February 26, 2011 in Nation/World

CIA worker claims immunity

Murder charge expected at next hearing in Pakistan
Babar Dogar Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Pakistani security officials escort Raymond Allen Davis to a court in Lahore, Pakistan, Jan. 28.
(Full-size photo)

LAHORE, Pakistan – An American CIA employee accused of murdering two Pakistanis appeared handcuffed in a Pakistani court on Friday, where he refused to sign a charge sheet after claiming diplomatic immunity, officials said.

The detention of Raymond Allen Davis has severely frayed ties between the U.S. and Pakistan, whose counterterrorism alliance is considered a crucial part of ending the war in Afghanistan.

Washington insists Davis is immune from prosecution because he is listed as a U.S. Embassy staff member. It says Davis shot two Pakistanis in self-defense when they tried to rob him in late January in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistani officials, wary of a backlash in a population rife with anti-American sentiment, have declined to confirm whether Davis has diplomatic immunity, saying the matter is up to the courts.

During Friday’s hearing, which was held in a Lahore jail and closed to the public, prosecutors tried to present the handcuffed Davis with a charge sheet.

The judge also asked whether Davis had engaged a defense attorney, according to Asad Manzoor Butt, a lawyer for a Pakistani bystander who was killed when struck by an American car rushing to assist Davis after the shootings.

But Davis refused to sign the charge sheet and said he did not want to participate in the case because he has immunity from prosecution under international agreements covering diplomats, said Butt, who attended the hearing.

The question of whether Davis has immunity is also being considered by the Lahore High Court.

Prosecutor Abdus Samad said Davis would be formally charged Thursday at the next hearing.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Davis told the Pakistani court he has diplomatic immunity. “The court recognized the importance of the issue of diplomatic immunity and took the matter under consideration,” Crowley told the Associated Press.

Representatives of the U.S. consulate in Lahore were present at the hearing.

Prosecutors could not immediately be reached after the session.

Davis is a 36-year-old Virginia native. U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity have acknowledged that he did security work as a contractor for the CIA, but was apparently in Pakistan under a diplomatic cover.

American officials, nonetheless, say his exact job has no bearing on whether he qualifies for diplomatic immunity based on their readings of international agreements. They say they notified the Pakistani government of his official position as an “administrative and technical staff” member of the embassy more than a year ago.

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