The head of the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), Maura Harty, is hosting an event at the Hotel Washington Monday with about 65 left-behind parents of children abducted to foreign lands. Harty sent form-letter invites to the parents in December, but the invitation list was missing the names of the two parents who State views as the biggest troublemakers: Patricia Roush and Thomas Johnson. According to an official in her bureau, Harty is trying to “send a message to all left-behind parents that you should not stir the pot.”
Today’s gathering is just the latest in a series of snubs suffered by Roush and Johnson. Roush, whose daughters Alia and Aisha were kidnapped from their suburban Chicago home in 1986 by their Saudi father, has persistently created headaches for State over the past 17 years. Johnson, whose daughter Amanda was spending time with her mother (who had joint custody) in Sweden eight years ago and was never returned to her father in the United States, has been a thorn in State’s side for far less time, but his criticism of State is particularly stinging since he works there. Both parents have paid a significant price for their outspokenness, and now State has decided to no longer help either of them.
Roush has appeared on hundreds of television and radio programs and is responsible for pressuring the State Department into creating the Office of Children’s Issues inside CA. She also worked tirelessly last year to defeat Harty’s nomination to be assistant secretary of state for Consular Affairs. Roush wrote in a letter to the president last July that Harty’s record during two tours heading up OCI was one of “indifference bordering on hostility towards the interests of parents of abducted children.” At congressional hearings just last summer, CA officials claimed they were still working to help Roush’s daughters. But that was then.
Although his plight has not received as much attention as Roush’s, Johnson has raised the ire of many at CA. A former Marine, Johnson has been a lawyer at State for over 20 years. Johnson, despite being left off the first invitation list, will actually be in attendance at the meeting today; he put in a formal request after the initial snub and CA officials decided against putting up a fight. His daughter, Amanda, was going to school in Sweden — pursuant to a Virginia joint-custody order — but then her mother refused to follow the law and send Amanda back to live with her father. Johnson has devoted countless energy to the cause of rescuing his daughter for the past eight years, even winning court orders in Sweden. But because the Swedes don’t enforce their court orders, Amanda is still trapped in the socialist nation. Amanda’s story has been discussed in Reader’s Digest and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and Johnson himself wrote a lengthy article for New York University on why State is not abiding by the Hague Convention, which includes the civil aspects of international child-abduction cases.
From 1999 through 2002, Amanda’s case had been highlighted prominently in State’s annual reports to Congress on child-abduction cases in the 51 countries that are signed on to the Hague Convention (Sweden is, Saudi Arabia is not). But the new report, sent to Congress last month, does not even mention Amanda. Sweden, in fact, gets a clean bill of health in the new report — which was given Harty’s seal of approval — despite the fact that there are more than a dozen unresolved abduction cases in that country. In a memo to Colin Powell recommending that he approve the report, Harty wrote, “Sweden [has been] upgraded out of the category of countries of concern.” Apparently the same can be said for Amanda’s case.
Consular Affairs is sending a clear message by their treatment of Roush and Johnson. “Harty and her deputies don’t know how to deal with troublesome parents, so they want to make it clear that parents who speak out will be punished,” notes a senior CA official. But what Harty probably doesn’t realize is that her actions will allow foreign governments to more credibly blackmail other parents to prevent them from going public with their cases. So, if — actually, when — another parent has a child abducted to Sweden or Saudi Arabia, representatives from either country could tell that parent, “If you go public, even your own State Department won’t help you.” And the parents would probably believe that.
Ironically, Harty is snubbing Roush and Johnson at the same time she is embarking on a charm offensive. She chatted up foreign leaders during overseas travel last month and she has been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. She is making these considerable efforts in advance of hearings next month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — something that is only happening because of demands made by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) as a condition of allowing Harty’s nomination to go through last November. But it remains to be seen whether the new chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), will be as tough on the State Department as former chairman Jesse Helms was — or if he will give Harty a free pass.
Last year, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher sold Harty as an “agent of change.” Since she’s taken over at CA, State has stopped even going through the motions for Roush, and Johnson’s daughter has fallen off the radar. Lugar’s committee should ask: Is this the “change” State had in mind?
— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist.