White House Downplays State Dept. Opposition to Iraq Posts
The Bush administration is working to diffuse a public relations fiasco over news U.S. diplomats are refusing mandatory job assignments in Iraq. On Wednesday, hundreds of foreign service officers denounced the plans at a town-hall meeting in Washington. Video of the meeting was released on Thursday. State Department official Rachel Schneller complained she was denied coverage for medical treatment after she returned from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rachel Schneller: "I came back (from Iraq) and was diagnosed almost immediately with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I've been receiving treatment for that ever since, and I think that it's just one of those things. I mean, the more people that serve in war zones, the more people will come back with those sorts of war wounds, it's just going to happen, it's just one of those things. And I actually don't regret getting treatment for it, it was just one of those things I had to do, but I have to say that absolutely none of the treatment I received for it came from the State Department."
Senior Foreign Service officer Jack Crotty received “sustained applause” after calling service in Iraq “a potential death sentence.”
Jack Crotty: "Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone, so if you force assign people, that is really shifting the terms of what we are about. It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. And I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it."
Around fifty employees will be forced to take positions in Iraq next summer. Speaking in Ireland, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice downplayed the meeting, saying : “I am very sorry that the recounting of the comments of a few people left the impression that somehow, the Foreign Service does not want to serve in Iraq. It could not be farther from the truth.” In Washington, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said the administration is concerned with officials’ safety. White House spokesperson Dana Perino: "The President understands that service in a war zone can be very difficult, it's distressing for the families, but they should be reassured as well that Secretary Rice takes this issue very seriously, she's concerned about their safety and that is why she has worked very hard to make sure they have all the tools they need and all the protection they need to get their jobs done."