BBC is reporting that two car bombs went off outside the Splendid hotel at around 19:30 local time (same as GMT) in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Masked men have reportedly stormed the Splendid Hotel, which is used by UN staff and westerners, witnesses said. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims credit for ongoing attack and there are reportedly hostages according to media reports.
The French Embassy in Ouagadougou says that the incidents happened this evening around 20:30 at the Splendid Hotel, frequented by westerners. The embassy notes on Twitter that the curfew has been extended from 11 pm to 6 am. It also says that an Air France flight from Paris-Ouagadougou on Friday night was diverted to Niamey, Niger.
Attaque terroriste avenue N'Krumah. Évitez ce périmètre. Cellule de crise de l'Ambassade : 25 49 66 20 #Burkina
The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou tweeted that it is aware of what is happening and that it is following closely the ongoing situation in downtown Ouagadougo. It has also instructed embassy personnel to avoid the downtown area.
Nous sommes pleinement conscients de ce qui se passe et nous suivons de près la situation en cours au Centre-ville deOuagadougou #Lwili
Very happy to see that this finally happened after so long a wait!
After spending 444 days in captivity, and more than 30 years seeking restitution, the Americans taken hostage at the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979 have finally won compensation.
Buried in the huge spending bill signed into law last Friday are provisions that would give each of the 53 hostages or their estates up to $4.4 million. Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks such as the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa would also be eligible for benefits under the law.
The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000.
Some former hostages and their family members had expressed frustration at the Justice and State Departments for blocking efforts over the years to get compensation. In a sense, the spending bill represents Congress’s taking control of the BNP Paribas money back from the Justice Department. Some hostages did not want to discuss the legislation. “It’s enough,” said Barry Rosen, who was a press attaché at the embassy. “We’ve gone through enough.”
The AP reports that armed men stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital Friday morning and seized 170 hostages. The U.S. Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an “ongoing active shooter operation” at the hotel in Bamako. Reports indicate that the hostages have been released but over two dozens people have reportedly been killed.
Just now, Embassy Bamako released the following update:
Malian authorities report the security incident at the Radisson Hotel has concluded. The U.S. Embassy is lifting its recommendation for U.S. citizens to shelter in place. However, the Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to minimize movement around Bamako and be vigilant of their surroundings. Continue monitoring local media for updates and adhere to the instructions of local authorities.
On August 28, President Obama announced the appointment of James O’Brien as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:
James O’Brien is Vice Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group. Mr. O’Brien joined the Albright Group in 2001 as a Principal. Prior to that, Mr. O’Brien served at the Department of State in a number of positions from 1989 to 2001, including Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Balkan Democracy, Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Principal Deputy Director in the Office of Policy Planning. He began his career at the State Department in 1989 as Attorney-Adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser. Mr. O’Brien received a B.A. from Macalester College, an M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, and a J.D. from Yale Law School.
Special envoys are typically not subject to Senate confirmation. Secretary Kerry also made the following remarks on Mr. O’Brien’s appointment:
On behalf of the State Department, I welcome the appointment of Jim O’Brien as the first Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Jim is exactly the right person for a job that demands a high level of diplomatic experience and the ability to analyze and find effective remedies to complex problems.
The creation of this new post stems from the U.S. government’s comprehensive hostage policy review which was completed earlier this summer. That review recognized the need for fully coordinated action across U.S. agencies in responding to hostage situations and to the military, diplomatic, legal, and humanitarian issues that such situations generate.
In his new position, Jim will be focused on one overriding goal: using diplomacy to secure the safe return of Americans held hostage overseas. To that end, he will be in close contact with the families of American hostages, meet with foreign leaders in support of our hostage recovery efforts, advise on options to enhance those efforts, participate in strategy meetings with other senior U.S. policymakers, and represent the United States internationally on hostage-related issues. The new Special Presidential Envoy will work closely with the interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell that was also created as a result of the hostage policy review.
Jim O’Brien is currently Vice Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy and business advisory firm. Previously, he served as Special Presidential Envoy for the Balkans during the late 1990s, helping to chart a path out of the military and political strife that divided the region. He also served as Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning and as a senior adviser to UN Ambassador and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In those capacities, he helped to formulate the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia; and guided U.S. support for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which helped bring to justice persons responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Jim O’Brien is a person of proven diplomatic skill with a strong commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and to justice. I congratulate him on his new assignment and I have made clear to him that he can count on my full support – and that of the entire State Department – in fulfilling his vital mission.
Mr. O’Brien’s biography is available here via the Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG).
ASG provides strategic advise and commercial diplomacy and is headed by former secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright, former National Security Advisor to President Bill Clinton, Samuel R. Berger and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush, Carlos M. Gutierrez. Wendy Sherman, the current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the fourth-ranking official at State was previously vice chair of ASG.
