The mystery of American Raymond A. Davis, currently imprisoned in the custody of local police in Lahore, Pakistan and charged with the Jan. 27 murder of two young men, whom he allegedly shot eight times with pinpoint accuracy through his car windshield, is growing increasingly murky. Also growing is the anger among Pakistanis that the US is trying to spring him from a Punjab jail by claiming diplomatic immunity. On Feb. 4, there were massive demonstrations, especially in Lahore, demanding that Davis be held for trial, an indication of the level of public anger at talk of granting him immunity.
Davis (whose identity was first denied and later confirmed by the US Embassy in Islamabad), and the embassy have claimed that he was hired as an employee of a US security company called Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, which was said to be located at 5100 North Lane in Orlando, Florida. Business cards for Hyperion were found on Davis by arresting officers.
However CounterPunch has investigated and discovered the following information:
First, there is not and never has been any such company located at the 5100 North Lane address. It is only an empty storefront, with empty shelves along one wall and an empty counter on the opposite wall, with just a lone used Coke cup sitting on it. A leasing agency sign is on the window. A receptionist at the IB Green & Associates rental agency located in Leesburg, Florida, said that her agency, which handles the property, part of a desolate-looking strip mall of mostly empty storefronts, has never leased to a Hyperion Protective Consultants. She added, “In fact, until recently, we had for several years occupied that address ourselves.”
The Florida Secretary of State’s office, meanwhile, which requires all Florida companies, including LLSs (limited liability partnerships), to register, has no record, current or lapsed, of a Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, and there is only one company with the name Hyperion registered at all in the state. It is Hyperion Communications, a company based in W. Palm Beach, that has no connection with Davis or with security-related activities.
The non-existent Hyperion Protective Consultants does have a website (www.hyperion-protective.com), but one of the phone numbers listed doesn’t work, an 800 number produces a recorded answer offering information about how to deal with or fend off bank foreclosures, and a third number with an Orlando exchange goes to a recording giving Hyperion’s corporate name and asking the caller to leave a message. Efforts to contact anyone on that line were unsuccessful. The local phone company says there is no public listing for Hyperion Protective Consultants–a rather unusual situation for a legitimate business operation.
Pakistani journalists have been speculating that Davis is either a CIA agent or is working as a contractor for some private mercenary firm–possibly Xe, the reincarnation of Blackwater. They are not alone in their suspicions. Jeff Stein, writing in the Washington Post on January 27, suggested after interviewing Fred Burton, a veteran of the State Department’s counter-terrorism Security Service, that Davis may have been involved in intelligence activity, either as a CIA employee under embassy cover or as a contract worker at the time of the shootings. Burton, who currently works with Stratfor, an Austin, TX-based “global intelligence” firm, even speculates that the shootings may have been a “spy meeting gone awry,” and not, as US Embassy and State Department officials are claiming, a case of an attempted robbery or car-jacking.
Even the information about what actually transpired is sketchy at this point. American media reports have Davis driving in Mozang, a busy commercial section of Lahore, and being approached by two threatening men on motorcycles. The US says he fired in self-defense, through his windshield with his Beretta pistol, remarkably hitting both men four times and killing both. He then exited his car and photographed both victims with his cell phone, before being arrested by local Lahore police. Davis, 36, reportedly a former Special Forces officer, was promptly jailed on two counts of murder, and despite protests by the US Embassy and the State Department that he is a “consular official” responsible for “security,” he continues to be held pending trial.
What has not been reported in the US media, but which reporter Shaukat Qadir of the Pakistani Express Tribune, says has been stated by Lahore police authorities, is that the two dead motorcyclists were each shot two times, “probably the fatal shots,” in the back by Davis. They were also both shot twice from the front. Such ballistics don’t mesh nicely with a protestation of self-defense.
Also left unmentioned in the US media is what else was found in Davis’ possession. Lahore police say that in addition to the Beretta he was still holding, and three cell phones retrieved from his pockets, they found a loaded Glock pistol in his car, along with three full magazines, and a “small telescope.” Again, heavy arms for a consular security officer not even in the act of guarding any embassy personnel, and what’s with the telescope? Also unmentioned in US accounts: his car was not an embassy vehicle, but was a local rental car.
American news reports say that a “consular vehicle” sped to Davis’ aid after the shooting incident and killed another motorcyclist enroute, before speeding away. The driver of that car is being sought by Lahore prosecutors but has not been identified or produced by US Embassy officials. According to Lahore police, however, the car in question, rather than coming to Davis’s aid, actually had been accompanying Davis’s sedan, and when the shooting happened, it “sped away,” killing the third motorcyclist as it raced off. Again a substantially different story that raises more questions about what this drive into the Mozang district was all about.
Davis has so far not said why he was driving, heavily armed, without anyone else in his vehicle, in a private rental car in a business section of Lahore where foreign embassy staff would not normally be seen. He is reportedly remaining silent and is leaving all statements to the US Embassy.
The US claim that Davis has diplomatic immunity hinges first and foremost on whether he is actually a “functionary” of the consulate. According to Lahore police investigators, he was arrested carrying a regular US passport, which had a business visa, not a diplomatic visa. The US reportedly only later supplied a diplomatic passport carrying a diplomatic visa that had been obtained not in the US before his departure, but in Islamabad, the country’s capital.
(Note: It is not unusual, though it is not publicly advertised, for the US State Department to issue duplicate passports to certain Americans. When I was working for Business Week magazine in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, and was dispatched often into China on reporting assignments, my bureau chief advised me that I could take a letter signed by her to the US Consulate in Hong Kong and request a second passport. One would be used exclusively to enter China posing as a tourist. The other would be used for going in officially as a journalist. The reason for this subterfuge, which was supported by the State Department, was that once Chinese visa officials have spotted a Chinese “journalist” visa stamped in a passport, they would never again allow that person to enter the country without first obtaining such a visa. The problem is that a journalist visa places strict limits on a reporter’s independent travel and access to sources. As a tourist, however, the same reporter could – illegally — travel freely and report without being accompanied by meddling foreign affairs office “handlers.”)
Considerable US pressure is currently being brought to bear on the Pakistani national government to hand over Davis to the US, and the country’s Interior Minister yesterday issued a statement accepting that Davis was a consular official as claimed by the US. But Punjab state authorities are not cooperating, and so far the national government is saying it is up to local authorities and the courts to decide whether his alleged crime of murder would, even if he is a legitimate consular employee, override a claim of diplomatic immunity.
Under Pakistani law, only actual consular functionaries, not service workers at embassy and consulate, have diplomatic status. Furthermore, no immunity would apply in the case of “serious” crimes–and certainly murder is as serious as it gets.
The US media have been uncritically quoting the State Department as saying that Pakistan is “violating” the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 by holding Davis in jail on murder charges. Those reporters should check the actual document.
Section II, Article 41 of the treaty, in its first paragraph regarding the “Personal inviolability of consular officers,” states:
“Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”
In other words, the prosecutorial, police and judicial authorities in Lahore and the state of Punjab are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in holding Davis on murder charges, pending a judicial determination concerning whether or not he can properly claim diplomatic immunity.
The US claim that Pakistan is violating the convention is simply nonsense.
There is also the matter of double standards. The US routinely violates the Vienna Diplomatic Accord that governs international diplomatic rights. For example, the same convention requires countries that arrest, jail and prosecute foreigners for crimes to promptly notify the person’s home country embassy, and to grant that embassy the right to provide legal counsel. Yet the US has arrested, charged with murder, and executed many foreign nationals without ever notifying their embassies of their legal jeopardy, and has, on a number of occasions, even gone ahead with executions after a convict’s home country has learned of the situation and requested a stay and a retrial with an embassy-provided defense attorney. The US, in 1997, also prosecuted, over the objections of the government of Georgia, a Georgian embassy diplomat charged with the murder of a 16-year-old girl.
Apparently diplomatic immunity has more to do with the relative power of the government in question and of the embassy in question than with the simple words in a treaty.
It remains to be seen whether Davis will ever actually stand trial in Pakistan. The US is pushing hard in Islamabad for his release. On the other hand, his arrest and detention, and the pressure by the US Embassy to spring him, are leading to an outpouring of rage among Pakistanis at a very volatile time, with the Middle East facing a wave of popular uprisings against US-backed autocracies, and with Pakistan itself, increasingly a powder keg, being bombed by US rocket-firing pilotless drone aircraft.
Some Pakistani publications, meanwhile, are speculating that Davis, beyond simple spying, may have been involved in subversive activities in the country, possibly linked to the wave of terror bombings that have been destabilizing the central government. They note that both of the slain motorcyclists (the third dead man appears to have been an innocent victim of the incident) were themselves armed with pistols, though neither had apparently drawn his weapon.
A State Department official, contacted by Counterpunch, refused to provide any details about the nature of Davis’ employment, or to offer an explanation for Hyperion Protective Consultants LLC’s fictitious address, and its lack of registration with the Florida Secretary of State’s office.
Davis is currently scheduled for a court date on Feb. 11 to consider the issue of whether or not he has immunity from prosecution.
DAVE LINDORFF, a frequent contributor to Counterpunch, is the founder of the online alternative newspaper ThisCantBeHappening! at www.thiscantbehappening.net