major. 
Major, who Mr Biden adopted from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018, was the first rescue dog to serve as First Canine. He allegedly bit a Secret Service agent in the private residence portion of the White House on 8 March 2021, and was temporarily relocated to Delaware for training in the wake of that incident, though he later bit a National Park Service worker just after returning to the White House at the end of that month. 
According to Whipple, Mr Biden was quite sceptical about the details of the first alleged biting incident. He writes that although no one disputed that an incident had taken place, the president “wasn’t buying the details,” particularly the alleged location of the biting. 
Whipple reveals that Mr Biden expressed his concerns to a friend while he was giving a tour of the White House family quarters. The president reportedly pointed to the alleged location of the biting — on the second floor of the executive mansion — and told the friend: “Look, the Secret Service are never up here. It didn’t happen”. He added that Mr Biden thought “somebody was lying ... about the way the incident had gone down”.
C’mon, man, stop the malarkey. First the poor old guy has to keep quiet around Secret Service agents who he thinks might be spying on him. Then, those agents spread all kind of lies about his dog. 

Next thing you know, someone will be stealing his favorite Jello cups right out of the Oval Office refrigerator. There is nobody you can trust in Washington.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

DS Agent Complaints Boiling Over to News Media, Something to Watch

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Did Harry Dunn Case Save the Chinese Consul General in Manchester From Arrest?

So after two months of thinking it over, the UK has finally decided to expel the Chinese consular officials who roughed up a British National (Hong Kong) protester outside the consulate. Am I completely crazy for thinking it might not be a coincidence that the decision came one week after the sentencing in the Harry Dunn case? 

Call me crazy, but I notice that consular officers are not accorded diplomatic immunity. They have their own consular immunity under international law, but that is more limited than the diplomatic kind, especially in that it does not include immunity to the criminal jurisdiction of the host country except in cases directly relating to consular functions. 

In other words, those consular officers in Manchester could have been arrested and prosecuted. That is not just a theoretical option. A few years we arrested the Indian CG in New York, and Italy convicted in absentia and extradited a U.S. consular officer who had served in Milan. 

Well, well, well. What's all this then? Rt Hon Cleverly is missing a good one here because he certainly could have arrested those Chinese offenders, just as surely as he could not have arrested the American driver in the Dunn case, since she enjoyed the diplomatic kind of immunity. 

That example of the U.S. Vice Consul in Milan is especially pertinent since her case turned on exactly this point that a consular officer - vice a diplomat or an Admin and Technical staffer - does not enjoy immunity from criminal jurisdiction except for acts related to their consular function. The lawsuit she filed against Hillary Clinton (here) confirms that she was serving in Milan as a consular officer, having previously served as a Political Officer (a diplomatic agent) in Rome. 

Of course, as a consular officer, her status under international law did create this interesting argument in her defense:
"De Sousa categorically denies having any involvement in the alleged kidnapping of Abu Omar. She also rejects the allegation that she was a principal planner of the alleged operation. Even if the allegations were true, though, her actions clearly fell within the scope of her official duties and thereby entitle her to diplomatic/consular immunity."
I believe lawyers call that kind of thing 'arguing in the alternative,' as in, “my client the Consular Officer didn’t do it, but, even if she did do it, that crime would have been part of her job and therefore covered by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.” The Chinese CG might have tried that defense. 

Getting back to the UK Foreign Office and Rt Hon Cleverly, I just wonder whether his long delay in booting those Chinese officials from the UK had something to do with the timing of last week’s judicial empty gesture in the Harry Dunn case.     

Did the UK decide not to arrest and charge those Chinese gentlemen due, at least in part, to the complete impossibility of ever explaining to the public that the American driver in the Dunn case had immunity and the Chinese Consul General in Manchester did not

That could have turned into quite the public opinion disaster, and just as they had gotten the Dunn case settled. Don’t tell me there aren’t any FO or PM staffers who would have thought along just those lines.

Stranger things have happened in government.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

After the Sentencing, Some Lessons Yet to Learn

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly posted a press release yesterday on the sentencing of Anne Sacoolas:
Anne Sacoolas has finally been sentenced in a British court.
Since Harry’s death in August 2019 we have been clear that Ms Sacoolas should return to the UK to face British justice.
Since she chose not to, virtual hearings were arranged as the most viable way to bring the case to Court and give justice to Harry’s family.
I want to pay tribute to the incredible resolve of Harry’s family and I hope that the judgment provides some closure.
We have learnt important lessons from this tragic incident, including improvements to the process around exemptions from diplomatic immunity and ensuring the US takes steps to improve road safety around RAF Croughton.
Oh, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has some more lessons yet to learn, if we are to take that press release at face value. 

First, diplomatic immunity is exercised by the sending state and not by the individual concerned. She did not choose to not return for the sentencing, she followed the USG's instruction that she not return. The choice was not for her to make, and neither the sending state (us) nor the host state (them) is free to choose whether or not to abide by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and international law.
No one but the Dunn family actually thought she would ever return. 

Foreign Secretary Cleverly knows all this, so that press release of his is really constituent service, at best, or more cynically, a pandering to the outrage mob hoping that it will chase the bait he’s thrown it and not come after him. 

And that's the next lesson he has to learn, because the family's manic 'advisor' is a grandiose narcissist who lives for the validation he gets from whipping up a mob.

He has lots of material to work with in the next couple years, and much of it he'll fling right at the Foreign Secretary. 

Try to dodge the torches and pitchforks, Rt Hon Cleverly.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Harry Dunn Case Ends in Suspended Sentence, Plus Declaration of War on "the Real Enemy"

Right from the start, which was three years and three months ago, the tragic death of Harry Dunn presented a political problem for the UK authorities. It's bad optics when a person with diplomatic immunity causes a road traffic fatality, because every government knows the protected party will be allowed to depart the host country and not be prosecuted. Persons with such status are immune to the criminal jurisdiction of the host country under international law. 

In President Obama's words - when referring to an incident in Pakistan several years ago - diplomatic immunity is a principle that all nations of the world have adopted in their mutual interest. Yes, it is. We do it, the British do it, and everybody else does it, too.  

In the Dunn case we have the rare situation of a host government which got so much internal political pressure that it transgressed that principle by charging an immune person with a crime and requesting that the sending state extradite its protected citizen back to the host country for prosecution. Social media was probably the critical factor in bringing that much pressure via a riled-up public.

Skipping ahead two years, the UK prosecutors (Crown Prosecution Service) evidently entered into extended negotiations with the defendant's lawyers and, most likely, U.S. government parties, to come to a compromise in which the CPS would go through the motions of a trial while the immune party would stay out of the UK's jurisdiction, making any sentence a judge might impose an empty gesture. In fact, "empty gesture" were exactly the words used by the judge at today's sentencing hearing to describe any arrest warrant she might issue. 

But, a sufficiently stern empty gesture maybe would placate the victim's family, or so I imagine they thought.

After seeing today's sentencing hearing and the statements made by the family afterward, it's clear that strategy was a big mistake. It would have been far better for the USG to simply refuse to waive immunity and otherwise stand silent. At most, we should have repeated Obama's statement and then said nothing more. 

If you have any interest in the case you probably watched the judge's presentation in court today and know the bottom line: a suspended sentence of eight months incarceration and disqualification from driving for one year. The judge arrived there by finding, first of all, that the defendant's offense of careless (vice dangerous) driving was "not far short" of dangerous, thereby justifying incarceration for a period of 15 months. Then, she acknowledged some mitigating circumstances which reduced the sentence to only eight months. All just hypothetical, really, since the judge several times made it clear that she would have no practical way to enforce either a custodial or non-custodial sentence on someone not in her jurisdiction. 

The most interesting of the mitigations was a statement the USG provided the court to the effect that it advised the defendant not to return to the UK for the sentencing hearing, despite the judge's order that she return, since doing so would place significant U.S. interests at risk. 

And that was that. If the family had been in the least placated by those results, then maybe it wouldn't have been a massively bad idea to strike a compromise between immunity and punishment. But, once the hearing was over, the family and its 'spokesman' took to the Sky News cameras outside the courthouse and made it clear that, far from being satisfied, they are only getting started on public incitement and verbal abuse of the defendant. 

Naturally the first to speak was the blowhard spokesman who said, among other things, that "our real enemy here is the U.S. government." The UK government is in his sights, too, since he promised an extensive coroner's inquest "hopefully sometime next year" plus a parliamentary inquiry and "extensive discussions with the Foreign Office." He ended by repeating his declaration of war on the USG: "if they want a war, they've got a war."

Next up was not the Dunn family but instead the spokesman's son, whose name I didn't quite catch but I think it was "Fredo." He joined in his old man's feckless declaration of war against the dastardly Americans, and even added "me and my team will focus on exposing them." He has a team? How cute. 

Finally the mother got a word in, calling the sentence "pretty much what we expected" and making some bitter remarks about the defendant, the saddest and most revealing of which was that it's "unfair how she's getting on with her life."      

The mother also replayed her emotional victim statement for Sky News, since it was not streamed on the court video. 

The interview ended with the added attraction of some live Sky News video from Washington DC in which an obnoxious reporter ambushed the defendant leaving her lawyer's office. The Mum and her spokesman did some color commentary on the attempted ambush interview, and made some more insulting remarks about the defendant.

All in all, it ought to be clear that there is no middle ground when a government maintains diplomatic immunity. Insist on it, point to Obama's excellent statement about it, and then say no more.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Curtain Rises Tomorrow on the Last Act of the Harry Dunn Trial

After three years and many a twist and turn, tomorrow the American driver in the case will be sentenced in a UK court for the offense of careless driving. Her appearance will be remote via video and she will not be present within the jurisdiction of that court. That obviously restricts any practical sentence the judge could impose, which probably comes down to a suspended sentence, fine, and some form of community service (to be served over here). 

This should be the climax of the legal, diplomatic, political, and personal dramas that have surrounded what would otherewise be an ordinary albeit fatal road traffic accident. Usually, the climax of a drama is followed by a denouement in which the characters get on with their lives. But in this case? No way will the family be satisfied by whatever takes place tomorrow. 

They - meaning, of course, their advisor - have already signaled their outrage by a broadside of tweets and press releases that followed yesterday's announcement by the court that the judge supervising the trial has accepted a joint application by both the defendant and the prosecutor to allow the defendant to remain out of the court's jurisdiction during the sentencing hearing. 

That decision was hardly a surprise, since that's what the defendant did in her two previous court hearings, not to mention that the USG has absolutely and repeatedly refused to waive her diplomatic immunity. The judge could hardly have foreshadowed that decision any more than she had done at the last court hearing, in which she accepted the guilty plea while noting that she is powerless to impose any sentence the defendant doesn't voluntarily accept. 

Surely the family knew all along that they will have to deliver their impassioned victim statements to a video screen and not to their nemisis in the flesh. The outrage they're expressing today must be largely performative, although no one can doubt they are suffering. 

As usual, the family's awful advisor is doing all the talking for them, so take that into account. 

In addition to outrage and phony surprise, he's been displaying his trademark legal incompetence by screaming that "the United States government is now actively interfering in our criminal justice system" when it advised the defendant to appear via video link. Interesting take, since the judge accepted a joint application by both the defendant and the prosecutor to allow a remote appearance. I tell you, a carnival somewhere lost its pitchman when that guy went to law school.

Tomorrow will not be the end of this story, you can be sure. There's the coroner's inquest, the book, the movie, and who knows what else still to come. 

For one thing, there is a whole separate trial still to come of a different fatal traffic accident involving a female USAF service member who, it seems as of now, will be tried in UK civil jurisdiction rather than by U.S. military justice as per our Status of Forces Agreement with the UK. That one has the elements of a second Harry Dunn trial. Brace yourselves. 


Holiday Cheer From DHS (And That's No Disinformation)

It's holiday time once more, and one of the traditional ways we observe the season here in Washington DC is by sending out a new threat advisory to all our fellow citizens from the folks at Homeland Security. Please enjoy

This year's holiday wishes from DHS are really no different from previous years. You can see this post on the same subject from way back in 2008 (!) for instance. 

I get it that these vague 'we-have-nothing-specific-but,-hey,-you-never-know,-anything-could-happen-in-this-crazy-world' advisories are just bureaucratic ass covering exercises. You can't have a DHS without that. But their all-purpose language and the way they are linked to every kind of special occasion make them the USG's version of Hallmark cards. 

As my contribution to the tradition of pointless panic mongering, let me repeat this bit of doggerel from that 2008 post: 

Roses are red, violets are blue, here's a new analytical note for you.  
You might be attacked this holiday season or maybe not, who can tell? (there's no reason). 

Our warnings we can't substantiate, and against them there's no way to mitigate.  
But take it from us and start to panic, one day you'll go down just like the Titanic. 

We've been wrong in the past, but that's OK, al Qaeda will strike again one of these days.  
Maybe not now but someday, and soon, we'll be right if we keep predicting your doom. 

Read us and worry, you never can tell, it will do you no good, but then, what the hell?  
It keeps us employed and no one minds, So believe all our notes and our portents and signs!

Friday, December 2, 2022

Seeking Without Finding in Jordan and DC

It doesn't take a cynic to understand the real meaning of "continues to seek" when USG officials offer it as an excuse. Ahlam Tamini, the supposedly wanted fugitive, continues to hide in plain sight, so if we really wanted her we'd have her by now.

The terrorist who organized a suicide attack on a restaurant in Jerusalem that killed two U.S. citizens and 13 others is on the FBI's Most Wanted list. But if we were really honest with ourselves, we'd move her to a Kinda Sorta Wanted list, because obviously we aren't looking very hard.

Don't we do extraordinary rendition of terrorists any more? We did once. Several administrations ago, our current POTUS said this about rendition:
Rendition is the practice of detaining a terrorist operative in a foreign country and transferring him or her to the United States or to another foreign country. It has proved to be an effective way to take terrorists off the street and collect, on occasion, some valuable information.
Biden then qualified his praise of rendition by positing that "our commitments to the rule of law and civil liberties" are vital to maintaining "foreign coalitions that are significantly more consequential long term and essential to our efforts to combat international terrorism" and therefore a rendition program should be governed by law. 

That was a problem because we sometimes took wanted people away without first getting the permission of their governments, a practice we called extraordinary rendition. 

Concerning Tamini, I have to very much doubt that the monarch who rules Jordan is a big respecter of whatever laws and civil liberties they may have over there in his kingdom. Certainly not when he wants revenge, it would seem, judging by his perfect willingness to order summary executions to retaliate for the brutal murder of one of the pilots. 

Would the King of Jordan really be terribly upset by a little rendition? C'mon man©, of course not. 

And if he were, then is he really a coalition partner that we want?