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Secretary Tillerson Travels to Germany For G-20, Also @StateDept Counselor Steps Down

Posted: 12:50 am  ET

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official trip as SecState is to Bonn, Germany from February 15-17 to participate in the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

According to a SAO, Secretary Tillerson will have “a couple of key themes from his meetings will be to reassure everyone of our continued commitment to transatlantic relations and to our commitments – transatlantic commitments in NATO and otherwise, and to urge solidarity with Europeans on Ukraine and on Russia, on the Minsk, and to push Russia to honor its commitments, both in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

He will also have a bilateral meeting with the Saudi foreign minister and a second meeting with a gathering of six of the key players (U.S., UK, the Emiratis, the Saudis, the UN, and the Omanis) to discuss Yemen.

More here.

In related news, career ambassador Kristie Kenney, one of the three remaining top senior officials at the State Department was reportedly let go this week.  Ambassador Kenney was appointed Counselor to the Secretary of State in February 2016 (see Secretary Kerry Appoints Kristie Kenney as State Department Counselor).  We do not as yet know if this is a resignation, or a retirement from the Foreign Service.  With her departure, only one Senate-confirmed official remains at the top ranks of the State Department (Tom Shannon (P)). Career diplomat Bruce Wharton who previously served as Ambassador to Zimbabwe also remains as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R).

Seven of the nine senior State Department positions are now vacant. It looks like all under secretary positions, with the exception of “P” and “R” are vacant with no officials designated in an acting capacity. For the Under Secretary for Management, we understand that one John W. Hutchison, a member of the Trump Transition is “Acting M” for 120 days.

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Trump Travel Ban: Rudy Tells the “Whole Story”, Plus Reactions and Fall Out

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

We’ve seen folks on social media get confused about this. So let’s try this.  There are 38 countries designated as Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries; citizens or nationals of these 38 countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States without a visa. However, if either of the following is true, travelers will no longer be eligible to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Instead, individuals in the following categories will have to apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

The Trump EO banning entry and issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for 90 days uses these same seven countries.  Note that citizens from these seven countries have not been banned from visa applications or entry to the United States previously. Citizens from 38 visa waiver countries who previously traveled to these seven Muslim-majority countries were not allowed to use the waiver and must submit for an interview with a consular officer at an embassy or consulate overseas.

Since it appears that DOD Secretary Mattis and DHS Secretary Kelly were out of the loop on this, would it be totally shocking if no input was asked from the State Department? No?  Interagency cooperation is just the White House now? On the day President Trump was preparing to sign this EO, our embassies and consular posts worldwide were still issuing visas;  all official, and valid but no longer acceptable at ports of entry as soon as the executive order took effect.

Here’s Rudddddddy with a backgrounder.

Reaction round-up below:

 

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@StateDept v. @USAID: Reconciling Interagency Priorities Remains a Top Management Challenge

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

USAID/OIG reported on its Top Management Challenges for FY2017.  The following is an excerpt on one of its challenges, reconciling interagency priorities with examples from the Arab Spring and operations in Pakistan:

Contingency operations and other efforts require coordination with multiple U.S. Government agencies, yet USAID’s development priorities do not always align with other agencies’ priorities, making it difficult for USAID to achieve its core development mission. In particular, coordination with the State Department, which leads multiagency operations that respond to political and security crises, has presented challenges to USAID’s project planning and execution. Despite broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, USAID employees are sometimes unclear as to how to manage additional layers of review, respond to changing priorities, and balance short-term and long-term priorities. Lack of knowledge about other agencies’ processes exacerbates these challenges.

Arab Spring

To identify the challenges USAID faced during the early part of the protest movement that came to be known as the Arab Spring (December 2010-June 2014), we surveyed 70 USAID employees working on programs for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.1 According to USAID staff, the State Department’s influence over USAID programs increased after the Arab Spring began, creating additional challenges. For example, a USAID employee in Egypt noted that State’s control “severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects,” stating that agreed-upon steps to design activities and select implementation mechanisms abruptly change. USAID staff pointed out that State’s added layer of review slowed operations, and USAID employees had to dedicate additional time to building consensus and gaining external parties’ approval. USAID employees also said State officials, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures.

In a more recent audit in Pakistan, we also found challenges in reconciling short-term political goals with long-term development goals.

Pakistan

Our audit of the $7.5 billion aid package authorized under the Enhanced Partnership for Pakistan Act (EPPA) found that USAID’s programs there have not achieved intended development objectives, in part because of competing priorities between State and USAID. The State Department has the lead role for assistance activities in Pakistan, making it responsible for budget and project decisions.2 At the outset, USAID/Pakistan followed State’s initial strategy, which lacked long-term development outcomes and goals. In 2013, USAID/Pakistan implemented a formal strategy that linked activities to a long-term development goal but lacked indicators to measure progress. The strategy also focused on repairing and upgrading Pakistan’s energy infrastructure—mirroring State’s focus on energy as key to long-term growth—but not on other priority areas, such as health, education, and economic growth. According to USAID staff, implementing a development strategy under State Department control was challenging.

As a result of our EPPA audit, we made recommendations to improve USAID’s development implementation in an interagency environment, including that USAID revise its policies to (1) clearly define USAID’s roles and responsibilities for designing and implementing development when it is subject to State Department control and (2) provide alternate development strategies when a country development cooperation strategy3 or a transitional country strategy is not an option. We also recommended that the Agency institute an interagency forum where USAID can better present its development per- spective in countries where the State Department takes the lead. In response, USAID’s Administrator has engaged the State Department leadership to discuss solutions, including better reconciling interests at the beginning of planning and programming, so that USAID and State leadership can help staff pursue both agencies’ objectives simultaneously.

USAID/OIG notes that USAID has begun actions to address OIG’s recommendations to address this challenge. However, until corrective actions are fully implemented and realized, reconciling interagency priorities to advance inter- national development will remain a top management challenge.

USAID/OIG indicates that it interviewed 31 USAID officials who worked on activities in these countries, and administered a questionnaire. In all, 70 employees from USAID either had interviews or responded to the questionnaire.

 

Related OIG items:

  • “Competing Priorities Have Complicated USAID/Pakistan’s Efforts to Achieve Long-Term Development Under EPPA” (G-391-16-003-P), September 8, 2016
  • “Most Serious Management and Performance Challenges for the U.S. Agency for International Development,” October 15, 2015
  • “Survey of USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen” (8-000-15-001-S), April 30, 2015

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USDOJ Drops US Embassy Yemen Passport Revocation Case Sans Explanation

Posted: 2:16 am ET

 

On October 13, 2015, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.” (See Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport). In February 2016, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California issued a cross motions for summary judgment: “This lawsuit presents the question of whether the United States government may revoke a United States citizen’s passport based solely on a purported “confession” that the citizen did not write, dictate, read, or have read to him, but did in fact sign. On the record before the Court, the answer is no.” (see more Omar v. Kerry, et.al: Passport Revocation “Arbitrary and Capricious,” New Hearing Ordered Within 60 Days).

On October 5, 2016, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California asked to drop the case “without prejudice.”  We’re wondering how many more of these revocation cases would mow be dropped and sealed in court.

Via Politico:

Federal prosecutors — acting abruptly and without public explanation — have moved to drop a controversial criminal passport fraud case that critics alleged stemmed from coercive interrogations at the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

Earlier this year, a grand jury in San Francisco indicted Mosed Omar on passport fraud charges linked to a statement he signed during a 2012 visit to the U.S. diplomatic post in the unstable Middle Eastern nation.
[…]

Thursday afternoon, prosecutors submitted a brief court filing asking to drop the criminal case “without prejudice,” meaning it could be refiled. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer will need to approve the dismissal of the case.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to messages seeking an explanation for the sudden move.
[…]
In response to a query Thursday from POLITICO, a spokesman for State Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed that an inquiry is underway into the allegations about improper passport revocations

“In June 2016, State OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects initiated a review of the Department’s processes of passport confiscations and revocations at the US Embassy Sanaa, Yemen,” spokesman Doug Welty said. He offered no additional details on the review.

