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Rights groups: Be careful going to the U.S. embassy in Yemen

Yemeni soldiers loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh stand in front of Yemeni anti-government protesters in Sanaa in 2011. (Photo/ Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images) File: Yemeni soldiers loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh stand in front of Yemeni anti-government protesters in Sanaa in 2011. (Photo/ Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Official U.S. government travel advisories — warning Americans to be careful, or not to even go to, certain dangerous places like Benghazi or Fallujah — are the province of the State Department, which relies on information from embassies around the world.

So it was most curious when the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations recently issued a warning notice about going to the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen.

“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,” the advisory said, “sometimes pressuring them to sign confessions they do not understand without legal advice.”

The warning was included in a brochure the rights groups put out. Former State Department official and author Peter Van Buren, on his blog,, supplements that advice with some observations. The bottom line is: Don’t go to that embassy, even  for routine paperwork, without a lawyer. And, if you do go on your own, hold onto your passport and back away slowly out of there at the first sign of trouble. (One sign is that if any official says the words ““additional processing,” run for the door.)

Passport fraud is believed to be an especially serious problem in Yemen, we’re told, but it’s hard to get precise figures on how many passports have been revoked. The State Department is not saying. The Yemen Post in August reported “more than 20 known cases of Yemeni-Americans” who tried to renew their passports and had them confiscated instead. Some put the number in the hundreds.

Our sense is that it’s at least in the high double-digits. But whatever the precise number,we’re hearing that some Yemeni-Americans whose passports have been seized on suspicion of fraud have been required to wait up to two years while the embassy clears up its suspicions.  (Since State can’t revoke naturalization  — that’s the turf of the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services –those presumed citizens are in limbo while being investigated.)

Asked about this situation, a State Department official e-mailed this statement: “As we do in all U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world, we seek to uphold our commitment to provide fair process to every individual that enters U.S. Embassy Sana’a, while upholding our obligations under the law. . . .  The Department has authority to deny and revoke a U.S. passport under certain conditions, including those involving false identity.”

Most likely the federal courts will end up deciding what process is due.














Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.



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Al Kamen · January 9, 2014

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