‘We’ll get back to you’
Ephraim vet complains to Senate staff that
his communications go unanswered
By Robert Stevens
Nov. 23, 2017
EPHRAIM—International intrigue is not among the topics commonly brought up at a politician’s senior outreach event held at a community senior center in Sanpete County.
Yet that’s exactly what happened last week when Utah Senator Mike Lee dispatched staff to field a question-and-answer session with seniors at the Ephraim Senior Center.
The senior outreach trip is the 40th of its kind since the program began at Lee’s behest to engage more with senior citizen constituents.
With this “mobile office” trip held Thursday, Nov. 16, completed, the outreach program has now officially visited all 29 counties in the state, says Justin Anthony, constituent liaison with Sen. Lee’s office and the answer man at last Thursday’s senior outreach trip.
A few attendees asked questions about Medicare and social security, while Don Jardine, Ph.D, of Ephraim stood patiently to the side waiting to ask Anthony a question—a question he had asked a number of politicians over the last few years.
Jardine spoke with the Messenger about his question—one he didn’t expect to receive an answer to, but he felt driven to ask anyway.
According to Jardine, under the Obama administration, a pro-American native Pakistani medical doctor, Dr. Shakil Afridi, helped the U.S. Government pinpoint the location of Osama bin Laden.
The doctor helped the CIA run a fake hepatitis vaccine program in Abbottabad, Pakistan, to confirm Osama bin Laden’s presence in the city by obtaining DNA samples. A raid by a U.S. SEAL team killed the infamous terrorist leader and four others on May 2, 2011—after which, bin Laden was buried at sea almost immediately.
Afridi was arrested at a border crossing, trying to flee into Afghanistan.
He was convicted in May 2012 of treason for allegedly providing financial support to a local militant group in tribal regions adjacent to Afghanistan.
In August 2013, Afridi’s sentence was overturned and a retrial ordered, but in November 2013 he was charged with murder concerning the death of a patient he had treated eight years before.
Jardine says he truly feels the real reason Afridi was imprisoned and kept there with the change of charges was for his role in the extermination of bin Laden, since the debacle caused international embarrassment for Pakistan.
Afridi’s appeal is pending at a tribal court, Jardine says, with rules that date back to 1901 and are different from Pakistan’s regular set of laws.
“I have a lot of compassion for someone who helps me or my country,” says Jardine. “The America I fought for in World War II would not let that man waste away in prison after what he did for us.”
Jardine says he has posed the same question to many politicians: “What is being done to free this hero?”
When he was chosen to go on a Utah Honor Flight several years ago, instead of soaking up the sights, he took the opportunity to ask his question to every politician who came to the event—including two senators, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, as well as several members of congress.
Jardine says every single politician he posed his question to said they didn’t have specifics, but they took his contact information and promised him they would get him an answer.
Jardine says he allowed three months to pass—a time he considered more than reasonable to expect a reply from at least one of them.
Unwilling to give up on what he admits has become a sort of personal crusade, Jardine began the process of writing letters to the same politicians he had posed his question to in person, plus others.
“I even wrote the president,” he says. President Donald Trump had been critical of Pakistan’s handling of the case during his campaign and once told Fox News he would get Afridi released in “two minutes.”
Afridi remains imprisoned.
Over eight months have gone by since Jardine sent the last of his letters out to men in power—men who shook his hand, thanked him for his service to his country in World War II and promised they would “get back” to him.
After hearing Jardine’s question and its back-story, Anthony told Jardine he would “get back” to him personally once he had finished his mobile office trip and returned to his office in Salt Lake City. Tuesday was the earliest he could look into it, Anthony said.
Jardine took the familiar answer in stride, saying, “I understand. You can’t know everything about everything.”
Jardine says he has written letters to politicians in the past—about education, for example—and has consistently received a reply to that small handful of letters he had written.
He is puzzled, and even feels frustrated, that his question about what is being done to help Afridi remains unanswered.
He can only guess why he received no reply to his in-person inquiries on the matter. He said he thinks the politicians at 2015’s Utah Honor Flight ceremony just didn’t know.
He does, however, believe they could have easily looked into it, and at least one of those who promised follow-up contact with him could have done so.
Yet Jardine says he has not heard a peep from the elected representatives in the state or nation.
The Messenger reached out to the offices of senators Lee and Hatch—two of those Jardine claims to have extended his inquiry to.
Jillian Wheeler, communications specialist at Sen. