Taking Care of the "Troops" — The State Department Way

Back in March, I posted a first person account of an FSO in Mexico amidst that country’s shooting war. (see US Mission Mexico: First Person from a Border Post).

I also did a follow-up post, In a War That Must Not Be Named, Leadership and Security On the Line. 

This is what I wrote then:

I supposed we may think of life in the Service as if it were a scale — the national strategic and security priorities on one side and on the other side, the acceptable personal risk of the employees.   But not everyone will get to look at that scale. And not everyone will get to make the judgment call.  Employees do not get to vote, diplomatic missions are not democracies.

That might as well apply to the mothership of diplomatic missions.

Thirty-two years ago, our diplomats were taken hostage in Iran. Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr. who served as an economic and commercial officer in the U.S. embassy in Iran during the hostage crisis has written an op-ed over in Politico asking “Whose side is the State Dept. on?”

“I was one of the 66 U.S. citizens taken hostage in Tehran in November 1979. Ten months before, revolutionary militants stormed the U.S. embassy, holding the mission personnel hostage for several hours and generating fear for the safety of the remaining Americans in Iran. After this group of U.S. Foreign Service personnel were recovered and removed, our State Department sent out a request to all its posts worldwide, seeking volunteers to staff the embassy in Tehran. Volunteers were informed that it was safe in Tehran and were encouraged to bring their families, including preschool-age children. In all, 66 Foreign Service officers answered this call to serve.

It was not as safe as the State Department had indicated. By October it had seriously deteriorated, as the Carter administration agreed to allow the shah to enter the U.S. for medical treatment.

As Carter had predicted, in reaction to Washington’s acceptance of the
shah, hundreds of thousands of Iranians demonstrated throughout Tehran.
Nov 4, a group of Iranians stormed the U.S. embassy, kidnapping 52
Americans. That they did so with the blessings (and under the apparent
direction) of Tehran can hardly be challenged, since less than a month
later, the government announced its intention to try the hostages as
spies and execute them — unless the U.S. paid $24 billion.
Ultimately, in January 1981, the Carter administration entered into a series of agreements known as the Algiers accords. These provided Iran a $7.8 billion payment and established the U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal — through which businesses and financial institutions could file and obtain compensations for property and contract claims against Iran.
The accords, however, contained a provision that precluded the 52 hostages and their families from bringing suit against Iran for seizure, detention and injuries. They, and only they, were unable to obtain any compensation for the life-changing injuries they suffered while in the service of our country as volunteers answering the call of our government.
Congress has passed various statutes, allowing US nationals, victimized by terrorism, to obtain compensation for injuries. Literally hundreds have pursued claims in U.S. courts and received compensation for terrorism sponsored by Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea and Libya.

The Tehran embassy hostages also sought to pursue similar claims in U.S. Courts. In August 2001, we obtained a judgment against Iran — which had refused to appear to defend their indefensible conduct. But the State Department intervened to protect Iran’s interests, asserting that dismissal was necessary to protect U.S. national security interests and uphold the waiver of claims in the Algiers Accords.
In the next 10 years, all our appeals, and other efforts to obtain justice and compensation, have been defeated by the State Department. At the same time, the department has aggressively protected the rights of all U.S. corporations and banks to seek compensation from Iran. Indeed each claim has been adjudicated, and literally billions of dollars awarded, through these channels and paid by Iran.

The signal that Iran has drawn from this is clear – the U.S. cares about protecting interests of its corporations — but has no real interest in protecting its diplomats, no matter the State Department’s lip service about to the importance of diplomatic immunity and the sacrosanct status of our embassies.”

Read in full here.

I think his question deserves an answer.

Here is the relevant part of the Algiers Accords signed on January 19, 1981:

11. Upon the making by the Government of Algeria of the certification described in Paragraph 3 above, the United States will promptly withdraw all claims now pending against Iran before the International Court of Justice and will thereafter bar and preclude the prosecution against Iran of any pending or future claim of the United States or a United States national arising out of events occurring before the date of this declaration related to (A) the seizure of the 52 United States nationals on November 4, 1979, (B) their subsequent detention, (C) injury to United States property or property of the United States nationals within the United States Embassy compound in Tehran after November 3, 1979, and (D) injury to the United States nationals or their property as a result of popular movements in the course of the Islamic Revolution in Iran which were not an act of the Government of Iran. The United States will also bar and preclude the prosecution against Iran in the courts of the United States of any pending or future claim asserted by persons other than the United States nationals arising out of the events specified in the preceding sentence.

The late Warren Christopher, then the State Department’s Deputy Secretary negotiated the agreement. He was appointed 63rd Secretary of State from January 20, 1993 – January 17, 1997 by President Clinton.