Dissent memo circulating in State Department over Trump's refugees policy

By Carol Morello

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order. Photo / AP
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order. Photo / AP

US State Department diplomats today circulated various drafts of a memo objecting to President Donald Trump's executive order to suspend the nation's refugee programme and deny US entry to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The document is destined for what's known as the department's "Dissent Channel," which was set up during the Vietnam War as a way for diplomats to signal directly to senior management their disagreement with foreign policy decisions.

The communications are typically confidential, and may even be done anonymously if any of the signatories fear retaliation.

Several versions of the draft are floating around the State Department, as diplomats weigh in and ask for revisions. More than 100 diplomats have signed, according to diplomats familiar with the matter.

Yet even as it was still being circulated, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump's travel ban makes the US safer, and had this to say to the dissenters: "And these career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think they should either get with the programme or they can go."

The memo probably will be submitted to acting secretary of state Thomas Shannon, a holdover from the Obama Administration who will be in charge of the department until a new secretary of state is confirmed. The Senate is expected to vote on Rex Tillerson's nomination this week. As the memo underscores, the staff he will lead, if confirmed, is not fully on board with the Administration's agenda.

The State Department officially acknowledged the existence of the memo and vowed to respect it - and the right to dissent.

"The Dissent Channel is a long-standing official vehicle for State Department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues," acting spokesman Mark Toner said.

"This is an important process that the Acting Secretary and the Department as a whole value and respect. It allows State employees to express divergent policy views candidly and privately to senior leadership."

According to a draft version of the memo, first reported by ABC News, the dissenters say the ban will not deter attacks on American soil, but will generate ill will toward US citizens.

"A policy which closes our doors to over 200 million legitimate travellers in the hopes of preventing a small number of travelers who intend to harm Americans from using the visa system to enter the United States will not achieve its aim of making our country safer," it said. "Moreover, such a policy runs counter to core American values of nondiscrimination, fair play and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants."

Over the decades, employees of the State Department have submitted hundreds of dissent memos, which are restricted to policy matters and not to personnel issues. Most dissents remain private, and it is not known how effective they are in influencing policymakers.

One critical memo burst into public view in July, when 51 diplomats signed a cable they submitted through the Dissent Channel that urged the Obama Administration to adopt a more aggressive Syria policy and consider using military force.

It is not clear how many more State Department employees will sign the latest dissent memo, particularly after Spicer's remarks. The memo's criticisms parallel many of those made by human rights activists and immigration lawyers.

- Washington Post

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