Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

U.S. owes India apology over strip-search

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 4:47 PM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • India is retaliating against the U.S. over treatment of consular official who was strip-searched
  • Ruben Navarrette: The official was not a threat to safety and the charges are murky
  • He says the Marshals Service may have overreacted and created a diplomatic furor
  • Navarrette: U.S. relationship with India is vital and shouldn't be lightly endangered

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Here's a scary thought: There's a country where officials are suggesting that the visas of gay partners of U.S. diplomats be revoked and these individuals be put in jail -- not because the country recently outlawed same-sex relationships but to crack down on Americans.

In that country, the government is also curtailing the privileges traditionally granted to U.S. consulate staff, taking down protective barricades in front of the U.S. consulate and snubbing U.S. diplomatic officers.

Where do you suppose you'll find this anti-American backlash brewing? North Korea? Cuba? Iran? Surely, it must be a place where the citizens hate the United States. Perhaps it's a political adversary with which relations have never been particularly good.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Nope. All this is happening in India, which has long been a good and dependable friend and ally to the United States, most recently during the war on terror.

These are tense times in U.S.-India relations. And it's all because of how agents with the U.S. Marshals Service treated Devyani Khobragade when she was recently arrested and detained.

The 39-year-old deputy counsel general of India was taken into custody in New York on December 12 after she dropped her daughter off at school, and she was charged with visa fraud for allegedly lying on the application that she filled out to get permission for her nanny to legally work in the United States.

Court documents allege that she stated on the application that she was paying the nanny the minimum wage in New York -- $9.75 per hour, when she was really only paying her what worked out to be about $3.31 per hour.

Even that part of the story is fuzzy. Imagine someone coming into your home and calculating what you're paying a housekeeper or nanny or gardener by the hour, when you're paying them a flat rate for the day. I know friends who have live-in nannies, and those baby sitters are essentially on-call around the clock. They're probably making less than minimum wage as well, but with room and board thrown in.

U.S. strip searches Indian diplomat
Arrest sparks diplomatic feud

Anyway, what happened next isn't being disputed by either side.

Khobragade was put in a holding cell with other female detainees and strip-searched. She eventually posted bond, and she was released. She is now staying at India's Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The U.S. Marshals Service claims that a strip-search is standard operating procedure and that none of its policies were violated in this case. A spokesman says that Khobragade was treated just like anyone else.

That's the problem. Khobragade is not just like anyone else. She is a diplomatic officer with limited immunity. She's in the United States representing a proud country filled with reserved and modest people, many of whom consider a strip-search to be, as one Indian official said, "barbaric."

This is a country that in recent years has had good relations with the United States and where we have foreign officers stationed who we expect to be treated fairly and humanely.

Besides, she is not a violent criminal or a terror suspect, and she doesn't appear to be a threat to public safety.

If there is a labor law violation here, it would a civil crime, not a criminal offense. And if the U.S. government is going to throw the book at people who mistreat workers, I could -- as someone who writes about the immigration issue -- provide dozens of names of U.S. citizens, from farmers to soccer moms, who belong in a lineup.

Lying on a visa application is no small matter, but we're still not sure that is what happened given how wages are sometimes arrived at. Either way, it does seem that U.S. marshals might have overreacted in this case.

Like other law enforcement officers, many federal agents already get what is referred to as cultural sensitivity training. But, it turns out, what they really need is a crash course in International Relations 101.

The Indian government is incensed, and it has a right to be.

There are questions about the procedure that agents followed in this case, and they need to be answered. Those policies need to be reviewed. Indian officials also want an apology, and they should get one. Secretary of State John Kerry should deliver it himself, going beyond what the State Department said in a statement is Kerry's "regret" over the incident.

Questions of Khobragade's guilt or innocence can wait for another day. Yet, decency and common sense can be dealt with now. Those things tell us something went wrong in this case. It's up to the Obama administration to make it right before this diplomatic crisis gets any bigger.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT