Friday, September 27, 2013

Duties of the Powerful

I find it difficult to speak calmly about current efforts of Congressional Republicans to . . . to do what? Apparently to heed the demands of a small number of wealthy contributors who can dominate Republican primaries. The Congressmen and their supporters seem to have forgotten entirely their Constitutional duties as citizens and elected officials. A particularly egregious example of neglect of duty concerns the Special Immigrant Visas authorized by statute, authority which expires with much else at the end of this month. The statute creates a special visa category allowing those who have assisted US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to flee to the United States when their lives are endangered, as they often are. One Afghani translator's case is particularly compelling. Here is part of an op-ed written to the Guardian by Matt Zeller, a US Army soldier. He writes about a translator embedded with his unit who risked his life to serve US forces for nine years, and on one occasion saved Zeller's life during a firefight. The translator was granted a Special Immigrant Visa, which was then inexplicably revoked. The translator is trapped in Afghanistan and as his case has been publicized the Taliban know his identity and have targeted him with very credible death threats. Zeller tried to get an explanation of why the visa was revoked.
I spent the next few days calling the US embassy in Kabul and State Department to no avail. After total silence, they finally told me that his visa was revoked for reasons they could not legally address. I investigated further and had my worst suspicions confirmed: in the two weeks since the State Department issued his visa, an anonymous "informant" contacted the US government and claimed all sorts of things about Janis. The informant's bogus claims eventually reached an analyst at the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) in Washington DC who promptly put a security hold on Janis' visa, prompting the State Department to revoke it altogether.

It's fairly common for the Taliban to read the US news. I can't help but think that they learned of our successful efforts to secure Janis his visa via the extensive coverage our efforts generated. They used to call our base in Afghanistan and claim all sorts of lies about our interpreters in an attempt to get us to fire them. The Taliban are almost certainly the source of the anonymous tip and now they have more time to hunt him and his family down and kill them.
This is bureaucracy at its worst, but one feels a little sympathy for the embassy officials who face the prospect of Benghazi-style hearings if they catch the attention of Congressional Republicans, who opposed the visa program in the first instance and are unlikely to allow it to be renewed.

Holmes might have something to say about the contemptible handful of billionaires and the frightened Republicans they have in thrall. In a case concerning an Irish bootlegger gang, the Administration used unlawful wiretaps in pursuing them, and a majority of the Court decided to allow the illegally obtained evidence at their trial. Holmes tried to recall them to their sense of duty, and to their oath to the Constitution:
We have to choose, and for my part I think it a less evil that some criminals should escape than that the Government should play an ignoble part.
Holmes always tried to recall us to our duty. The famous phrase, "think not what your country can do for you. . . " is paraphrased from one of his speeches. Would that the irresponsible billionaires and their Congressman would hear this call. A great many immigrants, including that Aghani translator, would be relieved to hear that the call had been answered.