Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

U.S. owes India apology over strip-search

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
December 18, 2013 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
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
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT