press relations

What Concerned the Bush Administration Most About Iraq’s Gay Killings? How the Media Would Handle It

We knew the Bush administration was completely lax on the persecution of gays in Iraq over, with the State Department producing just two documents, totaling nine pages (including a 3-page article reprint) on the matter in six years. So what was on the rest of the pages?

Back-and-forth emails discussing media talking points, should the matter ever need addressing, as well as indication the State Department wanted nothing to do with the human rights groups trying to intervene, reports Ducan Osborne.

The earliest State Department email was from a Larilyn Reffet, a staffer based in Baghdad, to other staff. Reffet noted that she had reached out to gay groups and received one initial response, but nothing more. It was not clear from her email if just Iraqi gay groups did not respond, or gay groups outside of Iraq also ignored her.

Contained in her email is the text of a 2006 letter that was sent to Paula Ettelbrick, then IGLHRC’s executive director, in response to a letter about the killings that Ettelbrick sent to the department. The department appeared to rebuff Ettelbrick in that letter.

“Our Embassy in Baghdad is interested in further dialogue on this issue with NGOs in Iraq,” wrote Victor Hurtado, a department staffer.

“NGOs in Iraq,” or non-governmental organizations, may be diplomat-speak for saying the department has no interest in talking to IGLHRC or other groups outside of Iraq.

Alright. But did IGLHRC push back? Attempt follow up? Go to the press and expose the administration’s lack of interest? Meanwhile,

Other emails show department staffers were concerned about mainstream press coverage and developed some talking points to respond to reporters. They noted when the department was not mentioned in such stories.

When Deb Price, a Detroit News columnist and an out lesbian, sought comment on the issue, staff had a minor tiff via email over who would talk to her.

Michael Petrelis, a longtime gay and AIDS and persistent critic of gay groups, faulted the State Department and gay groups.

“I am saying as an activist, IGLHRC had a responsibility to write back to Hurtado and say you should widen the circle of people you are willing to talk to,” he said. “They should have gone public with this. I don’t see the State Department alone as the problem. I see the NGOs in the US not engaging the gay public on these matters.”