William Josephson writes…..
Five Peace Corps scandals could have benefited from some fact checking, editing and consultation.
The overall impression is that they are characteristic. They are not. They occurred over a very long period of time.
“Scandal” is a misnomer in many of these cases.
The Kate Puzey 2011 murder is so well known that it engendered a congressional reaction, and the Peace Corps’ continuing efforts to develop effective policies that reduce Peace Corps volunteer sexual harassment or worse.
The death of the PCV wife of a Tanganyikan PCV dates to my 1960s time as Peace Corps General Counsel. Not so incidentally, the husband’s verdict was “not proven,” not not guilty. The Scottish system of three verdicts, guilty, not guilty, not proven, was followed there at that time.
The Tonga killing occurred in 1977. Sex would seem to have been a, or the, motive. Tragic it was, scandal?
The subsequent history of the defendant’s release in the States might well qualify as scandalous. But what exactly did the Peace Corps have to do with it? The story says that the State Department promised his mental hospital commitment.
Nick Castle’s death occurred in 2013. The cause of death and whether or not it could have been prevented are unclear. Hardly a scandal.
Not included, but certainly relevant, is the death in 2020 of Comoros volunteer Bernice Heiderman from malaria. That probably could have been prevented if the Peace Corps doctor had properly diagnosed her.
I have previously written in this blog about the Peace Corps’s truly scandalous mishandling of John Peterson in 2019. The Jody Olsen Peace Corps, as far as I know, has never defended, nor even issued an explanation, for its series of violations of long-standing Peace Corps policies, that staff, like volunteers, are not entitled to diplomatic privileges and immunities, nor to any other level of internationally recognized immunities under the Vienna Convention or bilateral treaties or executive agreements between host countries and the United States.
To call for the abolition of the Peace Corps, on the basis of two cases of possibly preventable deaths from medical causes, three cases of volunteer deaths related to sexual assault, one instance of staff vehicular homicide over 61 years seems more than extreme.
On the other hand, the current Peace Corps seems to be marginalizing itself, a handful of volunteers here and there in countries most not clearly central and certainly not due to lack of appropriations.
If the Republicans do well in the midterms, we can be sure that questions will be asked about the disproportionate level of program expenditures compared to appropriated funds.
How can we effectively correct the misleading public record this story creates?
Bill Josephson was the first lawyer to help lay the groundwork for the Peace Corps in February, 1961. Until May 1, he was the only lawyer in the new organization and he thus became the principal author of the President’s Executive order which brought the Peace Corps into existence. After his service to the agency, he would spend his career working at the New York law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP.