Residents of Kabul have learned to fear the American Embassy because Embassy convoys race through the streets at high speed, never stopping even if they strike other vehicles or pedestrians. The oblivious U.S. Ambassador does not understand that each convoy that drives into or exits his embassy loses America another friend among the local population. The policy for U.S. diplomats when they are involved in a traffic accident seems to be: never stop, leave foreign civilians lying in the roadway, and run away.
The practice has now been adopted by the U.S. military. On January 28, 2010, an American military convoy traveling in the Paktia Kot neighborhood of Kabul opened fire on a car parked off the Kabul-Jalalabad highway. Eight rounds hit a Toyota station wagon, four of them went into Mullah Mohammad Yunis, who was sitting in the vehicle with his two sons. He later died at a local hospital. The American convoy never even slowed down. A U.S. military spokesperson later claimed that the parked station wagon “threatened” the American convoy. CNN discovered that American officials never came back to the site to investigate and CNN reported that an informal poll in the neighborhood revealed growing support for the Taliban due to this incident.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul does not publish the number of hit and run accidents that its personnel are involved in, so no one knows the scope of the problem within Afghanistan. The problem is real and it is not confined to Afghanistan. The following are a sampling of incidents which have been reported in other countries. They set out a horrific pattern of traffic injuries and highlight how the U.S. State Department has abused its diplomatic immunity privilege time and again. It should be noted that “diplomatic immunity” is somewhat of a misnomer. Diplomatic criminals are immune from host nation laws, but only because it is assumed that they will be prosecuted in their home country, which is a faulty assumption regarding American diplomats.
1. On April 17, 2003, a U.S. Embassy vehicle in New Delhi, India, struck a car carrying 11 year-old Deepti Srinivasan. The impact fractured her collar bone, destroyed her vehicle and almost caused the car to “turn turtle” as the Delhi police described it. The U.S. Embassy vehicle sped away from the scene. There are no reports that any Embassy official was ever held accountable.
2. On December 3, 2004, a U.S. Embassy vehicle in Bucharest, Romania, was traveling at a high rate of speed and entered an intersection ignoring the traffic signs. It struck a local taxi with such force that the taxi was thrown into a pillar in front of the Sudanese Embassy. The impact killed popular Romanian musician Teo Peter and critically injured the taxi driver. The U.S. Embassy driver was reportedly drunk. The driver was immediately evacuated from Romania and reportedly received only a written reprimand for killing Mr. Peter.
3. On November 28, 2005, a U.S. Embassy motorcade in Baghdad was en route to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. During the round trip, the motorcade crashed into 18 different Iraqi civilian vehicles pushing them out of the way.
It is not simply that the Americans involved in these accidents fled the scene and never faced justice, but that they cause many of the accidents due to their reckless driving practices. An example of this came to light on November 25, 2005. A U.S. government vehicle carrying three members of the U.S. Congress overturned on the road between Baghdad and its airport. The accident occurred because the American vehicle was driving on both sides of the road - an American security maneuver called “counter-flowing.” The practice is either to drive on the wrong side of the road or drive in the middle of a two-lane road, crowding out both lanes. It is an extraordinarily dangerous tactic.
4. On September 24, 2006, a four-vehicle U.S. Embassy convoy was driving on the wrong side of the road near al-Hilla and forced an Iraqi car to crash into a telephone pole. The car burst into flames. The U.S. Embassy guards sped away from the scene leaving the Iraqi civilians to burn. Incidents (3) and (4) above were verified by Majority Staff for the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in an October 1, 2007, report. The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, suffered no disciplinary action for permitting these incidents to occur and for refusing to hold the responsible officials accountable.
5. On August 24, 2008, State Department official Lynne Tracy was leaving her residence in Peshawar en route to the U.S. consulate. She was being driven in an armored SUV by a security contractor and accompanied by a guard. About 100 yards from her home two men in a Land Rover blocked the road and one fired five rounds from an AK-47. The U.S. Embassy driver panicked, put the SUV into reverse and then proceeded to hit a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw that was in his way, injuring Pakistani driver Gohar Ali.
The U.S. Embassy staff abandoned the injured Mr. Ali in the roadway and returned to the safety of Ms. Tracy’s residence where the diplomat and her security guards hid until Pakistani police arrived. Mr. Ali was eventually transported to the hospital by local authorities. U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson issued a statement asserting that there were no injuries to her personnel as a result of the incident, which is apparently all the Ambassador cared about.
The abandonment of Mr. Ali was consistent with the training this author received from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“Bureau”) in 2008. The Bureau taught American diplomats how to use foreign civilians as human shields in the event of a terrorist attack. Senior Bureau instructor Martin Burk referred to foreigners as nothing more than “bullet-catchers.” The stated goal of this training was to protect American diplomats at all costs. This training is further detailed in the expose published by the Kabul Press on May 28, 2009.
Last year, the Bureau issued its annual report of self-praise. It was entitled: “Confronting the Threat.” In the report, the Bureau praises the conduct of its driver in Peshawar who injured and abandoned Mr. Ali in the roadway. It holds up the driver as a good example to other Bureau employees. The Bureau’s annual report should have more accurately been entitled: “Creating Enemies for America Within the Local Population.” Foreigners seem to have little value to Assistant Secretary Eric J. Boswell and other senior officials of the Bureau. Foreigners are simply obstacles to be run over or human shields useful in protecting precious diplomats.
