A STATE OF FAILURE
It’s an anguished cry we hear too often on the news. But it’s a cry even more heart-rending than simply the chilling screams of a victim. It’s a cry that causes us all to examine what is right and wrong, and what is good within us all and what is evil. It’s a cry that shakes us to the very core. The cry?
“They just stood by and did nothing! They saw it happening and didn’t lift a finger to help!”
“They just stood by and did nothing….” While a woman was beaten and gang-raped in New York. As looters demolished stores in London. When a teenage girl was abducted in Tennessee. While a man drowned near San Francisco. Somehow, the fact that nobody intervened in these incidents didn’t just add to the evil, it multiplied it.
The excuse given by the “watchers” is so simple, obvious and native to all of us that we understand it innately:
“I could have been killed!”
We all instinctively understand the fear of losing our own lives. But even with that completely understandable excuse, we somehow expect more. We expect that for once, the individual will be treated as more valuable than the group. That risk to many will be trumped by the value of that single, usually nameless victim. And we hope to God that we would not stand by and watch, too fearful to act.
It is somehow instinctive to people in every culture to hope for this type of unselfish behavior, to laud it. It somehow makes us all greater. It somehow brightens the world and creates a glimmer of hope in the goodness of our fellow men and women. That inexplicable need to save the helpless individual even at risk to one’s self, or even many, makes our world more tolerable.
Navy Commander Jesse Taylor is the father of a close friend of mine. Commander Taylor was a high-ranking officer on the aircraft carrier Oriskany in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Viet Nam War. He had several children and was on his way to the rank of Admiral in the Navy. On November 17, 1965, Commander Taylor was informed that one of his pilots had been shot down in North Viet Nam. The pilot appeared to have ejected very low, and was hanging lifeless from a tree in his parachute. Rather than declare the pilot dead, Commander Taylor saddled-up an A-1H Skyraider, a propeller relic designed during World War II, and flew out to check on “his” pilot.
Why the Skyraider when Taylor was checked out on Phantoms and other jet aircraft? Because the Skyraider would allow him fly past the scene low and slow to determine whether the pilot was alive or not. With the vicious anti-aircraft fire present in the area, Taylor would not ask another pilot to do this. And he would not leave anyone behind, even if some believed him to be dead. He could have decided from the safety of the deck of the carrier that the pilot was probably dead, and it wasn’t worth risking other pilots or planes to rescue him. But it was not in him to leave a man behind, or put others at risk doing something he felt was his duty. Upon arrival, Commander Taylor made repeated passes attacking anti-aircraft positions, then made a pass below tree-top level under withering enemy fire to check on the pilot. But he didn’t get a clear look at him. He told his wingman that he was going down again. This time, he was even lower, mere feet off the grass and well below the trees. He saw clear evidence that the pilot had died, and pulled up sharply at the end of the clearing. But it was too late; his plane had been hit.
A small fire began to grow on his wing. The pilots around him advised, then pleaded for him to get out of the aircraft. He did not. He continued out toward the ocean and the carrier as the growing fire raged on the wing near his fuel tanks. He never made it to the sea. The burning wing crumpled, and Commander Taylor was unable to get out of the plummeting aircraft. No one knows for sure why Jesse Taylor didn’t bail out when he could have. Some have speculated (I think correctly) that he did not want to become the next pilot on the ground which would mean his friends would have to risk their lives to save him. Commander Taylor lived by the belief that others were of more value than himself, and died demonstrating that belief. I admire him. I am in awe of him. In my wildest dreams I would have his courage and his honor.
Military men regard it as unforgiveable to leave a man behind, and honor those who refuse to do so. Taylor was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for bravery. Today, a U.S. Navy Frigate bears the name “Jesse Taylor.” They don’t name ships after people who let others perish in order to save their own lives.
Tragically, Americans throughout the world have been left behind by the U.S. government in the last few years, and it continues to this day. The reason is again understandable, maybe even innately so. But somehow, we expected more.
In Italy in November, 2007, Amanda Knox, a U.S. student from the University of Washington, was arrested for the “rape and murder” of her female roommate. Though the DNA of a known burglar was found inside the victim, and no credible evidence of any kind linked Knox (who was not even at home the night of the murder) to the crime, she was held a full year before charges were levied against her (by an unstable prosecutor who has since been sentenced to prison for malfeasance). She was the victim of heinous acts and illegal interview tactics including deprivation of food, sleep and water during an all-night interrogation during which she was repeatedly struck. She then underwent what journalists and observers called “a kangaroo trial”, “a framing,” and “a railroading.” A fair evaluation of all the evidence proves that she had nothing to do with the crime. But she was convicted of course, and sentenced to 26 years in an Italian prison.
And the State Department stood by and watched.
They sent cable after cable to Washington describing the trial, but not once did they intervene in any way. Asked about Amanda’s case the week after the conviction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that she was not familiar with the case. Knox has now been in prison for four years, and the State Department is still watching. And if they have done anything to help Amanda, it has apparently been both ineffectual and hidden. I want to make a clear differentiation here: There are many, many good career men and women in the Department of State. I know them, I admire them, and I respect them. I have worked with them for weeks and months at a time, even serving a term position as an Assistant Legal Attaché at a U.S. Embassy. It is not the State Department career staffers who are largely responsible for this; it is the policy-makers; political appointees.
Like the bystanders in New York that watched the woman nearly beaten to death, the State Department has a valid, legal, understandable excuse for not intervening in the Knox case: “It is not in our best interest.”
To be fair, the State Department represents ALL Americans, and has a responsibility not to let a single American life negatively impact the entire country. In every single movie about submarines, a flooding compartment (with living men in it) has to be sealed off to save the rest of the boat. The concept is obvious. I understand that. But I’m glad I will never have to give that order, or be the one to close the hatch. Essentially, the State Department “closed the hatch” on Amanda Knox.
In Knox’s case, it’s simple math. The U.S. needs the world to believe that our continuing actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are widely endorsed by the community of nations. The U.S. military is large enough to successfully complete the two operations alone, but it is crucial to the U.S. for other nations to participate if only (and it is only) to show that the U.S. is not acting unilaterally. One of these nations, not coincidentally, is Italy. They are not militarily necessary, but they are necessary from a public policy standpoint. Italians have lost sons in Afghanistan, and the sentiment in Italy is against their continued involvement.
It is the State Department’s job to keep Italian soldiers in Afghanistan. How then, would going toe-to-toe with their counterparts in the Italian Foreign Ministry over Amanda Knox benefit the U.S., and by extension, you and me? It wouldn’t. In fact, it would drastically hurt the relationship between the two countries and quite possibly put the Italian participation in Afghanistan in jeopardy. “Close the hatch!”
So instead of doing something, or even commenting on the victimization of Knox, (including her denial of access to U.S. Consular Officials), the State Department simply says that the Italian judicial system meets western standards and should be allowed to proceed to its conclusion. (Which would take an estimated 8 years.) Not once did the State Department comment on any allegations of mistreatment or abuse of Amanda. They would say only, “We are closely monitoring the trial and have confidence in the Italian judicial system.” Which, of course is another way of saying, “We’re standing by watching yet doing nothing.”
But the Knox case is not an aberration, sadly. Two hikers are still being held in an Iranian prison, and were recently sentenced to 8 years for “violating Iran’s borders.” The State Department has so far written some really super-nasty letters to Iran, which inexplicably have not resulted in the freedom of the hikers. Then, just three days ago, Jason Puracal, an American citizen living in Nicaragua, was convicted of “drug-trafficking” in Nicaragua on absolutely no evidence, and in fact, much evidence that proved his innocence was simply disallowed by “the judge,” a man who never attended law school, and who was assigned to this one case for inexplicable and suspicious reasons. The State Department, of course, dutifully stood by and watched. From working in Embassy’s, I know that the State Department staff and officers feel hamstrung by Washington’s policy decisions.
The U.S. Department of State’s very mission statement explains why Americans are being “hung out to dry” in front of Kangaroo courts around the world. The mission statement goes for more than 2,300 words, but it starts with just 10. The mission of the State Department, it says, is to:
“…Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.”
It’s a great statement, but in the room created by the statement, this is the elephant in the corner. Nowhere in the 2300 word statement are “individual” American’s mentioned. The only time the words “protect the innocent” are used, it is in the context of motivating the United Nations to protect the innocent people of the world.
I don’t disagree with much in the State Department’s mission statement. But it completely ignores its responsibility to protect individual Americans. Imagine that your local fire department would only respond to “big” fires. What if they refused to respond to house fires because it could impact their ability to respond to a possible high-rise fire? I know from hard experience that diplomats and diplomatic staffers are evaluated, graded, and performance reviews based on their ability to engender cooperation and agreement with their “host” governments. They are NOT evaluated (at least positively) on whether they rescued an American victimized by the “host” government’s courts. That’s viewed as “meddling.”
