Raymond Davis’ Blood Money

by Joshua Foust on 3/2/2011 · 7 comments

“One way out of the mess surrounding the Jan. 27 arrest in Lahore of CIA contractor Raymond Davis,” writes ISI spokesman and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, “is a Muslim ritual for resolving disputes known as ‘blood money.'” He sources this information to a conversation with a senior Pakistani official, and suggests having some sort of Saudi Islamic intermediary broker the payment (an ISI official emailed him of their desire to ‘resolve’ the case, whatever the nature of their dispute).

Global Post, on location in Lahore, reports that it won’t be quite that easy:

Part of the challenge with the Raymond Davis case is that it is intimately wrapped up in Pakistan’s domestic politics and public unhappiness with the U.S.’s war on terror. Davis’ two victims’ families are hurt and angry, and they should be: death is not a simple matter, nor is it emotionless (no matter what the racist political hacks in the U.S. try to say about Muslims and South Asians). But a family’s desire for revenge is not compatible with a justice system—nor is it compatible with the global system of diplomatic immunity. It is not something Pakistan can just to ignore whenever it’s convenient; immunity is a bedrock principle of the international system, and discarding it because of high emotions runs the risk of degrading a fundamental concept of diplomacy.

So why is Pakistan playing politics with Davis’ immunity? Zahid Hussain—a brilliant journalist and writer—doesn’t directly answer this, but he does explain Pakistan’s ideological divide, and how this has stilted the public discourse:

What the extremists have tried to do is to create a sense of fear and suppress the voices of reason and moderation. With a spineless administration giving in to their militant rhetoric, the extremists seem to have widened their political space which they had failed to gain through the ballot box. They have also been helped by a section of the media to project their extremist narrative.

His argument is worth reading in full. But using that as a frame, we can reasonably guess that blood money won’t solve the sentiment Davis’ arrest has stirred. It is part of a broader complex of feelings with Pakistan’s public sphere: of victimhood at the hands of the U.S., at the hands of extremists, and at the hands of its own government. They want to lash out, and that is understandable. But respecting Davis’ immunity will not inflame their anger any more than publicly hanging him will—the fundamentals of Pakistan’s struggle will not have changed, and no scape goat—however emotionally appealing he may be—will change that.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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nanothermite March 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Why did Israeli police arrest MOSHE KATSEV, the IRANIAN origin jew president of Israel for rapes of 9+ kosher jewish women ? Why was he not given immunity ? Your arguments are devious. Its not just anger (which is legitimate) but also to uphold the international law, which VIENNA-63-41 says he has no immunity. US can go to ICC and present its case, or to pakistan courts. While his custody will stay to pakistan, a video teleconference to ICC can take place. Israel and USA have no respect for the international law. why not Israel respect them ? and US submit to ICC for all retroactive crimes it has committed since 911 ?

doyle March 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm

If you’ve noticed in the past few days, US sourced comments and rhetoric regarding Davis have largely disappeared form view. The tactics have changed, the old rules no longer apply. The US tried to get tough and failed. The US rolled out all the heavy hitters and were sent home, tails between legs. It used to be that the US barked and governments responded. No more, at least in Pakistan.

Most governments would have caved and made the deal but there is a different dynamic at play in Pakistan. Credit for standing against US might cannot and should not be given to the cowards in the Pakistani government. They did not “stick to their guns”. They did not adhere to the”rule of law”. The dynamic at play is one in which the government is petrified of its citizens. A government sandwiched between the US superpower and the anger of its countrymen. Take one guess at which side scares the government more?

A government hanging onto power by a thread. Ultimately, the Davis affair will have little effect on the state of Pak/US relations which were strained before Davis and will remained strained after Davis. What is much more telling is how the Pakistani government will ebb and flow through nothing more than the anger of its people. I fear the worst for Raymond Davis simply because the government is too fearful of not giving the people the retribution for which they are screaming.

At this point, the US is hoping the issue will lay low for a while until either anger Subsides or the issue is fogotten.

Allegra March 2, 2011 at 11:25 pm

“…But respecting Davis’ immunity will not inflame their anger any more than publicly hanging him will…”

Umm…Sorry to correct you, but the Pakistani public WILL be more angry if “Davis” is let off on the “diplomatic immunity” technicality than it will be if he hangs. While I’m not sure Pakistanis necessarily want him to hang, they do want justice for the 2-3 murders, as Americans would if it had been a Pakistani ISI agent killing two CIA agents in downtown NY in broad daylight.

