SCOTUS Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is a Right, See Round-Up of US Embassies on LGBT Pride Month

Posted: 9:27 am PDT
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SCOTUS ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. Excerpt from the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy (via NYT):

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The case is Obergefell v. Hodges.  Read the SCOTUS opinion here (pdf). Sending hugs to our friends in the LGBT community this beautiful and historic summer day!

Below is a round-up of U.S. embassies marking LGBT Pride Month this year:

Nicosia, Cyprus

Wellington, New Zealand


Manila , Philippines

Ankara, Turkey

Tel Aviv, Israel

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Buenos Aires, Argentina


Luxembourg

 

Tokyo, Japan 

 

London, United Kingdom

Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan

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U.S. Embassy Cyprus Remembers Ambassador Rodger Davies Shot Dead 40 Years Ago Today

— Domani Spero
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On the 40th anniversary of their deaths, the U.S. embassy residence in Nicosia is named the “Rodger Davies Residence” after Ambassador Davies who was killed on  August 19, 1974 and the embassy personnel lounge is named “Antoinette Varnava Lounge” after the local employee killed in the same attack.

Via ADST Oral History:

On August 19th, 1974, recently appointed Ambassador to Cyprus, Rodger Davies, was shot dead during a Greek Cypriot protest outside the U.S. Embassy. The demonstration brought out over 300 people who were protesting against the U.S.’s failure to prevent the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the island the week before. Davies was seeking shelter in a hallway at the embassy building in Nicosia when a sniper struck him in the chest. When Antoinette Varnava—a Maronite consular employee—rushed to his aid, she too was struck dead, with a bullet to the head.

James Alan Williams, a Political Foreign Service Officer, was at the Embassy in Nicosia as events unraveled. He served in Cyprus from 1973 to 1975 — the height of the tension between Greek and Turkish Cypriots; the coup which ousted democratically elected leader Archbishop Makarios III; and the Turkish invasions — all of which define the sociopolitical landscape of the divided island today. He was interviewed by Ray Ewing beginning in October 2003.

WILLIAMS:
[it was the] morning of August 19th, [1974]. A sunny day, cloudless skies, as it almost always is in Cyprus, and I think it was around 9:30 or 10:00, I don’t remember. [You could hear a rumble], a large number of people. I [had] only heard that once before in my life, and that was when Ann and I were in Adana, Turkey, and the consulate was stoned by a mob. I think I mentioned that in an earlier session, 1966 that was. You never forget that once you hear it. And I heard it, and everybody else heard it. We thought the demonstration had been approved by the police or whomever some ways away.

Cyprus Demonstration Riots[It was] a large crowd. It wasn’t a mob yet. I think the focus of the discussion was criticism of the Americans for what had happened to them, what had been done to them, what they had suffered. And somehow, and I don’t know how because I wasn’t there, the crowd started moving toward the embassy. At this point, I think it gained a lot of hangers-on and other elements [which] might not have been in the original demonstration at all. By the time it reached the embassy, which was in about 10 minutes, they were throwing rocks and other things at the chancery. So, we immediately had the Marines and everybody else shove the wooden shutters so the glass would be protected, close the gate, get the teargas canisters ready and prepare to stave off what we thought was going to be an unfettered demonstration, but that was about all.[…]

The Ambassador’s office was shuttered and he and his secretaries came into the central hallway. The rest of us were in the central hallway on the second floor. The FSNs were there. It was very crowded. The air conditioning held up for us, so it wasn’t too hot, but it was a little sticky. [Our] offices which had been on either side of that hallway, particularly [those which] were facing the front, were sort of exposed to the brunt of the mob’s wrath, we thought. At some point, shooting started. I remember hearing pops or whatever, but did not think anything of it because I didn’t know what it was, and I’d never heard shots fired in anger. I don’t know how many shots were fired. Several pierced the water tanks on the roof because they were leaking. Again, there was no central direction, put your hands down and put your hands behind your head and hunker down. We were milling around.
[…]
Q: Do you think the shots were fired at the patio at the top of the residence because they had seen the Marines up there doing the teargas?

WILLIAMS: It’s the same time the shots were fired at the Ambassador’s office. I think there were two shooters. There would have had to be because the ones that came in from the side [his office], were way over there, and this shot was up here. And I always thought, and my memory’s a little hazy on some of this, but the rounds that came into the office of Ambassador Davies were concentrated in the area of his office where his desk was. The rounds that came into the other side of the building where the residence was were concentrated on the patio, and I think some at the window of his bedroom. I think that’s right, though I’m not sure of it. So whether or not they fired at the patio because they saw a Marine or because they thought the ambassador was up there or because they saw me or whatever, I really don’t know. But there were a lot of bullets that came up there. I always thought it was an effort to get the Ambassador because of the way the bullets had come in. By sheer dumb luck they did get him. It was a blind bullet came in through the shutter, the glass and the partition in his office and came down into the corridor where he was standing and they shot him through the heart.

He was [in the central hall], and he was dead before he hit the ground. Another bullet came in and ripped off the top of the skull of Toni Varnava, a Maronite local in the Administration section, and she was dead instantly. A steel jacket of one of the bullets that came in landed up in the thigh of Jay Graham, the economic officer. Those were the only causalities from the rounds. One of the older locals may have had a heart attack. Everybody else was intact but scared to death.
[…]
[Varnava] had [gone to Ambassador Davies’ aid]. She had been very close to him and she saw him fall. I was not down there, but those who were say she saw him fall and bent down to catch him and as she did her head was ripped open by the bullet, so they both fell.

The windows were appropriately shuttered. So, the bullets did not have to go through significant physical barriers to get to the Americans in the central corridor. I have no way of knowing whether the shooter or shooters knew that we would be huddled in that corridor as a safe place, but the wooden shutter over the window, the single pane of glass and the partition on the door of the wall of the office were not very thick.
[…]
It was a blind shot that got the Ambassador, no question about that. Toni was an incidental casualty, God rest her soul, and Jay Graham was also unlucky with that minor wound in his thigh.[…]

[The shooters] were on the periphery of the crowd in both cases. One of them was wearing the uniform of a Greek Cypriot policeman as I recall, although the weapon he used was not in the standard arms of the Greek Cypriot police. They were in the crowd on the periphery, but not in adjacent buildings. There was some more shooting of handguns I guess. I think though, soon after the heavy stuff came in and killed the ambassador, they couldn’t know at that time they killed the Ambassador, and hit the side where Mike and I and the Marines were, soon thereafter as I recall, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, time was really very strange as experienced in that day, the crowd started to disperse. Either its anger had been spent or the Greek Cypriot police had started to come in sufficient numbers to control it. Because what the Greek Cypriot authorities had approved as a demonstration had quickly gotten way out of hand and had to be stopped. I don’t know who was calling, our phones were still intact, I don’t know who called whom. I certainly was not calling anybody because I could still barely see, Mike wasn’t.
[…]
I remember I knelt down to Rodger and I just said, “Oh, Mr. Ambassador,” and I couldn’t say anything else because he was clearly gone. I think it had gone right through his heart so there was no question about saving him.
[…]
Q: Ambassador Davies did not have any family of his own at post?

WILLIAMS: He did. Dana is the daughter and John is her younger brother, and they had briefly come to post with Rodger and Ms. T, the family cat. Rodger’s wife had died tragically after a long struggle with brain cancer just that year. And so one of the reasons he wanted to go [to] Cyprus was to get away from Washington and the intense environment he’d been working and living in there, and also get away from, I think, some of the memories of Sally and what she’d gone through in the last years of her life.

Nicosia was going to be a way for the family to replenish itself, just relax and recover a bit. And tragically it did not work out that way. So John and Dana had been in the convoy that went south to Akrotiri [British Airbase in Cyprus] in late July and were in Beirut, and had to be told what had happened to their father on August 19th.

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US Embassies Cyprus & Greece: Federal Benefits Recipients at Risk of Identity Theft

You’ve heard about the financial crisis roiling the tiny Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  The €10 billion bailout announced recently is not going to be the end of it.  According to The Telegraph, Cyprus central bank official Yiangos Dimitriou has confirmed that the cashing of cheques will be banned as part of the introduction of capital controls. Dimitriou also announced that bank withdrawals will be limited to €300 a day.  Reuters reported that people leaving Cyprus may take only €1,000 with them. Apparently, there are also notices at the airport warning travelers of the new restrictions and that officers had orders to confiscate cash above the €1,000 euro limit.

Given that the 2010 OIG report of US Embassy Nicosia made no mention of American Citizen Services, we presume that there are not too many American residents in the island.  American retirees have flocked to Greece and their number in Cyprus is significantly lower than the UK pensioners, of which there are reportedly about 18,000 in the island. We understand that the Athens consular district is home to approximately 110,000 American citizens and there is a federal benefits attaché at the US Embassy in Greece who reports to the consul general.

Still, there potentially are enough Americans residing and banking in Cyprus which prompted the Federal Benefits Unit at the US Embassy in Athens to released the following statement:

We have arranged the following contingencies for customers who receive their federal benefits through Cyprus banks. Under any of these options, direct deposit changes usually occur 2 months after the month we receive the request, so do not close your old account until you receive the first payment in your new account.

