- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

The largest organization representing relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks has come out against the troubled nomination of Maura Harty to head the State Department's consular service.
Officials of 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism mailed letters Tuesday to senators expressing "deep concern" about Ms. Harty's role in the issuance of visas to the terrorists who carried out the attacks last year.
"The only way to make sure that our loved ones did not die in vain is to have only people of the highest caliber safeguarding our nation," said the letter, signed by committee executives Bill Doyle and Peter Gadiel, both of whom lost relatives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
"Ms. Harty does not fit that description."
The group represents the families of more than 600 people killed in the September 11 strikes. In August, Families United filed a $1 trillion lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington against several Middle Eastern banks, three Saudi princes, a number of Islamic charities and the government of Sudan, saying they were financial sponsors of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
The letter contends that Ms. Harty, who was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for consular affairs from August 1999 to April 2001, bears some responsibility for the visa program that allowed expedited entry into the United States for the 15 September 11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia.
Ms. Harty, a career Foreign Service officer, has declined public comment since her nomination.
The State Department has acknowledged problems and omissions in the visa applications of the hijackers but has defended Ms. Harty's nomination to be assistant secretary for consular affairs. The department says programs have been tightened considerably in the wake of the attacks.
The General Accounting Office, in a report released last week, found that the State Department should have rejected the visa applications for every one of the 15 Saudi hijackers.
"We determined that the hijackers had presented little information to prove their eligibility for a visa under [existing law]," the watchdog agency found. "None of their applications had been completely filled out and only two of the 15 hijackers had been interviewed before receiving a visa."
The State Department, in its response, said the consular officers who approved the visas had acted in good faith and within the law.
"Based on the information available to the interviewing consular officers, and, in fact, all information available to the department at that point, the applicants qualified for visas," the department said in its official response.
The GAO said visa screening had improved since September 11, but added that "weaknesses remain that limit the effectiveness of the visa process as an antiterrorism tool."
Ms. Harty would replace Mary Ryan, the senior woman in the U.S. diplomatic corps, who abruptly announced her retirement in August.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said at the time Mrs. Ryan's departure was part of a normal diplomatic rotation, but she had been the target of strong criticism in Congress over her oversight of the visa service.
Earlier this month, the State Department announced that Mrs. Ryan had received a $15,000 bonus for outstanding performance during the period in which the September 11 hijackers were given visas.
Ms. Harty's nomination was already under attack from a coalition of conservative and family rights groups, who objected to her management of the consular service's Office of Children's Issues, in particular her record in handling of custody disputes involving an American parent and a foreign spouse.
In one particularly bitter case, Patricia Roush, a Sacramento, Calif., mother, said U.S. consular officials have done little to help her recover her two daughters, taken to Saudi Arabia by their father in 1986.
The 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism cite the child custody cases and the visa problems in their decision to question the Harty nomination.
"What we find most disturbing is Ms. Harty's refusal to review the visa application forms of the terrorists who murdered our loved ones," the group writes. "Her refusal can only be construed as an act of intentional disrespect to the victims of [September 11] and of disregard for preventing future terrorist attacks."
The Senate adjourned without acting on the Harty nomination last month, but a confirmation vote still could take place in the lame-duck session to be held after next week's congressional elections.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


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