Minneapolis lawyer Sam Kaplan -- a DFL fundraiser extraordinaire -- was a member of Barack Obama's national campaign-finance committee. In 2009, Obama rewarded him by naming him ambassador to Morocco.
The exotic posting must have seemed a plum job. Morocco has been known as an oasis among Arab nations -- largely free of the repression that mars so many other Muslim countries. It's "the opportunity of a lifetime for a guy from Minnesota," Kaplan enthused to the Star Tribune in April.
But since Kaplan's arrival, Morocco has turned from a diplomatic dream job to a depressing despotic reality. Since March, it has expelled about 100 foreigners, including 50 U.S. citizens. Among the deportees were foster parents at an orphanage, businesspeople and aid workers who taught the poor to grow their own food.
Their crime? Christian "proselytizing" -- against the law in this Muslim monarchy.
On June 17, some deportees told their heart-wrenching stories at a hearing convened by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va, cochairman of Congress's Human Rights Commission.
Witnesses included Eddie and Lynn Padilla, foster parents at Village of Hope orphanage. The orphanage -- which has both Christian and Muslim staff -- cared for 33 abandoned children and had operated for 10 years with official approval. But in March, the police moved in and swept through children's bedrooms while they slept, searching for Christian literature.
After three days of grilling, the Padillas and others were given two hours to clear out, as their children sobbed in anguish. Though no evidence was presented, their assets were seized and their bank accounts frozen. Since their departure, there is evidence that some children have been beaten or drugged.
Witness Michael Cloud, also a Christian, founded 12 centers that treat Moroccan children with cerebral palsy. Cloud testified that authorities barred his reentry as he tried to return from Egypt (where his wife was being treated for cancer). He was held for 13 hours and deported with no explanation. The "hard work" of 14 years was lost, he stated.
So how's our man Sam Kaplan doing defending American citizens from these egregious human-rights violations?
The Padillas testified that the U.S. Embassy had no time for them during their ordeal: "They just told us, "Do what they are telling you to do.' They offered no help ... [or] any kind of counsel, just pack and go." Cloud testified that when he sought help, the embassy just gave him a list of lawyers.
At the hearing, international-law expert Sandra Bunn-Livingstone stated that despite victims' pleas, Kaplan refused to release a Moroccan government diplomatic note with a list of deportees, citing protocol. As a result, "Americans who would like to appeal under Moroccan law ... have been refused that right" since they lack written proof of expulsion, she said. The British and Canadian governments did hand over such notes, she added.
Perhaps Kaplan had other priorities. "A few weeks ago," Cloud testified, "the American embassy in Rabat brought Moroccans to Washington, D.C., and fed them and housed them to help them brainstorm on how to build businesses in the Muslim world."
That would make sense. According to the embassy website, Kaplan's goal as ambassador is "to help fulfill President Obama's vision of a new beginning for U.S. relations with the Muslim world based on mutual respect and ... mutual interest."
In April, Kaplan responded to critics. He told the Star Tribune he had released a statement saying that the embassy was "distressed" by the expulsions. "We hope to see meaningful improvements in the application of due process," he wrote.
What's Kaplan doing to alleviate distress and promote due process?
A top priority seems to be to impress the Moroccan media, which complained that his statement had "stepped over the diplomatic line," according to the Star Tribune. "When your press has been almost unanimously positive for 5 1/2 months, the change is something that is different," Kaplan explained.
Cozy relations with the Moroccan monarchy are another priority. According to the Star Tribune, "Kaplan noted that King Mohammed has spoken about judicial reform in the past."
"We're not speaking out in contrast to what the government has said," Kaplan told the paper. "We're simply joining with His Majesty and saying if we can be helpful, we'd like to do that."
Wolf rejects this. "An American embassy should be an island of freedom" in the country where it's located, vigorously advocating for its citizens, he says. "Every ambassador has to decide whether to represent Americans' interests in the country they're in or whether to represent the country they're in to America."
Looks like Kaplan has made his choice.
Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at email@example.com.