Chris Hill Lies to Entire Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sam Brownback’s Finest Hour
[A]s the current assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, [Christopher Hill] presided over negotiations with North Korea that deliberately minimized focus on the bleak human rights record of that country, ignored its nuclear proliferation, and had the practical effect of affirming its nuclear weapons capability. Hill also has a troubling hotdog tendency to play by his own rules, to the detriment of U.S. diplomacy…. Hill’s brand of cowboy diplomacy might be justified if it produced favorable results, but his record in dealing with North Korea is dismal. [Washington Times Editorial]
Let’s begin with the sideshow: Chris Hill’s formal confirmation hearings began yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a proceeding whose shallow questions bottomed out at pompous eyebrow-raising, but which more often resembled full-contact public analingus. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen ignorance clothed so pretentiously. Really, the degree to which the “august” senators on the Foreign Relations Committee have paid no attention to the conduct of policies they are charged with overseeing is depressing and stupefying, and yet it all somehow still makes for dreadfully dull viewing.
So naturally, I’m embedding the full two hours of video for you right here. I will confess that I did not listen to the entire thing, but I’d like to think that by now, some recently rendered Algerian jihadist in an underground cell in Albania is, and he’s about to break.
The subject of North Korea comes up at 32:46 (Sen. Lugar), 1:28 (Sen. Isakson), and 1:48 (Sen. De Mint). To a degree, the three of them asked questions about charges raised by Senator Brownback, who is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, but whose presence overshadowed the entire event. At one point, one of the senior senators let slip that it would not be easy to install Hill as ambassador to Iraq this year, and that’s because Senator Brownback has been the Senate’s sole effective oversight over our North Korea policy, its impeccable record of failure, and Christopher Hill’s single-minded mendacity in the pursuit of agreement, at the expense of our vital national interests and the very soul our nation.
From Obama’s nomination and the behavior of the Committee majority, it couldn’t be clearer: When the Democrats promise us “tough and smart” diplomacy, they mean Chris Hill’s kind. In practice, that means screwing up the entire world, one genocide at a time. Iraq should not be next, especially when recent events there show so much promise that we can leave a Iraq a far better place than we found it.
Senator Lugar helpfully invited Hill to answer Senator Brownback’s charge that Hill lied to him to get him to lift his hold on the nomination of Ambassador Stephens. I should note that when Brownback recently asked Hill the same question face-to-face, Hill insisted that he had invited Lefkowitz, who never showed up. Lefkowitz refuted that, and Brownback wrote to Lefkowitz yesterday asking him to respond for the record. But Hill, shamelessly unafraid of contradicting himself, changed his story yesterday. Hill now claims, retroactively, that he conditioned his promise to invite Lefkowitz to talks with the North Koreans, saying that he promised to do so only after the talks reached “Phase III,” that is, the phase after North Korea had verifiably disarmed. The transcript of the hearing reveals that Hill while initially tried to qualify his promise to Brownback, under Brownback’s direct and persistent questioning, he made an unequivocal, unqualified promise. The transcript not only proves that Hill is lying, but that Hill is lying about lying:
Senator Brownback: Ambassador Hill, there’s a Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, which I don’t believe has been invited
to any of the negotiations to date between the United States and the Six-Party Talks.
Ambassador Hill: Well, we have been–first of all, he would be most welcome if he wishes to attend. He has been–
Senator Brownback: I want to, because my time will be narrow here: Will you state that the Special Envoy will be invited to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea?
Ambassador Hill: I would be happy to invite him to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea.
Senator Brownback: Thank you. [Transcript, Senate Foreign Relations Commitee, July 31, 2009, page 14]
I’m still not done. Hill’s claim could only be true if Hill honestly believed that Phase III would be reached before Lefkowitz left town with President Bush’s baggage train, and in fact, Hill said with a straight face that he expected exactly that. This does not even pass the laugh test. Hill could not possibly have believed this, but he certainly knew it to be false when the North Koreans repeatedly and publicly balked at inspection and verification in September and October of 2008. And yet, as Senator Isakson wondered, Hill did not go back to Brownback to explain this completely unexpected development.
One more: Senator De Mint asked Hill about Hill’s previous statement that we should not continue to negotiate with North Korea while it continues to proliferate. So why did Hill continue to negotiate with the North Koreans after we caught them building a nuclear reactor for Syria? Because, Hill now tells us, all of our intelligence suggests that North Korea had stopped proliferating after that. And also, the North Koreans said so. But multiple published reports suggest that North Korea continues to proliferate WMD technology in violation of U.N. Resolutions 1695 and 1718, and are earning a significant percentage of their national income by doing it.
The hearing may have had some moments of unintended insight, but Sam Brownback towered above it in stature and relevance. Yesterday afternoon, Brownback addressed a mostly empty Senate gallery, but his words resonated among all of the great and small bookmakers of Hill’s odds of confirmation.
As the Weekly Standard notes today, Hill’s chances of confirmation are slim unless Brownback decides not to hold Hill’s nomination:
Harry Reid will have to shut down the Senate in order to get Hill confirmed, and with everything yet to be done before the recess, that seems unlikely. Chris Hill may not make it to Baghdad anytime soon, if ever — which is almost certainly for the best. [Weekly Standard Blog]
Senator Brownback explains himself at greater length here, at the National Journal.
Some full disclosure: I’m proud to say that I supplied Senator Brownback’s office with the concentration camp photographs and assisted with research and suggestions for the speech — mainly quotations by Hill and others, and cites to sources — some of which appear to have made it into the final text.
The full text of Brownback’s must-read speech follows after the page break.
The Congressional Quarterly explains the likely effect of Brownback’s hold — should he officially pull the trigger — and gives us the back story on the intense pressure that Brownback withstood before giving his speech on Wednesday:
Though Hill’s supporters appear to have enough votes to overcome Brownback’s objections and confirm the nomination, the Senate does not appear to have time for the procedural maneuvers that would be necessary to do so before the two-week spring recess begins on April 3. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is likely to approve Hill’s nomination March 31, but next week’s Senate schedule is likely to be dominated by consideration of the fiscal 2010 budget resolution.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he could not comment on when the Senate would take up the nomination until the committee approved it.
Human Rights Concerns Brownback’s speech indicated that both carrots and sticks from his colleagues had failed to persuade him to allow the nomination to proceed.
At Hill’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and ranking Republican Richard G. Lugar of Indiana strongly warned against delay.
“We are at war,” Lugar said. “This is not a parliamentary struggle among senators who have a diverse point of view.”
Lugar met with Brownback, who is not on the Foreign Relations panel, on March 24. At the hearing, Lugar read off an extensive list of Brownback’s complaints, including that Hill had broken a promise to invite the U.S. special envoy for human rights into the negotiations, and then gave the nominee a chance to rebut the accusations. [Congressional Quarterly]
In fact, Sen. Brownback has not yet clearly said that he’s going to hold the nomination, and barring something unexpected, that’s probably the only way to stop Hill from being confirmed. Most Republicans are too uninformed or mealy-mouthed to take a firm position, but even the Washington Independent concedes that Hill’s explanation of his promise to Brownback doesn’t fit with what Hill said last July:
In the 2008 hearing, though, Hill did specify that there were separate phases to the North Korean negotiating process. But he did not indicate clearly that that he would include Lefkowitz only during the normalization phase. Instead, he said, “I would be happy to invite him to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea.
Though Hill did not acknowledge the discrepancy, at Wednesday’s hearing he expressed regret over not clarifying his position as the negotiations advanced. “In retrospect, Senator,” Hill told Wicker, “when I realized we weren’t going to get to Phase Three, I should have gone back to Sen. Brownback. [The Washington Independent]
Yes, and in the interest of getting an ambassador confirmed quickly, I call on Senator Lugar to call on President Obama to nominate someone with some regional experience, and who isn’t a pathological liar. Is this too much to ask?
Update 2: Writing at the Weekly Standard blog, Stephen Hayes thinks he’s found another lie in Hill’s testimony.
Senator Sam Brownback
March 25, 2009
Mr. President, I rise today to speak in opposition to the nomination of Christopher Hill to serve as United States Ambassador to Iraq. This is our nation’s most important diplomatic post in the region, if not the entire world, and while it is important that we have an ambassador in place as soon as possible, it is also crucial that we get this right.
The next ambassador to Iraq faces a daunting array of issues, such as preserving Iraq’s fragile security, the drawdown of our troops, Arab-Kurdish tensions, oil distribution, and Iranian aggression. Quite simply, the stakes could not be higher for the Administration to find the right person to conduct our diplomacy in Baghdad.
In providing our advice and consent to the President, our duty is to ensure that his nominee, for this most sensitive and complicated of posts, will not only carry out faithfully the policies of the Administration, but also will implement the laws of this country.
Moreover, the nominee should have a strong track record of diplomacy, forthrightness, professionalism, and achievement to bolster his or her credibility with the American people, the Iraqi people, and the numerous regional actors.
And in this respect, Mr. President, while I respect Ambassador Hill’s career in the Foreign Service, I strongly believe that he falls far short of these necessary qualifications.
My objection to the nomination of Chris Hill stems from both the conduct, and the substance, of his diplomacy.
Let me begin by saying that I do not deny that Chris Hill is an experienced negotiator. He negotiated in Bosnia in the 1990s and then negotiated in North Korea for some period of time.
But negotiation is only one component of diplomacy. In addition to being able to converse with foreign actors, we also expect our diplomats to respect the chain of command, and to work closely with colleagues in the State Department, the Department of Defense, and all other relevant Agencies. And we expect our ambassadors to respect the law, expressed by statute and through proper oversight.
But in his role as Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, as well as Head of the US Delegation to the Six Party Talks, too often Chris Hill found that key officials–and the law–got in the way of his agenda. He found that sidelining these officials, and ignoring congressional will, was expedient, if not acceptable.
Such behavior establishes a precedent that can only hamper his efforts to coordinate an immensely complicated U.S. Government effort in Iraq.
Which brings us to the focus of my concern–on human rights–where these troubling aspects of Chris Hill’s diplomatic conduct all come together.
Let me start by reminding my colleagues of the situation that the North Korean people face.
North Korea is ruled by a totalitarian regime rigidly controlled by a single dictator, Kim Jong Il. Human rights in North Korea do not exist. The state regulates all aspects of individual life, from food rations, to speech, to employment, to travel, and even to thought.
Under Kim Jong Il’s watch, millions of North Korean citizens have perished from starvation, while thousands of others have died during imprisonment in the regime’s extensive political prison system, or gulags.
[CHART #1: LOCATION OF PRISON CAMPS IN DPRK]
North Korean defectors have testified about the conditions in these camps. Prisoners face torture, hard labor, starvation, forced abortions, infanticide, public executions, chemical and medical experimentation on prisoners, and gas chambers. They experience detention without judicial process, and family-members of dissenters–including children and the elderly–are also shipped to the gulag as part of a policy of guilt-by-association. It is thought that over 400,000 have died in the gulags over the years, and that currently there are 200,000 North Korean prisoners in the gulag system.
Let me read to you an account from the Washington Post about the only known living escapee from a North Korean gulag, and I ask that the full piece be included in the record:
“Shin Dong Hyuk’s finger was cut off as punishment for accidentally dropping a sewing machine in the factory of the camp where he was held. He bears scars from the torture of being, essentially, roasted over a charcoal fire. When he was 14, he watched as his mother was hanged and his brother shot to death, ostensibly for trying to escape. In a memoir, he writes of the “lucky day” when he found, in a pile of cow dung, three kernels of corn that he was able to wash off and eat.
Here is an example of what a camp looks like from above:
[CHART #2: AERIAL PHOTO OF CAMP 18 WITH EXECUTION SITE]
The desperate situation has caused tens of thousands of North Koreans to risk their and their families’ lives to flee across the border into China, seeking food, shelter, and livelihood. But the Chinese government blocks international access and aid to these refugees, leaving them helplessly exposed to severe exploitation, particularly in the form of sex trafficking.
The refugees also face repatriation if caught by Chinese authorities, which for most of them means automatic imprisonment, torture, or execution once returned to North Korean officials.
As Holocaust-survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, the North Korean regime “is responsible for one of the most egregious human-rights and humanitarian disasters in the world today.
I want to quickly show two satellite photos showing the prison barracks of two camps, one in North Korea, and the other in Auschwitz. My point is not to say that these situations are the same, but rather that there are similarities, and people should know that this kind of evil still exists in the world.
[CHART #3: SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON OF BARRACKS OF CAMP22 AND AUSCHWITZ]
Mr. President, as you may recall, the Congress sought to address this horrifying situation back in 2004, when the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed and signed into law in October of that year. The Senate even passed that bill by unanimous consent, a proud day in the history of this body as we strengthened the moral fibers of our nation.
The purpose of that law, as defined in its introduction, was:
(1) to promote respect for and protection of fundamental human rights in North Korea;
(2) to promote a more durable humanitarian solution to the plight of North Korean refugees;
(3) to promote increased monitoring, access, and transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance inside North Korea;
(4) to promote the free flow of information into and out of North Korea;
And let me also read aloud the very first section of Title ONE of that Act:
“It is the sense of Congress that the human rights of North Koreans should remain a key element in future negotiations between the United States, North Korea, and other concerned parties in Northeast Asia.
Mr. President, four and a half years have transpired since the passage of this legislation. During that time, the issue of North Korean human rights, quite simply, has been subordinated, ignored, cast aside, and indeed swept under the carpet, in complete contradiction of the law, and against our nation’s most basic moral obligations.
In all the bluster and deal-making over the past few years, our negotiators failed to exert any serious effort to address this dire issue. In fact, the situation has only worsened, according to any independent benchmark.
And the individual responsible for this is Ambassador Chris Hill, who, according to the Washington Post Editorial Board displayed a “stunning lack of urgency” to deal with human rights, and according to the Washington Times “deliberately minimized focus on the bleak human rights record.
The co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Congressman Frank Wolf, agreed, stating in a recent letter to Hill that he is concerned with Hill’s “marginalization and”¦utter neglect of human rights.
Just one year ago, Chris Hill himself said the following when asked about the human rights situation in North Korea:
“Each country, including our own, needs to improve its human rights record.”
Let me repeat that.
So, Mr. President, in the face of the most horrific and ongoing human rights catastrophe in the world, and instructed by federal statute to address it, Ambassador Hill instead saw fit to associate the record of Kim Jong Il with that of the United States of America.
Some have said that the policies implemented by Chris Hill were merely the articulations of the Bush Administration. But that this is not the case.
I spoke several times directly with President Bush about North Korean human rights. I know his passion for it, and his real commitment to addressing the issue. He proudly signed the Human Rights Act, and then again its reauthorization last year. He appointed a good, qualified man, Jay Lefkowitz as the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights.
But somewhere between the Oval Office and the Six Party negotiation room, the message got lost. And on this, we have strong evidence that the broken link was Ambassador Hill.
First, at his nomination hearing this very morning, Ambassador Hill admitted that on at least one occasion, he exceeded his instructions by meeting bilaterally with the North Korean government. This went against the clear public position of the President. Chris Hill explained this by saying he had to “call an audible,” but to others, this looks like a freelancing diplomat.
When it comes to working in a country with neighbors Iran and Syria, the stakes are too high to have diplomacy run anywhere other than the Secretary of State and the President.
We also know from a number of sources that Chris Hill used his position to sideline key officials in the Administration who were charged with addressing the human rights situation in North Korea. One of these individuals was Jay Lefkowitz, who struggled during his entire tenure to gain traction and support for his efforts among the East Asian Bureau and the team led by Hill.
Another key official cut out of the loop by Hill was the former ambassador to Japan, Tom Schieffer. The Washington Post reported in 2007 that Ambassador Shieffer received assurances from the Administration that he could tell the Japanese government that North Korea would not come off the terrorism list until the abduction issue had been resolved.
But Ambassador Shieffer found out later that Chris Hill had cut a deal ignoring that pledge, and without advance notice or information from Chris Hill, had to backtrack and try to mollify our stalwart ally Japan, whose government felt upset and betrayed.
Finally, at least one senior intelligence official has said that Ambassador Hill sidetracked and bypassed procedures designed to inform the Intelligence Community of the substance of his discussions with the North Koreans.
Such conduct in the course of negotiations should give serious pause to those concerned about the sensitivity of diplomacy in Iraq and in the Middle East at this time.
In addition to his undiplomatic conduct with respect to his Executive Branch colleagues, Ambassador Hill has a disturbing track record of evasiveness and dishonesty in his dealings with Congress. In statements made for the record in congressional testimony, Ambassador Hill made promises that he did not, could not, or had no intention to keep.
Regarding the prospect of normalization with North Korea, Ambassador Hill assured a skeptical House Foreign Affairs Committee in February, 2007 that improvement in human rights would be part of any deal struck with the North Koreans.
But one year later, Ambassador Hill indicated to a reporter that normalization could proceed before such things took place:
“Obviously we have continued differences with [North Korea], but we can do that in the context of two states that have diplomatic relations.
On the issue of human rights, last year before the Senate Armed Services Committee, I asked Ambassador Hill whether he would invite the Special Envoy to all future negotiation sessions. His answer, I quote:
“I would be happy to invite him to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea.
I ask consent that the relevant portion of that committee transcript, from July 31, 2008, be printed in the record.
Now, Mr. President, I have here a note from the former Special Envoy responding to a letter of mine asking about this situation. Let me read his response:
I ask that this correspondence be placed in the record.
In another case, one that I know is of great concern to the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, Chris Hill told a reporter that he had no recollection of receiving a letter from, and had provided no response to, the spouse of Reverend Kim Dong-Shik, a US permanent resident and father of a US citizen, who was kidnapped in North Korea in 2000.
Just days later, media obtained photos of Ms. Kim, along with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, personally handing the letter to Ambassador Hill. What this shows is that at the very least, Chris Hill, and his staff, did not regard the incident of sufficient worth to remember or to deal with.
On the issue of nuclear disarmament, Ambassador Hill also misled Congress. During his February 2007 testimony, Hill insisted that North Korea must disclose “all” of its nuclear programs, and specified that “All means all, and this means the highly enriched uranium program as well.
But when the North Koreans’ belated declaration of nuclear activity did not even mention their Uranium program, even when there were reports that the documents themselves that they gave us had traces of uranium on them, Ambassador Hill still insisted on rewarding the North Korean regime with delistment from the terrorism list.
On dealing with proliferation, later that year before the House subcommittee, Ambassador Hill said:
“Clearly, we cannot be reaching a nuclear agreement with North Korea if at the same time they are proliferating. It is not acceptable.
Yet only months later, Hill reached just such an agreement before Congress had a chance to answer key questions about North Korea’s alleged nuclear proliferation to Syria, taking place during Hill’s own negotiations.
What all this shows is a disturbing pattern by Ambassador Hill to tell Congress one thing, and then do another.
Mr. President, congressional testimony is not a formality. It is not a venue for Executive officials to parrot what members of Congress want to hear–regardless of whether such parroting reflects reality.
Rather, congressional hearings provide a means to reassure the American people that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, and their interests are being preserved.
In this case, we had a right to know that the tens of millions of dollars worth of Heavy Fuel Oil sent to Kim Jong Il, and the other serious concessions Ambassador Hill was handing over, were at least going to improve our national security, if not help end the oppression of the North Korean people.
And in that respect, I would like to address the substance of Ambassador Hill’s deals with the North Korean regime. The record can be summarized by stating the concessions that both sides obtained through the negotiations.
First, Ambassador Hill is credited with a victory in bringing the North Koreans back to the table in 2005. But in doing so, he admits to exceeding his instructions to avoid bilateral talks with the regime.
Second, Hill oversaw and managed a complicated process that involved Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan, in addition to the US and the DPRK.
Neither of these gains in process provided us with concrete evidence of progress on denuclearization, despite the fact that the North Koreans traded them for substantial material gain from our side.
Ambassador Hill did obtain a declaration of nuclear activities from the regime. But as noted earlier, this declaration was half a year overdue and so incomplete as to render it useless. The declaration provided no confirmation of the number of bombs that were made, no admission or information on the uranium program, and nothing on proliferation. It was a radioactive set of documents of dubious worth.
Additionally, Ambassador Hill was able to get the DPRK to implode the cooling tower at Yongbyon. But according to many analysts, the step was mostly a symbolic gesture in that North Korea is still able to run its plutonium reactor, just with more environmental consequences.
In exchange for these paltry gains in process and symbolism, the concessions we forked over were substantial. Tens of millions of dollars worth of Heavy Fuel Oil were shipped over to supply the regime with “energy assistance,” ostensibly so that it could continue to carry out its policies of belligerence and oppression.
Congress was asked to pass legislation waiving Glenn Amendment sanctions against North Korea. These sanctions were designed to prohibit assistance to states that detonate illegal nuclear weapons, and were automatically triggered when DPRK tested a nuclear bomb in 2006. We gave them a pass on that.
We delisted the DPRK from the list of state sponsors of terror, despite their failure to account for the Japanese abductees and US permanent resident Reverend Kim Dong-Shik, not to mention their failure to even slightly diminish the terror they inflict upon the North Korean people.
We removed sanctions pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act, and facilitated the transfer of money to the regime that otherwise should have been confiscated by the Treasury Department under financial regulations for nuclear proliferators.
We looked the other way on the role that the DPRK played in constructing a nuclear reactor in Syria, choosing instead to plow ahead with the negotiations.
What is worse, after we gave up so much leverage, the DPRK is now just as hostile and dangerous as ever. Next week the regime plans on launching a ballistic missile over Japan that could reach the outskirts of the United States, a provocative act of the gravest significance.
And to push the limits of our tolerance even further, on March 17, North Korean border guards abducted two American journalists–Laura Ling and Euna Lee–and reports indicate that since their capture they have been subjected to “intense interrogation.
Taken all together, this is an unfortunate legacy for Ambassador Hill. Broken commitments to Congress, free-lancing diplomacy, disregarding human rights, and giving up key leverage to the DPRK in exchange for insubstantial gestures.
Such things have harmed our national security and ignored our moral obligations, a legacy ill-suited for the next Chief of Mission to Iraq.
Mr. President, I will conclude not with my own words, but with the words of Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who wrote a piece for the Korea Times last month, which I ask to be included in the record.
“By exclusively pursuing the nuclear tail around the six-party table, we have contributed to the horrible suffering of the people of North Korea and degraded the United States’ long-standing commitment to fundamental human rights.
“Like the inmates of the Soviet Gulag or the Nazi concentration camps of the 1930s, about 200,000 to 300,000 hapless victims in North Korean camps wait for help. Our silence to these and other outrages is perhaps Pyongyang’s greatest victory to date. We want them to dispose of fearsome weapons “• they want our silence. And too often, we have acquiesced.
Mr. President, I do not acquiesce to this nomination.