Friday, July 09, 2010

Two Years Ago Today

I'll have the State Roundup posted later today. I wanted to put this up first. Today is the second anniversary of the attack on the US Consulate General in Istanbul. Three gunmen attacked the Consulate, but the Turkish police force outside the building stopped the attack, preventing any Consulate staff or visa applicants from being harmed. Tragically, three Turkish policemen were killed in the attack.

For me, this will be a day of quiet reflection about those who give their lives so that we can safely carry out American business overseas. I want to repost something that I wrote two years ago, after touring the grounds of the Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and seeing the memorials to our staff who died there in the 2004 al Qaeda attack.  State people, wherever you are today, thank the people who keep you safe, even if you don't speak a language they understand.  We truly could not do what we do without them.

48 Hours in Jeddah

I'm going to split this up into a number of posts, because there's too many disparate stories to fit into one. A party at the Ethiopian consulate, an underground Saudi rave, snorkling in the Red Sea at an incognito beach open only to expats, and the bizarrely unforgettable experience of flying on Saudia Airlines. We can get to the fun later on, but first I want to open with one of the most heartwrenching stories of my life.

When I was doing research during A-100 on the places I might go, the case files for Jeddah and Riyadh all dealt heavily with the 2004 consulate attack in Jeddah. I don't remember it happening; it's a sad truth that we're so inured to bombings and violence around the world that we don't really pay attention to many of them, unless we have a personal stake or interest in them. In 2004, joining the Foreign Service was far from my mind - those of you who have followed my writing for years may remember my (thankfully) failed attempts to get a job at the NSA around that time - so it's probably not surprising that the attack didn't then catch my eye. However, my trip to Jeddah made the reality of the attack painfully clear.

I have links here and here, news reports about the attack. These articles are long on background information and short on details about the attack. Note that in the first link, the analyst focuses on the fact that no Americans died - "They didn't destroy the building or kill any Americans." So many news stories, including the coverage of the attack in Yemen last month, simply note that no Americans died while ignoring the fact that Americans make up a tiny percentage of any embassy community. Some of my closest friends and colleagues at the embassy are Somali, Sudanese, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Syrian, and Jordanian - and that's just in my section. I give you this as the background for what was so moving about my visit to the consulate.

When I got there on Wednesday afternoon, I had an hour or so to kill while my friend Joe finished up his work for the week, so he introduced me to Ty, one of our security officers there, who gave me a tour of the compound. It's the old embassy from the 1950s, so it's somewhat rundown and located on an enormous lot - we had to tour on fourwheelers, because it would have taken an hour or more to walk it all. We ended our tour at the memorials to the five people killed in the 2004 attack, between the front gate and the main consulate building. The granite blocks are placed haphazardly on the lawn, where the victims fell. Ty told me that the attackers chased one of the embassy cars, carrying an American woman, towards the gates. One of the guards grabbed the American, tossed her into the safe haven right at the entrance, and ran the other way to distract the attackers. He was killed almost instantly. The other four victims, who just happened to be outside at the time, knew where she was hiding, and they were executed over a ninety-minute period because they refused to give up her location and her life. The Saudi government gave their families permanent legal status in the Kingdom for their sacrifices. The US government gave them plaques of commemoration.

My security every day depends on the hundreds of non-Americans working for us in the Kingdom. Many of them would be willing to give their lives for us, and some of them have or will do so. The next time a US installation is attacked somewhere - and I have no doubt that it will happen again - take a moment to think about the people who die in the most brutal ways with little hope of reward so that we Americans can be safe in places where we are hated.

5 comments:

  1. Plaques? Really? Sigh.

    This is an old gripe of mine. When a consulate or embassy is attacked, the media here focus only on whether Americans were killed. But for us, the FSNs there are part of our embassy family and they do put their lives at peril for us and for our country. They deserve better than we give them when these things happen.

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  2. I was going to read this and then head in to work this morning. I'm going to be sitting here for a few more minutes remembering how to move my own muscles again. Really. I can't really convey how sad I am that such events took place; there are true heroes in the story above, but it's hard to even think about that when I look at what really happened. Thank you for sharing this; it was new to me.

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  3. wow. yes, thank you for the reminder. tremendously moving.

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  4. Maybe something along the lines of a dissent cable might be appropriate to ensure that FSNs who have given their lives in the course of service receive something more substantial than plaques?

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  5. This was a lovely piece to read. I too, am very moved. I think that all the non-Americans working for consulates of countries they are not even from would be grateful to read something like this. It's very sad that they do not get their due...I admire that you appreciate what all of these people do because many people don't (even people living in Saudi, believe me). Thanks.

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