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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT