LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – U.S. Sen. John Kerry promised the Pakistani people Tuesday that a jailed U.S. embassy worker will be subjected to a U.S. criminal investigation if he is released by the Pakistani government.
Kerry also expressed regret for the deaths of two Pakistani men in an apparent attempt to smooth over relations with the important ally in the war against extremists and al-Qaeda while still insisting that the American needs to be released.
Raymond Allen Davis has been held by Pakistani authorities since he fatally shot two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore on Jan. 27, and his case has become a bitter point of contention between Washington and Islamabad, whose relationship is considered key to ending the war in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said Davis shot in self-defense when two armed men on a motorcycle tried to rob him. Pakistani police officials have said they plan to try him for murder, arguing that while the Pakistanis did have a loaded gun, there was no round in the chamber, and saying Davis shot one man as he was trying to flee.
Regardless of guilt, the U.S. says the detention of Davis, a former Special Forces soldier and an embassy worker, is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats. U.S. officials have threatened to withhold billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan unless Davis is freed.
A chorus of American officials have called for his release on the grounds of diplomatic immunity, including President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
Kerry took a softer approach, saying that international law should not be abandoned, but also pledging that Davis would be fully investigated.
“It is customary in an incident like this for our government to conduct a criminal investigation. That is our law. And I can give you the full assurance of our government today that that will take place,” Kerry told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore. “So there is no such thing as a suggestion that something is out of law or that America thinks somehow we’re not subject to the law.”
Kerry spoke on a last-minute trip to Pakistan to try to heal relations over the case. He emphasized his sorrow over the incident and the deaths of the two men.
“I want to come here today to express our deepest regret for this tragic event and to express the sorrow of the American people for the loss of life that has taken place,” he said.
His visit came as the Pakistani government appeared to be giving an opening for Davis’ release through the courts.
A Pakistani federal government official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that after reviewing the matter, most experts in Pakistan’s legal and foreign offices believe Davis is immune from prosecution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity.
Pakistani government officials had avoided a definitive stand on Davis’ legal status in the face of popular anger over the shootout. Thousands have rallied against Davis, demanding he be hanged, while the Taliban have threatened attacks against any Pakistani official involved in freeing the 36-year-old Virginia native.
Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi, Zahar Khan and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, and Matthew Pennington in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)