Gavinmac ponders the murder of William Bryan Glenn in Cambodia and asks whether the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh was at fault for his homicide
Last week, the expatriate community in Cambodia learned of the shocking murder of an American teacher in Phnom Penh. The body of William Bryan Glenn, a 43 year-old native of Mississippi, was found dumped on the outskirts of the capital during the early morning of July 9.
The perpetrators remain at large, and the motive for Glenn’s killing is unknown. What is known, however, is that the murder was particularly brutal. Glenn was savagely beaten and strangled, and then his body was wrapped in a curtain and tossed in a garbage heap.
Glenn had only lived in Cambodia for about two months, after previously teaching in Thailand and China. Glenn’s estranged Thai wife, Nittaya Glenn, told the Cambodia Daily that Glenn had called her many times to tell her that he was afraid of certain Cambodian people and wanted to leave the country quickly. Mrs. Glenn offered to buy her husband a plane ticket to China.
Mrs. Glenn said that Glenn went to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh on July 7 to get extra passport pages because he wanted to leave Cambodia immediately for China. Obtaining extra passport pages is normally a routine process that takes about 30 minutes.
It is unknown how long Glenn was in the U.S. Embassy on July 7. He apparently did not get the extra passport pages. In fact, according to his wife, Glenn told her that he was worried because the U.S. Embassy actually confiscated his passport. This made it impossible for Glenn to leave Cambodia, and he was brutally murdered less than 48 hours later.
There are only a few reasons why a U.S. embassy would revoke or confiscate an American citizen’s passport. One of those reasons is the existence of a criminal warrant for the arrest of that citizen back in the United States. U.S. embassies will often revoke the passport of an American citizen wanted for crimes in America, and then offer to issue a new limited passport valid only for travel to the U.S. This is a way that the government pressure fugitives to return to the United States to meet their obligations, thus avoiding the expense and difficulties of extraditing these fugitives from foreign lands.
The Phnom Penh Post has reported that Glenn was, in fact, wanted in the United States for “drugs charges.” A Cambodian police official confirmed to the Post that the U.S. embassy kept Glenn’s passport because he was a “wanted criminal.” The Mississippi press now reports that Glenn was wanted there for missing a 2002 trial date on charges of third offense DUI and manufacturing methamphetamine.
The embassy’s revocation of Glenn’s passport over these 12 year-old drug and DUI charges would been devastating to his efforts to flee whoever was hunting him. Obviously, without a passport, Glenn could not leave Cambodia. The sudden loss of his passport would have also impeded his ability to move to other accommodation in Cambodia in order to evade his pursuers. Most hotels and guesthouses in Cambodia demand a passport when a foreigner checks in, and the hotel staff them verifies the Cambodian visa contained therein.
Revoking Glenn’s passport would have also made it harder for Glenn to rent a car or motorbike to leave Phnom Penh, because rental agencies usually demand the original passport as collateral. Revoking Glenn’s passport would have also prevented him from engaging in certain banking transactions to obtain funds he may have needed to flee the city.
Importantly, the U.S. Embassy’s revocation of Glenn’s passport also invalidated Glenn’s lawful visa status in Cambodia, as the Cambodian visa is linked to the passport and the visa sticker is affixed to a page in the passport. Without a valid Cambodian visa, Glenn might be been less likely to seek needed assistance from Cambodian police.
A passportless American in a foreign country is somewhat paralyzed and helpless. A passportless American in a small foreign country who is being pursued by murderous foreign nationals is a sitting duck. William Glenn, blocked by his own government in his attempt to flee Cambodia, was brutally beaten and strangled to death here less than 48 hours later.
Volume 7 of the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual states:
“The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas.”
Last year, during remarks at a U.S. citizen “town hall” meeting in Siem Reap, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd stated:
My Embassy colleagues and I work to promote U.S. business, provide humanitarian assistance, strengthen diplomatic ties with our host nation counterparts, and much more. Of our many responsibilities, however, none is more important than serving our fellow American citizens. Your safety, health, and welfare are our number one priorities, and that’s why we traveled to Siem Reap to meet with you today. I even met with the tourism police in Siem Reap today to stress to them the high-level of attention that the U.S. Embassy places on protecting U.S. citizens.
Did the U.S. embassy make the safety and welfare of William Glenn its “number one priority” on July 7, 2014, when it denied him simple passport services that would have allowed him to flee a murderous foreign threat? Did the embassy place a “high level of attention” on protecting Glenn when it revoked his passport and pushed him back out into the streets of Phnom Penh, where he was viciously murdered within 48 hours?
The answer to both questions is obviously no. The U.S. Embassy’s highest priority on July 7 was not “protecting” or “serving” its citizen William Bryan Glenn, but punishing him for his alleged prior involvement with drugs in the United States more than a decade ago. The U.S. embassy put the U.S. Justice Department’s policy of relentlessly pursuing drug criminals ahead of the U.S. State Department’s own policy of having “no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas.”
The manufacture of methamphetamine is undoubtedly a serious problem in America. But an arrest warrant for an American citizen on a 12 year-old drug or drunk driving charge should not also serve as that citizen’s death warrant, if he finds himself overseas and in need of passport services to flee a foreign threat. All American citizens deserve the same protection from their government when traveling in foreign lands, regardless of whatever legal skeletons they may have in their closets back home. A U.S. embassy’s deliberate obstruction of an American citizen’s attempt to leave a country where that citizen feels unsafe is disgraceful and contrary to U.S. State Department policy.
Some may argue that U.S. embassy personnel in Cambodia probably had no way of knowing of any threats to William Glenn’s life. But Glenn wasn’t just any U.S. citizen, whose troubles were completely unknown to the U.S. embassy. Cambodian police have reported that U.S. law enforcement agents requested Cambodian cooperation in monitoring Glenn as a “person of interest” in a criminal investigation. The U.S. embassy personnel who were monitoring Glenn as an alleged drug criminal would have known that drug criminals often get themselves mixed up in dangerous life-or-death situations. Glenn, while being monitored by U.S. embassy personnel, was murdered, quite literally, “on their watch.”
Moreover, Glenn was reportedly rather vocal with his Thai wife about his fear of remaining in Cambodia. It is likely that, at the moment he was informed by embassy staff of the revocation of his passport, he would have been equally vocal, if not positively frantic, with embassy staff about his urgent need to leave.
A full investigation should be conducted into the revocation of William Glenn’s passport and what transpired when Glenn visited the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh on July 7. Interactions between citizens and consular staff at the embassy in Phnom Penh usually happen in a large hall, with each communication being spoken (or shouted) through bulletproof glass, within earshot of all the other people who are waiting to speak to consular officers. There may have been witnesses to the exchange between Glenn and the consular staff. There are undoubtedly surveillance cameras in the room where the interaction took place, and there may be audio recordings as well.
We should also ask: Is it the policy of U.S. embassy consular staff to inquire into an American citizen’s possible urgent life-or-death need to use a passport before they revoke it? If that isn’t the policy, then it should be. Changing the policy now would be too late to save the life of William Bryan Glenn, but it might save the life of the next American citizen with an old criminal warrant who finds himself in danger overseas and in need of passport services to flee a foreign threat.
Click here to discuss the murder of William Bryan Glenn in the K440 forums.