In federal panel’s vote on Turkey and religious freedom, four tops five

Al Kamen
Columnist March 27, 2012

Forget what you learned in math class. In Washington, four can be greater than five.

Take the recent move by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to designate NATO ally Turkey as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) — putting Turkey on a par with serious malefactors Burma, China, North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan and the other usual suspects.

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

The nine-member bipartisan commission originally voted 5 to 4 to give Turkey that designation. But then one of the five, Don Argue, a former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, switched — apparently too late to meet a March 17 deadline set by commission Chairman Leonard Leo, who is also executive vice president of the Federalist Society.

The tiny advisory panel (budget $3 million, staff of about 20) has long been, as our colleague Michelle Boorstein noted, “rife . . . with ideology and tribalism,” and oft-accused of an anti-Muslim bias. (And the members are not even paid.)

The annual report usually comes out at the end of April but was released March 20 because five commissioners’ terms were expiring March 21, which would leave the panel without a quorum.

The five majority/dissenters issued a statement saying that, even so, there was “ample time to reflect” Argue’s changed vote and to keep Turkey in its lesser “watch” designation, as opposed to a CPC designation.

Those on the “watch” list include India, Russia, Venezuela and Cuba, which is now hosting Pope Benedict XVI , who’s drawing huge crowds for Masses across the country, including one attended by Fidel Castro’s brother Raul.

Well, at least the Cubans let him in. Better than the Chinese and Vietnamese.

Take a knee, senator

Former senator Arlen Specter’s new memoir, “Life Among the Cannibals,” recounts his party switch and his votes for President Obama’s stimulus package and the health-care plan.

But it’s not just about politics.

For example, in one steamy passage on Page 156, he recalls riding on the campaign bus of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 with then-Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

“She was a total charmer, very friendly,” Specter writes. “The few things she said were intelligent.” He doesn’t mention what they were, maybe because he was distracted.

“We were sitting virtually knee to knee in the cramped bus,” he writes. “She radiated sensuality. Her skirt rode above her knees — not exactly short, but close.”

The excitement builds . . .

State stretch on blogdom?

Employees getting in trouble at work for their extracurricular blogging are hardly a new story line, but when the blogger in question is a former model fond of posting pictures of herself doing yoga in scant clothing — and she claims to be a “diplomat” — well, the Loop takes notice.

We were directed to the site of one Jennifer Santiago, who says she’s a Foreign Service officer with the State Department, by Peter Van Buren, another State Department employee. State is in the process of firing Van Buren for a variety of reasons, including his own blogging (which does not include provocative pics, but rather more substantive offenses, the State Department says, such as linking to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks and disclosing classified information, among others).

Basically, Van Buren is calling out the State Department for going after his online writings while leaving others’ alone. It seems that Foreign Service officers are governed by a code of conduct that mandates a “high degree . . . of prudence” and bars “conduct demonstrating . . . poor judgment” — anything that might hamper an officer’s reputation and ability to represent the United States abroad. Might Santiago’s racy photos and blog posts about samba-ing through Brazil be considered taboo?

“They’re being very selective about it,” Van Buren claims. “Or else they can’t monitor everything.”

But the State Department takes a broader view of officers who blog about nonwork subjects. A spokesman explains the three levels of blogdom: “Department employees who wish to write about matters of official concern must obtain department clearance,” he says. “When writing on matters of official concern in their private capacity, they must also include a disclaimer.  Matters clearly not of official concern are not subject to the clearance process.”

Santiago did not respond by our deadline to an e-mail.

MIA at BIA

Nature might abhor a vacuum, but so do many at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There’s griping that the bureau’s eastern Oklahoma office has been leaderless for more than two years. Technically, Jeanette Hanna is the regional office’s director, but she has been “on detail” to the Washington headquarters since early 2010.

Local tribes have been complaining that the lack of a leader has hampered the office, and that they’re not getting the service they need, and we hear there’s internal frustration, too.

The circumstances of Hanna’s absence are curious — and the BIA doesn’t seem to be doing anything to explain them. The Tulsa World reported in 2009 that Hanna, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma who had led the office since 2002, was removed from her post because of an “ongoing personnel matter.”

BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling declined to comment Tuesday on Hanna’s employment history or status, saying in an e-mail that she couldn’t, “do [sic] to privacy rules.”

And when might the regional office expect to fill Hanna’s long-vacated shoes? Darling sent us a lengthy and vague statement that didn’t begin to answer the question.

Our best translation: They’re working on it.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP

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