Trump Names Hostage Envoy Robert O’Brien His Fourth National Security Advisor

 

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After Leaked Diplomatic Letters Over A$AP Rocky’s Detention in Sweden, Where Should @StateSPEHA Go Next?

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Trump’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien who was in Sweden for A$AP Rocky’s assault trial apparently told USAToday reporter Kim Hjelmgaard that it is “entirely appropriate” for him to be in Sweden even though this was a criminal case. “When foreign govts. hold American citizens it’s always appropriate”.
The things we learn these days!
As of December 2018, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has conducted 10,399 visits to U.S. citizens in prison overseas. Note – prison visits not hostage visits. Only a few of those U.S. citizens make the news (see CA Fact Sheet).
The Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs also said publicly, while tagging his ultimate boss on Twitter, that the president “has made bringing our fellow citizens home a center piece of his foreign policy”.
Consular work just got so utterly fascinating. Now, which ones of the over 10,000 prison visits by consular officers to U.S. citizens incarcerated overseas will now be done by the special envoy? Which fellow citizens jailed overseas will be brought home next?

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U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden

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According to the State Department, when an American is arrested or detained abroad, the State Department—through its Embassies and Consulates—ensures that U.S. consular officers are there to assist. They help see that Americans are treated humanely and in accordance with local law, are given the opportunity for a lawyer, and can correspond with family back home.
Per its Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department expects consular officers to be “particularly active in, and to fully engage in” the protection of the welfare of the arrestee; ensure that the arrestee is being treated fairly and is afforded all due process under local law, provide needed consular services such as EMDA or administer a trust fund in a timely and efficient manner; track the process of the case through the host country’s legal system; and to keep the Department, family members, congressional representatives and others full informed on all aspects of the case, consistent with Privacy Act.

 

Consular assistance to Americans arrested or detained overseas includes the following:
State Department/U.S. Embassies Can:
  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen (with their written permission)
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Upon request, ensure that prison officials permit visits with a member of the clergy of the religion of the detainee’s choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust, if necessary, so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens
State Department, U.S. Embassies Cannot:
  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees
Reports note that POTUS sent the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to Sweden for the A$AP Rocky trial.  “The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” O’Brien told the New York Times. “I’ll be here until they come home.” (via). How often is he going to do this for other American citizens?
Nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual is there any mention of the role the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs play in cases of U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad or while they are on trial. In most of the normal world, it is understood that American citizens are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the particular countries they are in. In this particular case, Time says that “Sweden does not have a bail system, which is why the rapper was detained with no way to get out even before he was formally charged.” Also see our old post below about the non-portability of American rights.

Non-Portability of American Rights

In any case, we don’t understand why the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs is involved with this case.  Does the U.S. Government considers A$AP Rocky on trial for assault in Sweden, a hostage? Are we to understand that Americans incarcerated and detained overseas are now considered hostages to bring back as soon as possible? And if that’s not the case, and if this is an exception, what are the grounds for the Trump Administration to make this type of exception?
Is the Special Envoy’s role now includes affecting the release of all American citizens from foreign incarceration/detention?
How does a regular American citizen’s family petition for the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to be involved in their cases overseas?
Any guidance sent to consular officers doing ACS work? When is the State Department updating the Foreign Affairs Manual?
Also the next time U.S. diplomats overseas talk to their local counterparts about judicial independence and the rule of law, should they expect a push back with this case as Exhibit A?

 

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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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