• ACLU, Others, Advise Americans to Be Wary When Dealing with U.S. Embassy in Yemen

    December 20, 2013

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Yemen

    We have covered in detail the ongoing misuse of authority at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, where a pattern of coerced “confessions,” flimsy fraud accusations and outright illegal passport seizures has led to a) promotion by the State Department of the senior consular officer involved and b) a flurry of lawsuits that State consistently loses as Yemeni-Americans are forced into court to correct State. You can catch-up on the story here and here.

    Since the original articles, we have learned that a group representing Yemeni-Americans has sought and failed to secure a meeting with the State Department, only getting as far as a local passport office in the U.S. The group then contacted the FBI for help, with concerns about possible civil rights violations based on national origin.

    A national rights group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, also indicated they are working with a number of Yemeni-Americans who were improperly treated at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa.

    A Warning Pamphlet for Americans Visiting the American Embassy

    The situation in Yemen has gotten bad enough, and is pervasive enough, that now the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus, and other concerned groups produced a pamphlet warning Yemeni-Americans and others of the situation, and giving advice on how to safeguard themselves. In my own 24 years as a consular officer at State, I am aware of no other embassy, U.S. or other, that has its own warning pamphlet for its own citizens.

    You can read the English version of the pamphlet here; if you are traveling to Yemen, you better damn well read it.

    The pamphlet states quite plainly:

    “Increasingly, individuals, especially of Yemeni origin, report that officials at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa have revoked and taken away their U.S. passports, sometimes pressuring them to sign confessions they do not understand without legal advice.”


    Brown is the New Black

    The advice in the pamphlet is sound and accurate to my reading. The basics– admit nothing, sign nothing, leave and get legal advice– apply to any interaction with our government. However, to many people traveling abroad, such advice may seem shocking. For the most part, Americans have come to believe that “their” embassy in a foreign country is a place of refuge, not another encounter with yet another form of psuedo-law enforcement. Sad to say, but times have changed and even a visit to an American embassy is now a potentially dangerous act for a citizen to undertake. Citizens are viewed as adversaries, particularly “lessor” citizens such as Hyphenated-Americans. Indeed, we can’t find one case in Sanaa that involved a Mr. or Ms. Whitebread.

    Some Friendly Suggestions

    In addition to the advice in the pamphlet, I’d like to also pass on some suggestions based on my own consular experience. Of course this is for informational purposes only, is not encouragement to commit fraud or misrepresentation, not an aid to visa cheating and certainly not legal advice or a legal opinion. I am not a lawyer and do not play one on TV.

    –Do not trust or speak in detail to any local embassy employee. Because these staffers are local people, speak the local language and often appear sympathetic, many Americans of local origin feel comfortable unburdening themselves or speaking more plainly in this encounter. Do not do so; everything you say will be relayed to the American staff and held against you. Do not fall prey to their appeals based on a shared religion, tribal affiliation or the like.

    –In your initial encounter, especially if you walk in on your own to the embassy, expect to outline your reason for being there to a local employee. Be brief and strictly factual. The first American you will see is very likely to be a new or recent hire. If s/he brings in a second American, that person is likely to be either a more senior manager who will make decisions on your case, an antifraud person or law enforcement. If it was me, as soon as that second person appeared, or when the first American left to “consult” or “check with the boss,” I would terminate the interaction and not continue without legal advice.

    –Do not casually relinquish physical possession of your passport without considering legal advice. Technically the passport is the property of the U.S. government, not you, but only in very rare circumstances will the embassy ever try and take it from you by force. Of course, when renewing a passport, you do have to surrender the old one.

    –If after a first encounter at an embassy you are “invited” back in for additional interaction, consult an attorney first. It is never a good idea to go in alone. Do not believe statements such as “we just want to clear something up” without legal advice.

    –If you do not speak English well enough to interact with trained Americans on legal matters, bring along your own trusted translator. The American may insist on using his/her translator, but yours should at least monitor the conversation. The staff who translate in these interactions are not professional translators, merely clerks pressed into service as few of the Americans speak the local language well. The local employee may make mistakes through incompetence, or may misrepresent what you say to favor the boss. Take notes, or have someone with you to take notes, preferably an attorney.

    –If the American uses the terms “additional processing” or “administrative processing,” your case is likely to be denied, sent for fraud work or otherwise acted on not in your favor. In the visa world, “administrative processing” often means your case is being referred for security and intelligence checks. These can take months, and you will likely never know why a visa was denied.

    –It is typically useless to ask to speak to someone else, or a more senior person. If the first interaction does not go well, you may wish to leave and seek legal advice on how to proceed.

    –Interactions at the embassy, even with Americans, are not fully subject to U.S. legal standards. The embassy is not “American soil.” You do not have your full rights standing there. There is no “Miranda” requirement. You do not have to be sworn. They do not have to tell you to what purpose they plan to use your information. U.S. embassy officials working on “administrative matters” are not obligated to keep detailed notes, transcripts or observe standard rules of evidence. In many cases they can turn over your information to local, host country law enforcement if they believe a “crime” has taken place. Information gathered in the course of a passport or visa interview can be shared freely with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

    –Almost anything to do with visas has no appeal or judicial oversight. Be especially mindful of any visa interaction, as once the visa is denied you have very little recourse or remedy easily available.

    The system is not fair, and was not designed to be fair.




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Recent Comments

    • teri said...

      1

      We are talking about an AMERICAN embassy. Jesus. Your friendly suggestions are excellent, Mr. Van Buren. Now let’s come up with a list of suggestions for dealing with American cops, border control agents, the NSA, the banks, and certain school districts.

      http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/20/suit-california-teachers-joined-in-ttty-twisting-tuesdays-and-promoted-racial-bullying/

      http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/20/n-m-woman-billed-5000-after-cops-order-warrantless-redundant-cavity-searches/

      But first, listen to this, from 1975. Brilliant song. Could have been written today. (A little history lesson: Paul Simon used a Bach chorale for the main melody, which was old enough to belong to the public domain. The melody was also used in a Christian hymn entitled, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”, which is why it sounds familiar to so many people.) Makes me cry every damn time I hear it.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE3kKUEY5WU

      12/20/13 6:53 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      2

      quote:”Some Friendly Suggestions”unquote

      – Caveat Emptor
      – Don’t believe a word you hear.
      – Watch your back
      – Wear clean underwear
      – Do not start an affair with DoS employees
      – Do not go to work for DoS employees
      – Make friends with Hollywood writers
      – Beware the Dumbest country on the planet.

      12/20/13 7:42 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      3

      - Beware the Dumbest country on the planet.

      I really, really mean it.

      See the triangle question.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mWtWz_aGyk

      I rest my case.

      12/20/13 7:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      4

      It might be a consideration to also notify the Arab American Institute and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) for additional support in this endeavor to reinstate wrongly revoked passports and stop other legal issues taking place there

      It’s excellent ‘lamplighting’, Peter, per Frank Serpico’s term. Revoking an American passport is serious and no US citizen should ever be unlawfully subjected without due process

      Just like unfettered drone attacks and droning first-responders rushing to the scenes of attacks, which Amnesty has reported, or another wedding party. The Yemeni Parliament has now outlawed drone assaults and let’s see what work-around to that law Washington lawyers can now come up with

      12/21/13 4:01 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      5

      quote:”The Yemeni Parliament has now outlawed drone assaults and let’s see what work-around to that law Washington lawyers can now come up with”unquote

      Outlawed. Drone assaults. right
      I can hear the entire DOD and CIA Drone Pilot Associations rolling on the floor in gut splitting laughter. The USG doesn’t give a shit about other sovereign’s laws. After all, besides protest and wave their fists, what can they do? As far as work-arounds, they already have the AUMF. What more do they need?

