Many venues have reported that, on August 27, the wife of an American diplomat in England killed a teenage English citizen riding a motorbike. The woman, Anne Sacoolas (not named in most American reports, but named by Boris Johnson and several British outlets), was apparently driving on the wrong side of the road at the time, hitting and killing the 19-year-old Harry Dunn. The complication is that Sacoolas fled England after the crash and has claimed diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Read about the story here:
Although Britain, including Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has asked the U.S. to lift the woman’s diplomatic immunity, all the news reports, including the NYT above, say that this is unlikely to happen (the US already refused a request for waiver of immunity on September 5), but England is still trying.
Why won’t the US waive immunity? Well, you can read about diplomatic immunity in this Guardian article, which notes that U.S. diplomats and their families are covered throughout the UK by international and UK law. And although these diplomats are urged to obey British law, apparently they don’t have to, and immunity is rarely waived. I’m not sure if every crime is covered, so does a diplomat who, say, murders an English person also get diplomatic immunity from prosecution? Readers who know about these things should weigh in. And does fleeing the country somehow reinforce that immunity, so you don’t get extradited?
In this case, Sacoolas committed what would probably be classified as either reckless driving, negligent homicide, and perhaps failure to report an accident. What she allegedly did was clearly a crime, as the UK police have also asked for Sacoolas’s arrest so she can be interviewed. The NYT also notes these complicating factors (the emphasis is mine):
The crash, the investigation, and Mr. Johnson’s identification of the American woman could further strain the so-called special relationship between the two countries, which has already been tested numerous times during Mr. Trump’s presidency.
Mr. Trump has engaged in public spats with Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London and endorsed Boris Johnson as a strong candidate for prime minister while his predecessor, Theresa May, was still in office. Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, resigned after leaked cables said Mr. Trump was “radiating insecurity” and his administration diplomatically “clumsy and inept.”
Still, Britain must walk a fine line, most notably because it is hoping to sign a trade deal with the United States after it leaves the European Union, a fraught process that is complicated by the fact that the Americans may make demands the British find unacceptable.
Robert Singh, a professor of politics at Birkbeck, University of London, who specializes in American foreign policy, said that he cannot recall a more serious immunity dispute between the two countries.
He said in an email that while the police could visit the suspect in the United States, such a visit would most likely be of limited value. “This merely seems to postpone the moment of reckoning,” he said. “If she is indeed guilty of the crime, as alleged, then there will be immense pressure upon the U.K. government to initiate formal extradition proceedings — which, one would imagine, any U.S. administration (and this one, in particular) will resist.”
The victim’s parents said they would continue fighting to get justice for their son’s death.
And indeed, this is what irks me about the case. In this case, the U.S. should waive immunity, for the woman is accused of committing a crime and then fleeing the country. It is not a trivial incident, either, like that of the many U.S. diplomats and their families who refuse to pay traffic violations in the UK. Dunn’s parents are devastated and are asking for justice, and I am on their side. Imagine if it were your son, and the alleged perpetrator gets of scot free!
As for that, a SkyNews video revealed that the name of the driver is Anne Sacoolas, 42, whose husband works at the RAF base Croughton, known to be a US intelligence base. The Sky video adds that the U.S. Embassy advised Sacoolis and her family to leave the UK. (I don’t know how the police found her name, or whether she reported what happened to the police).
I don’t think this is what diplomatic immunity was intended to cover. In the interests of justice, the U.S. government, which has the power to life Sacoolas’s immunity, should do so. It’s simple justice.