Even today, after the passage of more than three decades, the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis remains an event familiar to most Americans. Many might be unaware that the 52 American mostly military and diplomatic personnel held hostage in Tehran for 444 days or their survivors continue to strive for significant compensation for their ordeal. The former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits. Congress took action to abrogate Iran’s sovereign immunity in the case, but never successfully abrogated the executive agreement, leaving the plaintiffs with jurisdiction to pursue their case but without a judicial cause of action.
Having lost their bids in the courts to obtain recompense, the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief.
The Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015, S. 868, a bill similar to S. 559 (113th Cong.), was introduced in the Senate at the end of March and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Like its predecessor bill, S. 868 would establish the American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund in the U.S. Treasury to be funded through a 30% surcharge on penalties, fines, and settlements collected from violators of U.S. sanctions prohibiting economic activity with Iran. The 2015 bill, however, would permit payments from the fund to be administered by the plaintiffs’ representative and principal agent in Roeder I, under the supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury. The surcharge would apply to sanctions administered by Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, or the Department of Energy. Surcharges would be required to be paid to the Secretary of the Treasury without regard to whether the fine or penalty is paid directly to the federal agency that imposed it or it is deemed satisfied by a payment to another federal agency.
The purpose of the fund would be to make payments to the former hostages and their family members who are members of the proposed class in Roeder I, as well as to settle their claims against Iran. The proposed class in Roeder I appears to consist of “Representatives, administrators and/or executors of the estates of all diplomatic and military personnel and the civilian support staff who were working at the United States Embassy in Iran during November 1979 and were seized from the United States Embassy grounds, or the Iranian Foreign ministry, and held hostage from 1979 to 1981.”
Accordingly, it is unclear whether all spouses and children of the former hostages qualify for payments from the fund.
Payments would be made in the following amounts and according to this order of priority:
(A) To each living former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per former hostage].
(B) To the estate of each deceased former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per estate of a former hostage].
(C) To each spouse and child of a former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1) if the spouse or child is identified as a member of that proposed class, $5,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$2.22 million per qualifying spouse or child of a former hostage].
The bill would not appear to provide compensation for former hostages who were released from captivity prior to 1981.
Under the bill, once a class member consents and receives payments from the fund, the recipient would be barred from bringing a lawsuit against Iran related to the hostage crisis. Once all payments are distributed according to the above plan, all such claims against Iran would be deemed waived and released.
Read in ful here: CRS R43210: The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation.
Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of eight books, including The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which spent eight weeks on The New York Times best seller list and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Last month, he wrote a piece about the civilian effort to save the five ISIS hostages.
New Yorker exclusive: Lawrence Wright’s definitive account of the secret civilian effort to save five ISIS hostages: http://t.co/jKQ6zdTiM7
The State Department appointed Carrie Greene, in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, to be a liaison with the families. She seemed impatient with their independent investigations. “You really shouldn’t be talking to these terrorists,” she warned. “It’s against the law.” Viva Hardigg responded, “Excuse me, Carrie, but we are well acquainted with U.S. laws, and if someone you love is being held by terrorists, with whom else should you talk?” Greene ended her e-mails with “Please enjoy your day!”
When Peter Kassig was kidnapped, his parents got a call from a State Department official. Paula recalls, “She basically said, ‘We know your son has been taken in Syria. We don’t have an embassy in Syria. We don’t have people on the ground in Syria. We don’t have a diplomatic relationship with them, so we can’t do anything to help you.’ ” In May, 2014, the families had a joint meeting with Daniel Rubinstein, a special envoy appointed to handle affairs in Syria. “He was nice, but when we asked how to contact him we were told not to e-mail or phone him,” Diane Foley says. In order to talk with him on the phone, the families had to travel to a local F.B.I. office, so an agent could dial Rubinstein’s number for them.
WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007. In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors. In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.
Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):
The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.
This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).
The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.
In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.
The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.
Circuit Judge Reinhardt:
The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer
Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.
The US Consulate General in Sydney issued the following message over an ongoing security incident in a nearby cafe:
Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens: Ongoing Security Incident in Martin Place in Sydney
U.S. Consulate Sydney informs U.S. citizens of a security incident involving at least one armed person at Lindt Chocolate Café in Martin Place in Sydney. New South Wales and Australian Federal police are addressing the threat. Please avoid the area around Martin Place until further notice.
U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to review your personal security plan, remain aware of your surroundings including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.
Consulate General of the United States of America
American Citizen Services (ACS)
Level 10, 19-29 Martin Place Sydney NSW 2000
Telephone +61-2-9373-9200 (1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Regular Business Days)
For hourly updates on the security situation in Martin Place please call the following number: 02 9373 9297
According the BBC News Australia citing the website of Australian newspaper The Age is reporting that thousands of Sydney’s city workers have been sent home early and some major buildings have been evacuated. They include the Opera House, the State Library, Channel Seven television station offices, the New South Wales parliamentary executive offices, the NSW Supreme Court’s criminal courts and several city legal chambers.
