Tex Harris: What happens when crucial facts are ignored by your superiors? (Via ADST)

 

Via ADST

The tension between Harris and the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires came to a head with the discovery of a file on the planned Yacyretá Dam project, a hydroelectric dam to be constructed between several South American countries with EXIM [Export-Import Bank of the United States] financing for the involvement of an American company. However, Harris quickly noted something unusual about the Argentine manufacturer listed in the file he had borrowed. It had deep connections to the government regime, information that had not been shared with Washington.

In this “Moment,” Tex Harris describes the difficulties and the risk to his personal career he faced in spreading awareness of the dangers of U.S. involvement in the Yacyretá Dam project, highlighting the barriers to morality he occasionally encountered within the bureaucracy.

F. Allen “Tex” Harris’s interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on December 10, 1999.

Read Tex Harris’s full oral history HERE (pdf).

Defying superiors: So Bill Hallman [the political counselor] came into my little airless office, like an overgrown closet, and he sat down and he talked about responsibility and team play and all the other kinds of things that we had to understand in the Foreign Service, that there was a responsibility to doing things in a collective way and that, even though we may feel strongly about something as an individual, we had to put things into perspective and [accept] the judgment of senior people and other visions and other ideas, and blend in. We had this long philosophical discussion. Bill was a wonderful, very thoughtful and conscientious Catholic probably trained in a Jesuit school. He was very intelligent and a fine Officer. So we had this very, very theoretical discussion about responsibility in the Foreign Service to be a member of the team and to fit your ideas into the fabric of an embassy’s reporting. Then, like a bombshell, he pulled out my letters and said that the DCM and he had requested me to withdraw these letters and not to send them in the pouch, that they shouldn’t go up as an official-informal with information that was as pertinent and as potentially disruptive to a major multimillion-dollar arrangement. It should be done in a considered way by the embassy. Well, I don’t get angry, I really don’t get angry, but I was really upset. I didn’t lose it, but I was really upset, and I told Bill absolutely not, I had considered this, and if the embassy wanted to send up a detailed telegram, it would get there certainly before the classified pouch got there. These were marked “confidential,” and these official-informal letters would come after the fact, and the embassy would send a telegram out in the next day or so, next day or two, and still put its considered view, and I refused to withdraw the letters and they should go in the pouch. So we talked for another half an hour, and then when it was all over, Bill then said to me, “I guess I’ve done one thing. At least we’ve missed the closing of the pouch for this day,” . . . it bought him some more time. This was before e-mails. This was when telephone calls were big deals, and the main thing was either pouch or cable. So Hallman left. I felt I had just been hit with about a three-hundred-pound stone. I went down kind of reeling to the “cobra,” to the pouch room, where you put your messages in the communications center. The guy was there and I said, “I’ve got to get these in the pouch. They were taken out by the DCM, but now I want to send them back.” He said, “I’m sorry. I can’t. We’ve closed the pouch.” So probably my greatest negotiation as a diplomat was to convince the communicator to open the pouch. After some conversation about the importance of this, he decided that he would open the pouch, which meant he had to redo all the seals and redo all the paperwork. He did it and put these two letters back in the pouch and closed them up. I didn’t say anything further to Hallman. I didn’t tell him that I had gotten them in the pouch. I just went back to my office with a feeling of satisfaction that I had overcome what had been a significantly bad event.

Facing the music: I got what was probably the worst efficiency report ever written on any individual. It was absolutely incredible: “not a team player, his own sense of values and priorities,” and so forth, and I got a fairly rigorous and tough but in a sense fair from his perspective [review] from the political counselor. There was a certain amount of negotiation involved in that. But the DCM, who was a very skillful writer, Max Chaplin, wrote a review that was absolutely an epitaph, just carved in stone. When this got back to Washington, I was identified for selection out. My tour was going to be a three-year tour, and the Argentine government had come to the ambassador, Castro, and said that they were going to PNG me [make me persona non grata], and Castro talked them out of that on the theory that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, and if you send Harris back, then Derian will send someone else down here who may be even taller and worse than Harris. So Castro talked them out of that, and they didn’t PNG me, but things became so difficult in the embassy after this Yacyretá business. . . .

