121.67/3579: Telegram

The Chargé at Tangier (Elbrick) to the Secretary of State

722. Couriers Owen and Chatfield were detained for 9 hours yesterday by the Spanish customs authorities at Arbaoua en route to Rabat from Tangier. They were unable to communicate with Tangier but informed Rabat by telephone and the Consulate there then notified the Legation by telegram which arrived shortly after 8 o’clock last night. It appears that the customs officials demanded to examine their luggage and that both couriers refused to allow their brief cases to be opened for which reason they were detained. Rabat also reported their persons and their other luggage had been searched. I immediately communicated with Castillo1 protesting this offensive behavior and demanding that the couriers be released at once to proceed to Rabat and approximately one hour later Castillo informed me that they would be permitted to proceed on their way. He added however that they seemed to be carrying seven diplomatic pouches instead of the five noted in their courier letter and that this was the reason for their detention. I told Castillo that our records did not show this and that in any event it was beside the point since the least the Spanish officials could have done was to permit the couriers to return to Tangier which Mayer2 at Rabat had informed me they were not allowed to do. I told Castillo that I would communicate with him further on the subject today when I was in possession of the facts and that if his understanding proved correct I would comply with the formality of issuing a corrected courier letter for the customs record.

I have just talked with Mayer at Rabat by telephone and he informs me that the couriers were detained at Arbaoua from 2:30 p.m. until 11:40 p.m., that the Spanish officials insisted on a customs examination; [Page 721]that the couriers refused to allow their two personal brief cases to be examined; that the customs authorities declared that only the authorities at Tetuan could authorize their release; that their luggage was searched and they were forced to undress partially to permit the search of their persons. Later their automobile was inspected minutely, all bags and seats being removed and the couriers were forced to replace them. Their money was taken from them and their attempts to effect its return were fruitless.

I am presenting a formal written protest to Castillo today but in view of the gravity of this affair and since former protests to the Spanish authorities concerning similar but lesser offenses have apparently had no effect, I strongly urge that the Embassy at Madrid be authorized to take this matter up immediately with the Spanish Foreign Office.

I have already informed Castillo that this outrageous incident will have a most unfortunate effect in Washington. I shall report further after I have seen him today.

Repeated to Algiers, Casablanca for General Clark3 and Madrid.

  1. Cristobal del Castillo, Spanish Consul General at Tangier.
  2. Ernest de W. Mayer, Consul at Rabat.
  3. Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, Commanding General of the Fifth Army.