Turkish Court Rules to Keep USG Employee Metin Topuz in Jail

 

Reuters reported on December 11, that a Turkish court ruled that U.S. Consulate General Istanbul employee, Metin Topuz remain jail “as his trial on espionage charges continues.”
Reuters previously reported in September that the lawyers for Metin Topuz applied in January to the European Court of Human Rights and that  the ECHR has accepted the application.
The AP previously reported that Topuz began working at the consulate in 1982 as a switchboard operator and was promoted to work as an assistant and translator to the DEA’s American personnel in Turkey a decade later.
Topuz was first arrested in October 2017 and has now been incarcerated for over two years. He is still an employee of the U.S. Government. We’ve been wondering what’s going to happen to him. There’ll be another hearing in March. And on and on it goes? Until when?
The State Department has previously updated its Foreign Affairs Manual in 2017 which provides the terms and conditions for authorizing compensation payments for current and former locally employed (LE) staff who are/were imprisoned by foreign governments as a result of their employment by the United States Government.
So for “amount of benefit” which applies to locally employed staff at State and All Agencies under Chief of Mission Authority (includes DEA):

a. State:  Compensation may not exceed an amount that the State Deputy Assistant Secretary for HR determines to approximate the salary and benefits to which an employee or former employee would have been entitled had the individual remained working during the period of such imprisonment.

b. All other agencies:  Compensation may not exceed an amount that the agency head determines to approximate the salary and benefits to which an employee or former employee would have been entitled had the individual remained working during the period of such imprisonment.

c.  Once the compensation amount has been set, each agency will deny or reduce this compensation by the amount of any other relief received by the employee or other claimant, such as through private legislation enacted by the Congress.

Under the section of “other benefits”:

Any period of imprisonment for which an employee is compensated under this section shall be considered for purposes of any other employee benefit to be a period of employment by the U.S. Government, with the following exceptions:

(1)  A period of imprisonment shall not be creditable toward Civil Service retirement unless the employee was covered by the U.S. Civil Service Retirement and Disability System during the period of U.S. Government employment last preceding the imprisonment, or the employee qualifies for annuity benefits by reason of other services; and/or

(2)  A period of imprisonment shall not be considered for purposes of workers’ compensation under Subchapter I of Chapter 81 of Title 5, U.S.C., unless the individual was employed by the U.S. Government at the time of imprisonment.

Just pause and think about this for a moment.  Local employees are typically are not paid in U.S. dollars but paid in local compensation plans/currencies. The United States Government will only pay the amount that the employee would have been entitled to if she were at work (and not in prison). Were Congress to allocate any compensation, USG will deny or reduce the amount claimed beyond the approximate salary.
So compensated for eight hours a day considered a workweek but none for weekends and 16 hours a day spent incarcerated and away from families or being slammed around by prison hosts? (A former Turkish official assigned to NATO arrested and accused as a “Feto” member spoke of tortures and show trials).
Wow!  This is breathtaking and full of heart, we wanna scream.
Also with very few exceptions, most locally employed staff are not covered by U.S. Civil Service retirement. But former USG local employees who gets in the cross-hairs of their governments and imprisoned due to their employment with the U.S. Government, their imprisonment “shall not be considered for purposes of workers’ compensation”. That only applies if they are employed by the USG at the time of imprisonment.
State/HR’s Overseas Employment should be proud of that ‘taking care of local employees’ award.

 

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U.S. Senate Confirms John Sullivan as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation

 

 

PN1232: John Joseph Sullivan, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Russian Federation
— By unanimous consent agreement, vote 12/11/2019.
— Cloture invoked in Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 69 – 25. Record Vote Number: 392
— Considered by Senate.
— By unanimous consent agreement, debate and vote 12/12/2019.

 

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Think Tank Cancels NATO Conference After U.S. Ambassador Objects to Keynote Speaker’s Participation

 

The Danish Atlantic Council released a statement announcing the cancellation of its international conference on NATO and transatlantic cooperation after the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark  Carla Sands “did not want” the keynote speaker’s participation. Sands is a political appointee, and one of Trump’s top donors. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate  by voice vote in November 2017 (see PN1012).
The invited speaker Stanley Sloan (@srs2_) is a Visiting Scholar in Political Science at Middlebury College and a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Scowcroft Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States.
Mr. Sloan has now released a brief statement about this debacle and also provided a link to the draft of the address he would have delivered at the event:

The Danish Atlantic Council had invited Stanley R. Sloan to give a keynote address at their conference celebrating NATO’s 70th anniversary on 10 December. The conference was co-sponsored and heavily funded by the US Department of State. Just days before the conference, the US Ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, ordered the Council to remove Sloan from the program. The form of censorship by the US government is a dramatic change from past practice, when the US Public Diplomacy program provided  a variety of American views to foreign audiences, in many ways demonstrating the strength of American democracy. For those who are interested in what Sloan would have said at the meeting, check out the draft as it stood before the Embassy’s veto: “Crisis in transatlantic relations: what future will we choose?” 

US Embassy Denmark has taken to Twitter to defend its role in the cancellation of the event:

In our planning for the Seminar as co-hosts and co-sponsors, the U.S. Embassy and had jointly agreed on a program of speakers with a wide range of views on the Alliance.

Mr. Stanley Sloan’s proposed last-minute inclusion in the program by did not follow the same deliberative process of joint decision-making and agreement that we followed when recruiting all other speakers.

The U.S. Embassy will continue to support future programs to strengthen security cooperation and people-to-people ties.

We laughed so hard we fell off our chair! We all know that “deliberative” and “process” have both been left to bleed all over the white carpet.  We can see the stains on the official burial; the embassy, unfortunately, thought we could not.

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Authorized/Ordered Departures: U.S. Embassy Burkina Faso

The State Department has previously issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Bolivia on November 12, 2019 (US Embassy Bolivia Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members).
On November 26, the State Department issued a Level 4 – Do Not Travel for Burkina Faso.  The Travel Advisory was issued due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping.  It also included an announcement that the Department ordered the departure of all minor family members of U.S. government employees, and the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members. There are currently 14 countries with Level 4 designations.
Do not travel to Burkina Faso due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping.

Country Summary: Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso. Terrorists may conduct attacks anywhere with little or no warning. Targets could include hotels, restaurants, police stations, customs offices, areas at or near mining sites, places of worship, military posts, and schools.

Kidnapping and hostage taking is a threat throughout the country.  On May 10, 2019 a hostage rescue operation freed four international hostages that had been kidnapped in Burkina Faso and in neighboring Benin.

The Government of Burkina Faso has maintained a state of emergency in the entire East and Sahel regions, the provinces of Kossi and Sourou in the Boucle de Mouhoun region, the province of Kenedougou in the Hauts Bassins region, the province of Loroum in the North region, and the province of Koulpelogo in the Center-East region.

The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens throughout most of the country, as U.S. government personnel are restricted from travelling to regions outside the capitol due to security concerns. The U.S. Embassy prohibits U.S. government personnel from personal travel to the Karpala, Balkiui and Rayongo (also known as Dayongo) neighborhoods of Ouagadougou’s Arrondissement 11 due to the potential for security operations.

On November 26, 2019, the Department ordered the departure of all minor family members of U.S. government employees, and the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

The US Embassy in Ouagadougou also posted this on its website:

Consistent with our primary responsibility to protect American citizens and consistent with the assessment that the security situation in Burkina Faso has reached a point where it is not appropriate for children to remain as part of the Embassy community at this time, the U.S. Embassy ordered the departure of U.S. mission family members under the age 21.  The U.S. Embassy remains open for all services including full diplomatic engagement and consular services, including the full range of services for American citizens.  There is no specific threat that prompted this decision, rather this reconfiguration of the U.S. Embassy staffing profile will enable refocused operations to assist Burkina Faso in its struggle against violent extremist organizations.

 

US Embassy Zambia: Threats Against Amb. Daniel Foote For Comments on Harsh Sentencing of Gay Couple

Excerpt from Ambassador Foote’s statement:

The Foreign Minister accused me of interfering with Zambia’s internal affairs, as he has done each time any foreign diplomat accredited to Zambia offers an opinion different to that of the current Zambian government, and of “questioning the Zambian constitution.”  I just re-read Zambia’s entire constitution, which I believe is an admirable document, and there is no reference to “having sex against the order of nature,” or of homosexuality for that matter.  Your constitution does declare, however, to uphold “a person’s right to freedom of conscience, belief or religion; the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person;” to “respect the diversity of the different communities of Zambia;” and to “promote and protect the rights and freedoms of a person.”  It is up to Zambian citizens and the courts to decide if your laws correspond to your constitution, but your constitution itself provides every person the right to freedom and expression of conscience and belief.  I expressed my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don’t agree with.  I didn’t interfere in internal affairs.
[…]
I have consistently pledged that it’s not my place to tell Zambia what to do, but that I would always be honest and frank.  The exceptional yearly assistance from American to Zambian citizens, and the constitution of Zambia, should enable all of us to express our opinions without acrimonious accusations or actions.  I hope the government of Zambia commits to improve its decaying relationship with the United States, but that is a decision for it to make.

If you think that foreign nationals were not paying attention on how the president talks about our diplomats, local media now report notes that “Zambian President Edgar Lungu rebuked the Ambassador and his remarks, saying his authorities will complain to the Trump administration.”

USEU Gordon Sondland’s Home Renovation in Brussels: Much Higher Than First Reported

 

WaPo and Vanity Fair both reported about the renovation at the Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels, the official residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)

WaPo’s reporting estimates the renovations at nearly $1 million including a $209,000 professional kitchen, and a $223,000 family kitchen. The actual obligation may  actually be higher than first reported.
A sourced familiar with the matter told us that the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR) was built in 1990 so one’s guesstimate is that the residence is  due for renovation as one of those “representational spaces.” The first contracts were awarded in September 2018, just two months after Sondland got to Brussels. (Sondland was confirmed via voice vote on June 28, 2018). Folks who understand how funding in government works can see that this “wasn’t all his initiative.” But .. because there’s always a but,  we understand from our source that the great bulk of the project items were added “more recently.” The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations  (OBO) reportedly approved all of it and the Office of Acquisition Management (State/AQM) awarded the contracts.
So a fairly modest renovation project was amped up until the contract award to an 8A firm reached $2.5 million?  More? Our source also told us, “Whether that much renovation was needed, or exactly how lavish is too lavish for a representational residence, I can’t say.”
Definitive Contract 19AQMM19C0088 is a Fixed Price Federal Contract Award. It was awarded to Pono Aina Management LLC of Oklahoma on Jun 12, 2019. The definitive contract is funded by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (DOS). The potential value of the award is $2,504,000 with potential end date of June 11, 2020. The solicitation procedure is marked “simplified acquisition” and  the set-aside type is marked “8(A) Sole Source.”

USEU’s Amb Gordon Sondland Gets Portland Protesters (Plus Oath of Office Reading)

 

Official tweet below from @USAmbEU account shows that the protesters are not isolated in Portland;  there are also protesters and commenters online. As of this writing the following single tweet has almost 650 replies.

Open Hearings Week #2: Williams, Vindman, Volker, Morrison, Sondland, Cooper, Hale, Hill, Holmes

 

Related posts: Impeachment Inquiry: Transcripts of Depositions Released (Updated 11/18/19)Impeachment Open Hearings Week #1: William Taylor, George Kent, Marie Yovanovitch

Thursday, November 21

  • WH/NSC: Fiona Hill, Fiona Hill, Former Senior Director for Europe and Russia
  • State/FSO David Holmes, Political Counselor, US Embassy Kyiv, Ukraine

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CBS News on Possible ‘Pay-to-Play’ Scheme in Withdrawn Doug Manchester Nomination

 

On November 13, the White House formally withdrew its nomination of San Diego Developer “Papa” Doug Manchester to be Ambassador to The Bahamaas.  As we have posted previously, the Nassau Guardian reported in late October that Mr. Manchester  “has stepped back from his bid to become the United States ambassador for The Bahamas.” The report said that when reached for comment, Manchester Financial Group wrote in a statement, “He has withdrawn due to the threats on his and his family’s lives including three infant children under four years old.”  The report also said: “It also noted that Manchester had received “severe” threats on his life.” (see WH Withdraws Doug Manchester’s Nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas).
The report does not include details on who made these threats against the nominee and if there is an ongoing investigation concerning these threats.
LAT article notes that the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego issued a news release on Nov. 5 announcing that Daniel Hector Mackinnon had been sentenced to seven years in prison for politically motivated attacks against Manchester and a Raytheon building.  This was an April incident where a man reportedly attempted to set fire to Manchester’s La Jolla home.
On November 18, CBS New broke the news of a “possible pay-to-play scheme for ambassador role in Trump administration.”

A CBS News investigation has uncovered a possible pay-for-play scheme involving the Republican National Committee and President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to the Bahamas. Emails obtained by CBS News show the nominee, San Diego billionaire Doug Manchester, was asked by the RNC to donate half a million dollars as his confirmation in the Senate hung in the balance, chief investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.
[…]
The Senate confirmation process is exactly what Manchester quickly addressed. He wrote back to McDaniel’s request for $500,000, “As you know I am not supposed to do any, but my wife is sending a contribution for $100,000. Assuming I get voted out of the [Foreign Relations Committee] on Wednesday to the floor we need you to have the majority leader bring it to a majority vote … Once confirmed, I our [sic] family will respond!”

SFRC’s Risch reportedly “alerted the White House, which then asked Manchester to withdraw.”