6. On October 25, 2009, a U.S. Embassy Land Cruiser, driven by Jimmy Mort, an official of the Defense Attache’s Office, was involved in a traffic accident on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. Mr. Mort crashed into a vehicle belonging to the City’s Disaster Management Directorate, badly damaging it. The force of the collision was so great that the Embassy vehicle was also disabled. According to the Pakistan newspaper “The International News,” local security and traffic police arrived on the scene but Mr. Mort locked his door and refused to roll down his window to speak to the police. When another Embassy vehicle arrived he shifted to that vehicle and immediately fled the scene. The Secretariat Police have registered a case against Jimmy Mort for rash driving, jumping the signal and non-cooperation with the police. It is case no. 167/2009. The damage to the City’s vehicle, parts alone, was estimated at Rs 25 million. It is not clear if the City was ever reimbursed by the U.S. Embassy.
7. On December 23, 2009, a vehicle registered to the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar and traveling at a high rate of speed struck another car on Railway Road near the University Town Police Station in Peshawar. The U.S. Consulate vehicle sped off leaving Burham Baktiar injured. He was eventually transported to Kyber Teaching Hospital. Eyewitnesses recorded the diplomatic license plate number of 7276, which was confirmed as belonging to the U.S. Consulate. According to “The Nation,” which carried the story on December 24, 2009, a spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar denied any knowledge of the accident. This is a new low for Ambassador Patterson.
Not only do Embassy vehicles operate recklessly in Pakistan, not only do American diplomats refuse to render assistance to those they have injured, but the new tactic is to simply deny that any accident occurred, which means the victims can never recover their medical costs or repair their vehicles. U.S. Embassy policy has gone from reckless and illegal to shameful.
The lives of Afghan, Pakistani, Nepali, Indian, Iraqi and Hungarian men, women and children are just as valuable and important as the lives of U.S. diplomats. One should not be sacrificed to protect the other.
Colonel Mark Cancian (Ret.), writing for the January 16, 2010, issue of “Foreign Policy” stated that efforts have to be made to change the mindset of U.S. Embassy security guards, whose goal is to protect diplomats “at all costs.”
“At all costs means just that; costs to the locals, to the broader counterinsurgency effort, and to relations with the host government are irrelevant.”
Currently the moral cost of protecting U.S. diplomats from real and imaginary threats, and the costs of keeping diplomats 100% safe is too high. The damage this causes to America’s image and to the war effort against al-Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be justified. There is no excuse for any of this conduct. Where there are actual and serious security concerns at a crash site, it might be prudent to call for an ambulance and for rescue personnel and then leave the scene before they arrive, but none of the incidents in this report fit into that narrow exception. The policy seems to be to drive fast and recklessly (as a security measure), to never stop, to never render assistance and to never cooperate with local police.
On January 17, 2010, the Lahore-based “Daily Times” reported that U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke had met over the weekend with officials of Pakistan’s Foreign Office. It appears that negative news about American diplomatic misconduct is beginning to impact the U. S. State Department. However, rather than stopping the misconduct, the State Department is attempting to silence the reporting of its misconduct. Sources revealed to the Times that:
“Holbrooke told Pakistani authorities to stop newspapers from publishing anti-U.S. material.”
The Ambassadors and other officials listed in this report represent the worst of America. They cannot tolerate legitimate criticism, are contemptuous of foreigners and are ignorant of American values. The U.S. State Department is apparently just as willing to crush dissent and stifle freedom of the press as the Iranian regime, a regime which all decent Americans revile. The State Department is dulling the bright line which used to distinguish the American Government from al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
This article reports on only a handful of accidents. Many more are believed to have occurred. Each instance of reckless driving and each instance where U.S. diplomats flee the scene of an accident they caused further tarnishes the image of the United States. The Kabul Press urges the U.S. State Department to publish detailed information about every accident involving Embassy personnel and vehicles anywhere in the world for the past five years so that the full extent and impact of this hit and run policy can be evaluated.
These abuses by U.S. Embassy officials will not stop until the governments of Afghanistan and its neighbors join together and insist that U.S. diplomats and other personnel act responsibly and honorably, and that they respect host nation traffic safety laws.
Final Note: American law, specifically 22 C.F.R. 151.3, mandates that every U.S. Embassy employee and every U.S. Embassy vehicle be covered by a local insurance policy for all accidents, damage and injuries. Each insurance policy must provide a minimum of $100,000.00 in coverage for each person killed or injured, up to a total of $300,000.00 for the entire accident. The policies must include a similar amount of property damage coverage. While U.S. Embassy personnel are immune from local lawsuits, their insurance company can be sued for these funds. U.S. Embassies do not routinely disclose that they have such insurance policies.
If a U.S. Embassy refuses to disclose its insurance information, American law allows it to be sued in Afghanistan or Pakistan or India in order to obtain this information. If a particular U.S. Embassy refuses to carry insurance, it is in violation of American law and the U.S. Ambassador becomes personally liable. The Ambassador loses his or her diplomatic immunity and can be sued in a local court for the insurance money.
Under American law and Section 151.3, each life is valued at about $100,000.00. The life of a British citizen is not worth more than that of an Afghan or Pakistani citizen. As a result, all foreign victims or their families should insist on being paid the full $100,000.00 per victim, per accident, unless of course the injuries are minor. This Note contains the legal opinions of the author, who is a New York attorney and a former U.S. State Department official.