It was quite clear that my career was in deep trouble with this efficiency report. I had sent a copy of it to Derian and to Mark and asked them if there was anything they could put in the file to balance it off, and he put a very good—I think Mark may have signed it, Patt may have been out—and it was a very well done praise of the work I had done and the contribution I had made to American foreign policy. So the review board—after having been low ranked, I went to the review board—essentially gave me a censure. It wasn’t an official reprimand or anything where I lost pay or things like that, but essentially wrote me a letter of censure that I had to become a better team player, and of course I had been low-ranked. Now, I was the guy who had invented the grievance system. I had been there at the beginning with other people, and here was an efficiency report that was absolutely defective, but I was so emotionally unable, psychologically unable, to deal with the ramifications of going through all this pain that was associated with the report and my being identified for selection out, and all these other painful moments, that I ran away from it, which is a very standard psychological behavior of diverting from things that are difficult and hard and painful. It’s the way the body protects itself. So for year after year after year I couldn’t get promoted, because they’d open up the file and here was this low ranking, this selection-out procedure in the file, and this horrific report, and I was facing [the] time in class [deadline].

 

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.

Read in full below:

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Rest In Peace, Tex

 

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of F. Allen “Tex” Harris last Monday, February 23, 2020.  He died at a hospital in Fairfax County, VA. He was 81 years old. We bear a  tremendous sense of emptiness in our hearts at his passing. Tex has been a friend and a tireless supporter of this blog. We are devastated by this sudden loss and extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.
Godspeed, Tex.
Buenos Aires Times  cited Argentina’s Foreign Ministry in paying tribute to Tex:
“The Argentine Government and its people deeply regret the death of former US diplomatic official Allen ‘Tex’ Harris, who played an essential role in denouncing the disappearances and violations of human rights during the last civic-military dictatorship,” the Ministry, headed by Felipe Solá, said in a statement.
“Tex Harris was assigned to Argentina from 1977 to 1979, during which time he opened the doors of the United States Embassy to relatives of the disappeared and tried to help them find their loved ones. During this period, he filed 13,500 complaints about serious human rights violations,” it continued, noting that Harris had been decorated with the Orden del Libertador San Martín by late president Néstor Kirchner in 2004.
Graciela Palacio de Lois who joined the Familiares de Desaparecidos y Detenidos por Razones Políticas (“Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained for Political Reasons”) after the dictatorship’s death squads had kidnapped her husband, Ricardo Lois, told the Buenos Aires Times, “He prevented me from being kidnapped by the dictatorship.”
Robert Cox, the Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1968-1979) called Tex “the man who did the right thing.” In Buenos Aires Times, he writes, “We will never know how many lives ‘ Tex’ Harris saved by his decision to confront the radical evil of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. But I do know that Tex, then a newly arrived junior diplomat at the US Embassy, halted mass murder, simply by keeping a record of the people who were to be obliterated from existence under the military’s plan to wipe out subversion. It was an extraordinarily brave act of conscience and a supreme act of courage that almost cost Tex his career, while endangering his life and that of his wife Jeanie.”
In A Great American, Mario Del Carril writes “Over the years, I have had the opportunity to hear him reflect on his Argentine experience, saying he believed the human rights policy had not been effective. I believe he was wrong. True, it took four years to stop the killings, but this was in part due to vacillations and infighting. The policy had an impact in an area that is very important and often overlooked: it stopped the method of disappearances from becoming a new norm in the fight against terrorism. Some in the Argentine military government were proud of the methods they employed. It was considered a success, to be presented to the world as an achievement in warfare. A method that could be exported and taught. In the long run, this did not happen.”

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President Obama Remembers Ex-@USEmbArgentina Diplomat Tex Harris

Posted: 5:01 pm EDT
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Below is an excerpt from the Buenos Aires Herald interview with Tex Harris:

What actions did you take?

I had business cards printed up, would go to the Plaza de Mayo square and urge the Mothers to come to the US embassy to explain what had happened to their family members. It began slowly, and developed into a torrent of reports.

How did the State Department use your reports?

Under the Carter administration, Congress mandated a new bureau for human rights in the State Department. Patricia “Pat” Derian headed this new bureau and her office used the reports to argue for severe sanctions against the military government of Argentina. The embassy leadership saw the curtailing my reporting as a way of curtailing the ability of Derian’s human rights office from impacting on US policy.

What type of sanctions did the Carter administration implement?

Under the US congressional mandate, the Carter administration began to cut off things from the military government one-by-one. They stopped providing special new technology, such as computers for police cars, or objecting to IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) loans. They began to cut off cultural, agricultural programmes, military exchanges and visits. Training for military officers was also curtailed.

Did you face any repercussions for your actions?

After six months of reporting, US human rights policy began to have an impact on every connection between the Argentine government and the United States. The embassy’s leadership tried to curtail my human rights reports, so they could have more flexibility in arguing for softer policies towards the military dictatorship. That led to a confrontation with my sense of duty to report the information being provided to me by family members and my responsibilities as a professional diplomat. And I was penalized for not being a “team player.” For seven years, my career was paralyzed.

Who was the ambassador at the time?

