State Department officials closely monitored the case of Amanda Knox from the beginning and provided regular updates to officials in Washington, according to diplomatic cables.
Knox, an American college student convicted in 2009 of killing her roommate, walked free Monday after an Italian appeals court threw out her murder conviction and ordered her release. Though the case earned wide global attention and lawmakers urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to personally intervene, it was no different than the attention afforded to other Americans incarcerated abroad.
According to a cable dated Nov. 7, 2007, U.S. diplomats visited Knox even before her father arrived to see her. The cable, obtained earlier this year by seattlepi.com, noted that “Amcit Amanda Knox” (“Amcit” is short for American citizen) was in a Perugia jail and represented by two Italian lawyers. Her mother had already seen her and she faced charges of with “sexual assault and participating in voluntary manslaughter,” the cable said.
U.S. diplomats first learned of Knox’s detention on Nov. 6 and were notified of her arrest on Nov. 9. They met with her on Nov. 12, the day before her father was scheduled to see her, according to the cable. (Other less reputable, anonymous bloggers posted purported copies of similar diplomatic cables in 2010.)
Knox is hardly the only American jailed abroad, and tracking U.S. citizens arrested overseas is a big priority for American diplomats. According to State Department data obtained by the Los Angeles Times in 2007, at least 4,456 Americans were sitting in international prisons in 2006, up from 3,614 in 2005, but down a bit from 2003.
In 2007, Tijuana, Mexico, had the most Americans behind bars, with 520, followed by Guadalajara and Nuevo Laredo. London — a popular destination for American college students (including The Eye, who met his bride there while studying) came in fourth, with 274 Americans arrested. Mexico City, Toronto, Nassau, Bahamas, the Mexican cities of Merida and Nogales, and Hong Kong — with 90 incarcerated Americans — rounded out the top 10, according to the LA Times data.
Whenever traveling abroad, the State Department stands ready to assist Americans if they face criminal penalties — no matter if the case earns wide news coverage. On its Web site, the State Department reminds Americans traveling abroad that they are always subject to local laws and regulations “which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.” Penalties for breaking the law overseas often can be harsher than in the U.S. and may involve fines, arrest, imprisonment or being expelled from the country, the department said.
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