News reports out of New York highlight the arrest of an Indian consular official for allegedly underpaying her domestic servant, and for misrepresenting the salary on a U.S. visa application. The U.S. State Department assisted in the arrest, claiming for itself a “victory” in the war on human trafficking. Not paying a fair wage is wrong. What is also wrong is for the State Department to be following a double-standard in what it expects from foreign diplomats, and what it expects from its own.
According to court documents, a U.S. Department of State diplomat and her husband tricked an Ethiopian woman into accompanying them as their domestic servant to Japan, where they held her virtually as a prisoner in their home and forced her to work for them for less than $1 per hour and where the husband repeatedly raped the woman with his diplomat wife’s consent. A Virginia federal judge awarded the victim $3.3 million in damages on a default judgment against the couple. The diplomat retired from the State Department with full pension and then fled the country.
The victim, identified only as “Jane Doe,” told the court she was hired by the Howards in 2008 as a live-in housekeeper at the couple’s home in Yemen, where Linda Howard worked at the U.S. embassy. Doe says she agreed to move with the couple to Japan after Linda Howard was transferred to the embassy there and that she was promised wages of $300 per month, time off each week, health insurance and a safe place to live and work.
Once in Japan, Doe says, Russell Howard repeatedly raped her, forced her to perform oral sex and sexually assaulted her. Doe says Linda Howard was complicit in her husband’s sexual abuse, telling Doe that she should gratify her husband and make him happy. Doe, who speaks little English and no Japanese, says the Howards also used nonphysical force, such as isolation and threats of deportation, to coerce her into servitude.
After five months in Japan, Doe says, she fled the Howards’ home in the middle of the night. She says that after she reported the abuse, the State Department removed Linda Howard from her overseas post and launched an investigation into the Howards.
Once back in Washington and while the so-called investigation took place, Howard, according to her LinkedIn profile, worked among other places as a recruiter and assessor for people seeking jobs with the State Department. She tells us on LinkedIn that she received a Superior Honor Award, with cash bonus, from State in June 2011, which would have been well after any investigation commenced. Her LinkedIn profile also references Cleared Connections, an employment site for government workers, suggesting she retained her security clearance from State.
Linda Howard acted in bad faith by telling the court that she was unaware of any upcoming overseas job-related travel and then two weeks later retiring and leaving the country, the magistrate judge said. She also refused to appear for a deposition as ordered by the court and refused to communicate with Doe’s attorneys to facilitate discovery as ordered by the court, Magistrate Judge Jones said.
Now, a question: if the allegations are true– and a Virginia court says they are– Mr. and Mrs. Howard committed felonies on federal property. Mr. Howard is an Australian citizen, so maybe it is a huge guess to wonder if they are outback there. Has the FBI been called in by State, as the FBI has jurisdiction over crimes on federal property.
Earlier this year in Kenya, an American diplomat who police say was speeding crossed the center line in his SUV and rammed into a full mini-bus, killing a father of three whose widow is six months pregnant. The embassy then rushed the American and his family out of Kenya the next day, leaving the crash victims with no financial assistance to pay for a funeral and for hospital bills for the eight or so others who were seriously injured.
“It is difficult for me to handle this matter because my kids need to go to school. They need everything, basic needs,” the widow said. “And we have no place to stay because we have to pay the rent. We have no money. … Even if my kids are sick I have no money to take them to hospital.”
The U.S. embassy commented “The embassy is fully cooperating with the Kenyan authorities as they investigate the accident and work to aid the victims.”
Abuse and Visa Fraud
Harold Countryman, along with his spouse Kimberly, was a U.S. diplomat assigned to Seoul, Korea. Before leaving the country, he and his wife hired a Cambodian woman to work for them in the U.S. Harold falsified the necessary U.S. visa application to get the Cambodian woman into the U.S., falsely claiming he would pay her minimum wage. Instead, once in the U.S., the Countrymans “Held her passport,” says Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Her wages came out to roughly a dollar an hour.” The woman was berated and sometimes assaulted. She was not allowed to leave the Countrymans’ house. Luckily, a neighbor noticed something wrong and called the cops, who luckily took it all seriously. This story has a semi-happy ending of sorts: The couple pleaded guilty to visa fraud, and are paying the Cambodian woman $50,000 in restitution. Harold Countryman, the diplomat, only received probation, however.