Raúl Castro was the US ambassador to Argentina then. He had developed a good relationship with (former Argentine dictator Roberto) Viola, and he was convinced that the best way to resolve the human rights problems in Argentina was for the US to take advantage of the divided military government, by supporting the army against the navy. But Washington DC had no interest in playing this micro-political ball game in Buenos Aires. The White House wanted to demonstrate the seriousness of then-president Carter’s human rights policy by implementing sanctions against gross violators of human rights — whether in Argentina or the Philippines.

Read the full interview here.

For those who missed this back when, here is a clip from Bill Moyers Crossroads interview. Part 2 is here.

 

Related items:

 

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President Obama Pays Tribute to Argentina’s Dirty War Victims, Also Remembers USG Diplomats

Posted: 4:09 am EDT
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President Obama and President Macri at the Parque de la Memoria paying tribute to Argentina’s Dirty War victims.

It takes courage for a society to address uncomfortable truths about the darker parts of its past.  Confronting crimes committed by our own leaders, by our own people — that can be divisive and frustrating.  But it’s essential to moving forward; to building a peaceful and prosperous future in a country that respects the rights of all of its citizens.

Today, we also commemorate those who fought side-by-side with Argentinians for human rights.  The scientists who answered the call from the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to help identify victims in Argentina and around the world.  The journalists, like Bob Cox, who bravely reported on human rights abuses despite threats to them and their families.

The diplomats, like Tex Harris, who worked in the U.S. Embassy here to document human rights abuses and identify the disappeared.  And like Patt Derian, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights for President Jimmy Carter — a President who understood that human rights is a fundamental element of foreign policy.  That understanding is something that has influenced the way we strive to conduct ourselves in the world ever since.

 

 

AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win

Posted: 9:40 pm EDT
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The AFSA Governing Board Elections for 2015-2017 concluded on June 4. Preliminary results indicate that slightly over 4,000 votes were cast.  About a quarter of over 16,000 eligible voters turned out to vote. This is still a low turnout but higher than all the previous years since we started paying attention — 20% in 2007, 23.91% in 2009, 17% in 2011, and  22% in 2013.  Congratulations are in order to everyone who pushed the turnout to at least 25% this year!

The higher turnout is attributed to several factors  including the presence of two slates, the new electronic voting system, AFSA reminders and the name recognition of candidates.

Preliminary results project the election of Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s entire slate. Ambassador Stephenson garnered over 5o% of the votes for president.  The remaining votes for the top spot were split with a 3% difference between Matthew Asada and Tex Harris.

The retiree representatives elected are all familiar names, John Limbert,  Alphonse F. La Porta, Patricia Butenis, and Dean Haas. It also looks like all the State representatives are new with no incumbents reelected.

We will have a follow-up post as soon as official results are released.

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AFSA Election: Statements of Candidates — Well, Is This Gonna Be Interesting or What?

Posted: 2:19 am EDT
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A couple of weeks ago, AFSA announced the candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2015-2017 term.  On April 1st, AFSA released the candidates’ statements. There are three candidates running for president: Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, leading the Strong Diplomacy slate, Matthew Asada, leading the Future Forward AFSA slate, and Tex Harris who does not have a slate.  You should read the full statements of the candidates below, but we should note that both Mr. Asada and Mr. Harris are incumbent members of the current Governing Board.  In addition to your bread and butter issues, perhaps voters should ask how they might reconcile Mr. Asada’s rosy report of accomplishments with Mr. Harris charged that “AFSA’s current top mandates are to protect individual members and to grow “AFSA as a business.”  Also a $125/plate dinner at its 90th Anniversary celebration– we’re you invited? Did you know that AFSA is selling FS coins? And grave markers? Well, now you know.

Don’t miss the following upcoming town hall meetings:

  • April 7, 2015—State Town Hall at HST in the Loy Henderson Auditorium
  • April 8, 2015—Retiree Town Hall at AFSA HQ Building in the first floor conference room

Oh, yes, somebody also please ask what the crap is going on with the Senate (See SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).

And what’s AFSA doing for 8 FSOs stuck in super glue at the SFRC? By the way, the fellow stuck there the longest, in fact stuck there since 2012 appears to be the former AFSA State VP.  When we inquired, outgoing AFSA President Bob Silverman politely declined to comment upon advice of his staff. Mr. Asada, current AFSA State VP never acknowledged receipt of our email.

Wait, former AFSA State VP + 7 FSOs held hostage at the Senate sounds pretty interesting, don’t you think? Should we put up the Hotline?

 

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Note: Mr. Silverman and Mr. Harris have both contributed to the third-party run GFM fundraising for this blog earlier this year.