Thursday, June 19, 2008

Baghdad, Beirut embassy dissenters to be honored

The piece below is an AP report on the folks getting dissent awards from AFSA (American Foreign Service Association), our employee association (the article calls it our "union," which is not exactly accurate).

I know two of the three folks getting the award. Luke I met recently, but I met Ambassador Feltman some time ago when he had dinner with a group of us going to serve in NEA. He had previously served as Consul General in Jerusalem and was more than willing to share his wisdom and advice on the post. As a newly minted Junior Officer, I appreaciated his being willing to take the time to talk with us. I am glad to see him being honored.

Baghdad, Beirut embassy dissenters to be honored
By MATTHEW LEE - Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON --Two American diplomats who successfully challenged policy in Iraq and Lebanon last year are being honored at the State Department Thursday for their courage in speaking out.

Former ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman fought plans to build the new embassy in Beirut in an area controlled by Hezbollah militants. Iraq veteran Rachel Schneller called attention to the mental health care needs of diplomats returning from war zones. They are getting awards for constructive dissent from the American Foreign Service Association.

The association is the union for U.S. diplomats. It says Feltman and Schneller showed exemplary courage, integrity and leadership by taking on their superiors in Washington and changing the department's institutional thinking.

In cable after cable, Feltman argued it was unsafe to construct the new embassy on property that was bought for that purpose in 2004 but had later fallen into the hands of Hezbollah. Higher-ups in Washington were insisting on going ahead with the project. Finally, last July, it was put on hold.

"Ambassador Feltman challenged this decision and repeatedly appealed directly to the highest levels of the State Department," his citation reads. "His willingness to take a stand on principle and to question the conventional wisdom in order to protect his embassy personnel exemplifies the best qualities of constructive dissent."

Schneller, who served in Basra, Iraq and returned to the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder, took on the department for its failure to provide adequate mental health care to diplomats who serve in war zones. In internal memos and interviews, Schneller made the case that they deserved similar treatment to members of the military.

Partly as a result, the department created a new mental health care office and adopted new leave guidelines to deal with stress-related disorders that plague up to 17 percent of diplomats serving in danger posts, according to one survey.

"Despite personal sacrifice, Ms. Schneller showed enormous courage in challenging the system on an issue of life and death importance to career diplomats and their families," her citation reads. "(Her) actions exemplify the qualities of constructive dissent by demonstrating the intellectual courage and integrity to challenge the status quo while working within the system."

The awards are given annually by the union, which is also giving a dissent honor to a third diplomat this year, Luke Zahner, who documented serious human right abuses by the military-backed government while working at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh. Zahner convinced his superiors to report those abuses, according to his citation.

No comments: