After Leaked Diplomatic Letters Over A$AP Rocky’s Detention in Sweden, Where Should @StateSPEHA Go Next?

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Trump’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien who was in Sweden for A$AP Rocky’s assault trial apparently told USAToday reporter Kim Hjelmgaard that it is “entirely appropriate” for him to be in Sweden even though this was a criminal case. “When foreign govts. hold American citizens it’s always appropriate”.
The things we learn these days!
As of December 2018, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has conducted 10,399 visits to U.S. citizens in prison overseas. Note – prison visits not hostage visits. Only a few of those U.S. citizens make the news (see CA Fact Sheet).
The Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs also said publicly, while tagging his ultimate boss on Twitter, that the president “has made bringing our fellow citizens home a center piece of his foreign policy”.
Consular work just got so utterly fascinating. Now, which ones of the over 10,000 prison visits by consular officers to U.S. citizens incarcerated overseas will now be done by the special envoy? Which fellow citizens jailed overseas will be brought home next?

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Consular Affairs Asst Secretary Carl Risch Visits A$AP Rocky in Sweden, Who Else Wanna Visit?

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Update: ASAP Rocky and Co-Defendants Allowed to Leave Sweden While Awaiting Verdict (set for August 14).
Sweden’a national public television broadcaster SVT reported on July 19 that the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch was in country to meet with A$AP Rocky and the other two detained US citizens.  He reportedly also meet staff from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Also see U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden).

The report cites a statement from Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that “Risch will, among other things, meet with representatives of the Foreign Office’s consular unit and the Justice Department, as well as in the role of consular officer in attendance at one of the US embassy’s previously scheduled visits to the three detained US citizens.” (via online translation).
The Foreign Ministry further writes according to SVT that “The US embassy has confirmed that the conditions in the Swedish detention comply with both the Vienna Convention and the international standard.” This in reference to a report by TMZ that A$AP was being held in “shockingly inhumane condition”.
A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden on July 3. The State Department previously announced on July 17 that CA’s Assistant Secretary Risch was traveling to Sweden from July 18-20 apparently to “observe U.S. consular operations and meet with foreign government counterparts to underscore the enduring commitment to the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas and the facilitation of legitimate travel to the United States.”
The State Department’s own 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Sweden  under Prison and Detention Center Conditions notes:
There were no significant reports regarding prison, detention center, or migrant detention facility conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
In any case, the top gun at Consular Affairs already visited A$AP Rocky on July 19th. (Prior to Asst Secretary Risch’s visit, do you know when was the last time the assistant secretary of Consular Affairs made a prison visit overseas?).
When @StateSPEHA Robert O’Brien (the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs)  showed up in the Swedish courtroom on July 30 along with journalists, teenage rap fans and curious onlookers, the highest official in charge of Consular Affairs appeared to have already seen the three detained Americans.   One specific embassy official also has a clear role and reporting duties in the arrest and detention of American citizens. We would be surprised if U.S. Embassy Sweden’s Charge d’affaires ad interim Pamela Tremont, or post’s Consular Chief have not already visited the detainees.
Since neither the Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary nor the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs could sprung A$AP Rocky from jail, how useful are their presence in Sweden beyond appearances that they are doing something to get these individuals released?
Do we have senior officials actually thinking through the potential consequences of these actions — with senior officials descending into Sweden, and presidential tweets pressuring for the release of those in detention, plus the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs tweeting about “expedited paperworks “?
Does anyone enjoy the appearance of giving in because of some very public arm-twisting? No?
It may interest you to know that Sweden is also the “protecting power” for the United States in North Korea and has been so since September 1995. These folks know hostages. Do you think Sweden appreciates the United States decision to send a Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to a non-hostage situation there? Even if this case were to get resolved next week, do you think the Swedes will simply forget this?

U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden

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According to the State Department, when an American is arrested or detained abroad, the State Department—through its Embassies and Consulates—ensures that U.S. consular officers are there to assist. They help see that Americans are treated humanely and in accordance with local law, are given the opportunity for a lawyer, and can correspond with family back home.
Per its Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department expects consular officers to be “particularly active in, and to fully engage in” the protection of the welfare of the arrestee; ensure that the arrestee is being treated fairly and is afforded all due process under local law, provide needed consular services such as EMDA or administer a trust fund in a timely and efficient manner; track the process of the case through the host country’s legal system; and to keep the Department, family members, congressional representatives and others full informed on all aspects of the case, consistent with Privacy Act.

 

Consular assistance to Americans arrested or detained overseas includes the following:
State Department/U.S. Embassies Can:
  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen (with their written permission)
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Upon request, ensure that prison officials permit visits with a member of the clergy of the religion of the detainee’s choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust, if necessary, so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens
State Department, U.S. Embassies Cannot:
  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees
Reports note that POTUS sent the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to Sweden for the A$AP Rocky trial.  “The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” O’Brien told the New York Times. “I’ll be here until they come home.” (via). How often is he going to do this for other American citizens?
Nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual is there any mention of the role the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs play in cases of U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad or while they are on trial. In most of the normal world, it is understood that American citizens are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the particular countries they are in. In this particular case, Time says that “Sweden does not have a bail system, which is why the rapper was detained with no way to get out even before he was formally charged.” Also see our old post below about the non-portability of American rights.

Non-Portability of American Rights

In any case, we don’t understand why the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs is involved with this case.  Does the U.S. Government considers A$AP Rocky on trial for assault in Sweden, a hostage? Are we to understand that Americans incarcerated and detained overseas are now considered hostages to bring back as soon as possible? And if that’s not the case, and if this is an exception, what are the grounds for the Trump Administration to make this type of exception?
Is the Special Envoy’s role now includes affecting the release of all American citizens from foreign incarceration/detention?
How does a regular American citizen’s family petition for the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to be involved in their cases overseas?
Any guidance sent to consular officers doing ACS work? When is the State Department updating the Foreign Affairs Manual?
Also the next time U.S. diplomats overseas talk to their local counterparts about judicial independence and the rule of law, should they expect a push back with this case as Exhibit A?

 

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Ex-Ambassador Fitz Haney Joins Dancing With the Stars Costa Rica! #FitzyLuci

Posted: 5:06 am ET
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The U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Fitzgerald Haney, as far as we know, the only Obama appointed political ambassador given an extension by the Trump administration, concluded his assignment at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose this past July.  The new Trump ambassador, Sharon Day was confirmed on August 4 so she should get to post shortly.

Meanwhile, the former ambassador and his family have decided to stay in Costa Rica because the kids are stable and happy in San Jose. And then this: Ambassador Haney said, “As I contemplate possible next steps professionally, I have decided to embark on another adventure/challenge: Dancing with The Stars Costa Rica.”

That’s right, we’ll have a new addition to our Dancing With The Stars: The Foreign Service Edition; and it’s the real thing in Costa Rica!

Ambassador Haney told us that they started rehearsals about a month ago and debuted this past Sunday on Costa Rica’s number one TV station – Teletica.  If you would like to see how he did (his partner Lucía Jiménez is a two-time World Salsa Champion), check this out — they’ve got the moves: http://www.teletica.com/Noticias/172651-.note.aspx. His young daughter gave him a 9 out of 10 score adding in Spanish on national TV, “I’d say for a gringo dancing salsa, he did pretty well.”

The U.S. Embassy in San Jose posted a video of the former ambassador’s DWST-Costa Rica debut here and the clip now has over 100K views.  The former ambassador with deadpan humor said, “I am sure [it] has provided innumerable people some much needed entertainment.”  He said that he decided to participate as a way of helping to continue to raise awareness for breast cancer. His wife Andrea was previously diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. He added that he will donate all related earnings, royalties, etc. to the local foundation Dra. Anna Gabriela Ross (http://ross.or.cr/), one of the premiere organizations providing support for families dealing with all types of cancer in Costa Rica.

The former ambassador hopes to make it to the finals.  If you want to vote, go to http://app01.teletica.com/dwts/. The show airs Sundays at 7pm CST and will be available on the internet as well www.teletica.com/dancing/programas.aspx.  Get ready, it’ll be waltz this Sunday.

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Remember The Time When Darth Vader Refused to Stand in “That Visa Line” at US Embassy London?

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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Ambassador Eileen Malloy previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and was U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 1994 to 1997. The following is an excerpt from her Oral History interview recounting her first tour experience in London between 1978 and 1979. The interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy for ADST in 2008.  During her first tour, the then newbie FSO felt underwhelmed by life in the Foreign Service though she did have one bright spot when she met Darth Vader, at where else? The visa line.  Via ADST | From What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours.

Once the staff came to me and said “there is this British man and he will not go away. He’s insisting on seeing you and he’s not an American.” So I finally went out and talked to him. He said, “You don’t know who I am and that’s the problem.”

He said, “I am Darth Vader.” I’m thinking, oh my God.

He was the British actor who played Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies (David Prowse).

Via ADST

Via ADST

The body was his. Of course the voice was James Earl Jones, but most people don’t realize he was never under that costume. The man said, “I am one of the biggest stars and nobody knows me and they’re telling me I have to go stand in that visa line and I will not stand in that visa line.”

So we took his visa application and walked him out the back door. He, I saw in the paper that he passed away about five years ago. He was a British body builder. Just, he just did all the stunts and everything. But it was really funny. No one knows my name—or my face—no one knows my face.

The transcript of Ambassador Malloy’s oral history interview is available in full here (PDF).

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Photo of the Day: Iron Man @RobertDowneyJr with Marine Security Guards in Berlin

Posted: 3:49 am ET
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Via US Embassy Berlin:

 

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Ambassador Michael Punke’s ‘The Revenant’ — on NYT Best Sellers For 9th Week

Posted: 7:31 pm EDT
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Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s movie  The Revenant has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards in this year’s Oscars including Actor in a Leading Role for Leonardo DiCaprio, Actor in a Supporting Role Tom Hardy, and directing and best picture.  The New York Times writes that among the hopeful novelists who will be closely watching Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, only one has negotiated a $1.3 trillion global trade deal. The NYT is talking about Michael Punke, the deputy United States Trade Representative and the United States ambassador to the World Trade Organization. He is the author of the 2002 novel “The Revenant” which inspired the movie. The book  sold around 15,000 copies after it was first published according to NYT.  It had apparently been out of print before the movie started shooting but a new hardcover came out in 2015. “The Revenant” has reportedly sold more than half a million copies, and Picador has reprinted the book 21 times.

Ambassador Punke was originally nominated by President Obama as Deputy Trade Representative – Geneva, Office of the United States Trade Representative in 2009. He was recess appointed in 2010 and finally confirmed by the Senate in the fall of 2011 (also see Deputy USTR Ambassador Michael Punke’s The Revenant: Now a Movie With Leonardo DiCaprio).

Due to his government position, he reportedly can’t give any interviews about the book, or even sign copies. The NYT says that “Federal ethics rules prohibit him from any activities that would be “self-enriching” or could be seen as an abuse of his post.”  The Office of Government Ethics has a handout relating to book deals and government employees (PDF), and a pretty complex guidelines for particularly covered noncareer (CNC) employees and Presidential appointees to full-time noncareer positions (PA).

It took 14 years but on the week of January 17, 2016, the book hit #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers and has remained on the list for the last 9 weeks.  Enjoy the excerpt courtesy of Amazon/Kindle Instant Preview:

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Secretary John Kerry on Jimmy Kimmel Live – Ready to Bring Together Taylor Swift and Kanye West

Posted: 12:23 am EDT
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Last week, when Secretary Kerry had a meeting in Hollywood after the summit with Asian leaders in Palm Springs, he also made an appearance at the Jimmy Kimmel show.  He was introduced as the guest who “has been to almost 80 countries and logged more than a million frequent flyer miles.”  

The transcript of the appearance on February 16 is here: Interview on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!;  Secretary of State John Kerry; Los Angeles, California.

 

Deputy USTR Ambassador Michael Punke’s The Revenant: Now a Movie With Leonardo DiCaprio

Posted: 1:08 am EDT
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Michael Punke serves as Deputy United States Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland.  He is the author of The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, now a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, and Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West.

Below is his USTR bio:

Michael Punke has worked in the field of international trade law and policy for two decades. From 1995 to 1996, Punke served as Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of the United States Trade Representative. There, he advised the USTR on issues ranging from agricultural trade to intellectual property protection.

From 1993 to 1995, Punke served at the White House as Director for International Economic Affairs with a joint appointment to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. His responsibilities included assisting in the management of the interagency process. From 1991 to 1992, Punke was International Trade Counsel to Senator Max Baucus, then Chairman of the Finance Committee’s International Trade Subcommittee. Punke has also worked on international trade issues from the private sector, including as a partner at the Washington, D.C., office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe, & Maw. From 2003 to 2009, Punke consulted on public policy issues out of Missoula, Montana.

Punke has also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Montana and as a writer, authoring a novel, two books of nonfiction, and two screenplays. Punke is a graduate of George Washington University and Cornell Law School, where he was elected Editor-in-Chief of the Cornell International Law Journal.

The Revenant | Official Teaser Trailer: Inspired by true events, THE REVENANT is an immersive and visceral cinematic experience capturing one man’s epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members  of his own hunting team. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption. THE REVENANT is directed and co-written by renowned filmmaker, Academy Award® winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel) via . Read more about the development of the movie from unpublished manuscript to film here.

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Milla Jovovich’s Survivor — RSO-I’s Job Just Got Seriously Sexy

Posted: 2:46 am EDT
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How did we miss James McTeigue’s 2015 action film Survivor starring Milla Jovovich, Pierce Brosnan, Dylan McDermott, and Angela Bassett?  Kate Abbott (Milla Jovovich) is a Diplomatic Security agent with the State Department stationed at the U.S. Embassy in London, where she is tasked with weeding out visa applicants who could be potential terrorists. This job would be the Regional Security Officer – Investigator (RSO-I), yes?  For those who work at a consular section and at a US embassy, there will be stuff to quibble about in this movie. But if you just enjoy an action thriller with lots of running and fireworks, you might find this enjoyable.  Or not. The RSO-I’s job just got seriously sexy, hey …

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Note: If you have not check it out yet, we have also put together a curated list of State Department-related movies in our newly organized Amazon store. We get a tiny, mini egg added to our nest egg if you use our affiliate links 😉!

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