According to the State Department, when an American is arrested or detained abroad, the State Department—through its Embassies and Consulates—ensures that U.S. consular officers are there to assist. They help see that Americans are treated humanely and in accordance with local law, are given the opportunity for a lawyer, and can correspond with family back home.
Per its Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department expects consular officers to be “particularly active in, and to fully engage in” the protection of the welfare of the arrestee; ensure that the arrestee is being treated fairly and is afforded all due process under local law, provide needed consular services such as EMDA or administer a trust fund in a timely and efficient manner; track the process of the case through the host country’s legal system; and to keep the Department, family members, congressional representatives and others full informed on all aspects of the case, consistent with Privacy Act.
Consular assistance to Americans arrested or detained overseas includes the following:
State Department/U.S. Embassies Can:
Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen (with their written permission)
Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
Ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
Upon request, ensure that prison officials permit visits with a member of the clergy of the religion of the detainee’s choice
Establish an OCS Trust, if necessary, so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens
State Department, U.S. Embassies Cannot:
Get U.S. citizens out of jail
State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court
Serve as official interpreters or translators
Pay legal, medical, or other fees
Reports note that POTUS sent the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to Sweden for the A$AP Rocky trial. “The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” O’Brien told the New York Times. “I’ll be here until they come home.” (via). How often is he going to do this for other American citizens?
Nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual is there any mention of the role the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs play in cases of U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad or while they are on trial. In most of the normal world, it is understood that American citizens are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the particular countries they are in. In this particular case, Time says that “Sweden does not have a bail system, which is why the rapper was detained with no way to get out even before he was formally charged.” Also see our old post below about the non-portability of American rights.
In any case, we don’t understand why the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs is involved with this case. Does the U.S. Government considers A$AP Rocky on trial for assault in Sweden, a hostage? Are we to understand that Americans incarcerated and detained overseas are now considered hostages to bring back as soon as possible? And if that’s not the case, and if this is an exception, what are the grounds for the Trump Administration to make this type of exception?
Is the Special Envoy’s role now includes affecting the release of all American citizens from foreign incarceration/detention?
How does a regular American citizen’s family petition for the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to be involved in their cases overseas?
Any guidance sent to consular officers doing ACS work? When is the State Department updating the Foreign Affairs Manual?
Also the next time U.S. diplomats overseas talk to their local counterparts about judicial independence and the rule of law, should they expect a push back with this case as Exhibit A?
— Jennifer Hansler (@jmhansler) July 30, 2019
Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2019
The rule of the law applies to everyone equally and is exercised by an independent judiciary. That’s the way it is in the US, and that’s certainly the way it is in Sweden. Political interference in the process is distinctly off limits! Clear? https://t.co/8iTc9Y0df3
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) July 26, 2019
Carl Bildt: I was Sweden’s prime minister and no, Mr. Trump, I could not have freed ASAP Rocky either https://t.co/s0R7xgdb8K
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 26, 2019
Per @CNN, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Robert O'Brien was in Sweden on Tuesday for A$AP Rocky's trial.
But family of Paul Whelan, who Russia's gov't has held on fake espionage charges for 7 months, has been told that his case isn't the SPEHA's responsibility..
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) July 30, 2019
White House sent Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O'Brien @StateSPEHA to Stockholm for A$AP Rocky's trial. O'Brien told ABC's @AichaEHC he can't comment, but his presence speaks for itself: "We want to bring this American citizen, A$AP back as soon as possible."
— Conor Finnegan (@cjf39) July 30, 2019
Donald Trump sent an envoy for hostage affairs to ASAP Rocky's hearing today in Sweden.
— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) July 30, 2019
ASAP Rocky's trial is going down today in Sweden #FREEFLACKO 🙏🏾
— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) July 30, 2019
Pacific Council member and Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs at @StateDept, @robertcobrien, writes about #Iran's history of kidnapping Americans, and how fighting for the release of American #hostages will improve relations between the U.S. and #Iran: https://t.co/NFJx2NSAQc pic.twitter.com/CcFn8WDSDL
— Pacific Council (@PacCouncil) October 4, 2018