Just Security: Legacy of Late State Department Human Rights Champion Tex Harris Reverberates Today

 

Martin Edwin Andersen, a former professional staff member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the author of Dossier Secreto: Argentina’s Desaparecidos and the Myth of the Dirty “War.” Below is an excerpt from his piece, Legacy of Late State Department Human Rights Champion Tex Harris Reverberates Today via Just Security:

Harris began working in Buenos Aires in June 1977, 12 years after joining the Foreign Service and a year after then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made comments in a closed-door meeting that Robert C. Hill, a Nixon ambassadorial appointee, later revealed served as a “green light” to the Argentine junta for its campaign of disappearances, torture, and state terror.
[…]
Harris put himself at risk almost daily at his post with the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. He tried to help thousands of families seeking news about those kidnapped, tortured, and clandestinely executed as part of a delusional bloodfest by Argentina’s generals. Harris’ work demonstrated that the junta’s drive to eradicate the much-exaggerated, if vicious, leftist terrorist movement also killed or “disappeared” thousands of innocents, including children, pregnant women, senior citizens, and handicapped individuals. According to an Argentine Foreign Ministry statement last week, from 1977 to 1979, Harris filed some 13,500 official complaints on human rights violations.
[…]
The tensions became so acute that Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David D. Newsom, who sympathized with Harris’ plight, brokered a previously unheard of agreement between the embassy country team and the human rights officer. The pact was meant to ensure that critical information and analysis was included as “official-informal” letters sent to Washington, even if the country team disagreed. Harris was required to share a copy of his reporting with Castro, but in return he was able to get unfettered information and analysis into the right hands without fear of censorship from his Buenos Aires office mates.

The agreement was frequently broken by Harris’ embassy foes. In one instance, a misleading performance evaluation jeopardized his career advancement, as critics claimed that he was not producing enough human rights reports even as they prevented the many he produced from being sent to Washington. A now-forgotten political counselor lectured Harris on the importance of “working for those who had more experience and wisdom.”
[..]
An unforgettable mentor as well as role model for many of those who fought to make Carter’s human rights revolution a reality, Harris will be remembered as a real hero, especially at this particularly troubled time abroad for American democracy and leadership.

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Know Your Rights: Conversations with Congress (Via Just Security)

Via Just Security:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is asserting that Congress is exceeding its authority and trying to bully State Department employees by requesting their testimony about alleged White House and State Department misconduct. His intransigence not only threatens to topple our constitutional system of checks and balances, but it attempts to nullify a basic right federal employees have enjoyed for over a century: the right to communicate with Congress free from intimidation, bullying and unfair harassment.

The Lloyd-La Follette Act of 1912, which granted federal employees this right, reads in relevant part:

The right of employees, individually or collectively, to petition Congress or a Member of Congress, or to furnish information to either House of Congress, or to a committee or Member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.

As one of the first statutes enacted specifically to protect federal whistleblowers, the Lloyd-La Follette Act was passed, according to its accompanying House Report, “to protect employees against oppression and in the right of free speech and the right to consult their representatives.” This was especially pertinent in its time, as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft had issued executive orders gagging federal employees from communicating with Congress, and punishing violators with termination.

This right applies to all State Department employees, current and former, who wish to testify before congressional committees.
[…]
Whistleblowers and the information they disclose are the life-blood of our system of constitutional checks and balances.  But their vital role means there is an equally strong imperative to silence or discredit them by those threatened by their truth-telling. They should prepare as if it were the most important test of their professional lives. Because it will be.

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