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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT