- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

This is the kind of story you hope has a happy ending, and this one does, thanks to several Good Samaritans. It is a story about seven American children, ages 8 to 16, living in an orphanage in Africa. It is a story that leaves an embarrassing blemish on our State Department.

A youth minister from San Antonio, Texas, was in southern Nigeria conducting missionary work when, on Aug. 4, he had a chance encounter at an orphanage. There, he found a girl speaking English. The girl led him to other children, who, it turns out, were her six siblings. All of them are American, and they didn’t have to convince Warren Beemer of their nationality once they proved to him that they were fans of the Dallas Cowboys and they sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

After their encounter, Mr. Beemer alerted his minister back in Texas, and that minister in turn alerted two other Texans — House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Sen. John Cornyn — who then contacted the State Department to get the children out of there and back home.

Of course, the obvious questions are: How in the world did those seven children end up 7,000 miles from home; and why were they in an orphanage? The answers to those and other questions are part of a story that indeed is tangled in a web of truths and unknowns.

However, the burning issue for the State Department is this: Why did it take so long for U.S. officials in Nigeria to react?

The U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital, learned of the plight of the children on July 30 — five days before fate led Mr. Beemer their way. Yet no U.S. official visited them until Aug. 7, and apparently even that visit only came about because of the intervention by Messrs. Cornyn and DeLay.

A spokeswoman for the State Department named Kelly Shannon said she could not explain why it took U.S. officials in Nigeria so long to visit the children. What’s more is that even after that visit, the consulate abandoned the children, too. The reasoning for that inaction? “We had no indication that they were in any physical danger,” Ms. Shannon told the Dallas Morning News.

That reasoning just doesn’t fit with other facts, including reports that the children were suffering from not only malnutrition, but malaria and typhoid, as well.

Child-welfare authorities in Texas are trying to sort out various other truths and facts, and they have placed the children in foster care for their own well-being. In the meantime, their American adoptive mother must now prove that she did not abandon the children in Nigeria, and she must provide detailed evidence on how she spent the $512 per-child, per-month allotment she received on their behalf.

What the children’s future would have looked like had the Good Samaritans not intervened is anyone’s guess. There is no mystery, however, regarding the State Department. Its failed diplomacy ignored the plight of seven American children. There simply is no reasonable explanation for that.

Americans routinely hear of child-neglect and -abandonment cases. This is not such a case. This is an extraordinary case of the very bureaucracy designed to aid Americans while abroad abandoning them in time of need. Such abandonment is disturbing when adults are involved. It is unacceptable and inexcusable when children are involved. Colin Powell’s State Department owes those seven children a very public apology.

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