COMMISSION ON SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
NO WAY HOME, NO WAY TO ESCAPE:
THE PLIGHT OF IRAQI REFUGIES AND OUR IRAQI ALLIES
ERIC P. SCHWARTZ,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY, POPULATION, REFUGEES AND MIGRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF
L. CRAIG JOHNSTONE,
PRESIDENT, AD INTERIM,
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,
THE LIST PROJECT TO RESETTLE IRAQI ALLIES
MICHAEL A. NEWTON,
PROFESSOR OF THE PRACTICE OF LAW,
VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:30 to 4:00 P.M. IN ROOM 385 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE
BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD), MODERATING]
THURSDAY, JULY 22, 2010
SEN. BENJAMIN L .CARDIN (D-MD): We’re going to get started. I know that we
have Congressman Jim McDermott who’s here. He’s not on the commission, but I
miss him so much when I was on the Ways & Means Committee – (laughter) – that
we’ve asked him if he would honor us by joining us and it’s a pleasure to have
our colleague join us today.
Well, good afternoon everyone and welcome to the Helsinki Commission on the
plight of the Iraqi refugees and our Iraqi allies. The hearing titled, “No Way
Home, No Way to Escape” describes the situation of hundreds of thousands of
Iraqi refugees still languishing in neighboring countries, particularly Jordan
and Syria more than seven years after the beginning of the war.
Our Iraqi allies – those who have risked their lives to work for our government
in Iraq, including alongside our military as interpreters – face uncertain and
threatening future as forces are redeployed. At a time when our country’s
attention has turned to the conflict in Afghanistan, we must not forget Iraqis
who continue to suffer as refugees and those Iraqis who are threatened for
Time is of the essence. The refugees become more desperate by the day, as what
resources they had are becoming exhausted. They are not permitted to work in
their host countries and most feel that the current situation in Iraq remains
too unstable to afford real security.
The attacks near Baghdad last Sunday that killed 48 people and wounded more
than 40 others are a grim reminder that violence is still a real part of the
everyday life in Iraq. Since January of this year, more than 1900 Iraqi
civilians have been killed, 3800 wounded in violent attacks according to the
Iraq Body Count Project.
By the end of next month, the United States will have withdrawn half of its
100,000 troops in Iraq. Military bases will be closed, including those where
many of our Iraqi employees have been living due to the death threats from
terrorists who see them as collaborators and traitors. Many other
U.S.-affiliated Iraqis currently live in hiding in order to continue to work in
country. All of these Iraqi allies are targeted for assassination by
organizations like al-Qaida in Iraq and will systematically be hunted down as
the military withdraws.
The United States has increased funding for humanitarian assistance to Iraqi
refugees, providing more than $500 million since fiscal year ’09. The number
of Iraqis resettled in the United States has also increased dramatically over
the past several years, greatly assisted by the opening of an office in country
processing in Baghdad.
Nevertheless, I understand that the average processing time for most
applications for resettlement is one year. And those seeking SIVs are even
more frustrated. The SIV legislation enacted in 2007 provides for 5,000 visas
each fiscal year through 2012, which carry over any unused allotment.
Yet to date only 2145 special immigrant visas have been issued to their Iraqi
principal applicants. Looking at the length of time to take advantage of these
programs, it is totally inadequate knowing the urgency that Iraqis will have
for their safety as the United States continues to withdraw its military forces.
We have a distinguished panel of witnesses here today who will address these
critical issues. The witnesses’ bios have been distributed so before turning
to my cochair for the remarks that he might want to make, let me just introduce
the two panels that we have. The first panel will be Honorable Eric Schwartz,
the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.
Our second panel features Ambassador L. Greg Johnstone, interim president of
Refugees International, Mr. Kirk W. Johnson, founder and executive director of
the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies and Michael A. Newton, Esq.,
professor of the practice of law at Vanderbilt University Law School and the
former brigade judge advocate with the U.S. Army Special Forces.
With that, let me first turn to my cochairman, Congressman Hastings.
REP. ALCEE L. HASTINGS (D-FL): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I too
thank our colleague Jim McDermott for joining us. He and I were just on the
floor and we were successful in following the Senate’s lead last evening in
passing the unemployment compensation extension coming out of the Ways & Means
Committee, of course, that you’re so familiar with.
Senator, if you will permit me, you did identify some, a few of our visitors
and guests. And we’re grateful to all of you. But I would also ask that we be
mindful that Ambassador Mustafa from Syria is in the audience with us. And
we’re grateful to you for your assistance. I actually visited Syria and saw a
significant number of Iraqi refugees in Syria, as I have, Senator in Jordan and
in Lebanon and Egypt and – (chuckles) – even in Sweden and elsewhere.
But thank you for convening this very timely hearing. Sadly I recall making
the same comment about timeliness during the commission’s April 2008 hearing,
Sen. Cardin, on Iraqi refugees. Sadder still, as you’ve indicated, hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi refugees remain stranded, primarily in Jordan and Syria –
and I might add, there are a significant number that are internally displaced
in Iraq and are more than a million, quite frankly.
Furthermore, there are hundreds of thousands of displaced children. What does
this mean for the future of Iraq? I’m deeply concerned about the many Iraqi
children who have been forgotten, who are not attending school either in Iraq
or in host countries in the region. Some of these children have not been in
school for three or four years.
The world needs to pay close attention to this. We need to make certain that
these children are adequately taken care of because extremist groups will stop
at nothing to take advantage of this vulnerable population, which will have
long-term ramifications for Iraq, the region and the rest of the world.
At the beginning of the 111th Congress, Senator I introduced House Resolution
578, the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance
or Resettlement and Security Act of 2009. Initially the legislation that I
fostered was carried on the Senate side by former commissioner, now Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton. And then I was very pleased in the legislation more
recently filed that Sen. Cardin and the late Sen. Kennedy sponsored the
legislation here in the United States Senate.
This legislation addresses the crisis and a potential security breakdown
resulting from the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries and
the growing internally displaced population in Iraq and also facilitates the
resettlement of Iraqis at risk. Unfortunately, there has been a shift in focus
in Congress toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and further away from Iraq. And I
caution and make another premonition-type remarks that Afghanistan – soon we
will be here talking about Afghanistani (sic) refugees. It’s just a matter of
Considering that this is the largest displacement of individuals in the Middle
East since 1948, it is a crisis that today still demands our immediate
attention and is one we cannot ignore. Our government must, in my opinion,
redouble its efforts to ensure effective humanitarian assistance for the
displaced, expedite the resettlement process for those who want to come to our
country work with the government of Iraq to ensure that it provides for the
needs of its displaced citizens and encourage the international community to do
its share to alleviate this regional crisis.
I had a very spirited and helpful conversation with President Assad in Syria
about what Iraq needs to do for Iraq refugees. And I will get an opportunity
to relate that at another point. In May, I successfully offered an amendment
to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011 that addresses the plight of
Iraqis who have worked for the United States in Iraq and whose lives have been
placed in grave danger for their service.
Under the status of forces agreement signed in November of ’08, there is not
one mention of Iraqis who have worked with the United States, which I find to
be most unsettling. And while the December ’11 date for withdrawal of our
troops seems far away, there is another benchmark of August the 31st, 2010,
when nearly 50,000 troops will be withdrawn from Iraq, which will limit our
ability to protect U.S.-affiliated Iraqis at risk.
These brave Iraqi persons have risked their lives to work alongside our troops,
alongside our diplomats, alongside our aid workers to help build a more stable
and democratic Iraq. As the chairman has indicated, all U.S.-affiliated Iraqis
are considered traitors and are marked for assassination by terrorist groups in
Iraq. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice for their work.
The United States can’t turn its back at this critical juncture. We must put
in place a plan to ensure that those Iraqi allies who have helped our country
are protected. Turning our backs now would be fatal for our Iraqi allies and
would set a negative precedent for other theaters of war, in particular, as I
have mentioned, Afghanistan, where we need to win the loyal collaboration and
hearts and minds of the population.
This past May marked a turning point in that the number of troops in
Afghanistan exceeded those in Iraq for the first time since 2003. Reports now
suggest that Afghans working as interpreters for the United States are
increasingly facing the same lethal risks endured by our Iraqi employees. We
will be hard-pressed to find more help in Afghanistan if the United States is
seen as quick to abandon its friends.
Senator in my visits, along with our tremendous staff that have done amazing
work in this regard and the list organization and countless others without
mentioning everybody in this room, I have come across, as have you, situations
that I’m mindful of that allow that our responsibilities are immense.
The more poignant one took place in Lebanon when I had the opportunity at
UNHCR, which has done a fabulous job in this arena, to visit with women
particularly who were helping other women in Lebanon during this refugee
crisis. And I came across a lady and her son. Her son had been kidnapped in
Baghdad. Her husband was working in Syria.
Time went by. The kidnappers wanted a tremendous amount of money. A Christian
organization helped them to raise some of the money. The father got home from
Syria three or four days later and when he got home, he submitted himself in
return for the boy being released. The boy was released and the money was
continued to be sought.
Ultimately, the father was beheaded and his head was thrown into the family
yard. The mother then was thought to have caused it because she did, in fact,
go to the authorities. And so the dead man’s family accused her of causing the
problem and she had to flee Baghdad and wound up first in Egypt and then in
On that day, I gave that boy a $100 bill. And I talked about it and it was
written about in the Wall Street Journal. The only reason I didn’t give him a
1000 (dollars) was that I didn’t have it. I felt that I was as responsible for
his plight as anybody else. And I just tell that story because of its
poignancy. And there are so many.
We have had our friends in academia at George Washington University and
countless others. Thank you for letting me take the time, Senator, but I am
very passionate about this. I have spent a considerable amount of time along
with our tremendous staff and you and your staff in making sure that this issue
is addressed appropriately by our government.
I thank you and I look forward to hearing from the distinguished witnesses that
you have identified. And for those of you that need their biographies, they
will be at the tables outside if you would want to have them in your
possession. Thank you, Senator.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, Congressman Hastings, we appreciate not only your
leadership but your passion on this issue. It is desperately needed.
REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D-WA): Thank you, Senator. I didn’t come over here to
make a speech. I came over to hear people talk about an issue than I care
about. Mr. Johnstone lives in my district, so that has a little bit of
something to do with it. But when I heard he was here and knew it was about
I recently had a case in my office of a young woman who was a translator for
the embassy and got out, but all her family was left in Iraq. And so I have
spent a lot of office time getting that family first to Syria and then finally
into the United States. It has not been an easy road.
And when I see those kinds of situations, I think about a reporter in Seattle
who told me many, many years ago – he was a Special Forces officer in Korea.
And when things changed in Korea, we walked away and left a lot of people who
helped our soldiers and just walked away and left them.
And I’m very frightened that that’s what may happen in this process as we leave
Iraq, is that an awful lot of people are going to be left vulnerable to an
experience that we put them into. We asked them to help us, they did and then
we paid them back by walking away. That’s not right and I’m – that’s why I
came to hear what was going on.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, we very much appreciate your participation. We understand
you all may have votes, so we – occasionally we have votes in the Senate.
(Laughter.) Not quite as often, but we do. Let me acknowledge that we do have
in the audience many of our Iraqi allies and we welcome them very much to the
committee room. And we very much express our appreciation.
I also want to recognize the compelling photographs of Iraqi refugees that
we’re pleased to display in conjunction with this hearing. They are the work
of Gabriela Bulisova, who is currently a visiting associate professor of arts
at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Thank you very much for being here. As a
former trustee at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, I take pride in the talent in
that school and obviously shown here today through the photographs that have
With that, Secretary Schwartz, be glad to hear from you.
ERIC P. SCHWARTZ: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. My daughter just visited
St. Mary’s College. She’s considering it. (Laughter.)
SEN. CARDIN: Good school.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Chairman Cardin, Cochairman Hastings, Rep. McDermott. I’m very
pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you to discuss our commitment
to finding solutions for displaced Iraqis. As President Obama has stated, the
United States has a strategic interest and a moral responsibility to sustain
assistance and to promote protection for this population. The president has
also said when he was here in this institution that we have an obligation to
keep faith with those Iraqis who have kept faith with us.
This issue is among and has been among my most important priorities as
assistant secretary. I want to affirm to members of the commission that while
our military may be drawing down, our concern for and our commitment to the
humanitarian and the protection needs of displaced Iraqis will remain robust.
Hello, Rep. Smith.
We will sustain significant levels of overseas humanitarian assistance inside
and outside of Iraq, which amounted last year to almost $400 million. My
bureau spent about $300 million, nearly a quarter of our worldwide refugee
assistance budget. Within the region, those monies helped more than 200,000
Iraqi refugees who are registered with the U.N. high commissioner for refugees
and an undetermined number who are not.
And while the number of individuals fleeing Iraq, thankfully, has decreased
significantly, the food, the education and the health needs of Iraqis in
neighboring countries has actually increased due to personal assets that are
Our funds will also help Iraqis displaced within the borders of Iraq, some 1.6
million of whom were displaced by sectarian violence following the Samarra
mosque bombing in early 2006, in addition to the displaced who were there
before. And while new internal displacements, also thankfully, have also
diminished, these people remain very vulnerable and need food and relief items,
they need livelihood programs and they need assistance in accessing public
benefits that are available.
We are working very closely with the Iraqi government, with our international
partners to encourage conditions for safe and sustainable return and
reintegration of both the internally displaced and the refugees. But let me
hasten to add that returns must be voluntary. That being said, they have been
ongoing. Returns have been ongoing. From 2008 until May of this year, there
were nearly half a million voluntary returns of IDPs and refugees, which the
vast majority of returnees being internally displaced persons.
Beyond all of these efforts, we will continue to engage directly with
international organizations, with NGOs and with displaced persons in Iraq and
refugee populations and officials outside of Iraq to ensure that we are making
best efforts to meet the needs of refugees and displaced persons. One of my
very trips as assistant secretary was to Iraq, Jordan and Syria last fall. My
deputy, Kelly Clements, returned from the region last week or a couple of weeks
ago. And this remains an issue of the highest importance to us.
We’ll continue to press other donors to provide assistance. I have met with
officials of more than 15 governments to press the case, though I have to be
honest and say it’s an uphill battle. I think that it’s likely that we will
continue to provide the lion’s share of aid to the displaced in the years to
And we will continue to urge Iraqi officials to do more to assist the displaced
and the refugees. In fact, over the last year, the Iraqi government appointed
a senior coordinator for displacement, they increased the budget for the
Ministry of Displacement and Migration and they increased their returnee grants
by about 50 percent. These are all good signs and will encourage the new
government to do even more.
Finally and critically, we will sustain and strengthen our efforts at U.S.
resettlement. We believe that the most appropriate, durable solution for the
vast majority of Iraqis will be return to a safe and a stable Iraq. But we
know – we know that Iraqis, some Iraqis will never be able to return and that
third-country settlement will need to remain a viable option for many of them.
Our Iraqi resettlement program is now the largest refugee resettlement program
in the world. And about one quarter of all of the refugees whom resettle in
the United States come from Iraq. We have improved the efficiency of the
in-country refugee resettlement program. That is the program that resettles
Iraqis directly from Iraq, not from neighboring countries. And this year we
expect to triple the number of refugees who will be resettled through this
We have doubled the size of our refugee and internally displaced affairs office
in Baghdad over the past two years, so that it is now the largest U.S. refugee
coordination office in the world.
And finally, it’s vital that Iraqis are provided sufficient support when they
get here to enable them to become productive members in their new communities.
In January of this year and with the strong support from within the Congress, I
authorized a doubling of the one-time per capita grant that we provide to
refugees to address the challenges they face during their first 30 to 90 days
in the United States.
This was the largest increase by far in the more than three-decade history of
our refugee resettlement program. It won’t eliminate the enormous challenges
faced by new arrivals, nor will it address the longer-term adjustment needs
that are addressed by the Department of Health and Human Services, but it will
help to ensure that incoming arrivals have a roof over their heads and have
sufficient provisions for their first months in the country.
In a detailed report on Iraqi resettlement that I have reviewed very carefully,
one of the witnesses in your forthcoming panel, Kirk Johnson, notes that our
department has taken, and I quote, “laudable steps towards bringing allies out
of Iraq.” And I was deeply gratified by that characterization. But I also
took very careful note of the recommendations in that report and in other
reports about what more we can and should be doing in terms of current and
future responses. And I assure you that we will review carefully each and
every one of those recommendations.
In closing, I want to thank you for your interest, your commitment, your
actions on behalf of Iraqi displaced and refugees and for your support for the
activities that assist and protect these vulnerable populations. I’d be very
happy to respond to your questions.
SEN. CARDIN: Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony. Before
turning to questions let me acknowledge the presence of the ranking Republican
member, Congressman Chris Smith and turn to him if he has any opening comments.
REP. CHRIS SMITH (R-NJ): Thank you very much, chairman. I would ask that the
full statement be part of the record and just make a few comments.
SEN. CARDIN: (Inaudible.)
REP. SMITH: First, I want to welcome our very distinguished assistant
secretary for PRM, Eric Schwartz, who, over many years, I know I and my staff
have worked very closely with him, whether it be the boat people when he was at
NSC under the Clinton administration or the human trafficking issue, where we
had a great deal of important collaboration on getting the TIP office up and
running. I just want to thank him publicly for the tremendous work he has done
over the course of a lifetime. And it’s been an honor to work with you, Mr.
I do want to just highlight very quickly – and again, the full statement goes
into much further detail – but last week, I did meet with Gewargis Sliwa, His
Beatitude, the Metropolitan of Iraq and Russia of the Assyrian Church of the
East. And he told us, my staff and I, very calmly – and I’m sure you have met
with him as well – that some 69 churches have been bombed in recent years, 800
Christians killed including clergy.
And went on to talk about how there is a rising tide of violence perpetrated
against people of the Christian faith. And not only has Iraq been a
traditional home going back to the very beginning of Christianity, that people
are leaving because it has become so fraught with danger for these individuals.
He also spoke in great length about the trafficking situation and that many of
those who do flee find themselves very quickly and especially young women put
into a trafficking situation when they get into Syria. And perhaps during the
course of the Q&A, you could speak to that.
But I’m always concerned that whether it be in refugee camps, whether they be,
you know, with the borders around them or makeshift refugee camps, traffickers
are always – are on the prowl looking for individuals to devour and send out to
or abuse right in country. So I would hope you could speak to that. And
again, I want to thank you for your leadership. It has been extraordinary.
And this Republican has a great deal of respect for you.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Chairman.
SEN. CARDIN: Congressman Hastings?
REP. HASTINGS: Yeah, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, may I
make a most unusual request and ask your consideration of same. I know that
Secretary Schwartz is probably on limited time, but I also know that we’re
going to begin votes on the House side in about 20 minutes. With your
permission and if Secretary Schwartz would agree that we hear the other
witnesses so that we have an opportunity to hear them, I would forgo any
questioning so that I do have an opportunity to hear them. I don’t know
whether that’s –
SEN. CARDIN: I don’t what Secretary Schwartz’s schedule is. And I do have
some questions I need to get for the record. So why don’t –
REP. HASTINGS: I’ll forgo my questions.
SEN. CARDIN: Okay, if I could – let me see if I can move quickly and we’ll try
to move this along. First, let me acknowledge Secretary Schwartz. I agree
with you, our first priority is to deal with the displaced individuals and the
refugees to return to Iraq in a safe environment.
I have been to both Syria and Jordan with the Helsinki Commission and we
visited the refugees and we know the plights. And I really want to compliment
both the Jordanian and the Syrian governments. They have done what I think has
been reasonable. Could they do more? Absolutely.
But where the leadership is needed is not just with the United States, but with
the Iraqi government. And if I have one complaint, it is that I don’t believe
this has been a high enough priority of the Iraqi government itself in dealing
with the refugee issues. And I would just urge you to continue to urge the
government to pay more attention to the return of displaced individuals and
refugees. I think that’s a critically important part.
Secondly, in regards to the visa programs that allow Iraqis to come to the
United States, I worked very closely with my former colleague Sen. Kennedy in
developing not only the special immigrant visas, but also the payments so to be
more convenient for those who helped our country to find refuge here. I guess
my question to you is that there could have been as many as 15,000 settled
under the SIVs. In reality, I believe it’s somewhere a little over 2100. And
the question is, why hasn’t there been more issuance of the special immigrant
I also know that there was a directive that came out of the consulate that
restrict the use of the SIVs to direct hires – contractors and subcontractors –
excluding employees of other U.S. entities and government-funded organizations.
I don’t recall that being in the legislation and I would welcome your thoughts
as to why the numbers aren’t higher than the 2100.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, first let me, I guess, address your second question – or
your first question first – your second question first: the issue of how
expansive the SIV authority is. The issue you raised has been raised in a
couple of the reports that we’ve looked at and the policy you describe in terms
of how it’s restricted has been a policy that’s been in effect for several
years. I think the issue bears examination. And I think it merits review.
On the SIV issue, the SIV issue – I mean, the slowness in some measure is that
the refugee program – the regular refugee program, to which anyone who applies
to the SIV program will have certainly more than a colorable claim in the
refugee program. And the refugee program administratively is just easier to
navigate. So that may be one of the reasons why the SIV program is
It is undersubscribed. There are also requirements in the SIV program because
the legislation essentially grafted Iraq onto an existing U.S. government
program, the SIV program. So there are a series of requirements that have
created a certain slowness in the process, such as a chief of mission letter
We have taken a lot of actions to try to expedite this process, make it go
faster. But it remains an undersubscribed program. I think it is an issue
that we need to look at and to figure out where there are ways that we can
basically make it easier and quicker. We may need the help of the Congress on
this because there – some of these requirements are legislative. And we just
couldn’t get around them without legislative fixes.
SEN. CARDIN: We look forward to working with you on that. We know that we’ve
done some programs to try to expedite this. We particularly appreciate the
presence within country, which makes life a lot easier on the immigrant issue.
Let me just remind you that in 1996 we had an airlift of Iraqis in the Kurdish
community because of the urgent safety issues. If I’m correct, I think they
were airlifted to Guam for safety.
I am concerned with the redeployment of U.S. troops and the closing of military
facilities that we could have some urgent issues that will not await the
niceties of the bureaucratic forms and may require some urgent responses. Is
that under consideration and do you need congressional support in order to be
able to implement such a plan if it becomes necessary?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, Sen. Cardin, I think the more congressional interest we
have on this issue, from my perspective, the better. Full stop.
You don’t have to remind me about the Guam program because I managed it at the
National Security Council. And it came after, I’ll be frank with you, an
internal debate within the government about whether such an effort was
necessary, some of us arguing it was absolutely necessary and thankfully our
We take very seriously concerns expressed by many that there will be increased
reprisals against Iraqis who have worked for us in Iraq. We currently have a
range of robust resettlement and visa programs that benefit Iraqis, as you
know. And I think we need to bolster them and strengthen them and increase
contingent capacity in neighboring countries. We need to do all of that and
think about ways that adapting these programs to changes in circumstances to
enhance capacity to move people who are at imminent risk because our capacity
to do that right now – we have capacity, but it’s limited.
At the same time – so while we don’t anticipate the kind of problems to which
you allude and we’re certainly – you know, our plans and our efforts are in the
absolute opposite direction – reconciliation, reintegration and normalcy – we
do need to look at options for the kind of contingencies that your question
SEN. CARDIN: Good. And there’s significant congressional support for measures
being taken if the circumstances require it. We have a strong obligation to
protect the Iraqis that are at risk. So I would just urge you to keep us
informed and to have those types of plans available.
One last question and that is in the Omnibus Appropriation Act of 2009, I
offered an amendment that was approved that created 1500 SIVs for a fiscal year
for those working with Americans in Afghanistan. Has that program – I don’t
believe that program has been implemented yet. Can you just give me a status
as to where we are on the SIVs for Afghanistan?
MR. SCHWARTZ: I’m going to – it’s somewhere in this book, but I’m going to
have to get back to you on it, if I may.
SEN. CARDIN: If you get back to me, I would appreciate it because we run into
a similar situation in Afghanistan. The urgency right now is clearly Iraq
because of redeployments. But we still have an issue and we want to get that
program up and running.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Certainly.
REP. HASTINGS: Senator I’m going to forgo, but I would want to submit
questions and ask the secretary if he would get back to us with those answers.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I’d be happy to and I also want to say before you go,
Congressman, that I deeply appreciate your dedication and interest in this
issue. Looked at your legislation very carefully. I think, again, my general
proposition on this is the more engagement we have from the Congress, the
happier I am.
SEN. CARDIN: Congressman Smith?
REP. SMITH: I’ll ask some questions for the record, but let me ask you two
very quick ones.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Sure.
REP. SMITH: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released
its 2010 report on April 29th and it noted, quote, “Despite the overall drop in
violence in the country, violence against religious minorities and their
religious sites continued in ’09 and 2010, particularly in the northern
disputed areas.” The report further stated that the vast majority of displaced
religious minorities within Iraq have gone to Nineveh, where there has been a
pattern of violence against religious minorities prior to elections and
obviously, it’s an ongoing problem.
Could you speak to that issue, if you would? What we’re doing? I mean, I was
in Baghdad several years ago and met with a group of Christians who had the
same complaint then as they do now, that the government does not provide
adequate protection, that many of their people were put into flight. They get
a knock on the door and they’re told, you be gone by tomorrow or your house,
your life will be destroyed. And they pack up and they leave. And so while we
try to deal with, obviously, refugees and IDPs as they cluster or as they go
across borders, stopping that in the first place seems to be the highest
priority in terms of mitigating this terrible situation.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I couldn’t agree with you more, Congressman Smith. Let me start
from the area that I know, which is the refugee and displaced perspective,
which is, yes, I mean, we see that a very high percentage of those who are in
fear of persecution from Iraq do come from communities of religious minorities.
And that is a great source of concern and these are populations which we are
seeking to find protections solutions and assistance solutions for. Absolutely.
I think the issue of stopping persecution before it happens has got to be and
is a subject of discussion and dialogue between our government and the
government of Iraq. I think the more we press for reconciliation and policies
of tolerance and respect for democratic principles, the greater over time the
provision of rights to these communities will be, but it has to be a critically
important part of our conversation with Iraqi authorities. And with your
permission, I’d like to get back to you with more on that for the record.
REP. SMITH: If you could. I was struck by Metropolitan Sliwa who made the
comment that when people visit his house now, there is a room that used to be
the guestroom that’s adjacent to the street and he has nobody sleep there
because of so many bomb attacks. I mean, the targeting is, I believe, getting
worse. So if you could get back, that would be very, very much helpful.
The UNHCR issued a statement recently that about a hundred people have been
forcibly returned from four European countries. Maybe you speak to that before
I raised it, but –
MR. SCHWARTZ: I haven’t. Please.
REP. SMITH: Could you elaborate on that? Is this the beginning of a trend and
what was that all about?
MR. SCHWARTZ: What it’s about is our European friends have somewhat different
perspectives on this issue than we do. We believe that all returns to Iraq at
this point should be voluntary. That’s include – of course, anyone who is
deemed to fear persecution, under no circumstances should that person be
returned, but our position is broader than that:
That at this point, despite the encouraging signs that we see in Iraq – and as
I said before, we’ve seen the numbers of displaced people leaving has
diminished and we applaud that and that’s encouraging. But despite that, we
think that all returns to Iraq at this point should be voluntary. We have a
different perspective on this issue than some of our European friends.
REP. SMITH: And finally, money-wise, how much unmet need is there in terms of
providing for the IDPs and the refugees?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, let me get back to you on that for the record. But the
problem is, you know, the United States – as I said in my prepared testimony –
Samantha Power, my counterpart at the National Security Council and senior
director for – I think it’s multilateral affairs and human rights – and I, we
hosted a big meeting with governments here in Washington to press the case for
providing humanitarian assistance.
But we continue to provide the lion’s share of responses to UNHCR appeals. And
we’ll continue to do so. But it shouldn’t be that way. Other governments need
to be doing more. Since they’re not, UNHCR appeals and other appeals tend to
be undersubscribed and we’re doing everything we can not only to do far more
than our fair share, but to encourage others to do more.
Thankfully, the Congress has been very generous. We’re probably the only
bureau in the government that always – that the Congress for whatever reason
decides, we need more money than we ask for. And the support for the
humanitarian role of U.S. foreign policy from the Congress has been incredibly
important to the work of the department on these issues.
REP. SMITH: As you know, the UNHCR itself always in its requests goes for what
it thinks it can get rather than what it absolutely needs.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, let me just say something about that too because it’s
relevant to the budget issue generally. That has traditionally been true, but
our encouragement, UNHCR has moved towards needs-based budgeting as opposed to
what it thinks it can get. As a result, their budget requirement now is much
larger. It’s gone from something like 2 (billion dollars) to $3 billion
We applaud that because even if it’s not fully funded, we think an
international humanitarian organization has an obligation to say what the
requirements are. But that has created great stresses for our budget because,
you know, their budget has increased by a third, but it is definitely the way
REP. SMITH: That’s good. Thank you so much.
SEN. CARDIN: Congressman McDermott? Secretary Schwartz, thank you very much.
Now, there may be some written questions and I would appreciate if you would
respond to those timely.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Sen. Cardin. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you
for your extraordinary efforts on behalf of this population.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you very much. We appreciate your work and your
dedication. I know it’s a tough area, so –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thank you.
SEN. CARDIN: – thanks for being so concerned. We’ll now turn to our second
panel, which will consist of Ambassador L. Craig Johnstone and from the
president of Refugees International, Mr. Kirk W. Johnson, founder and executive
director of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies and Michael A. Newton,
professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School. Please make yourself
comfortable. We have the wrong people.
L. CRAIG JOHNSTONE: Oh, I’m sorry. I sat down at the wrong spot.
SEN. CARDIN: We would have figured it out eventually.
MR. JOHNSTONE: (Chuckles.)
SEN. CARDIN: Ambassador Johnstone, we’d be glad for you to begin.
MR. JOHNSTONE: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I will – I have submitted
my written remarks for the record and I just would like to make a few personal
observations on the issue we have before us here today. I am here as a member
of the board of directors of Refugees International, standing in as the
president of the organization pending the imminent, I hope, replacement of our
And therefore, I come to you in – only temporarily in this position, but I have
not, at all, temporary with respect to the issue of refugees as a whole or the
issues in Iraq individually. I first testified before the U.S. Congress on
refugee issues 45 years ago, almost to the day, which is both shocking to me
and maybe even a little bit disturbing.
The – I now am here in this, you know, representing Refugees International,
which I don’t know if – how much you know about the organization, but Refugees
International was set up at the impetus of Lionel Rosenblatt after he and I
went AWOL from the State Department. We both worked in Henry Kissinger’s
office in 1975 just before the fall of Saigon.
In order to take out the people who had worked for us in Vietnam during the
time that we had been there – each of us having spent some five years in
Vietnam – we went to Vietnam because the state of planning to take care of the
people who worked with and around the U.S. government there was appalling –
absolutely appalling. Very, very little had been done on their behalf.
In fact, I would say I would characterize the U.S. government attitude towards
the Vietnamese employees of the U.S. government at that time as one of callous
disregard. And we were shocked by that. We also went because we believed that
the United States had a residual humanitarian obligation not just to the people
who worked with us, but to the Vietnamese people as a whole as a consequence of
our participation in the war.
I will tell you that I remain, to this day, upset by how poorly we did in
planning for the fall of Saigon. But I will also tell you that I am intensely
proud of how the American people responded to the fall of Saigon once it began
to take place, welcoming people into their homes across all 50 states, the U.S.
government mobilized in exceptional ways past, you know, all kinds of
provisions went into effect that allowed us to deal with the problem.
Because of the lack of planning, we left a lot of people behind. But I must
say, to this day, I am incredibly proud of the magnificent job that our country
did in being responsive to the Vietnamese crisis once we began to mobilize on
it. It was marvelous, fantastic and quite frankly, I think it was something
that would happen in America. And I think we can all take great pride in that.
We face an analogous situation in Iraq. We are leaving the country, as you
have pointed out. We have a lot of people that have been associated with us
and maybe even more importantly, to some extent, we have millions of people who
have been displaced by this war – a million-and-a-half internally and at least
a half-a-million outside of Iraq who have been displaced by this war and who
are living in absolutely horrible circumstances.
Not all of them, but many, many of them in absolutely horrible circumstances.
When I visit some of the settlements in Iraq, the squatter villages, there’s no
running water, there is no electricity. There is open sewage. People are
living under cardboard. And we’re not talking, here, about people who are used
to living in that kind of deprivation before.
We are talking people who constituted a middle class that is not unlike that
which we have in the United States before. And today, they are living in
absolutely terrible circumstances. And almost to a person, when I ask the
questions in these places in Iraq, when I ask the questions of people, do you
have sanitation? The answer is no. Do you have water? No. Do you have
sufficient food to eat? The answer is no. Do you have any prospects of a job?
The answer is no.
So what can we do to help, I say. And what they always come to me is you can
help me get my children educated. It’s really a middle class that has been
tortured down into a very – to a subsistence living in Iraq. And we’re finding
the same situation, sometimes less difficult, in Syria and Jordan, less
difficult because the international organizations have more access to the
people there and therefore can provide a basic modicum of services.
But even there, it is totally insufficient. And women are being forced into
prostitution. People are going into begging. The difficulties that they are
facing are extraordinary. Living in Syria – and I agree totally with the
comments of the chairman – that the government of Syria, the government of
Jordan have done an absolutely spectacular job trying to deal with this
enormous influx of people. I think you have to give credit where credit’s due.
And I would also agree with you that there have been shortcomings in how the
government of Iraq has handled the refugee issue, though I think they’ve done
materially better with respect to the internally displaced people within Iraq,
it still is hopelessly inadequate. So we have this analogous situation. The
important message, I think, for us today, is as we disengage from this
conflict, we cannot disengage from our humanitarian obligations. We have a
special obligation in this case and we need to step up to it.
We stepped up to it too late in Vietnam in many respects, but we did step up to
it and we need to be sure that we are ready this time and we step into it in a
timely way and that we – and that we leave the situation honorably. And I
think it’ll go a long way toward helping us, you know, come to terms with the
situation that we have faced in Iraq.
In practical terms, what does it mean? It means we have to ensure that we have
adequate funding. The U.N. appeals for the refugees and internally displaced
in Iraq have come to a little over 700 million. The U.S. has an obligation as
it has tried to do in the past, of meeting at least 50 percent of that appeal.
It’s not currently on track to be able to meet that 50 percent this year. But
it’s coming close and I commend the U.S. for everything that it has done, but
it could do more and should do more to be able to meet the requirements of
these refugee situations. And as Assistant Secretary Schwartz pointed out, the
rest of the world is not doing its part at all.
It’s a pittance, what some of the other countries are contributing and that
increases the burden on us. It would be easy to say, well, you know, they
should do more. But the fact is, they’re not and this is a situation that is a
special situation for us. So ensuring that we have adequate funding, I think,
is one of the things that needs to be done.
Secondly, we need to get the people who are working on the issue, particularly
within Iraq, out with the people who have the issues, that people need to work
where the problems are, not work out of the Green Zone.
The problem in Iraq today – and it’s a problem that affects both the U.S. side
as well as the U.N. side, but in particular, the U.N. side, is that the
security restrictions on travel within Iraq are so stringent, that people are
not able to get out to actually see for themselves what is taking place and to
work the issues where the issues actually are. We need to break this.
And it’s particularly true of the U.N. organization. That is to say, the U.N.
has a lot of very capable people in Iraq who are trying to get the job done
right, but they are restricted in terms of how they travel. At Refugees
International, we travel around Iraq. We visit the same places where the
people are and we do it without the same kind of security restrictions that the
U.N. puts on itself or that the U.S. puts on itself.
Are our people so different? They’re not. They’re the same people, in fact,
the same kind of people. They’re humanitarian workers who want to get the job
done and who go out there and yes, they do take a certain level of risk in
doing it. It comes with the territory of humanitarian work in crisis
The U.N. is not in Iraq and the U.S. is not in Iraq on the humanitarian side to
keep itself secure. It is in Iraq to service a humanitarian need and it needs
to pay a lot of attention to the issue of security. I don’t deny that for a
moment. But we need to put a little bit of pressure on the U.N. and need to
look at ourselves at what we can do to improve the access that people have to
the humanitarian need within Iraq itself.
We need to keep the numbers up as well on the resettlement in the United
States. I think a year ago, I testified before the U.S. Congress – or it was
actually about a year ago – and-a-half ago, back when I was the deputy high
commissioner for refugees at the United Nations – and it was not a formal
testimony because I was a foreign government official, but nonetheless, I came
in and I was asked, do you think the U.S. is going to be able to meet its
target of 16,000 resettlements?
And the answer was yes, I was sure that the U.S. would because a commitment had
been made. It didn’t look like it was possible, but it was done. And I
commend the United States for that. But those numbers are still too low and
quite frankly, we’re now approaching the age when we need those numbers to come
up in order to be able to service what are going to be increased demands as the
U.S. withdraws its forces from Iraq.
And I think, to give a nod to the two people who will speak after me who I
think will address this issue in much greater detail, we need to be especially
mindful who associated themselves with us during the course of the Iraq war.
These people are at extraordinary risk. We need to take every measure that we
possibly can to ensure that they can leave Iraq and that they can be resettled
adequately in the United States.
I guess in sum, I would say, simply, I’ve been there; I’ve done it; I’ve seen
it in Vietnam. I know that the American people can respond. When Lionel and I
got back to the United States after our rescue mission to Vietnam, we were
first fired and then rehired and then received commendations from Secretary
Kissinger. And having been through that emotional rollercoaster, he did say
one thing in the course of our citation and that was he thought that we had
salvaged a small measure of our honor in Vietnam.
I don’t think that was so appropriate for us, but I think it was very
appropriate for the overall effort that U.S. put into place after the Vietnam
War to resettle Vietnamese refugees in the United States. And I would say the
same thing applies for Iraq in doing the right thing with respect to the
humanitarian responsibilities in Iraq, we will have salvaged our honor in Iraq.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you for your testimony. I appreciate it very much. Mr.
Johnson? Our House colleagues are leaving because of votes. We thank them
very much for their participation. Mr. Johnson.
KIRK JOHNSON: Chairman Cardin and Hastings, ranking members, I thank you for
the opportunity to address you today and for the attention that you’re giving
to an issue that despite popular perceptions, increases in importance with each
passing day of withdrawal.
Let me begin with the obvious. We are leaving Iraq. By the end of next month,
we will have reduced our military footprint to roughly 50,000 troops. Hundreds
of bases and outposts throughout the country are being dismantled. Our young
men and women serving there are redeploying. The blast walls are coming down,
the tanks and Humvees shipping out.
We are in the thick of what the Pentagon has declared the largest movement of
troops and materiel since our departure from Vietnam. The logistics operations
underway are staggering – tens of thousands of troops have been reassigned to
support that effort, which is so advanced that the Pentagon apparently has the
capacity to track a coffeepot on its long journey home.
Impressive as this might be, it ignores a fundamental oversight in our nation's
withdrawal strategy. There are no serious contingency plans to evacuate the
thousands of Iraqis who've worked for the U.S. and live alongside our troops
and civilian officials as interpreters, engineers and advisors. As we shutter
our bases, these Iraqis are being cut loose to run the gauntlet of a refugee
resettlement process which typically takes a year or more. This process will
not work quickly enough when it is needed most.
Since my return from Iraq, I’ve been trying to help thousands of Iraqis who
fled the assassin’s bullet. They have been tortured, raped, abducted and
killed because they worked for America. My organization, the List Project,
assists these imperiled Iraqis in navigating the straits of the winding U.S.
refugee resettlement bureaucracy.
Although it is the largest single list in existence of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis,
at several thousand names, our list is only a reflection of a much larger
community. It is likely that thousands have already been killed as traitors or
agents of America.
I have a separate list which documents hundreds of assassinated interpreters
who worked for just one contractor, a small but gruesome glimpse. And while I
once thought that the dark years of Iraq’s 2006-to-2008 civil war were the
bleakest for these Iraqis who have helped us, I am increasingly concerned that
the worst days are yet ahead.
Now, Secretary Schwartz has outlined a number of significant steps forward that
the State Department has taken in the past few years. To be sure, we have gone
from a program that admitted one or two refugees a month, to one or two
thousand a month now. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of Iraqis
admitted here are not those who have assisted the U.S. A recent GAO assessment
puts the figure of resettled Iraqi allies at less than 10 percent of the whole.
Why is this? Why, after our work which has mobilized tens of thousands of
pro-bono hours from the nation's top law firms, are only a few hundred out of
the 19,000 Iraqis admitted to the U.S. last year from my list? I wake up each
morning struggling to make sense of this.
I speak today not dwell on the perceived successes and failures of recent
history, however, but rather to focus on the next 16 months, the final months
of the war. This coming period has the shuddering potential to overshadow any
of the positive strides we've made in the past few years, and if we numb
ourselves to the lessons of history, our withdrawal will be unjust, and
This is not conjecture. I have lost many former colleagues to assassination,
and the steady grind of murder continues apace in today's Iraq, despite the
misperceptions that the surge has pacified the country. The Islamic State of
Iraq, the umbrella organization which is composed of numerous insurgent and
terrorist groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq, just released its own plans in a
strategic document published out of Fallujah.
Their manual proceeds with chilling simplicity. Quote, “Step one, nine bullets
for the traitors and one for the crusaders. Step two, cleansing and step
three, renewed targeting.” They are practical, stating that this cannot be
accomplished within one or two months, but requires continuous effort.
Those who believe this group’s threats have been rendered hollow by the surge
might reflect upon the hundreds of Iraqis that have been slaughtered in the
past several weeks by bombings and assassinations throughout the country. Upon
a recent string of attacks that killed another hundred Iraqis, the Islamic
State of Iraq's minister of war declared that what is happening to you nowadays
is just a drizzle.
We know where this road leads. When British forces drew down from southern
Iraq just two years ago, militias conducted a systematic manhunt for their
former Iraqi employees. Seventeen interpreters were publicly executed in a
single massacre, their bodies dumped throughout the streets of Basra.
This predictable churn of violence against those who collaborate with an
occupying power has been repeated again and again through history, coursing
through the lands of Iraq, Vietnam, Algeria, Europe, all the way back to our
own soil, when British loyalists were hunted by American militias after the
In Vietnam, an examination of President Ford's declassified NSC transcripts
reflect an administration that did not seriously turn its attention to the
plight of the South Vietnamese who aided the U.S. until the final weeks of the
war, by which point it was surely too late.
Now, my colleague, Ambassador Johnstone, has humbly understated his service to
our nation in the final days of the Vietnam War. He and Lionel Rosenblatt
recognized that the South Vietnamese who had risked their lives in the service
of America were about to be abandoned. They holed up in a hotel room, posing
as French businessmen, and conducted an unofficial underground railroad to
spirit out our embassy employees who would surely be primary targets upon our
For such efforts, they were rewarded with an arrest warrant issued by the
embassy, as sure a sign there is that, in the absence of leadership, our
nation’s moral compass is easily shattered. Our refugee policy that emerged in
those final hours reflected a Darwinian cruelty. Whoever was persistent and
strong enough to break through the gates at our embassy could have a seat on
one of the few choppers remaining.
We eventually did the right thing, by admitting hundreds of thousands of
Vietnamese refugees to our country, but not before too many were lost to
assassination and reeducation camps and not before we suffered a horrendous
blow to our nation's image.
What ensued in those early morning hours on the rooftops of Saigon, as
desperate Vietnamese clamored beneath departing helicopters, would be
rebroadcast by Al-Jazeera throughout 2005, when I worked for the USAID in
Baghdad and Fallujah. My Iraqi colleagues were demoralized by the footage, and
asked us if the same would happen to them when we left.
Depressing as this history is, it is not inevitable. The U.S. is not
evacuating, but withdrawing, a distinction which provides us with an
opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past. There are many encouraging
precedents to build upon.
After the bloodletting in Basra, for instance, the British responded by
airlifting its surviving Iraqi staffers directly to a RAF base in Oxfordshire,
England, whereupon they were offered asylum. Indeed, each of America's
principal coalition partners – Britain, Poland, Denmark – has honored its moral
obligation to endangered Iraqi employees through airlifts to military bases.
We have employed the Guam Option, as we’ve discussed today, routinely in our
own history. Secretary Schwartz himself was intimately involved in the ’96
Operation Pacific Haven, which airlifted 7,000 Iraqis to Guam in a matter of
weeks. We must ensure that he has the tools to do so again.
In a war that has presented few silver bullet solutions, this comes close. We
can save the lives of those who've helped us, while maintaining security as
processing occurs on a remote base. We cannot make the mistake of thinking
that the systems currently in place will work quickly enough for those Iraqis
who are cut loose in the coming months.
The implication for inaction extends well beyond Iraq. Each of us in this room
has strong opinions about how the war in Afghanistan, now the longest war in
our nation’s history, should be prosecuted. Wherever you stand, however, there
are no strategies that do not involve reliance upon Afghan civilians in many
capacities similar to how we’ve employed Iraqis.
If we allow the thousands of Iraqis who have risked their lives to help us to
perish, or to spend the coming years in hiding, in peril, in flight, in
waiting, we are fools to think that we can expect support from Afghans.
But the urgency of this situation demands frankness. Nobody’s ever won an
election by admitting refugees to our country. The fulfillment of such moral
and strategic obligations serves the nation, not any particular constituency.
In doing so, we raise our status as a country that is still capable, even
amidst our struggles, of honoring our principles by protecting our friends
against those who wish to spill their blood.
President Obama once summoned the words of Martin Luther King when talking
about the need to end the war in Iraq and I quote, “In this unfolding conundrum
of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” Let us hope
that he and his administration embrace these words as they bring this war to a
close and thank you for the opportunity to address you this afternoon.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you for your testimony, Mr. Johnson. Mr. Newton?
MICHAEL A. NEWTON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It’s a great a privilege to be here
and I would offer formal – submit a written statement.
SEN. CARDIN: Your written statement is made part of record.
MR. NEWTON: Thank you, sir. Sir, I’m a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy
and I served in uniform for more than 21 years and I would add my voice to
those that have already said, today, that our obligation and our responsibility
to our Iraqi friends and allies is a moral and a strategic imperative.
I believe that we have every obligation to protect them, to respect them, to
help them and at our present rate, we’re not meeting those obligations in a way
that we’re capable of doing. This hearing today represents, I think, a beacon
of hope for those Iraqis who we all know and we have worked with. And I
respect the leadership and the vision to convene this hearing.
I would also respectfully submit that the focus of this hearing ought not to be
on our shortcomings, but on the way ahead as we begin a concrete glide path, I
would strongly urge that specific planning and specific implementation of
specific responsibilities to help specific Iraqis cannot be relegated to an
It has to be a central focus part of the planning and today, from my
observations and my experience, it is not. We can do better and we should do
better and I believe we have a moral imperative to do better. In that context,
if you remember any – one single thing that I have to say, it is this, that a
successful process in strategy for assisting Iraqis, in my view, needs to be a
robust interagency process that fully integrates all stakeholders.
We’ve heard, today, of course, from the distinguished assistant secretary in
PRM at State. He’s been very busy. There are stakeholders in the Department
of Defense. There are stakeholders in Homeland Security. I strongly believe
that the failure to include a systematic planning may very well have strategic
And to summarize, our government has to work together so that things don’t fall
apart. And again, at present, we are not. I do hope that this hearing leads
to both an increased awareness, but also a unified and a swift congressional
response. And I will conclude my testimony by offering four of what I see is
four very specific, very concrete mechanisms, some of which require statutory
assistance to move forward.
As has been observed in the very recent past, we’ve seen a specific focus on
targeted assassinations, targeted killings of our Iraqi friends and those who
worked with us. And particularly, any American service member or woman who has
served in Iraq has legendary stories. American lives have been saved in so
many examples by these friends and allies.
We owe it to them to assist them rather than simply turning our backs upon
them. Within the last three days, it was in a reported account of a translator
who was murdered by his own son. And the reported quote was, “Everybody hated
him because he worked for the Americans.”
These targeted reprisals indicate that the concerns that have been expressed
today are not just theoretical concerns. They’re very real. They’re very
tangible. But I would also offer the hopeful caveat that the suffering that we
foresee is foreseeable, but not inevitable. We can, in fact, mobilize
resources from this great country to do better and to do more.
As a quick aside, I will tell you – let me pause to admit that this also comes
from the wellspring of personal experience – my book on the trial and execution
of Saddam Hussein is called “Enemy of the State.” It is the definitive account
of the trial of Saddam.
It’s dedicated – in the dedication, in the forward page, as follows – it says
and I quote, “To Riyadh and to John and to all those who have suffered at the
altar of freedom and human dignity.” Neither Riyadh, an Iraqi, nor John, the
American, who are named are fictitious individuals. They’re real individuals,
but they’re emblematic of so many thousands of others who have suffered and
Riyadh was the most distinguished, noble translator in the embassy working with
the Iraqi judges preparing the trial. He was threatened. He was told, as so
many other Iraqis were, don’t wear your uniform clothes. Don’t hide. Blend
in. Because of his leadership and his perspective, he was one of the most
respected Iraqis. He didn’t follow that advice. He wanted to set the example
for those who were watching him, so he wore his work clothes. He carried
himself with pride and a great sense of distinguished presence. The Iraqis
followed him; they looked up to him.
On my second trip to Iraq, he pulled me aside – literally, grabbed me by the
elbow, pulled me aside – he said, Newton, be very careful. It is more
dangerous today than it was the last time you were here. And within 48 hours,
he was murdered on his doorstep, literally, as he left to go to work. And as I
say, he is emblematic of so many others. We could spend a great amount of time
telling you concrete illustrations.
So the focus has to be, what can we do and what should we? We know what we
should do. The focus has to be, what can we do? One thing is clear and I want
to reiterate it, that we need much, much greater integration of effort and
mutual support between the Departments of State and Defense and Homeland
At present, there are delays and there are inefficiencies which no single
agency can address, nor should address. And I firmly believe that with the
coordinated efforts of our government, we can, in fact, make great strides in
addressing this problem. And to reiterate, I do believe it’s a moral and a
strategic imperative that does, as has already been pointed out, have
implications for our current counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and in
other parts of the world.
So Mr. Chair, let me conclude with four specific recommendations. Number one:
As a first priority, the amendment offered by the distinguished cochair, Mr.
Hastings, needs to become the law of the land. That amendment would require
the Department of Defense to compile a consolidated report – the database of
information, if you will, which, in fact, is resident within the Department of
Defense – of which individuals have, in fact, worked alongside us, which
individuals have suffered, which individuals have sacrificed and therefore,
which individuals within Iraq are the most in danger.
Despite the laudable, the tremendous logistical planning, the
compartmentalization of the refugee issue, at present, leaves us in a
hauntingly similar position to where we were in 1975. And I so appreciate
Ambassador Johnstone’s sentiment in that regard. This is a preventable crisis.
As I said before, it is foreseeable but not inevitable. So step one, the
Hastings amendment needs to become the law of the land.
Step two: I do believe that we need to empower the Department of Defense to
capitalize on its efficiencies. To that end, the Hastings report within DOD is
a necessary first step. But I also believe that within the Department of
Defense, there should be a consolidated focal point of expertise, to
consolidate the expertise, to help cut through the interagency bureaucracy
that, at present, prevents Iraqis from knowing where to go and who to turn to.
Just one small example, the process of getting a chief-of-mission letter: The
urgency of that may very well be felt within DOD channels. And in my
experience there are many people at the lower levels of DOD who know the
sacrifices, who know the people who have sacrificed and who desperately want to
help them because they’re bonded by fire.
They’re ridden in the same vehicles. They’ve walked the same patrols. They’ve
talked to the same people. They’ve been under fire by the same enemy. They
desperately want to help. And at present, within DOD channels, there is no
office; there is no focal point to help. Conversely, from outside DOD, there
is no single focal point for other agencies to coordinate or to make synergy of
efforts. And I believe that we can and should fix that.
Also, secondly, a designated focal point within DOD would also give a focus
point of expertise to be able to push expertise out to the combatant commanders
and I think that’s a really important need.
Thirdly, the corollary to a focal point for administrative and logistical
purposes is a designated funding stream. We were very successful in the surge.
The surge was not just a surge of people; it was a surge of ideas. And one of
the most critical tools on the ground, at the tactical level – as you well
know, Mr. Chairman – was the commander’s emergency response fund: a quick,
focused mechanism at the tactical level for a local, tactical commander to
focus on immediate needs that were a priority to the immediate local
I believe that in this context, a local tactical commander in the military
chain of command should have exactly the same type of legislative statutory
authority. It may very well be nothing more complex than bulletproof windows
in a car or hotel accommodations. But at present, there’s no streamlined
funding authority at the tactical level for commander’s emergency response, to
assist the translators that are under danger.
Food, whatever the need, they’re best equipped to do it – to meet that need –
but at present, they have no ability to meet that need. As a corollary, I do
believe that the focal point within DOD should have a designated funding stream
to allow it to do its job, on the larger scale, for the same kinds of reasons
and for the same kind of moral imperative.
And lastly, I do believe that there needs to be a focused interagency ability
to synergize the efforts of our government with the tremendous willingness and
the tremendous capacity of our local civil societies. As has been pointed out
in Operation Pacific Haven, that succeeded with a great deal of support from
the local population. There are volunteers; there are university groups; the
List Project work at the local level.
There are churches; there are community organizations that will do heroic
things to help these people once they’re on the ground and once they’re safe,
but they can’t do it without the assistance of the government to get them here,
to get them to safety. As has been pointed out, this window of opportunity
represents a fortuity – one of the rare fortuities, frankly – where our
strategic interest straight, directly aligns with our moral imperatives.
We cannot let this opportunity slip away. And to reiterate, it’s our moral
duty to stand by those who have stood by our men and women in uniform. I
deeply believe that. And I do believe that a focused and revitalized national
effort to save our Iraqi allies will, in the long run, save American lives,
both in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in other theaters.
I thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedules to attend and
for your leadership and your vision in calling for this hearing. I’m honored
to know so many wonderful Iraqis who have suffered so much to share their needs
with you today and I welcome your questions.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, first let me thank all three of our witnesses. I think the
advice that you have given us is very, very valuable. There’s clearly a
willingness in this country to step up to our responsibility as it relates to
those who helped us in Iraq. There’s certainly a willingness in this country
to deal with the refugee issue internationally. America’s always been in the
But there doesn’t seem to be the type of planning that Ambassador Johnstone
said we should have learned from Vietnam, in trying to know the numbers, know
the consequences, plan for this in an orderly way. I’m interested whether any
of you have reliable numbers that you think represent Iraqis who helped America
that are at risk, and who have a desire to seek refuge here in the United
States. Does anyone have those? Now, I know you have lists, Mr. Johnson.
MR. JOHNSON: I think this underscores the urgency of getting Rep. Hastings’s
amendment through because that’s one of the first things that it calls upon the
U.S. government to get at. The estimates that I’ve seen range between 40,000
and 120,000 Iraqis who have helped us. I personally have received appeals from
The other relevant fact here is that when the British offered – when they
responded to the bloodletting in Basra, they offered two things to the
remaining Iraqi staffers: Either we’ll put you on an airplane next week to
come to the U.K. and we’ll give you asylum, or we’ll give you something on the
order of, like, 10 or $15,000. There was a buyout. And to my understanding,
only roughly 10 percent of the Iraqis that worked for the Brits availed
themselves of the airlift.
It’s hard for me to say whether or not the same percentages would hold with
those who have helped us, but I know that out of the gates we have
authorization to bring 25,000 Iraqis over who have helped us. And we’re
nowhere close to exhausting that limit. So part of me thinks we ought to just,
at least, use those up before we start exploring beyond it.
SEN. CARDIN: And we understand the Hastings Amendment would give us at least
some objective information from the Department of Defense to figure out where
we go from there. Does either one of the other two have any numbers that you
think differ from that, or is that within the ballpark of what we should be
MR. JOHNSTONE: I think there isn’t really a solid ballpark to be had. And I
think those are as good numbers as we’re going to get for right now. I think
once the Hastings Amendment passes, we’ll do much better. But I want to
underline the fact that U.S. involvement in Iraq has not just touched the lives
of the people who have worked with us. I think we have a special
responsibility to them; there’s no question in my mind on that. It’s an issue
very close to my heart.
But we have destroyed the lives, in the course of all the military activity
that was precipitated by our actions in Iraq, of about 2 million people. And
it’s 1.5 million people whose lives have been destroyed within Iraq because
they’ve been forced to move from their neighborhoods with the outbreak of
sectarian violence, et cetera, and another half million or more outside of
And we need, in our moral obligations, I think, to give priority to those who
have worked with us, but not to neglect also the people who have been displaced
as a result of the military actions in Iraq during the course of the war.
That’s part of our moral obligation. I just want to underline that as we
conclude this particular session, that we not neglect the people that are
suffering the very, very most in Iraq.
SEN. CARDIN: I’m going to get to the refugee issue, but let me stick, if I
might, to those who may well wish to come to the United States. One of the
frustrating parts is that there are these so-called background checks that need
to be done on people who come to America.
And Ambassador Johnstone, you’ve been involved in this. It’s my understanding
that there’s already been security background done on people who have had a
close relationship with the United States in Iraq. So we already know
something about the people who helped us. Am I right about that? Couldn’t
that information be –
MR. JOHNSTONE: That certainly is right. The U.S. government does not employee
employees, or even the organizations that work with the U.S. government don’t
employee employees without checking into their backgrounds.
SEN. CARDIN: So is that information routinely made available when an
individual wishes to come to the United States under these programs? Or do
they do duplicate and new checks that, perhaps, could have been expedited by
just using the material that’s already available, the files already available?
MR. JOHNSTONE: I can speak to the issue of refugees. And let’s not confuse
the fact that most of the people who are coming to the United States, who had
been associated with the United States, do not come under the exceptional
programs that have been developed.
They come under refugee programs. That information is being shared with the
UNHCR, with IOM, with the people who are doing the basic background checks on
people who are designated to potentially come to the United States and for whom
a decision needs to be made.
So that information is being done. And I think that that process has become
far more expeditious than it has been in the past. In fact, I would say that
of all of the programs that exist in the world for refugees, none move faster
on the refugee track than the refugees currently fleeing Iraq, or even
internally displaced people within Iraq.
Is it good enough? Of course it’s not good enough. It could be better. But
it is moving well. What is not moving nearly as fast – and in fact, I think,
Secretary Schwartz pointed out the fact that it is a much slower process to
avail yourself of the programs that were designed specifically to help there.
SEN. CARDIN: Why is it taking so long under the special programs?
MR. JOHNSTONE: Well, I’m not the right guy to ask because I haven’t had to
handle the special program.
SEN. CARDIN: My point is that if most – in fact, it looks like it’s restricted
to those who have had direct involvement to the United States – we would have
had a background check on those individuals.
MR. JOHNSTONE: I would have thought so as well and I don’t understand it. It
seems to me that that should be something that could be expedited very quickly
and I suspect that, when the day comes, will be expedited, but will it be in
time? Because I think we do have a way of breaking through bureaucratic
hurdles when it reaches crisis levels, but that’s often too late to be able to
solve the problem for everyone.
MR. NEWTON: Mr. Chair, let me add, I think your insight is exactly right,
which is one of the reasons why it’s so disturbing to me that we have a gap
between DOD assets and the assets that are processing special immigrant visas.
I hear from service members all the time that are frustrated at the delays and
One of the things that we did, as has been referenced, in Operation Safe Haven
was, we took about a two-year process and we reduced it, for those Kurdish
refugees, to between 90 and 120 days. And the task-force commander, at the
conclusion of that operation, said, I hope that the lessons that we’ve done
today serve as a model for future operations. And we’ve lost that.
And what made that operation work successfully was the integration between
State resources and DOD, that communication – exactly what you’re talking
about. For example, a refugee who did have all those background checks and
knows that it’s resident in such-and-such commander’s files in such-and-such
unit – he has no idea, no way to get to that. So he has to start all over
again. And it does create inefficiencies.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, that’s something we’re going to try to overcome because I
mean, it makes no sense that there’s delays. Let me transition into Iraq’s
government’s help, here. And let me start first with those who helped the
United States. It seems to me that if your 10-percent number is accurate – I
don’t know whether it would be 10 percent or 15 percent or 20 percent – still,
the majority that have assisted the United States, for whatever reasons, will
want to remain within Iraq.
MR. JOHNSON: It’s really difficult to tell. I can only speak for those who
are desperately trying to get out, but what I do know is that the lethal stigma
that these Iraqis have incurred by working with us is harbored within the
government of Iraq as well. I know of Iraqis who have left their work with the
U.S. government – let’s say in the education or health sectors – and they’ve
gone to that relevant ministry and tried to apply for work. And in doing so,
they’ve exposed that they worked for the U.S. and they’ve received threats as a
And keep in mind that a lot of these ministries, for much of the last few
years, have been run as, you know, fiefdoms for the different sects within
Iraq. I don’t see any sort of – frankly, I don’t see the government of Iraq as
a great ally in terms of protecting the Iraqis who have helped us. And I think
they have an incredible obligation to work with us on facilitating returns and
protecting the other IDPs, but I would never bank on the Iraqi government to
protect those who have been serving our Marines and diplomats.
SEN. CARDIN: So what should the United States be doing in order to change
that? If, as a practical matter, most of the Iraqis who assisted us are going
to remain in Iraq, what should we be doing to make sure that those who helped
us, who want to stay in Iraq, have the best chance of some degree of protection
within the Iraqi system? What should the U.S. be doing?
MR. JOHNSON: If I were – I don’t want to overstep here. I think the cold
reality is that with every soldier and Marine that comes home, every day our
ability to shape the situation on the ground in Iraq decreases. You’ll
remember that one of the central dimensions of the surge was the reliance upon
the Awakening. We funded roughly 100,000, most of them former Sunni
insurgents, to basically flip and fight al-Qaida. And they’re seen as one of
the central reasons for the success in Iraq.
There is now a systematic campaign underway to hunt and kill those Sahwa, or
Awakening, members. Most of them are fleeing across the state borders.
They’re going to Sweden and other countries and they’re asking us for help.
We’re not taking up the Awakening cause at this point.
But if we look just at their plight, which are potentially comparable numbers,
I mean, these – we’ve not been able to provide protection. And we’ve certainly
made a lot of requests to the government of Iraq to ensure that these Awakening
members are integrated into Iraqi society, but it hasn’t happened.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, I would just suggest that there will be a continuing U.S.
presence in Iraq for many years to come. I don’t know of anyone who’s
suggesting that we want to isolate Iraq, from the point of view of our
involvement. We’re absolutely removing our combat troops, but I expect
there’ll be significant U.S. involvement.
I know that our government has raised frequently the issue of the internally
displaced people and their safe return to their communities. Quite frankly, I
think, without the international community raising this issue as frequently as
it has been raised, the progress that has been made to date would not have been
Not that we don’t have a long way yet to go – we still have a long way to go –
but it hasn’t been a top priority for the Iraqi government. I would think it
should be, but it has not been a top priority for the Iraqi government. So I
guess my point is, how do we get the Iraqis to pay more attention to the crisis
they have in their own country, with so many people being displaced by the war
who have not been able to return to their homes?
MR. JOHNSTONE: Well, I think we’re talking here about all of the facets of
diplomatic persuasion that you can bring to bear. That is to say, from
jawboning the issue all the way through to withholding funding for programs
that the Iraqis want if they do not live up to their obligations.
And it isn’t hopeless, in the sense of jawboning. And I think we have seen
some progress lately because quite frankly, it’s inherently in the interest of
the government of Iraq to resolve both the internally displaced people issue,
as well as the refugee issue, in a favorable way to the government of Iraq.
I think to close their eyes to the presence of Iraqis outside of Iraq – which
is essentially what they’ve done – is very shortsighted. They need to
reintegrate these people into Iraq. They represent a wealth of capabilities
and they’re needed by Iraqi society. And we just have to keep hammering these
points home and hope that we will end up with a leadership in Iraq, ultimately,
that is responsive to these requirements.
MR. CARDIN: When I was in Syria about a year ago, there were a significant
number of Iraqi refugees who were traveling back and forth between Syria and
Iraq. Is that continuing; does anyone know? Are there refugees who do return
home, but cross back over the border for safety, but need to do it for economic
reasons? Is that still taking place?
MR. JOHNSTONE: Yes.
MR. NEWTON: I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of that, sir.
MR. JOHNSTONE: There’s no question about it and it’s particularly prevalent
between Iraq and Syria.
SEN. CARDIN: And then my last question is on the international community. It
seems to me that much more could be done by the international community. We’ve
had the representatives from the refugee services from the international
organizations and we’ve talked to them.
And they’re trying to do what they can, but the number of countries that have
really stepped up here have been rather small, as far as their financial
contributions, here – outside of the region and outside of the United States.
Am I correct in my observations, or is this an issue which really needs to be
resolved by the United States and Iraq, principally?
MR. JOHNSTONE: You’re certainly correct in your observations, but
unfortunately, I suspect, in the final analysis we’re not going to be as
successful as we would want to be or as we should be with respect to getting
other countries to step up to their obligations. We have allies that were
allies of ours going into Iraq in the first place who have not stepped up to
And I have spoken with them all. And sometimes the argument is, well, we did
our part and now we are withdrawing and we don’t want anything more to do with
this issue – very blind to the humanitarian responsibilities. Other cases,
where it hasn’t been an ally of ours, they’ll say this was a U.S. war and the
U.S. should pick up the costs associated with it.
I hear every imaginable argument from others, but I must say, it is extremely
disappointing to see how little support the rest of the international community
has given to the Iraqi refugee and displaced person issue.
MR. NEWTON: I agree, Mr. Chairman. Let me also add that sometimes we
inadvertently mischaracterize the need in saying, these are refugees.
Therefore, they have nothing. Their human capital is going to be an ultimate
net drain on your society. In fact, in my experience, in my observations from
working with these people, these really are many of the best and brightest.
They’re patriotic; they’re hardworking; they’re courageous. They have moral
principles. They want to plug in and take care of their families. They’re a
net positive for society and I think it’s in part how we frame the debate.
They have much, much to offer both to other societies and, in fact, to the
fabric of United States culture.
SEN. CARDIN: Oh, and I agree with you completely. And you’re absolutely
correct and we should underscore that point. Because where it is looked at as
a cost factor, it could be turned into an asset factor. Having met with the
governments of Jordan and Syria on this issue, it’s a cost issue for their
And they don’t see this as a permanent population in their country and
therefore, they look at it as a responsibility that’s been thrown upon them
without the participation of the international community and, sort of, without
any game plan on the long-term impacts. But you’re correct. From the point of
view where you have permanent placement in other countries, or the assistance
to get people back to their homes, it’s going to be an economic plus. There’s
no question about that.
Let me, again, thank our three witnesses. This is a continuing interest to the
commission. I’ve been told that the amendment offered by Mr. Hastings is
working its way through the Congress and that there have been, at least,
indicators of support from the committee chairs of the committees of
jurisdiction. So we will obviously be following that bill very carefully.
I couldn’t agree more with our witnesses: The first thing we need to do is get
the numbers and have a reliable number, so we all can work on that. Then it’s
a little bit easier to get area of responsibility, or focal point or funding
flows that you have suggested all need to be part of that. But we need to know
the type of numbers that we’re talking about and whether the programs and
resources are currently adequate in order to deal with that.
And we thank you all for your leadership on this area. And with that, the
Helsinki Commission will stand adjourned. Thank you all very much.