🍗 Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone! Thank you for your continued support this year. I am grateful for your making this blog a part of your day.To our champions, I am here because you were there for me. I am grateful for your unending encouragement. Thank you all for making this year possible!
Below is a round-up of Thanksgiving Day celebrations around the Foreign Service. Giving thanks to the men and women representing America at our diplomatic missions around the world. They have in the past, served meals at community centers, served meals to local embassy and consulate staffers, hosted Peace Corps volunteers away from their homes, and more than a few have cooked/brought meals to Americans incarcerated overseas during the Thanksgiving holidays. — D
US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand
Ambassador Mark Gilbert and staff hosted the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Downtown Community Ministry in Wellington.
“Embassy behind the scenes: We just had a Weapon of Mass Destruction exercise at the Embassy, where everyone got to test their gas masks. Security is something we take seriously, but there’s no reason not to smile while practicing our routines.”
The Kremlin-friendly Izvestia newspaper claimed that Washington was attempting to discredit politicians loyal to President Vladimir Putin. It published what it claimed were emails hacked from the US State Department’s computer system. However, the US Embassy in Moscow dismissed the accusation and provided a commentary on the letter and all its inaccuracies. The Embassy even helpfully tweeted the newspaper: ‘Next time you are going to use fake letters — send them to us. We’ll help you correct the errors.’
During an ongoing police operations in Belgium on Sunday, Brussels Police requested the public to observe radio silence on social media. Crisis Center Belgium also asked the people to remain calm and to strictly follow all the instructions of the security forces.
Par sécurité, veuillez respecter le silence radio sur les médias sociaux concernant les opérations de police en cours à #Bruxelles. Merci
Also on November 22, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels announced the closure of the Consular Section on Monday, November 23 as well as the continued elevated threat in the capital city and the rest of Belgium:
The U.S. Embassy in Brussels informs U.S. citizens that the current threat level remains at Level 4 (serious threat of imminent attack) for Brussels, and Level 3 (high) for the rest of the country.
All public schools in Brussels will be closed on Monday, November 23. The International School of Brussels, Brussels American School, and St. John’s International School will also be closed. For other schools please consult their administrations.
All Metro stations will be closed on Monday. Other public transportation options, like trams, are operating on a limited basis. Regional trains and airports are operating but authorities urge vigilance.
The Belgian government continues to caution citizens to avoid public places such as major pedestrian walkways and shopping centers. The Belgian government will again reassess the threat level on Monday. We will provide further information as available.
The U.S. Embassy Consular Section will be offering emergency services only. All scheduled appointments are cancelled. Information on rescheduling these appointments will be available on our website.
In this time of elevated threat, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels reminds U.S. citizens to exercise caution in public transportation systems, sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations. U.S. citizens are encouraged to monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
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.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:
According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.
Now this …
Very few profiles in courage today in Congress; we are leaving good people behind on the battlefield with this bill. https://t.co/YNioOmfIII
The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?
We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.
Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.
On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:
According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts. But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.
Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.
John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.
He applied as a refugee in 2010:
John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.
He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:
Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.
As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.
John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.
Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.
The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.
If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?
And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis. He served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for four years. The position became vacant in October 2011 following Donald Gambatesa’s resignation (he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2005).
In May this year, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ann Calvaresi Barr, as the next Inspector General for USAID.
On May 11, the Senate received and referred Ms. Barr’s nomination to the Committee on Foreign Relations; it was also sequentially referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for 20 calendar days.
Ms. Barr did not get her confirmation hearing until August 4. Two months later, the Barr nomination was cleared by the SFCR on October 1, and by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on October 22. On November 19, the full Senate confirmed Ms. Barr by voice vote, 1,496 daysafter the job went vacant and 192 days after President Obama announced her nomination.
Ms. Barr should have a lengthy junkyard dog list. Just look at this:
IG Sopko at @WatsonInstitute: USAID has struggled mightily at the basic task of counting the number of schools it has built in Afghanistan
The Senate has now adjourned until 3:00pm on Monday, November 30, 2015. There will be no more roll call votes. Prior to adjournment, the Senate confirmed a short list of nominees for ambassadors. It also confirmed Ann Calvaresi Barr as USAID Inspector General.
There will be no further roll call votes during this week's session of the Senate.
While researching another court case, we discovered the Hasan v. State Department case. This is a case where the petitioner asked for judicial review of a US Embassy Yemen consular official’s decision of ineligibility for an immigrant visa on behalf of a minor child. Following the filing of this case and the closure of the US Embassy in Sanaa, the US Embassy in Cairo apparently became the post designated to handle visa applications from Yemen. US Embassy Cairo reviewed the prior ineligibility, reversed US Embassy Sana’a’s decision and issued the immigrant visa. The parties subsequently agreed to dismissed this case with prejudice at no cost to Mr. Hasan or the State Department. Except for the court ruling stipulating the dismissal of the case, all other files related to this case are sealed in court.
1:15-cv-04312-GHW | Hasan v. U.S. Department of State et al.
A closer look at other cases filed in the New York District Court indicates several other court cases against the State Department, US Embassy Yemen, US Embassy Pakistan, Ambassador Matthew Tueller, Ambassador Richard Olson and related federal agencies have also been sealed.
We suspect that these are cases related either to U.S. passport revocations, non-issuance of U.S. passports or immigrant visas in Yemen and Pakistan.
Following the federal court decision ordering the State Department to return the passport improperly revoked by the State Department, we asked State/OIG about this trend and we’re told that the OIG does not have “anything on this issue on which it can comment.” It was suggested that we check with Consular Affairs. And of course, we have previously asked CA about this, but we do not really expect them to address this in terms of oversight.
The court documents in the Omar case suggest that Consular Affairs is revoking U.S. passports contrary to the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual. But this is not the only case. If all similar cases have the same threshold as the Omar case, it is deeply troubling not only because the revocation appears not to follow State Department’s written guidance, State also never seek to denaturalized the plaintiff. Which basically leaves the plaintiff still a citizen of this country but unable to travel anywhere.
Which brings us to the question as to why these court files are sealed in court. It is possible that these cases all relate to minor children, could that be the reason for sealing the court records? Or is it something else?
Below are some of the cases we’ve located; all sealed unless noted otherwise:
1:15-cv-06425-NGG | Abdu v. U.S. Department of State et al — filed on 11/10/2015. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller.
1:15-cv-05684-FB | Alzonkary et al v. Holder et al — filed on 10/02/2015. Defendants include Secretary Kerry, US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller and CA’s Michelle Bond.
1:15-cv-05587-JG | Mansour Fadhil et al (on behalf of minor children). Defendants include Secretary Kerry.
1:15-cv-06436-FM | Al Zokary v. United States Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller
1:15-cv-04312-GHW | Hasan v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller. The case was dismissed in August 2015 with a stipulation that it be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees to either party. All files except the Stipulation are sealed.
1:15-cv-01767-ILG | Hasan et al v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson.
1:14-cv-07093-PAC | Issa et al v. Holder et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and US Embassy Yemen’s Ambassador Tueller.
1:14-cv-02584-ER | Alsaidi v. U.S. Department of State et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and Karen H. Sasahara in her official capacity as charge d’affaires ad interime of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. The case was dismissed in 2014 with a stipulation that it be dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees to either party. All files remained sealed.
1:13-cv-06872-PKC | Mohammad et al v. Beers et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry. The case was voluntarily dismissed in July 2014, all files remained sealed.
2:13-cv-04178-ADS | Arif et al v. Kerry et al. Defendants include Secretary Kerry and Embassy Islamabad’s Ambassador Olson. The case was dismissed with prejudice in September 2013, with each party bearing its own costs, fees, including attorney’s fees, and disbursements. The files remained sealed.
One passport case from November 2013, 1:13-cv-08299-AJP Kassim v. Kerry is not sealed. The case was dismissed in March 2014 with a court order for issuance of U.S. passport to plaintiff. “Within 30 days of the entry of this order, Plaintiff will submit to the Department of State a new un-executed but signed passport application (Form DS-11) with passport photos and a copy of the front and back of a valid government identification card. The Department of State will issue Plaintiff a U.S. passport book and a U.S. passport card within 30 days of receipt of Plaintiffs passport application and supporting documentation (described above in subsection 2(a)). This action is hereby withdrawn and dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney’s fees.”
One immigrant visa case from 2014, 1:14-cv-03748-KAM | Chaudhry et al v. Holder et al. is also not sealed. The defendants include Secretary Kerry and Embassy Islamabad’s Ambassador Olson. The case was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice in light of the State Department granting of an immigrant visa to Plaintiff.