A Resolute Marie Yovanovitch Shines at the Impeachment Inquiry

 

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this past week (like you know who),  you’ve probably already seen, read or heard about former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s appearance at a public hearing on the first week of the impeachment inquiry. Beyond the obvious parts of the testimony concerning her removal, and the president’s detestable tweet while she was in the middle of the hearing, we were struck by a few things:
Just doing what needs to be done
At one point during the hearing, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) said: “You spoke about how your service is not just your own personal service, it affects your family, and today we have seen you as this former ambassador of this 33 year veteran of the Foreign Service. But I want to know about you personally and how this has affected you personally and your family.”
Ambassador Yovanovitch’s answered that It’s been a difficult time. I am a private person, I don’t want to put all of that out there, it’s been a very, very difficult time because the president does have the right to have his own, her own ambassador in every country in the world.”
Rep. Terri Sewell tried again asking, “how has it affected your family?”
Ambassador Yovanovitch gave a very diplomatic and firm response by simply saying that I really don’t want to get into that, but thank you for asking.” She could have told them about the recent loss of her 91-year old mother, but she did not. She had one job to do there and she was not going to get distracted from that despite what ever else may be going on in her personal life.  Her resoluteness in the face of difficulties  and the challenges she will face going forward is admirable. 
No praises for Trump even to save her job 
When Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked Ambassador Yovanovitch about the advice given to her by political ambassador to USEU Gordon Sondland, Ambassador Yovanovitch said, “He suggested that I needed to go big or go home. And he said that the best thing to do would be to, you know, send out a tweet, praise the president, that sort of thing.” When asked about her reaction to that advice,  she responded that she’s sure “he meant well, but it was not advice that I could really follow. It felt — it felt partisan, it felt political and I just — that was not something that I thought (ph) was in keeping with my role as ambassador and a Foreign Service officer.”
When asked if Ambassador Sondland gave any specific suggestions on what to say about the president of the United States, or just say something nice about him”, Ambassador Yovanovitch responded , Yeah, just to praise him.”
She could have easily “gone big” as suggested by somebody who donated big to this president’s inauguration; no one but her and Sondland would have known about the advice had she done it. But the 33-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service declined to sing Trump praises — even to save her job — because  she thought it was not “in  keeping ” with her “role as ambassador and a Foreign Service officer.”
Imagine that. 
How many ambassadors (or cabinet secretaries for that matter) would make the same choices or would folks just start thinking, hey what’s the harm with a simple tweet? But how long before it will be more than just a simple tweet and folks start wearing dark eye googles just to comb their thinning hair in front of the mirror?
Fellowship at Georgetown
New York Representative  Elise Stefanik wanted confirmation that Ambassador Yovanovitch is still an employee of the  State Department so “there’s no public confusion” and said that “Georgetown students are lucky to have” her.
Texas representative K. Michael Conaway wanted to know “what happened when you — when you came back here as to what your next assignment would be at — at State?” (This is the same representative who wanted to know if somebody paid George Kent to say those “glowing” things about Ambassador Yovanovitch. He also asked her, “Do they shun you at the lunch counter? I mean, do they treat you badly as a — as a result of the way you were treated by — by the president?”)
Ambassador Yovanovitch responded that when she came back obviously it was sort of out of cycle, there was nothing set up…”. She added, And again, I am grateful that Deputy Secretary Sullivan asked me what I would like to do next. I recalled that there was the fellowship at Georgetown and asked whether that might be something that could be arranged.”
Representative Conaway asked “Was that your only choice?” She responded I’m not sure.... We didn’t really discuss other options.” He ended up his inquiry by saying, I hope that, whatever you decide to do after the Georgetown fellowship, that — that you’re as successful there as you’ve been in the first 33 years.”  He has no idea, does he?
Foreign Service assignments for tenured employees typically run 3 years, with occasional 1 year extensions. These assignments are usually handed out a year before the actual rotation. Since she was reportedly asked earlier to extend her assignment in Kyiv until 2020, it most probably means she was not “bidding” for any assignment by the time she was yanked out of Ukraine. There are few jobs available when assignments are suddenly curtailed or shortened.  And given the target on her back after Ukraine, Georgetown may have been the only option for her. But here’s the thing, she could not stay there forever. At most, that’s a one year assignment. Which also means that she would have been looking for her next assignment during this year’s bidding cycles.
No next time, Mr. Pompeo and State Department spoxes talk about their support for Foreign Service employees, ask them what is Ambassador Yovanovitch’s next assignment.
Most jobs appropriate for her rank (Minister-Counselor, equivalent to Two-star rank (O-8) require a nomination or a State Department leadership approval. She previously served as Deputy Commandant at the Eisenhower School at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.as well as Dean of the School of Language Studies at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. She could do the schools again or get back and serve in Foggy Bottom.  But it’s not a simple question of “whatever” she decides to do after the Georgetown fellowship, it’s a question of what the State Department will allow her to do. We do not expect her to get another ambassadorship under this administration. We are concerned, however, that she will also have difficulties finding an onward assignment after her fellowship and that she will be forced into retirement.