Protecting Americans Abroad

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

I feel very, very sorry for Otto Warmbier and his family. The young man who went to North Korea and who returned basically brain dead had died last week. He was just 22 years old. While this is an extreme example of what can happen to Americans outside of the United States, there are countries and places that Americans SHOULD really be careful about. North Korea is just one tiny example of this. There are too many Third World countries where Americans are not welcome and where there is great danger. It never ceases to amaze me how many Americans want to go to places that are best not traveled to and where danger is at just about every corner. There are countries that are overall safe, and why some Americans do not pick them I will never know. In too many ways those Americans who go to places they should not go to and where things are either unstable or the governments too repressive should be warnings in of themselves why any traveler should stay away from.

That all said, I feel that there is more the U.S. government CAN do for Americans who have the misfortune to be arrested or end up in another country’s prison. The way it is now, the U.S. government does in fact very little for American abroad. True, the U.S. government cannot help an American get out of prison, cannot provide legal assistance (they can only give a list of lawyers in the country an American may be imprisoned in), and they cannot interfere in the internal judicial system of another country. What the U.S. government can do is to provide an embassy or consulate personnel to check on the condition of American citizen in a foreign jail, or relay information on their condition to family. And while this is good, it is clearly not enough. Many countries in the European Union provide their nationals who might unfortunately end up in foreign prison with medical and nutritional support when their nationals may be treated poorly either because the prison conditions are bad or because that foreign government is bad towards westerners. At this point the U.S. government does not. Sadly, the U.S. government only provides two visits to an American in a prison per year. This has got to be thoroughly changed to providing as many visits as possible depending on the situation to fully protect Americans who might be abused.

European Union nations may also supply their nationals with repatriation assistance to get their nationals out of a bad prison and out of an equally terrible judicial system. The United States at best may offer repatriation assistance as a loan……………clearly inadequate for helping Americans who will need help more than ever. What should be done is that the U.S. Congress should pass better laws on trying to help Americans incarcerated abroad. We all have to remember that bad things happen to good (and not-so-good) Americans abroad and more often than not they have no family, no friends and no relatives in the countries they may travel to. True, Americans going somewhere should know something about the lands, the cultures, and the laws they might be traveling to. But if they need further assistance, they should get the best possible help where the U.S. government can provide.

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