Actually stupid-crazy it’s not.
As we have pointed out here, just because US Embassy Tunis was closed on MLK day did not mean the staff was not at work. Ambassador Gordon’s letter to Gawker made clear that embassy employees were all hands on deck that holiday weekend. That’s life in the crisis lane, by the way — the emergency committee/plan gets activated, the staff works around the clock to feed the need for information in Washington, and embassy personnel reaches out to American citizens in the consular district to determine their welfare, and in case an evacuation becomes necessary.
On the holiday itself, we doubt that anyone would dispute that Martin Luther King day is a federal holiday or that the office was closed. All US embassies and offices around the world, even those in countries that did not have revolutions were closed that day.
We wished that auto respond email was better crafted but we really could not fault the embassy for staying closed during the holiday. In fact, we think that was actually lucky. If the office was not closed, the US Embassy in Tunis would have had people lining up outside the embassy for their visa interviews. How can we be sure of this? Well, people with visa appointments are known to show up at the embassy when it is open for routine consular services.
We know that people were killed and wounded in street riots around the city. Given the unpredictability of the mass upheaval in that country, it would have been crazy and stupid to subject embassy clients to such danger by opening for services on a day when it should have been closed.
Over the weekend Gordon Gray, the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, must have been catching up on his reading, because he sent us an angry defense of his embassy staff’s handling of the crisis.
To the Editor-in-Chief
I am dismayed that you published such a misleading and unprofessional article as the recent piece by John Cook, “U.S. Embassy Isn’t Letting a Coup Get In the Way of a Vacation Day.” The article implied that Consular Section staff members, and Consul Stephen Ashby in particular, were not responding to American citizen inquiries during the January 15-17 Martin Luther King Day weekend. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.
All employees at the United States Embassy in Tunis have been working hard to respond to rapidly evolving situation in Tunisia. Staff members have been working at all hours of the day and night—on weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays—and from the office (including sleeping overnight, when necessary, at the Embassy), from home, and at the airport. We provided information on fast-breaking events via E-mails, phone calls, Warden Messages, the Embassy’s public website, and its Facebook page. Privacy Act considerations prevent the disclosure of specific case information to the media, but I assure you that this Embassy promptly provided assistance and information to every private American who asked.
I proudly witnessed my staff absorb without complaint an increased work load and find ways to accomplish their assignments despite a government-issued curfew, severely limited movements in Tunisia, and a markedly increased level of violence, civil unrest, and disorder. They did this under the additional stress that these political developments brought to their family and home lives. Inaccurate and mean-spirited statements such as “but don’t bother stopping by on Monday; they’ll all probably be at barbecues or something” malign and disregard the dedication and commitment of hard working public servants serving the United States and American interests in Tunisia.
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Tunisia
P.S. As the E-mail chain below clearly indicates, Mr. Ashby responded to your correspondent’s non-urgent inquiry at 12:37 p.m. Tunisia time (6:37 a.m. EST) on Saturday, January 15, shortly following a long meeting Mr. Ashby, several Embassy staff, and I attended to review the safety of the American community in Tunisia.
We’re sure the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tunisia worked hard during the crisis there. But that doesn’t mean the embassy wasn’t closed—stupidly—on Martin Luther King Day. It was. A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that to us: “The Embassy will be closed for routine services on Monday.” Gray’s letter doesn’t dispute that. We think that’s crazy!
Active links added above. Read the whole thing here. You might also want to read the comments in the original article here.
We must add — we are pleased to see that Ambassador Gray, like any good leader, has his huge umbrella opened to keep the shit from falling on his staff.
Get some sleep folks! We hope you have other food besides MREs, it looks like this is far from over.