As an example, during my time as an Assistant Legal Attaché, my performance was judged by how well I was able to maintain a cordial working relationship with the police of the host-country. I served a short stint at an Embassy in a country which was a tourist destination. When an American got drunk and combative with police, was arrested and then missed his cruise ship sailing, where do you think my priorities were? To get him bailed out and on his way as fast as I could, damn the locals? No. My job was to “get-along with the locals,” not rescue Americans from their own folly. The inference was clear: There was no incentive at all to help Americans at odds with the host government. Not for me, not for my career, not for the Ambassador or his career, and not for the State Department.
Again, let me point out that there are individual heroes in State, but it’s in spite of, not because of the political appointees. Ambassadors are appointed politicians, not career diplomats. As a career FBI Agent, I love the Bureau, but I am willing to point out that the current political appointee at the top has been a disaster for the agency.
The message is clear. When overseas, Americans had better take care of themselves, the Embassy isn’t going to go one step beyond what they are required by law to do, because it’s a bad career move. As an example, I give you the situation involving one of their own.
In January of this year, “Raymond Davis,” a technician at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, felt that he was being set up for an armed robbery by suspects following him around town on two motorcycles. This is a common crime in Pakistan. Eventually, Davis stopped the car and confronted the four armed men on the motorcycles and a gun-battle ensued. Two of the Pakistanis were killed. I’m not going to comment on what purpose Davis actually served in Lahore, whether that was his real name, or why he was armed. Anyone is free to speculate. But regardless, the evidence supports the suspected robbery theory. I served several times in Pakistan—armed—and I am familiar with the dangers.
After the shooting, a mob formed, and Consular personnel literally rescued “Davis” and brought him back to the Consulate. Davis was immediately labeled by the Pakistanis as a CIA Agent and charged with murder. In order to calm tensions between Pakistan and the U.S., the State Department ordered the Consulate in Lahore to turn Davis over to the Pakistanis. Can you imagine his sense of betrayal?
Then, the U.S. government immediately demanded his release—you can’t make this stuff up.
One wonders what kind of treatment that the State Department expected Davis to receive at the hands of the Pakistani ISI intelligence services, who would immediately take custody of Davis. It is inconceivable that the State Department would do this to one of their own, knowing that a fair trial was not possible. Can you imagine the effect this has had on State Department morale? In the “big picture,” it was more important to the State Department to turn over one of their own to the Pakistanis than it was to ensure his safety. Frankly, had I been in Davis’ situation, I would have made sure that it was in the best interest of the U.S. government to keep me, even if it meant shooting one of the bastards who were trying to hand me over to the Pakistanis. At least then State would feel the need to have me tried in the U.S., and I’d get a fair trial. If the State Department does that to their own people, what are they going to do for your children when they get arrested overseas on trumped-up charges overseas? Exactly.
The cavalry isn’t coming.
Edmund Burke was an Irishman elected to Parliament in the late 1700’s. His life was marked by fights against capital punishment and religious prejudice, and even advocated against the tax laws that caused the American Revolution. But he is most famous for his statement, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke would not have gotten good performance reviews at the State Department.
In the “big picture,” abandoning individual Americans for the “greater good,” really destroys its own argument. Other countries see it as weakness, it undermines America’s integrity in front of foreign governments, and it makes individual Americans feel less safe and insignificant to their own government. As long as individual Americans are sacrificed to small-time thugs and tyrants to appease the gods of diplomacy, American foreign policy will be impotent, and will be perceived as immoral and cowardly—by other nations and by their own people. If you don’t care about an individual American with a name and a family, how can the public believe you care about a vast, nameless, impersonal mass of Americans who can be easily dismissed? The siren song of sacrificing an individual for the good of the group works well on submarine and lifeboat movies, but in real life, it always fails. Ask the Mayans.
We understand why the administration feels the need to do what they’re doing. It’s logical. It’s diplomatic. It’s dispassionate. But somehow, we thought that the greatest nation in the world might have somewhere, someone with the talent to both advocate for innocent Americans and still achieve the goals of the country. Americans seem to excel in every area of life. We are told that nothing is impossible. Yet we don’t have the statesmanlike talent in this entire nation to save an innocent life without shipwrecking all of our diplomatic efforts? You kind of expect that in the world of diplomacy, the U.S. would have the “All Star Team.” But apparently not. We understand the reasoning; we just expected more from the home team.
But whether it is negligence, diligence or impotence, the U.S. Government’s care and protection of its own citizens abroad remains in a State of failure.