Send an email to FBU.Athens@ssa.gov to change how you receive direct deposits.

Use a Subject Line in this format: SUBJECT: CYPRUS

– Your name and last 4 digits of your social security number

In the message, provide the following:

1. Last name and first name

2. Street Address

3. Phone Number

4. Social Security Number (9 Digits), and

5.  Direct deposit information, depending the option you request.

Options include designating a bank in the United States to receive direct deposits, designating a bank in the Greece to receive direct deposits (though the account must be in euros), and requesting a Chase Direct Benefit Card from JP Morgan Chase Bank

Read in full here.

Similarly, the contact info for the Federal Benefits Unit in Nicosia requires beneficiaries to provide their SSN via email to consularnicosia@state.gov .

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The intentions to help as expeditiously as possible is commendable but did anyone stop and pause how this might put retirees and recipients at risk of identify thief?

Did anyone stop and think how Social Security information is an identity thief’s dream?

With your Social Security number in hand, an opportunistic hacker or other online criminal can do just about anything — create phony bank accounts using your name; charge unlimited amounts of goods and services to credit accounts you never meant to open; steal your identity and recreate it multiple times and in multiple locations.

What security provisions are there to minimized potential misused of SSN transmitted via unencrypted email?

Where is the disclosure statement required under the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act states that you cannot be denied a government benefit or service if you refuse to disclose your SSN unless the disclosure is required by federal law, or the disclosure is to an agency that has been using SSNs before January 1975, when the Privacy Act went into effect. There are other exceptions as well. Read the Code of Federal Regulations section here: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/julqtr/28cfr16.53.htm.

If you are asked to give your SSN to a government agency and no disclosure statement is included on the form, you should complain to the agency and cite the Privacy Act of 1974. You can also contact your Congressional representative and U.S. Senators with your complaint. Unfortunately, there appear to be no penalties when a government agency fails to provide a disclosure statement.

Asking the federal benefits beneficiaries to send their social security numbers via email is like asking them to write it on a postcard.  C’mon folks,  would you write and mail yours on a postcard? No? Well then ….

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The View From Barbados: George Gaines Case, “the matter is more than a little troubling”

We’ve blogged about the passing of RSO George Gaines in Barbados recently.  Read US Embassy Barbados: Death of the Regional Security Officer and US Embassy Barbados: Death of RSO George Gaines “Unnatural” Investigation Ongoing.

On May 18, Barbados Nation reported that there will be no local autopsy or coroner’s inquest into the death of the embassy’s Regional Security Officer:

“In an unusual twist, the body of the 51-year-old security official was flown to his United States homeland Wednesday, following high-level talks between United States Embassy and Government officials. The United States Consulate had reportedly made a request for Gaines’ body to be sent to his homeland for forensic investigations to determine the cause of death.”

The following day, Barbados’ Nation News articulated its concerns about the handling of the death case in an editorial titled, Diplomacy vs sovereignty, and questioned why the body was “flown home with dispatch.”  See below, the original piece is posted here.

Sat, May 19, 2012 – 12:00 AM
WE TEND TO THINK that diplomatic immunity should not be tantamount to a host country’s loss of national sovereignty.

With that in mind, we are more than a little concerned about the handling of the case of well known United States Embassy official George Gaines, who died recently on these shores as a result of an apparent suicide but whose body has been flown home with dispatch, without the lawful and routine coroner’s inquest or even an autopsy, which would have taken less than a day.

Has expertise

Even if the autopsy had to be executed in the strict presence of American officials, it is obvious that Barbados has the requisite expertise to carry out such a procedure, if only for the record.

The circumstances of this matter have been extreme, to say the least: a man has died in unnatural circumstances, not within the confines of the United States Embassy or even its environs, but on a public beach at Dover, Christ Church. Following this, the Embassy’s counsellor for public affairs Rebecca Ross merely added to the mystery by saying officials were treating the death as a “private matter”, and asking the local media to “respect the privacy of the family”.

Does diplomatic immunity mean privacy about a death on a public beach in our own country? Had Gaines’ body not been found in a public place, would Barbadians have been informed at all then?

The Embassy’s position, even in the face of a high-level security official’s death, pushes us to wonder about the United States of America’s view of Barbados.

We ask, without prejudice, whether that country’s respect for anyone’s sovereignty is merely convenient, and whether countries like ours are seen as mere assets rather than the “partners” we and our CARICOM sister states are often touted to be.

Since no one in Barbados could officially touch Gaines’ body, how could Barbados exonerate itself in the event of any finding other than apparent suicide? And if the Barbados Government has indeed satisfied itself that there has been absolutely no need for a local autopsy, where is the official record to satisfy the people of Barbados, who deserve to know – after all, he died in our midst.

Investigation

While we pride ourselves on having a free Press and access to information, this matter begs for investigation at the highest level.

We shouldn’t have to wait to hear its details on CNN or FOX NEWS. We can’t help but say the matter is more than a little troubling – in terms of both diplomacy and sovereignty.

The dead have no use for diplomatic immunity and if the Barbadians are confused at this turn of events, our embassy in Bridgetown with its social media arms failed in its embrace of people to people outreach.

It is worth noting that this is not the first tragedy that befall a US mission overseas in recent years. In 2007, Colonel Thomas Mooney went missing, then was found dead in Cyprus. In 2010, Vice Consul James Hogan went missing, and was never found in the Netherlands Antilles. Here now is another tragedy in Barbados.

In this incident in Barbados, the editorial expressed a quiet affront to national pride — perhaps even a slight resentment on three things: 1) we have the expertise, why did they not trust us; 2) if we are partners, they must not think very much of us, and 3) how can we defend ourselves if this is foul play when we have no idea what happened here?

And their concern is understandable.  While one can argue that the privacy of the family at this difficult time be protected, the deceased, like all public officials serving at our embassies and consulates abroad are just that, officials with public lives. Presumably, they have friends in the local community, and professional contacts in and out of the host country government who cares about what happened to them. Incidents like this will generate interests and questions even from non-embassy friends. In this case, perhaps even to seek confirmation that the host country did not have anything to do with the death of its diplomatic guest. To respond to these incidents as if there’s a news blackout is not going to make the tragic news go away, or make rumors disappear but it will sure make a mystery out of a personal tragedy.

At the height of the disappearance of James Hogan in the Netherlands Antilles, our email inquiries sent to to the US Consulate General in Curacao and to Timothy J. Dunn, the Chief of Mission/Consul General were never acknowledged or responded to.  Nothing on its website indicates that one of its three officers has gone missing or that there was a search going on. There was no official statement from the mission. About a year later, a James Hogan Missing flyer was posted on its website, with no further explanation.

In this latest incident, emails to the press office of US Embassy Bridgetown, its front office and ASKPRI@state.gov have so far all gone unanswered. A request to the Consular Section for the embassy’s latest Disposition of Remains Report for Barbados will reportedly be responded to in 72 hours. And while the press officer of the embassy was quoted as saying this is a “private matter” the embassy did not release any official statement to the local press or on its website. There’s nothing on its Facebook page, or in its mission blog, or in its Twitter account. It’s like business as usual and there’s no death in the family. Or if there is one, it’s none of your business.

By contrast, when the US Defense Attaché, Thomas Mooney disappeared from the US Embassy in Cyprus on June 28, 2007, the U.S. Embassy there issued a public appeal for information on his whereabouts. And at the sad conclusion of Col. Mooney’s disappearance, then Ambassador Ronald Schlicher released an official statement also posted on the embassy’s website.

The message bears repeating below because we feel this is how it is done by a class act:

After the notification of next of kin, with deep sadness, I announce that LTC Thomas Mooney, who served his nation with distinction as our Defense Attaché, was found dead by Cypriot authorities on Monday.

At this point in the investigation, it is now clear that LTC Thomas Mooney’s death was a personal tragedy with no political or security implications.  We wish to thank the Cypriot authorities and people once again for the extraordinary level of support and the messages of sympathy they extended to the Embassy throughout this difficult and trying time.

Please remember LTC Mooney and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Ambassador Ronald L. Schlicher

Ambassador Schlicher’s message is comforting in its simplicity. It confirmed the death of the official member of the embassy family, thanked the folks that needed thanking, and it made the embassy come across as more than just a building, but a real community. More importantly, it acknowledged the mission as part of a larger community of human beings who grieve as part of life.

We don’t know this for sure but since Col.Mooney was in the military, his remains was probably sent to Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner (OAFME) at Dover Port Mortuary for an autopsy. But not once did we uncover a press account or editorial questioning the disposition of his remains.

Update @1314 PST, May 25:

Christopher J. Sandrolini, who until recently was US Embassy Bridgetown’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. and currently its Deputy Chief of Mission, responded to our email requesting comment over the editorial with the following note:

I have no official comment. Personally, I can say that George Gaines was a good friend of mine and of the entire Embassy; we miss him greatly. Many of us came up from Bridgetown for the funeral and to be with his wife and daughter.  George was an outstanding officer and widely known and respected everywhere he served.

While we understand that our embassy officials are not always able to provide an official statement, we appreciate the note from Mr. Sandrolini.
Domani Spero