U.S.Embassy Bamako: Army Green Beret Logan J. Melgar’s Death in Mali Under Investigation as Homicide

Posted: 12:33 am ET
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Media reports say that Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar was found dead in his room in embassy housing in Bamako, Mali on June 4, 2017 and that two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six are reportedly under investigation in his death. One official told ABC News that the death is being investigated by the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as a homicide and that investigators are looking into Melgar’s suspected asphyxiation.

Sgt. Melgar died in Bamako far from battlefield, in an “odd event” that  requires an investigation. But the death occurred in June and even if there is an ongoing investigation, why is the public hearing about this death almost five months after the incident?  The death also reportedly occurred in an embassy housing. Since NCIS (and not Diplomatic Security) is investigating, we suspect but that these DOD members are not/not under Chief of Mission Authority (pdf) while at post but under AFRICOM.

To the inevitable next question as to what our troops are doing in Mali,  we understand that France is in the lead to counter Al Qaida/ISIS affiliates and the US military works in support of French operations in that country. It is also our understanding that there are six western hostages being held in Mali including one US citizen.

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Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

Posted: 2:20 am ET
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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently criticized the suspension of visa services in Turkey by the United States. The Daily Sabah quotes Yıldırım saying“There is rule of law in Turkey and if someone from the U.S. diplomatic mission commits a crime he/she will not have any privileges [to avoid prosecution].” Apparently he also added that U.S. authorities never asked for Turkey’s permission when the United States arrested Halkbank deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass for the visa row, and said: “It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn’t know his place.” He also said that Turkey does not see Ambassador Bass as a representative of the United States.

In the spirit of reciprocity, how long before the State Department declares that the U.S. no longer sees Ambassador Serdar Kılıç as a representative of the Government of Turkey in Washington, D.C.?

RTE must be smart enough to recognize that American ambassadors, particularly career ambassadors like Ambassador Bass do not freelance. And still he rails.

Of related note — on March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

The scheme functioned largely by using the Turkish government-owned bank (“Turkish Bank-1”) at which ASLAN was the General Manager, ATILLA was the Deputy General Manager of International Banking, and BALKAN was an Assistant Deputy Manager for International Banking, to engage in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. The defendants used Turkish Bank-1 to facilitate REZA ZARRAB’s ability to use his network of companies to supply currency and gold to the Government of Iran, Iranian entities, and SDNs using Turkish Bank-1, while concealing Turkish Bank-1’s role in the violation of U.S. sanctions from regulators.

This is an interesting thriller that we should hear more about starting next month when the hearing starts in New York.  This story started like a movie; according to the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars.

Here is the superseding indictment in USA vs. Zarrab, et.al.

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#BurkinaFaso Attack: Gunmen Storms Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou

Posted: 6:52 pm EDT
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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.

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.

 

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CRS: Former U.S. Hostages of Iran to be Eligible for Compensation

Posted: 12:29 am EDT
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From CRS Legal Sidebar (PDF) via Secrecy News:

Screen Shot 2016-01-1

 

 

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Americans Held Hostage at US Embassy Tehran For 444 Days Win Compensation After 36 Years. Finally!

Posted: 4:47  pm EDT
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Very happy to see that this finally happened after so long a wait!

Via NYT:

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.”

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Related posts:

The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation (August 2015)

State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage (September 2015)

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy (March 2015)

November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day (November 2013)

Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran Hostages (May 2012)

Iranian Mob Attacks British Embassy in Tehran — It’s Dejavu All Over Again! (November 2011)

January 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years Later  (January 2011)

US Embassy Bamako Lifts Shelter in Place Advisory After Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Posted: 2:40 pm EDT
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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.

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

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.

Here’s what happened earlier:

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Here’s some tricky part:

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President Obama Appoints James O’Brien as First Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs

Posted: 1:34 pm EDT
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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. GutierrezWendy Sherman, the current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the fourth-ranking official at State was previously vice chair of ASG.

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The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation

Posted: 12:22  pm EDT
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We’ve previously blogged about the Iran hostages here (see Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran HostagesJanuary 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years LaterNovember 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day).  The following CRS report dated July 30, 2015  outlines the history of various efforts, including legislative efforts and court cases, and describes one bill currently before Congress, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015 (S. 868) on the bid to compensate the hostages.

Excerpted from CRS report via Secrecy News:

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.

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Required Reading on Hostage Cases: And when not/not to write, “Please enjoy your day!”

Posted: 3:39 am EDT
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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.

Excerpt:

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.

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Munns v. Kerry: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Policies on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

Posted: 12:30 am EDT
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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):

Summary:

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.

Opinion:

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.

Background:

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.

 

Related item:

7 FAM 1820 Hostage Taking and Kidnapping (pdf)

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