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FSO Dante Paradiso Writes an Enduring Portrait of a U.S. Embassy Under Fire

Posted: 12:38 am ET

 

We previously posted about Dante Pardiso’s published work in this blog (see FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad and First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998. He is a writer, lawyer, and career Foreign Service Officer who has served extensively in Africa and Asia. He is the author of The Pure Life, a novel, and has contributed opinion pieces to the online editions of Foreign AffairsNational Geographic Voices, and, through the Tribune News Service, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Tribune, the Akron Beacon Journal, and Newsday, among others. Mr. Paradiso previously interned at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998. He received his J.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and his B.A. in Political Science from Yale.  He practiced financial services and bankruptcy law with Goodwin Procter LLP in Boston.

Mr. Paradiso joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2002.  He served in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, DC, Libreville, and is currently posted at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong.   He is a recipient of the State Department’s Heroism Award (group) and Superior Honor Award, and the U.S. Army’s Superior Civilian Service Award. He comes from New York City and when not on assignment makes his home in Portland, Oregon with his wife, son, and dog.

His book, The Embassy, A Story of War and Diplomacy was published this month. Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of “The Perfect Storm” calls it “a truly harrowing and important account of an American embassy in what [was] arguably the most chaotic and violent country in the world.”

Chester A. Crocker who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and currently the James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies at Georgetown University says that Dante Paradiso has performed a singular public service in bringing this tale of modern American diplomacy to life.   He calls the book an “unvarnished portrait of a traumatized society and the extraordinary efforts of a handful of American public servants in Monrovia and Washington to bring desperately needed change.”

In an op-ed he wrote following the Benghazi attack, Mr. Paradiso points at an often overlooked truth about diplomacy:

At its core, it is risky. From the craft’s origins in antiquity, diplomats left the protections of our own borders and relied for our safety on persuasion, judgment and our indispensable role, without which state-to-state relations would go dark. Our presence on foreign soil best positions us to assess others’ receptivity to our messages and to persuade them to work with us. But we are exposed.[…] In many places, it is difficult to distinguish friend from enemy. Our role is to clarify and to win partners. We cannot leave the world in the hands of economic or strategic competitors, or in the grip of dictators, criminals or extremists. We must, in the can-do spirit of our country, take necessary risks to represent the American case. 

Read an excerpt below via Kindle/Preview or view it on Amazon here.

 

Related items:

Expert Knowledge in a Joint Task Force Headquarters | JTF Liberia, July 25, 2003- October 9, 2003 (PDF)
Joint Efforts Prevent Humanitarian Disaster in Liberia 2004 (PDF)
Michael Ariette, Director, West African Affairs | ADST Oral History 2011 (PDF)

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First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998

Posted:12:41 am ET

The following is an excerpt from a first person account of the 1998 bombing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania by FSO Dante Paradiso. He is a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy,” Beaufort Books (New York) available in October 2016.   Prior to joining the Foreign Service he served in the Peace Corps and was an intern at the US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam in 1998.  Since joining the FS in 2002, he has served  in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, Libreville and Washington, D.C.

The piece is excerpted from the Small Wars Journal and includes the  standard disclaimer that “the views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.”  He is on Twitter at @paradisoDX.

The wall and guard booth are gone—just rubble and rusted ribs of rebar.  The motor pool fleet is crushed, pancaked, the frames of the cars and vans fused and welded together.  The chassis and tank of a blue water truck lie upside down and crumpled against the base of the chancery like a scarab beetle pinned on its back.  The community liaison office at the corner of the building is a black, smoldering cavern.  The other wing stands disfigured.  The sun louvers are cracked.  Above the cafeteria, blood is splattered across the wall like abstract art, rust-colored in the light.  The Economic Officer tells me, “Don’t enter through the side.”

“Why?”

“There’s a hand in the stairwell.”

Read in full here.

