WASHINGTON – President Bush has nominated a career diplomat to take over the critical position of assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department. Yet with a week left before her Senate confirmation hearing, angry American parents are protesting the nomination of Ambassador Maura Harty.
At the moment, the assistant secretaryship is a hot seat because of its visa processing authority. But parents are more concerned that Harty has not done a thing to help them get back their abducted children.
Pat Roush has never met Harty, nor spoken with her, but as a mother of an abducted child, she said Harty is the absolute wrong choice.
"She embodies what the State Department feels. She embodies their culture and their philosophy and we don't want someone who's going to perpetuate the status quo. She could've done a lot for me," Roush said.
Roush blames the State Department -- and Harty as its senior consular official -- for failing to get her two daughters back after their father abducted and took them to his home country of Saudi Arabia 16 years ago.
Roush has long campaigned to get more attention for child-abduction cases, testifying before a congressional committee on the subject. Now she is focusing her frustration on Harty, who was named to succeed career civil servant Mary Ryan. (Ryan retired last month at the request of Secretary of State Colin Powell amid widespread controversy over her handling of visas and other consular affairs services in the wake of Sept. 11.)
The State Department has acknowledged some weaknesses in that agency and says it's working on them. But top officials insist that Harty is not to blame for consular affairs problems and should actually be commended on her record in children's issues.
"The office of children's issues -- which Maura Harty started in the mid-90s when she headed overseas citizens services -- deals with about 1,000 cases per year. The size of the abduction unit has gone from four to 17 employees. So there is emphasis on doing the right kind of work," said Grant Green, undersecretary of state for management.
Still, other parents have joined Roush in asking Bush to drop Harty.
"My child is not home because of Maura Harty and those who shared her idea that parents of abducted children were little more than the trash of humanity," wrote Maureen Dabbagh in a letter.
"She was not effective ... a non-entity," wrote Monica Stowers.
A coalition of Christian and human rights groups is also appealing her nomination for what it calls a "new direction" in consular affairs.
Green insists Harty's confirmation hearing will prove she is that "agent of change"
"Once that's done, there will be few remaining doubters," he said.
Roush will undoubtedly be among those few. She says she hopes Harty doesn't make it to the confirmation process, but if the administration wants a battle on this issue, she is ready to put up a fight.