Islamic justice is the same as Biblical Christian justice – an eye for an eye, or in this case, a life for a life (or two). And, if someone has been found guilty (His trial hasn’t started yet, so he hasn’t been found guilty yet) at the time of sentencing, the family of the victim can forgive, if they choose. The “blood money” referred to in this article often helps destitute families choose forgiveness over capital punishment. However, in this case there are two families, and they don’t appear that malleable. While poor by American standards, these families are not as destitute as the American media portray them, and by Pakistani standards, they are middle class. And lastly, though they may be “influenced” by heavy hands, in Pakistan it is up to the families to decide, not the judge or any other government official.

The larger question of whether punishing “Raymond Davis” – the US Consulate in Lahore admitted that is not his real name – will affect US/Pak ties and change the Pakistani government’s relationship to its people – well definitely it WILL. On the American side, if it doesn’t matter, than why does the US care so much? On the Pakistani side, if the government capitulates to America’s wishes on this one, then where is the line that demarcates sovereignty? Can Americans just come to Pakistan and do what they want, murdering people in broad daylight on trumped up charges and get away with it? If the Zardari government capitulates on this, they may as well pack their bags and leave.

The bigger problem, which the US media is neglecting, is that in this spy game, the CIA agent took the bait and got caught. The ISI is sick and tired of being patronized in thier own country by bumbling Americans who don’t seem to care about the “collateral damage” of innocent Pakistanis been killed/homes destroyed, etc. Furthermore, the two spy agencies are supposed to be working together, but the US is sending hundreds of Blackwater/Xe-types as security/spies/muscle, and the Pakistanis want them to be accountable for their actions. Hence the row over diplomatic immunity.

How many US “diplomats” are there in Pakistan? Some have said more than 3500….Yeah, and they’re all processing visas, right? While the figures are unclear, what is clear is that Pakistan wants to know who is on their soil, and in what capacity they are operating. This is a backlash more against American contractors than anything else.

tictoc March 3, 2011 at 1:37 am

What Raymond Davis should have done is claimed that the men he killed committed blasphemy. It’s not like he could be asked to repeat it. Hey, maybe he would’ve gotten flowers, too.

anan March 3, 2011 at 1:56 am

tictoc, something must be wrong with both of us, since you seem to be channeling me.

Raymond Davis should claim that the people he killed committed blasphemy and were traitors to islam and Pakistan. He should also from now on only drape himself in clothes depicting the Pakistan flag. He should learn some good Urdu islamic songs and continually sing them with all his heart and soul.

Urdu traditional muslim songs are amazing. They transport you to heaven on earth . . . when you lose yourself in them.

Either Raymond Davis would be hung while singing in ecstatic joy about God, inspiring and endearing himself to the Pakistani people . . . or he would be released a national hero. Either way Pakistanis would adopt Raymond Davis as one of their own . . . no American could be so inspiring.

Jakob March 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

As if blood money would be a practice the LHC would get back to – there may be a bunch of conservative lunatics in charge there, but they don’t do “muslim rituals”. Also this approach would need the Court to take the victim’s families serious – it gives a damn what those basti-dwellers think or want.

anonymoushoward March 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Craig Murray raised the issue the other day of whether Davis has immunity. I’m dubious of Murray in many ways, but it seems like a good point and his explanation of the Vienna Convention is convincing. If governments could declare anyone they want a diplomat, then it would be impossible to ever prosecute spies or assassins working in your country. As Allegra notes, that would mean any government could deploy small armies of special forces troops, doing anything it wants, wherever it wants, with no legal risk.

Murray explains that to receive full immunity, someone must possess diplomatic rank (which Davis can’t have done, as he is, by the US’s own admission, not who he says he is). Partial immunity is only available when someone is performing diplomatic tasks. If Davis’ only job was to assassinate suspected terrorists, then would he be eligible for immunity?

Even if he was eligible for this sort of partial immunity, should the Pakistani legal system just accept a US claim that he is immune from prosecution, without any investigation or hearing? Would the US accept, for example, a North Korean or Iranian claim that a murderer in its territory was a diplomat, without some sort of investigation?

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