While you’re reading this, you might also want to check out Vella G. Mbenna’s account of the same bombing.  She served as a ­­­­­Support Communications Officer and recounts her experience during the attack in Dar es Salaam. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2016. Via ADST:

After leaving the center where I worked and passed the area around the corner where the Front Office was located, I heard a faint phone ringing. I stopped in my tracks, turned around and entered the communication center to find out that it was my phone.

I quickly went to the back of the center to my office to get it. It was Pretoria on the line and I was glad. I sat in my chair and said these words to them, “I am Vella from Dar es Salaam and I was wondering why our system’s staff …..”

Before I finished the sentence, the blast occurred because the wall I was facing came back in my face and slammed me into racks of equipment across the room.

I recall getting up, brushing myself off and proceeding to alert Washington via my equipment that something bad had happened and to close our circuits for now. Then I proceeded to check on colleagues in the communications suite and putting communication and IT stuff in a safe.
[…]
I walked on and opened the door to the Admin building side of the building….What I saw without even entering deep into the building was complete chaos. It was more of what I saw in the Executive Office, but to a greater extentIt was like a meteorite had hit the Embassy. Even worse was that the entire wall and windows facing the road was gone.

I started having a really bad feeling because most of all I saw or heard no one. Why was everyone gone except me? I backed out of the door and back onto the catwalk and started down the stairs.

As I started down the stairs I realized that something bad had happened, something really, really badI thought that maybe that if it wasn’t a meteorite, then a space ship came down and the aliens took up everyone except me.

I wanted to start screaming for help…Then I thought, no one would know exactly what happened to us all. So, I tip-toed down the rest of the stairs.

When I saw more devastation and how I appeared to blocked in, I had to scream. I started screaming for help, first a low scream…and then louder….

After about a minute and a half I heard a familiar voice calling out asking who was there. It was a Marine. I told him it was Vella, the communications officer from the 2nd floor. I wanted to be as clear as possible, even though I knew the voice. Once I told him exactly where I was, he told me to try to climb over the rubble and look for his hands. I told him I was going to throw up the INMARSAT first and I did.

Read in full here via ADST.

In related news — in Kenya, where over 200 hundred people were killed and more than 4,000 were injured in the embassy blast, victims are now reportedly accusing the Kenyan and US governments of neglecting them.

On July 25, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) on several related cases—brought by victims of the bombings and their families—against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (collectively “defendants”) for their roles in supporting, funding, and otherwise carrying out the attacks. The combined cases involve over 600 plaintiffs. The awards range from $1.5 million for severe emotional injuries to $7.5 million for severe injuries and permanent impairment. See  U.S. Court Awards Damages to Victims of August 7, 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings.

To-date, no one has been compensated and the victims are now seeking compensation through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

 

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FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad

Posted: 2:42 am ET

Via The Daily Beast by Dante Paradiso, a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the great-grandson of a New York City police officer (with standard disclaimer).  Mr. Paradiso is also the author of the book, The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy that will go on sale on October 3, 2016.

… I get that in matters of criminal justice there are larger social justice issues at play, structural inequities of the past still ingrained in the our layered local, state and federal systems that leave us with difficult race, gender and class divides. But life is the cardinal value and change must start there.

For these very reasons, the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, mandated by Congress, highlight “Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life” at the very top. Having contributed to many of these reports, in many different countries, I have spent many days in previous assignments listening to the protestations of host country officials. They have told me that their government cannot be held responsible for every bad cop, that the cases are misrepresented, that we are talking about a fraction of the police force and that the actions of a few do not fairly represent the whole picture. As a trained lawyer, I know well that any case can be distinguished on its facts and that nearly every death outside a judicial process can be explained away. Yet as a diplomat, I have told those officials that legal parsing won’t cut it.

So when I see that in a Cleveland park a child with a plastic gun is shot moments after police pull up, or that in the streets of Chicago a 17-year-old is hit with nearly one bullet for every year he lived, or that in Baton Rouge a man is tackled, pinned down by two cops and shot in the chest, after all the shock and the sadness, I inevitably think about how any of these extrajudicial killings would have been described in our Human Rights Report, and the kind of conversations I would have had, if they had occurred in some country other than my own.

Read more:

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