If the case against Omar went forward, prosecutors might have been obligated to turn over to the defense some or all records of the IG review. That prospect may have contributed to the proposed dismissal, but there was no direct indication.

Read more:

 

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@StateDept Restricts Travel of USG Personnel/Family Members in Saudi Arabia, Issues New Travel Warning

Posted: 3:29 am ET

The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia on July 27. It cites continuing security threats in the country including a “high potential” for spill over violence from Yemen. The new warning also notes the travel restrictions for USG personnel and family members in the country. Excerpt:

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia due to continuing ISIL (Da’esh) directed or inspired attacks across the Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a high potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. This replaces the Travel Warning issued April 11, 2016.

Security threats continue. Terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests, including the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, mosques and significant religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places where members of the Shia-Muslim minority gather. Possible targets include mosques, pilgrimage locations, and Saudi government facilities, as well as housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, Western consulates and embassies, and other facilities where Westerners congregate.

sa-map

Over the past year, there have been multiple attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, some resulting in significant loss of life. On July 4, 2016 suicide bombers launched attacks near:

  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
  • the Prophet’s Mosque (also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina
  • a mosque in Qatif

On February 8, 2016, ISIL claimed responsibility for an explosion targeting a Saudi citizen in the Al-Azizia district of Riyadh. Media reports indicate that Saudi authorities thwarted plans to attack the Al-Janadriah festival in Riyadh, which took place in February 2016. In January 2016 a Shia mosque in Al-Ahsa in Eastern Province was attacked, as was a Shia mosque in Najran in October 2015. On October 16, 2015, a mass shooting took place at a gathering in Saihat. On August 6, 2015, a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed.  Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel in the following areas:

  • within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
  • the city of Jizan
  • the city of Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
  • Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate

Read in full here.

 

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Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy Decisions

Posted: 4:38 am ET

The State Department’s Yemen Crisis page notes that due to deteriorating situation, it suspended embassy operations on February 11, 2015, and U.S. Embassy Sana’a American staff were relocated out of the country.  “All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice. The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.”

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa went on mandatory evacuation in May 2011 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure), and again in August 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure) and November 2014 (see US Embassy Yemen on Ordered Departure Once Again). In July 2014, the State Department issued a Travel Warning, see New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave).

See our other posts:

The case below was filed on April 9, 2015 by a Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen residing in Yemen.  She was joined by “25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections” in filing a cases against the Secretaries of State and Defense and seeking a court order to “compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives.”

Excerpt from the Memorandum of Opinion dated May 17, 2016 by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Plaintiff Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen, is currently residing in the war-torn and conflict-ridden Republic of Yemen. (See Compl., ECF No. 2, ¶¶ 4, 55– 59.) Mobarez has joined with 25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections, to file the instant official-capacity complaint against the Secretary of the Department of State (“State”) and the Secretary of the Department of Defense (“DOD” and, collectively, “Defendants”). These plaintiffs seek a court order to compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives. (See id. ¶¶ 3–24, 29–77.) Specifically, their complaint asserts that the United States has closed its embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, has evacuated embassy staff, and has removed Marines from the country, but that the U.S. government has yet to execute any plan to secure the safe removal of private American citizens. (See id. ¶¶ 34–36, 77.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants’ forbearance violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701–06, insofar as Defendants “have failed to provide through direct military assistance or contracting with commercial entities the necessary equipment, ships, airplanes, and other items that are available to Defendants to [e]nsure the security, safety, and well-being of United States citizens[,]” and have therefore “unlawfully withheld and/or unreasonably delayed agency action to which the Plaintiffs are entitled” and/or “have taken action that is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law[.]” (Id. ¶ 81.)