      12/21/13 12:16 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      6

      Well, today is my birthday. So I’m going to celebrate making it to 69 years old without getting incarcerated by the Two Tiered INjustice system or murdered by an insane SWAT team, or beaten to death by some sociopathic local cops. Yes indeed..life in modern ‘merica. If you can beat the odds, you might even live to see it bloom into Orwell on steroids.
      Had someone told me when I was 21 what was coming, I’d laughed in their face. If they told me at 31, I’d consider it possible but not probable. If they told me at 41 I might have thought about it. At 51, I started seeing the seeds. At 61, I knew it was already happening but had enough faith in our system
      to refute the possibility. At 69, ..well, like Dylan said..it doesn’t take a weatherman. It takes a Snowden.

      bartender..set em up. It’s gonna be a long day.

      12/21/13 12:35 PM | Comment Link

    • Andrei said...

      7

      Feels like the U.S. government has been taking pointers from the B-movie version of the Soviet Union.

      12/23/13 8:25 AM | Comment Link

    • restless said...

      8

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      12/27/13 10:10 PM | Comment Link

    • N' Yeme, U.S. Embassy confiscatyun' sum passperts, ACLU warns | The Warshington Post said...

      9

      […] issuet by t'rights groups. Ferm'r State Department ofishul an' auther Pet'r Vun Bure, un his'n blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com, supplemants at advice wit sum observatyuns. T' bottom line: Don’t go ta […]

      01/9/14 11:40 PM | Comment Link

    • In Yemen, U.S. Embassy confiscating some passports, ACLU warns | Chicago Weather Today said...

      10

      […] issued by the rights groups. Former State Department official and author Peter Van Buren, on his blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com, supplements that advice with some observations. The bottom line: Don’t go […]

      01/10/14 12:03 AM | Comment Link

    • In Yemen, U.S. Embassy confiscating some passports, ACLU warns | Detroit News Daily said...

      11

      […] issued by the rights groups. Former State Department official and author Peter Van Buren, on his blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com, supplements that advice with some observations. The bottom line: Don’t go […]

      01/10/14 12:32 AM | Comment Link

    • In Yemen, U.S. Embassy confiscating some passports, ACLU warns | NEWS.GNOM.ES said...

      12

      […] issued by the rights groups. Former State Department official and author Peter Van Buren, on his blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com, supplements that advice with some observations. The bottom line: Don’t go […]

      01/10/14 1:50 AM | Comment Link

    • N' t'Loop: N' Yeme, U.S. Embassy confiscatyun' sum passperts, ACLU warns | The Warshington Post said...

      13

      […] issuet by t'rights groups. Ferm'r State Department ofishul an' auther Pet'r Vun Bure, un his'n blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com, supplemants at advice wit sum observatyuns. T' bottom line: Don’t go ta […]

      01/10/14 5:45 AM | Comment Link

    • الإعلام يواصل تسليط الضوء على السفارة الأميركية في صنعاء – News agencies shed light on Embassy passport revocations | حقوقي في السفارة الأميركية في صنعاء said...

      14

      […] We Meant Well – ACLU, Others, Advise Americans to Be Wary When Dealing with U.S. Embassy in Ye… The advice in the pamphlet is sound and accurate to my reading. The basics– admit nothing, sign nothing, leave and get legal advice– apply to any interaction with our government. However, to many people traveling abroad, such advice may seem shocking. For the most part, Americans have come to believe that “their” embassy in a foreign country is a place of refuge, not another encounter with yet another form of psuedo-law enforcement. Sad to say, but times have changed and even a visit to an American embassy is now a potentially dangerous act for a citizen to undertake. Citizens are viewed as adversaries, particularly “lessor” citizens such as Hyphenated-Americans. Indeed, we can’t find one case in Sanaa that involved a Mr. or Ms. Whitebread. […]

      01/22/14 1:44 AM | Comment Link

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