Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) spent his 2009 Congressional Recess visiting Southeast Asia where he was able to negotiate the release of American John Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years hard labor after violating the house arrest of political leader Suu Kyi, among other successes. Although the laws of all nations should be respected, US citizens fall under the care and authority of American sovereignty, thus a US citizen’s Constitutional protections must be recognized universally. When foreign governments persecute and punish Americans under their standards, the United States cannot guarantee its citizens the same legal rights outside of its borders; therefore, the value of US power and sovereignty is degraded.
Over the last few years, we have seen US citizens in countries like Iran and North Korea arrested on false pretences then given predetermined convictions by illegitimate courts. These crimes are committed against Americans to demonstrate defiance to US power will not be met with meaningful consequences. Although a symbol of true power for any nation is the ability to guarantee its citizens can travel the world without fear, a lack of appropriate consequences for dismissing US authority invigorates anti-American, anti-Western forces while it also suppresses pro-American, pro-Western movements. More importantly, it clearly demonstrates the limits and weaknesses of American power.
Certainly, US citizenship should not guarantee a free pass to commit crimes of any scope in other nations and Americans need to be respectful of foreign laws, no matter how ridiculous or unfair they may seem. Only in places where Americans will have their rights respected, such as in Europe, should our government make some concessions for the sake of our greater relationships; however, US authorities must be closely involved. Meanwhile, the US should not submit to any international courts, otherwise, our sovereignty is compromised. Instead, the United States needs to be part of a full investigation then must prosecute and punish its citizens under US standards when crimes are committed on foreign soil.
When Americans commit criminal acts in other nations, US officials are faced with a difficult situation. Although US sovereignty and power must be respected by foreign nations recognizing the rights of American citizens, officials need to avoid international conflicts over the irresponsible actions of a few individuals. In 1994, American officials failed to protect US citizenship and achieve a proper diplomatic solution when Michael Fay was caned for vandalism in Singapore. The idea of a US citizen receiving a medieval punishment sparked a powerful outcry that nearly caused a serious international incident, yet today little commotion is made when Constitutional protections are violated by other governments. Certainly, Mr. Fay and Mr. Yettaw deserved to be punished for their irresponsible behavior, but we cannot accept other governments stripping Americans of their rights.