Saturday, December 8, 2007

State Department Response


Washington, DC – Dec 7, 2007

Inside the Beltway the State Department is referred to as "Foggy Bottom," partly because of the building location, but mostly because of the logic by which it operates. On Monday, December 2nd members of our fact finding team who had traveled to the Middle East met with Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey and seven fairly high ranking members of her department concerning a draft of our report on the condition of Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Secretary Sauerbrey is a George W. Bush political appointee to the State Department; the rest of those present were "career" officers. While the Secretary was present the tone of the meeting was cordial and concerned, and it appeared that progress was being made. Upon her departure from the room, the tone quickly changed to one of an aggressive defense of status quo policy. Ninety-nine percent of State Department employees, including most ambassadors, are "career" people who have their own agendas while working under various presidents. Often their agendas and desires to protect themselves overshadow the will of the political leaders of the nation. Unlike the Armed Forces, those at State rarely are obedient to the desires of the elected political leaders of this nation.

Often the official “called for” procedures of the State Department; the actual on-the-ground situation; and the perceptions of those involved are three somewhat different things. At the meeting with Secretary Suaerbrey on Monday we learned for the first time that there is a Jordanian-American staffer at the embassy in Amman tasked with the duty of “refugee liaison.” However, Ambassador Hale told us in Jordan very flatly that no one was actually meeting with refugees outside the Embassy walls. One of his staff, the USAID officer, told us “It isn’t our job to go to church.” Not a single church leader or member of the refugee community we met with had every met this individual and did not know of the person’s existence. Perhaps this individual was meeting with UNHCR, CARITAS, and other NGO’s. But, to the knowledge of church leaders in the refugee community there was no contact with this individual.

NOTE : Several weeks after our departure from Jordan our team received reports from church leaders saying the Embassy had begun to have contacts with the refugee community. The findings of our team had been delivered directly to King Abdullah of Jordan who then presented it directly to Ambassador Hale. It was not until the King inquired as to why there was no contact between the Embassy and refugees that contact visits began.

When we departed from the meeting on Monday we were very concerned about the “on paper” presence of the officer tasked with refugee liaison verses the personal witness of virtually every church leader in Jordan including Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical.

Our overall purpose is not to have our report “answered” but rather to begin to hear from the refugee community that their perception of the relationship with our nation is improving. Many of the Christians and secularists (most of the Muslim refugees actually appear to be secularists) who are now refugees saw our nation as their savior in 2002, and unfortunately our presence has caused them great loss of life and property. The suffering of the individuals we interviewed was appalling and heart wrenching at the same time. It is very difficult to talk to a mother who has had her children dumped dead at her doorstep. The experience of such a conversation is far different from a conversation with a Euro representative of UNHCR at a high dollar coffee shop who has never personally interviewed a refugee. One of our biggest concerns was the distance between the embassy and the refugee victims, many of whom had worked for the Coalition and suffered great loss as a result.

I publicly supported the President’s Iraq position in 2002; therefore, I have the right to say that we own this war and as a result we own the refugees caused by this war. All of those participating in the fact finding mission understand the procedures in place with the UNHCR. Perhaps, collectively, our fact finding team was just not bright enough to understand at what point the refugee problem ceased to be the responsibility of the United States of America. Our nation simply needs to do more than it is doing. Either the United States makes Iraq safe for the return of the refugees, or we need to help them live better lives somewhere else.

William J. Murray, Chairman

Religious Freedom Coalition

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