Before this Court at present is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the instant complaint. (See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 8.) Defendants contend that Plaintiffs are wrong about the existence of any duty to evacuate them. (See Defs.’ Reply in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Reply”), ECF No. 12, at 6–8.)1 Furthermore, as a threshold matter, Defendants insist that legal claims such as the ones Plaintiffs bring here require the judiciary to second-guess the discretionary foreign- policy decisions of the Executive Branch, and thus, are nonjusticiable under the political-question doctrine. (See Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Defs.’ Mem.”), ECF No. 8-1, at 12–14.)

On March 31, 2016, this Court issued an order GRANTING Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint. (See Order, ECF No. 13.) The instant Memorandum Opinion explains the Court’s reasons for that order. In short, the Court agrees with Defendants’ justiciability argument, and has therefore concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs’ complaint.
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Plaintiffs have asked this Court, in no uncertain terms, to issue an order that compels the Executive Branch to conduct an evacuation of American citizens in Yemen. Not surprisingly, Defendants insist that any such order would impermissibly encroach upon the discretion that the Constitution affords to the political branches to conduct foreign affairs; therefore, prior to considering Defendants’ contention that Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a claim under the APA, this Court must first determine whether or not it has the authority to traverse the thicket of thorny foreign-policy issues that encompasses Plaintiffs’ allegations. Precedent in this area makes it crystal clear that federal courts cannot answer “political questions” that are presented to them in the guise of legal issues, see infra Part III.A., but identifying which claims qualify as nonjusticiable political questions—and which do not—can sometimes be a substantially less lucid endeavor. Not so here: as explained below, after considering the parties’ arguments and the applicable law regarding the boundaries of the political-question doctrine, this Court is confident that Plaintiffs’ claims fit well within the scope of the nonjusticiability principles that the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit have long articulated. Accordingly, in its Order of March 31, 2016, the Court granted Defendants’ motion and dismissed Plaintiffs’ case.
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It cannot be seriously disputed that “decision-making in the fields of foreign policy and national security is textually committed to the political branches of government.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 194; see also id. at 194–95 (collecting the various explicit “[d]irect allocation[s]” in the Constitution of those responsibilities to the legislative and executive branches). And, indeed, Plaintiffs seek to have this Court question the Executive Branch’s discretionary decision to refrain from using military force to implement an evacuation under the circumstances described in the complaint, despite the fact that, per the Constitution, it is the President who, as head of the Executive Branch and “Commander in Chief[,]” U.S. Const. Art. II, § 2, decides whether and when to deploy military forces, not this Court. See El-Shifa, 607 F.3d at 842 (explaining that a claim “requiring [the court] to decide whether taking military action was wise” is a nonjusticiable “policy choice[] and value determination[]” (second and third alterations in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

Plaintiffs’ suggestion that the court-ordered remedy they seek could very well stop short of a direct mandate for military intervention (see Pls.’ Opp’n at 15 (asserting that “[t]his Court can order Defendants to [effectuate the evacuation] by simply directing the evacuation to happen and leaving it to Defendants to determine the means”)) makes no difference, as far as the political-question doctrine is concerned. Regardless, the clear basis for the complaint’s assertion that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief at all is the contention that the Executive Branch has abused its discretion— in APA terms—in refusing to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen thus far (see, e.g., Compl. ¶ 81), and the Court’s evaluation of that contention would necessarily involve second-guessing the “wisdom” of these agencies’ discretionary determinations.
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[T]he “strategic choices directing the nation’s foreign affairs are constitutionally committed to the political branches[,]” and once it becomes clear that a plaintiff wishes the courts to “reconsider the wisdom of discretionary foreign policy decisions[,]” the judicial inquiry must end.

Read the Memorandum of Opinion here (PDF) or read below:

 

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Saudi Jewelry Gifts Questions: @StateDept Retains Gifts for the U.S. Diplomacy Center Collection

Posted: 3:30 am ET

Some questions have been raised about the gifts from Saudi Arabia, particularly a few specific, high valued items given to Secretary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  We’ve asked the State Department about this, and we were told that one gift is pending transfer to the GSA but three have been retained for the U.S. Diplomacy Center (@DiplomacyCenter) collection.  The United States Diplomacy Center which is scheduled to be completed in 2016 is a public private initiative which will include some 6,000 diplomatic artifacts  — via:

The Department of State is providing the space, staff and security, while the private sector will provide the funds to design and build the 40,000 sq. ft. facility. The Center includes a 20,000 sq. ft. exterior Pavilion and its informative exhibits about today’s Department of State in Hall 1, the Founding Ambassador Concourse below Hall I, and two interior Halls both of 10,000 sq. ft. each: one chronicling the history of the American diplomacy, and the other focusing on education. The USDC is located at the Department of State building on 21st Street at Virginia Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. Visit the USDC website www.Diplomacy.State.gov for information on the progress and developments of the creation of the United States Diplomacy Center.

The following response from a State Department spokesperson:

Per GSA guidelines, there is no timeline for reporting gifts of more than minimal value to GSA after they’ve been received. The Department of State reports all gifts of more than minimal value annually in the Federal Register and generally biannually directly to GSA when doing a transfer of gifts. The Department transfers the maximum quantity of gifts GSA has the capacity to accept.

When a gift is no longer being used for official use, it must be reported within 30 days to the Office of the Chief of Protocol, to pend transfer to GSA.

‎All four gifts in question are in the possession of the Department of State. The first three are in official use, as part of the collection of the U.S. Diplomacy Center. The final is being stored and pending transfer to GSA, and will be transferred when GSA has the ability to accept it.‎‎

Here are some gifts currently included in the Diplomacy Center’s online collection:

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Yemen: Retired U.S. Diplomats on American-Backed Saudi War in Yemen

Posted: 1:50 am ET

Via The Intercept::

“I don’t think you can restore a government, especially an unpopular one, from the air, and I don’t think the use of force in this matter does anything but create long-term enmity,” said Chas Freeman, who served as the ambassador to Saudi Arabia between 1989 and 1992. He noted that former President Hadi’s unpopularity was partly due to his deep ties to Saudi Arabia and the United States.
[…]
“The humanitarian situation is as bad as it is in Syria,” said Bill Rugh, who was ambassador to Yemen between 1984 and 1987. “The American press hasn’t paid that much attention to it. But it’s been a disaster particularly as a result of the bombing and … the lack of outside humanitarian assistance as a result of the fighting. It’s really been tragic for the Yemeni people. The country’s always been very poor but to have your hospitals and your schools and your civilian population bombed and killed and injured on a large scale has added to their tragedy.”
[…]
“Our participation in the war is only silent in the United States Congress and in Washington, D.C.,” Murphy said at an event on Saudi relations at the Brookings Institute on April 21. “In the region, it’s not silent at all. Yemenis will tell you that this isn’t a Saudi-led bombing campaign, this is a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign.”

Freeman offered an explanation for the silence on Capitol Hill. “Congress is amazingly responsive to the military-industrial complex, and it’s making a bunch of money by providing munitions, ordinance, as it’s expended,” Freeman said.

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Alex Gibney’s ‘The Agent’ — CIA, FBI, and Pre-9/11 Interagency Woes Now on Video

Posted: 3:10 am EDT

 

The New Yorker recently launched its new video series for Amazon Video with Lawrence Wright, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Looming Tower, Ali Soufan, Former FBI Special Agent and author of The Black Banners and others discuss what the CIA knew about the 9/11 hijackers—before 9/11. The Wright piece is an old one from 2006, but the video is new, brief and concise.  The film includes ex-CIA M. Scheuer who said something particularly shocking  (mark 10:26) about FBI agent John O’Neill during a post – 9/11 congressional hearing. O’Neill was among the 2,753 who died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center site. We’re posting this here for that sobering part, when interagency cooperation goes exceptionally wrong. The embed video is a little buggy, if you have issues watching it, you can also see it here or available to stream here via Amazon.

 

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Omar v. Kerry, et.al: Passport Revocation “Arbitrary and Capricious,” New Hearing Ordered Within 60 Days

Posted: 3:51 am EDT

 

Back in April 2015, a San Francisco man sued the State Department in federal court, claiming that American embassy officials in Yemen illegally revoked his passport and left him stranded in that country for more than a year. This passport revocation case was just one in a string of lawsuits alleging improper revocation of passports by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

On October 13, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.” (See Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport).

On February 16, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California issued a cross motions for summary judgment:

This lawsuit presents the question of whether the United States government may revoke a United States citizen’s passport based solely on a purported “confession” that the citizen did not write, dictate, read, or have read to him, but did in fact sign. On the record before the Court, the answer is no.

Plaintiff Mosed Shaye Omar, a United States citizen, challenges the revocation of his passport following his interrogation and detention at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. Plaintiff was stranded in Yemen for 13 months before he was provided written notice of the basis for his passport revocation and granted a temporary passport to return home to the United States. Plaintiff challenges the passport revocation and the constitutionality of the post-revocation proceedings wherein he sought return of his passport. The Court previously granted Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered the government to return Plaintiff’s passport. The now pending cross-motions for summary judgment followed. Having considered the parties’ submissions, including their supplemental briefs, and having had the benefit of oral argument on December 17, 2015, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and DENIES the government’s cross-motion. The government’s revocation of Plaintiff’s passport predicated solely on his “confession” was arbitrary and capricious. The matter is therefore REMANDED for a new hearing within 60 days.
[…]
[T]he only evidence in the record regarding the statement—other than the statement itself—is Plaintiff’s declaration attesting that he had no knowledge of what he was signing and that he was coerced into signing the statement based on the government’s false representation that if he did so he would obtain his and his daughter’s passports. The government does not offer any other evidence, including any evidence as to how the statement came about. On this record the statement itself is not substantial evidence supporting the government’s revocation decision.

Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley further writes:

It is inconceivable that Plaintiff would bear the burden of proving that he did not use a false name in obtaining his passport where he had no right to know the evidence against him in advance. Such a practice would run afoul of the fundamental nature of our system of justice. 

The court record notes that “Plaintiff, through his counsel, repeatedly asked for a copy of the statement upon which his passport revocation was based; however, the government refused to provide it until the parties exchanged simultaneous briefs seven days before the hearing. (AR 83-90.) The government similarly declined counsel’s request for a continuance of the hearing to allow counsel to prepare as they were only retained a month before the hearing. (AR 52-55.)”

The court has remanded the case to the State Department for a new hearing within 60 days:

The Court thus remands for a new hearing within 60 days. 22 C.F.R. § 51.70(c). As noted above, the government shall bear the burden of establishing that Plaintiff’s passport was properly revoked pursuant to 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(a)(2). Both parties agree, and indeed request, that the Court retain jurisdiction following remand. Because it is within the Court’s discretion to do so, the Court agrees to retain jurisdiction pending the remand.

For the reasons stated above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and DENIES Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. This matter is remanded to the State Department for proceedings consistent with this Order, including a new hearing within 60 days under 22 C.F.R. § 51.70(c). The Court’s preliminary injunction remains in effect and Plaintiff shall retain possession of his passport during these administrative proceedings, and until he is afforded a full and fair hearing regarding the government’s allegation that Plaintiff’s passport is subject to revocation under 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(a)(2).8 Within 30 days of the conclusion of the administrative proceedings, the parties shall provide a joint status report detailing how they wish to proceed.

Read the full document below or see the  original post here.

 

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