Reaction Of Senator Patrick Leahy To The National Academies Of Science’s Report, “Assessment Of Illness In U.S. Government Employees And Their Families At Overseas Embassies”

This report, long awaited, was finally released because I and other Members of Congress insisted that the public, and especially the families of those afflicted, be able to read it.  I thank the members of the NAS Standing Committee for the considerable time and effort they devoted to this vexing issue.  Their report leads to several conclusions, including: 

Several Members of Congress, among others, who rushed to judgment when these illnesses were first reported and publicly accused the Cuban Government, did so without any evidence or factual basis.  None of the investigations and studies that have occurred since then, including by the FBI and the NAS, produced evidence implicating the Cubans, yet they have never retracted those accusations. 

Secretary Pompeo slashed our Embassy staff in Havana to a skeleton crew, and kicked out most of the Cubans at their Embassy in Washington, while U.S. Embassies in China and elsewhere, despite similar incidents, have remained fully operational and no punitive action was taken.  These incidents were exploited by the Trump Administration to buttress its punitive and cynical isolationist policy toward Cuba that has failed to achieve any of its objectives. 

The Trump Administration’s handling of these incidents has been sluggish, superficial, disjointed, overly secretive, and infected by politics.  They even denied the NAS Standing Committee access to relevant information.  It is a textbook case of how not to respond to such a challenge, and it compounded the anguish of the afflicted U.S. Embassy personnel and their families.

There are reasons to be seriously concerned with the safety of our Embassy personnel, wherever they are posted overseas, based on the findings and conclusions of this report.  The Biden Administration should promptly consult with Congress on how to implement the NAS’s recommendations, to ensure that our diplomats can carry out their essential functions in a manner that maximizes their safety and ensures that if incidents like this occur in the future they are responded to immediately, effectively, and in a coordinated manner. 


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