international intrigue

Why Do We Even Have Diplomatic Immunity?

Think about all the time and money that was wasted because of Qatari diplomat Mohammed al-Modadi’s in-flight antics yesterday. Two fighter jets were scrambled from Buckley Air Force Base to escort the plane. Bomb-sniffing dogs and explosives experts were brought in to search the plane after landing. Passengers who surely had better things to do were forced to wait around the airport to be interviewed by the FBI, with some “still trickling into the baggage area five hours after the plane landed.” And yet Modadi — who, according to reports, sneaked a smoke in the bathroom and then sarcastically quipped to air marshals that he had been “trying to light [his] shoes on fire” (HA HA!) — won’t face any punishment.

I think an American would have the book thrown at him” had he done the same thing, Michigan congressman Pete Hoekstra says. And yet, as the Associated Press explains:

Diplomatic immunity became international law with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. According to the document, the practice was put in place “not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions as representing States.” That makes sense — diplomats have to be able to do their jobs without being vulnerable to petty or retaliatory punishment at the hands of their host country. But clearly, diplomatic immunity in this case did serve solely to benefit an individual. Modadi reportedly even mentioned his immunity to the air marshals who confronted him outside of the bathroom, confident that he could smoke on an airplane (a felony) and then crack jokes about being a terrorist without repercussions. There are exceptions to diplomatic immunity, but they’re limited and only apply to the following:

(a) A real action relating to private immovable property situated in the territory of the receiving State, unless he holds it on behalf of the sending State for the purposes of the mission;

Can we add “An action related to being a cocky wise-ass” in there?

Why Do We Even Have Diplomatic Immunity?