BBC News Australia is also reporting that the CEO of Lindt says there are 10 staff and around 30 customers holed up in the cafe in central Sydney. Several people reportedly can be seen pressed up against windows inside the cafe, with some holding up some sort of flag.
USCG Sydney is headed by Hugo Llorens who arrived in Sydney October 3, 2013 to become Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General with responsibility for the region encompassing New South Wales, Queensland and Norfolk Island. He previously served as the Assistant Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan from May 2012 to June 2013. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from September 2008 to July 2011.
In 1980, PBS aired a 54:02 video about the escape from Iran by 6 Americans who were United States Embassy employees. The “Canadian Caper” as it is known is the rescue effort by the Canadian Government and the Central Intelligence Agency of six American diplomats who evaded capture during the seizure and hostage taking of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979. If you watch the video below, you will note that there is no mention of the CIA. The closely guarded secret of the CIA’s role was only revealed in 1997 as part of the Agency’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Two years later, in the Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000), the CIA’s former chief of disguise, Tony J. Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in Argo) wrote A Classic Case of Deception: CIA Goes Hollywood. You can read it online here.
The six rescued American are as follows:
Robert Anders, 34 – Consular Officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular Officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular Assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agriculture Attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular Officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular Assistant
The Ben Affleck film, Argo reportedly borrows from the memoir of Tony Mendez, “The Master of Disguise,” which originally details how he devised an incredible escape from Tehran for American diplomats posing as a Canadian film crew. According to Mendez’s website, http://www.themasterofdisguise.com/ Warner Brothers and George Clooney optioned the rights to his book “The Master of Disguise” following a May 2007 “Wired Magazine” article on Tony’s rescue operation during the Iranian hostage crisis. The script was written by Chris Terrio who reportedly also drew on that 2007 Wired Magazine article and calledthe movie “a fictionalized version of real events.”
In any case, Argo had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7, and who was not invited? For godsakes this is Toronto as in Canada! Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran who sheltered the six Americans, that’s who, and our next door neighbors were not too pleased.
Friends of Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran, are shocked and upset by the way he was portrayed in Argo …. The ultimate put-down comes with a postscript that appears on the screen just before the final credits, savouring the irony that Taylor has received 112 citations. The obvious implication is that he didn’t deserve them.
A separate piece had this quote from the former ambassador:
“The movie’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s pertinent, it’s timely,” he said. “But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”
Ambassador Taylor was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1980. In his remarks on presenting the medal, then President Reagan described not only “Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.”
According to Reuters, both Affleck and writer Chris Terrio maintain that the broad thesis of the film is based on actual events, although traditional Hollywood dramatic license includes a climax scene where Iranian police chase a jumbo jet down a runway. In his presscon after the TIFF premier, Affleck was quoted saying: “Because we say it’s based on a true story, rather than this is a true story,” he said, “we’re allowed to take some dramatic licence. There’s a spirit of truth.”
Things could still have gotten messy but did not. Affleck apparently changed the offending postscript at the end of the movie, which Taylor’s friends regarded as an insult both to him and to Canada, was removed and replaced by a new postscript: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”
Ambassador Taylor and his wife were invited by Affleck to Los Angeles and attended a private screening of Argo on the Warner Bros. lot. They were also invited to the Washington DC premiere during a private screening at the Regal Gallery cinemas in downtown Washington on October 10, 2012. Click here for a video of Affleck addressing a packed auditorium during the screening that included embassy staff, lawmakers, former CIA and former hostages.
Ambassador Taylor and his wife have reportedly taped a commentary for the extra features on the DVD version of Argo, but this will not be released until 2013.
Meanwhile, the film has now also upset the British diplomats who helped our diplomats in Iran.
I should note that among the six Americans featured in Agro, one is still in the Foreign Service. Joseph D. Stafford, III is currently assigned as Charge’ d’ affaires at the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. Except for a brief mention that he joined the FS in 1978 and that he had earlier assignments in Algiers, Kuwait, Cairo, Palermo, and Tehran, there’s no mention of that daring scape from Tehran in his official bio.
After Tehran, Mark J. Lijek went on to assignments in Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Warsaw, Frankfurt and several tours in Foggy Bottom. On his website, he writes that the Iran experience remained a constant in his life but that while media interest came and went, he never forgot the selfless help provided by Canadian Embassy personnel during the crucial months following the takeover. He writes that remained in touch with several of the Canadians and served as the US-side coordinator for the periodic reunions hosted by the Canadian side. He and his wife, Cora, apparently also continued their friendship with Tony Mendez who masterminded their rescue. Both have been involved on the margins with the film which he calls “a dramatized version of Tony’s escape plan.”
Click here for Mark’s photos in FB from his Escape From Iran Album and the Argo Six Hollywood experience.
If you want to have a rounded view of what happened behind the Argo rescue and the hostage crisis, you may also want to read a couple more books: