By Libby Lewis
Egyptian officials have filed global arrest notices with Interpol for some of the Americans charged for overstepping in their pro-democracy work in Egypt, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
(Listen to a radio version of Libby Lewis' report here)
Officially, nobody's talking about this politically sensitive topic - that goes for the U.S. government, the Egyptian government, and Interpol.
But some are questioning the timing of the notices, issued just after the Obama administration agreed to restart more than $1 billion in aid to Egypt, over objections from members of Congress angered that the Egyptians had pursued a case against the workers for non-governmental organizations.
"I find the case a shocking example of how Interpol is open to abuse by countries which are seeking to prosecute - not sex traffickers or drug dealers - but people campaigning for democratic reform," said Jago Russell of Fair Trials International, a human rights group. He noted that such action "was not the desired intention of Interpol," but added that "the lack of safeguards in the way Interpol works means it's happening in practice."
In this case, Egypt used informal arrest notices, called diffusions, rather formal Red Notices. Both have the same effect: They allow police around the world to arrest those named as fugitives and send them back to Egypt.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the United States has an extradition treaty with Egypt. It can't simply ignore Interpol notices from Egypt the way it could with notices from, for example, Iran.
The U.S. State Department would not comment on Egypt's use of Interpol to go after the Americans, but State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded to a question about it at an April 5 briefing, saying: "We're making this message very clear in every available forum, that we believe these charges are politically motivated and without any legal merit."
Washington translation: There's likely a lot of backdoor diplomacy going on, with Interpol as well as with Egypt.
There's one more ingredient to add to this quintessential Washington mix: It's an election year. This week, budget hawk Sen. Rand Paul urged President Barak Obama to delay sending the aid to Egypt.
Paul wrote: "Why would a country that is pursuing the politically motivated prosecution of American citizens be eligible for a dime of U.S. foreign aid, never mind the $2 billion in taxpayer dollars about to be sent?"