Alleged Forced Abortions and Inter-Office Sex
Ms. Kerry Howard, the community-liaison officer at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, claims she was run out of her job with the State Department after complaining about the consul general’s alleged office trysts with subordinates and hookers. One subordinate was allegedly forced to have an abortion.
Ms. Howard stated she had been bullied, harassed and forced to resign after she exposed U.S. Consul General Donald Moore’s alleged security-threatening shenanigans in the Naples, Italy, office. She explained that when she revealed allegations about her boss, State Department officials swept it under the rug, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint she filed with the Department’s Office of Civil Rights. State tried to disappear the issue by transferring Moore out of the country, but now the FBI is allegedly involved.
Chuck Lisenbee, a former State Department Beirut security officer who was being probed for allegedly sexually assaulting local guards, is now a special agent in Washington for the Office of Diplomatic Vehicles, Enforcement and Outreach, according to a State Department phone directory. Agents were only given three days to investigate the allegations against him, according to a memo seen by the Post. It is alleged that Lisenbee first got into trouble when he tried to make out with a fellow (male) security officer in Baghdad. His depredations against local guards in Liberia were then discovered. Lisenbee started every lunch with prayer because “Jesus Christ, my lord and savior, is the most important thing in my life” (exact quote heard by this source on at least 50 occasions).
U.S. Embassy Prostitution
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has had its share of problems. In the early part of this decade, the embassy paid-for-dormitory for domestics (so they did not have to live with their diplomatic masters) was found full of women not connected with the embassy, some of whom were prostituting themselves on and out of U.S. government property. The public restroom just outside the dorm was a known quickie spot for night time taxi drivers looking for sex. Things were handled nice and quietly by State and the story stayed out of the news and out of the taxpayers’ attention.
Sexual Solicitation of a Minor
Former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman was allowed to retire in July of this year. A State Department investigator believed Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hired prostitutes.
Sex Tapes and Affairs
Brett McGurk — a former senior adviser to the ambassador to Iraq — was appointed the deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran in August, according to the State Department Web site. He was President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq but withdrew after his extramarital affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter was exposed, alongside saucy emails sent from his official government account and an alleged sex tape. Apparently, investigators never interviewed McGurk because Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, intervened.
A bit further back, one Tokyo embassy U.S. diplomat identified here as Thurmond Borden, had domestic troubles. The story is that in 1993, 40 year-old Lucia Martel was working as a domestic in Manila. In March of that same year, Mr. Borden was visiting the Philippines on vacation with his Filipino wife, and the couple was looking for a woman. Mr. and Mrs. Borden offered Lucia a monthly wage of about Y30,000 (USD300). To comply with the Japanese immigration regulations, a written contract was signed that contained very different language. The contract stated her working conditions as six days/week, eight hours/day, a monthly salary of Y150,000 (USD1500), and an overtime pay of 125%. The contract papers were submitted both to the U.S. Embassy and to the Japanese Immigration Bureau.
Lucia started working at Borden’s residence October 16, 1993. Despite her contract, she was forced to work from six in the morning to ten in the evening, and was not allowed to rest even on Christmas and New Years according to reports.
On May 22, 1994, reports were that Lucia complained to Mrs. Borden and the latter confiscated Lucia’s original contract, return air-ticket and Alien Registration Certificate. This Certificate is very important for expatriates in Japan. It must be carried at all times and if caught without it, one may end up being taken into custody by the police. Lucia went to the Naka-ward municipal office to have a new card issued. The shocked office staff who heard her story contacted the police. A Japanese cop visited the Borden’s residence to take Lucia’s Registration Certificate back from Mrs. Borden. Mr. Borden, returning from his work, was said to have become enraged. He allegedly shouted, “Go back to the Philippines!” to Lucia. Lucia feared that she might be assaulted. She fled the residence taking none of her belongings except the clothes she was wearing.
Lucia eventually tried to sue the Borden’s, and organized protest marches outside the U.S. embassy. The State Department, however, claimed diplomatic immunity on Borden’s behalf and the Japanese legal system dropped the case. State Department records list Borden now as the head of the Consular Section in Jakarta where, among other tasks, he has responsibility for issuing maid visas to U.S. diplomats’ domestic help bound for the U.S.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, will be available April 2014 from Luminis Books.