Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET


Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:


Related posts:



First Person: I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day … #FSassault

Posted: 12:55 am  ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]


I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day with RSO. The accused was removed from post shortly thereafter. 

My victimization didn’t really begin until I sought assistance 6 months later from MED when I arrived at my next post. MED sent me on a MEDEVAC to DC from my post to a facility that didn’t treat trauma and required I take a $60 taxi each way daily from Oakwood Falls Church where most of my colleagues from my unaccompanied post were staying due to long term training. 

MED refused to discharge me for weeks despite requests for relocation and a new treatment plan. I finally found my own providers online when the State Department didn’t provide a list of referrals prior to my discharge. 

Then, the MEDEVAC team advised me of their recommendation for a Class 5 medical clearance (domestic only) without ever speaking to my psychiatrist and without providing a reason. 

I filed appeals of my medical clearance without success all the way to the Director General. 

MED refused to assist with my PTSD claim for worker’s compensation despite the reported incident occurring at the U.S. Embassy in a warzone where we can’t leave the compound. 

My out of pocket medical expenses (therapist/ psychiatrist/medicine) would not be covered once my MEDEVAC ended. My housing was paid for at my post and my children were enrolled in the international school. We didn’t receive our HHE for 6 months after having someone else pack out our goods. 

Without access to the State Department system, it was nearly impossible to secure an onward assignment. I didn’t have contact information for my 360s and no access to my employee profile. I went house shopping in DC with a realtor and was advised there was no suitable housing for a family of my size at an amount I could afford. Washington, DC has bedroom occupancy regulations which made it difficult to accommodate. 

The State Department sent me to the brink of financial ruin. I took a huge pay cut, lost my paid housing, my kids lost their prestigious school, and my spouse lost job opportunities available at post all because I was a victim and sought assistance from MED.


The account above is an unsolicited email from a Foreign Service employee who did not want us to use her name but wanted to share her story. She said she previously served in Israel, Iraq, Colombia, Venezuela, Georgia, and Afghanistan, all with a Class 1 medical clearance, meaning “worldwide available” for Foreign Service assignments. She told us she was also last promoted in 2015. 

According to her, Diplomatic Security asked if she wanted to go to the medical unit but she declined. Regarding the perpetrator, she said, “I have no verification that he is overseas with his family, but he is listed on the GAL [global address list] and so is his wife.”  She added, “He had also destroyed government property ✂️ and was highly intoxicated in the middle of the night when he was subdued by security. It apparently had no effect on his security clearance or medical clearance as he had the ability to serve overseas at his next post with his family.” 

She said that she chose to stay at her post in the warzone until the end of her tour so she would not lose her onward assignment. She arrived at her onward post in Europe and was  subsequently medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) after she contacted MED.

She told this blog, “I was never hospitalized. I was never a threat to myself or others. It is hard to believe that this is my life. The biggest issue I have is that I was never provided a reason as to why my clearance was denied other than a generic “best care is available in the U.S.” 

The post she was evacuated from is a European post with high level of medical care including English speaking therapists and psychiatrists. Post has a resident regional medical officer (RMO) and a resident regional medical officer/psychiatrist (RMO/P).

The FS employee told us she is on leave without pay and believed that her OWCP claim (Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs) for PTSD was one of the factors in the downgrading of her medical clearance.

She shared with us an OCWP letter in which “Under Accepted Event(s) That Are Factors of Employment” is this:

“– That while assigned to the US embassy in ✂️ from 2014-2015. you were sexually harassed and assaulted by a colleague who was under the influence of alcohol after checking on him at his room.” 

We hope to have a follow-up post on the MED – OCA – OCWP mess.





First Person: I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped in ✂️… Continuing on has been ✂️ incredibly difficult…

Posted: 12:45 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]


Below is a redacted version of the Burn Bag we received. The red scissor indicates the parts of the Burn Bag that we purposely snipped (see explanation below):

I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped, in  ✂️

It has been an extremely painful ….. ✂️

Continuing on has been an (sic) incredibly difficult.

To have to continue to go ✂️  with this threatening and frightening person still present and looming around, has been terrifying.

In addition to not feeling safe with this violent criminal down the hallway, I have been grappling in fear and lost about what to do.

Like the grim picture your recent article on sexual assault reporting paints, it’s been hard to gather information on what to do.

I’ve heard of two accounts of other FSOs who’ve been sexually assaulted and these violent criminals are still serving as diplomats, with no apparent justice served despite their efforts to address the issue through HR.

I have many specific questions. ✂️

Is there some place outside of the State Dept and other than the police where one can make a report?

✂️ [W]hat about when the assailant is of equal “rank,” particularly, also a FSO? I’ve heard that in these situations, although both the victim and perpetrator were both FSOs, that it tends to discount the crime overall because it’s “embarrassing” to the Department that a FSO would do this. In the end, the female FSO who was assaulted seems to get no real justice. ✂️

What about AFSA? Is there anyone we can talk to at AFSA who has past experiene or specializes in Sexual Adsault (sic) and Harrassment issues in the FS?

I know that this is sent anonymously and that I can’t get these answers directly.

So I hope that Diplopundit will consider an update to the Sexual Assault blog around the questions I’ve raised ✂️

You have at least one oerson (sic) here in the FS family suffering greatly who would appreciate any information or guidance. Thank you.


Redacted Burn Bag – a Rare Exception

As we’ve previously written here, we received this Burn Bag submission regarding sexual assault in the Foreign Service. We have no way to contact the sender directly but we know that she reads this blog (90% of adult rape victims are female, so we will use the feminine pronoun in this blogpost). She wanted us to have the information for publication since she did send the information via Burn Bag. While we almost never redact/edit the Burn Bag submissions we post in this blog, we are making a rare exception here.  We are doing so because we have serious concerns that posting all details and locations contained in the Burn Bag submission could identify the victim/assault survivor or alert the perpetrator. While the Burn Bag is clearly intended for publication, we do not wish to place the victim/survivor in potential additional jeopardy, and that’s why this version is redacted.

We should note that this is the second anonymous FSO who reported to us their sexual assault while in the Foreign Service. A third employee who did not want us to use her name has also recently reached out to this blog about her assault while posted in a war zone. She shared  the fallout from her reporting and we will post that account separately.


Related posts:



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

Posted:12:41 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

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.”


“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).



Parting Shot: “Good Bread in a Government Bureaucracy”

— By *Domani da Lontano 

Screen Shot 2013-06-20

*The valedictory piece above is penned by somebody who calls himself/herself Domani da Lontano.  The writer says he/she is “leaving the State Department” because of its “insufferable culture.” The author hopes that “a future Secretary will focus on improving the culture”  and requested that we publish “this attempt to ask that others consider how jaded we have become.”

The pen name Domani da Lontano is Italian for “tomorrow from afar.”


US Mission Mexico: First Person from a Border Post

The story excerpted below is obviously from one of our six border posts in Mexico (where we have an embassy, 10 constituent posts, plus two VPPs). I understand that this personal account has been doing the rounds here and there for the last several months. I have inserted one link below.  Names are redacted per request of my source. See my comments in a separate post.

Relevant sections of 7 FAM 050 Consular Information Program, Warden Messages and the No Double Standard Policy appended at the end.     

First Person from a Border Post:

[…] I understand and have always accepted that 
[REDACTED] is a place with real danger and risks, but this incident makes me believe that my safety is not as high of a priority as I believed it to be, and that in the future other management decisions could play out in the same way, with my well-being subverted to other interests.

At approximately 12:30 AM on Tuesday, I awoke to the extremely loud sounds of automatic gunfire and grenades.  My husband [REDACTED] called the RSO immediately and reported that we thought that the head of the [REDACTED] for [REDACTED] , who is our next-door neighbor, was being attacked.  We had crawled from the bed to the closet and laid there while the blasts lasted, for approximately 30 minutes.  The window frames were rattling violently, and I shuddered in terror and seriously considered calling my mother to say goodbye in anticipation of my death.  During that time we spoke several times to the RSO, the ARSO, and two colleagues, including one who was also located very close to the center of the raid.  A few minutes after the gunfire ended, the electricity in our house cut off.  The ARSO told my husband that he wasn’t calling the all-clear because the target of the raid had escaped.  Military vehicles with soldiers standing in the back passed by our house every minute or so.

The next morning, our electricity still off, I went to work.  I saw many roads blocked off by soldiers, including one end of my road (3 houses down), and I saw bullet holes in several houses on my street and others in the neighborhood.  There were a lot of soldiers standing around, and some seemed to be inspecting bullet holes in the side of the house on our street (3 houses down, but in the other direction from the house that was raided).

That morning, my Principal Officer [REDACTED]  met with me for about 10-15 minutes to hear about my experience.  He said I should consider calling the psychological support services available through the State Department.  He seemed surprised that I reported being so terrified during the attack.[…]  He said the good news was that because the raid happened in my neighborhood this time, it probably wouldn’t happen again there.  I reminded him of the large daytime narco vs. military battle on Sept. 4, 2009, also in my neighborhood, and he shrugged.

Around 9:15 AM, all the official Americans at the Consulate met again.  The PO pointed out that it was a military raid of a very important Gulf Cartel leader (the plaza boss) and that he had escaped, and that this kind of violence could happen again anywhere at any time because it is part of the [REDACTED]  military’s plan.  He indicated that [REDACTED]  knew about the raid but didn’t really elaborate.  When [REDACTED] asked about moving our housing to Texas, the PO said we would not be able to move our housing to Texas because of diplomatic credentialing and that things this bad have happened near Consulate families at other border posts, and they haven’t evacuated either.  He pointed out that families in [REDACTED]  are eligible for Unique Circumstances Special Maintenance Allowance.  He said the State Department had psychological services that we could use without damaging our personnel records.  The PO said that he would hold a “debriefing” meeting for the spouses at his house at 8 PM. 

The RSO informed us that the emergency text messaging system–intended to send out a warning SMS in emergency situations–had failed and no SMS was sent out, but that the Embassy was working on a new product that it was going to release to the Consulates soon, and that he would ask them to release it as soon as possible.

[REDACTED] questioned why he was the only officer not contacted by the RSO or ARSO. The ARSO[REDACTED] apologized and said by the time they thought to call him, the gunfire and grenade part was over and they didn’t think it necessary.  The PO asked [REDACTED] , who had been acting as the unofficial, undesignated Acting NIV unit chief, why she had not activated the phone tree.  In fact, she had never been given that responsibility, her name is not at the top of the phone tree, and neither is the regular NIV Chief’s (who was on leave but in town, and who did attend this meeting).  In fact, the phone tree has no relation to the NIV unit’s work, or even the Consular Section.  The PO’s name is at the top.  Then someone complained about the phone tree not having accurate numbers, and the PO asked me to release a new version.  As the ACS Chief, I have never had any involvement with the phone tree’s data or dissemination.  I think the Management Officer was out on leave; he wasn’t at the meeting.

  and I had already been planning to go away from post for the long holiday weekend, so I declined for him from the spouse meeting, which I later heard was canceled.  When I got home from work, my colleague [REDACTED]  called and said the more she thinks about it, the more it upsets her that our leadership knew about the military raid in advance and didn’t warn us.  Since I had not understood that message from any of my interactions or the meeting, I was shocked and asked why she thought that (she had combined details of what different people had said during the day).  As we were loading the car at around 6:15 PM, my colleague [REDACTED]  called and said he was hosting the PO and the RSO at his house to talk about the raid, and he invited us to meet over pizza with them at 7 PM.
When I arrived at [REDACTED]  house, he encouraged me to call [REDACTED]  and invite her too, which I did.  [REDACTED] , [REDACTED]‘s wife, was also at the house.  Then the PO and the RSO arrived, with the ARSO-I FSN Investigator[REDACTED] .  A few minutes later [REDACTED]  arrived, and the meeting started.  The PO began by summarizing the facts of the military raid, including that it was a joint United States-Mexico operation.  He confirmed that he and the RSO knew operational details of the raid, which house was going to be raided, and that the Mexican military was going to effectuate the raid that week.

When we asked the PO why we weren’t warned that there would be a military raid so close to our house, he explained that the “no double standard” policy prevented him from disseminating information about the prospective raid.  [REDACTED]  asked if the RSO took any additional precautions to protect us or monitor our location.  PO and the RSO told us that they took no additional security precautions.  I said that the incident felt like a betrayal and I no longer trusted management to prioritize our safety.  PO and the RSO both reacted to that statement with outrage and PO said that he wasn’t going to argue with me about my feelings but thought I was wrong.

The RSO said that an email containing security instructions for gunfights, sent out Monday, Sept. 13 at 2:10 PM, was supposed to warn us that the raid was imminent.  Everyone else–[REDACTED] –expressed that we had read the message but did not comprehend the warning and believed it to be routine security information, which we receive often.  [REDACTED] pointed out that we are all ELOs at our first post, so we do not know the subtext to messages such as this, if there even were a subtext to it.
I pointed out that no information was shared directly with the family members, including the email.  PO said that is because the CLO was out on vacation.  The RSO sternly reminded me that it is my responsibility to share that information with my own family and to take security precautions for myself and my family.  The RSO and PO implored that we all should have been able to realize that the email was a specific warning.  The RSO said that he is careful not to inundate us with information so that we know to pay attention to each message.  We all agreed that we had heeded the message and pretty much followed it in the moment of crisis (i.e., not watching from the window, going to the safest part of the house, etc.).

PO told us that he didn’t have to debrief us about the military raid and that we should all be thankful that he’s saying anything to us.  Then, he confirmed that the Embassy was involved in the decision to withhold from us any information about the raid.  He confirmed that the head of the [REDACTED] , our next-door neighbor, was informed about the military raid.  He said that in retrospect maybe he should have pointed out the Embassy that several Consulate families would be in imminent risk, but that they all thought it would be a “surgical operation” that they thought would have less of an impact on the neighborhood.  He questioned what we would have done differently if we had known about the raid in advance.  I pointed out that and I could have stayed with friends or in a hotel in Texas, and that I would not have hosted a dinner party on Sunday night for some Consulate friends who left my home, driving past the to-be-raided house at about 11 PM, and that I would not have continued taking my dogs on a walk past the to-be-raided house every evening.  PO pointed out again that we were all choosing to have our families live in a dangerous setting.  He admitted repeatedly “I fucked up,” but never really apologized for letting the incident happen.  Nor did he seem to think the consequences were that serious or the risks to us as great as we believe they were.  He questioned why [REDACTED] was even upset, because his house was about a mile away from the epicenter.  Earlier, PO had questioned while [REDACTED]  was even at the meeting, because she has no dependents living full-time at post.[…]

Next, [REDACTED]  told PO that we did not join the Foreign Service to be exposed to this sort of danger, especially considering the worsening security situation in Mexico and at Post.  PO responded that [REDACTED]  was wrong because all FSOs are worldwide-available.  PO directed us to curtail if we thought Mexico was too dangerous.  He told us that we should not be upset about the military raid occurring so close to our houses because that’s why we receive the 20% hardship/danger pay allowance (a fact he repeated about a half dozen times during this meeting).  When [REDACTED]  became upset and told the PO that his decision not to inform anyone about the raid or take additional security precautions was unfair to the spouses, who were legitimately upset about the military raid, the PO became heated, stood up, and started yelling at [REDACTED] .  The RSO had to step between PO and [REDACTED] to defuse the situation.

We all thanked PO and the RSO for attending the meeting and being forthright with us about the facts of the military raid.  As the meeting ended, the RSO pulled me and [REDACTED] aside into the kitchen.  There, he expressed outrage that I had “sandbagged” him in front of his boss by saying that I no longer trusted the management to keep us safe after they did not disclose the prospective military raid to us.  He informed me that this was “friendly advice” about my corridor reputation, and that his feelings were hurt.  After about twenty minutes of talking, the RSO left.

Related items:

a. In administering the travel information program, the Department of State applies a “no double standard” policy to important security threat information, including criminal information.
(1) Such information, if shared by the Department with the official U.S. community, generally should be made available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official Americans.
(2) If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/U.S. non-citizen nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.
(3) If so, the post should notify the Department and request approval of dissemination of the information to the public.

(4) The policy is not intended to prevent the limited distribution of information about threats to specific U.S. citizens/U.S. non-citizen nationals or U.S. corporations. Important security information may be shared on a limited basis when directed toward a specific target or when appropriate to counter a particular threat.

7 FAM 053.2-2 Post’s Role | b.

b. If you learn of a security threat, report it to the Department following the established procedures at your post. At this stage, you should not disseminate information about the threat beyond those with a “need to know” (i.e., persons who could develop additional information or help to counter the threat) to avoid violating the “no double standard” policy (see 7 FAM 053).

Insider Quote: first to be exposed and last to be rescued …

Aerial view of the US Embassy, Saigon, showing...Image via WikipediaJackie Bong Wright
—Saigon 1975

Locally Employed Staff,

US Embassy Vietnam

I served as a Vietnamese employee.  I think that we were the first to be exposed and the last to be rescued.  And we had to be there to face disaster or crisis.  And at that time many Americans already left and we were Vietnamese.  We were to stay and to be there to be open – to open our doors.  And I personally, because of my history, my husband, Nguyen Van Bong, was assassinated by the Communists in late 1971, and I was the chairman of the board of the Vietnamese American Association.  I felt that I was prone to be a target of the Communists, the Vietnamese Communists.  Therefore, I had to try to leave.  And the day I asked someone at the U.S. Embassy to help a lot of members of my family – cousins, aunts, uncles and everyone – came to my house and asked to be rescued.  And I said even myself, I didn’t know how.  And fortunately at the last minute, I was asked to go, and I had the opportunity to be so-called married to an American pilot.  But many, many Vietnamese were there.  They stayed and they were not lucky, and they were put in jail.  Many of my friends, my colleagues from the VAA, from USIS, from the U.S. embassy affiliated offices and also with the U.S. companies.  Quite a few of them, including my brother.  My brother who had spent six years in the U.S. came back in early April.  He was asked to register, and he went to a refugee camp.  The Communists said that because he was related to the U.S., and being in the U.S. for six years, he was certainly connected to be CIA.  So he went to a refugee camp, concentration camp, and prison.  And he died of bad treatment.  A lot of my friends, Vietnamese friends, suffered the same fate.

Read the whole thing at US Diplomacy.

First Person: RFE/RL’s Correspondent Robert Tait on his Detention in Cairo

Via Radio Free Europe:

The sickening, rapid clicking sound of the electrocution devices — like an angry rattlesnake on the attack — is what haunts me still; that and the agonized wailing, followed by a pitiful whimpering and occasional pleas for mercy of the handcuffed, blindfolded victims as they were propelled across the floor by the force of the shocks.

My palms sweated and my heart raced furiously as the sinister noise came within inches of me, together with the thumps of vicious punches and kicks against the prone bodies next to me.

I listened uncomprehending but spellbound to the torturers’ abusive shouts in Arabic. Blindfolded, bound, and lying on the floor like the others, I wondered if my turn would come. Thankfully, it never did, although the brutality continued, almost unabated, for hours. Rendered immune no doubt by my British nationality, I had become an island, an untouchable, in an orgy of violence. It was somehow what I expected yet it made the experience no less frightening.

I had read, with a fascinated yet detached horror, accounts of conditions in torture cells in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Pinochet’s Chile, 1970s junta-run Argentina, present-day Iran, and elsewhere. It all seemed so remote and unreal. What would it be like, I wondered, to be imprisoned, helpless and totally dependent on — and at the mercy of — your captor for food, water, and toiletry needs?

Never did I imagine that I would live to find out.

I had been detained on February 4, along with my colleague, Abdelilah Nuaimi — a fellow British citizen of Iraqi birth and a journalist with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq — shortly after arriving in Cairo to cover the disturbances that have rocked Egypt for the past fortnight. We had read en route that the Egyptian authorities were systematically targeting foreign journalists. On board a virtually empty flight from Amsterdam to Cairo, we were nervous and wary but hoped the combination of Abdelilah’s Arab background and my years of experience in the Middle East would see us through.

Our troubles began soon after we arrived at the airport.

After purchasing our visas and passing through passport control, customs officials demanded to check our baggage and objected immediately on finding a camera and a satellite phone inside mine.

“These guys are journalists and you know what we’re meant to do with journalists,” an official said to a colleague.
Held in a neighboring room, Abdelilah was spared the proximity. Yet its effect on him may have been more profound because, as a native Arabic speaker, he understood the context, heard every cruel instruction, every obscene scream of abuse.

He heard an intelligence agent ordering, “Get the electric shocks ready, this lot are to be made to really suffer,” as a new batch of prisoners were brought in.

“In this hotel, we only have two things on the menu for those who don’t behave — electrocution and rape,” the unfortunate detainees were told.

The hotel metaphor seemed hellishly apposite, as its staff dished out treats with a brutish, well-practiced efficiency.

“Why did you do this to your country?” a jailer screamed as he tormented his victim. “You are not to speak in here, do you understand?” one prisoner was told. He did not reply. Thump. “Do you understand?” Still no answer. More thumps. “Do you understand?” Prisoner: “Yes, I understand.” Torturer: “I told you not to speak in here,” followed by a cascade of thumps, kicks, and electric shocks.

Exhausted by the continual abuse, the prisoners fell into a slumber and snored loudly, provoking another round of furious assaults. “You’re committing a sin,” a stricken detainee said in a weak, pitiful voice.
We had come to find out what was ailing Egypt. Without meeting one protester or seeing a single scene of unrest, we had learned the answer more graphically than we ever anticipated. It was “the emergency, stupid,” as my chubby-faced captor might have put it.

We heard it in the screams of those being tortured by the willing tools of Mubarak’s police state. We heard it in the running of the Mukhabarat “hotel,” with its limited but forever unchanging menu. But it hadn’t started just two weeks ago — it had continued through the 30 years of the president’s military-enforced rule.

The echoing cries of its victims may linger with me for just as long.

Read Robert Tait’s full account in ‘An Island In An Orgy Of Violence’ — A Firsthand Account Of Being Detained In Cairo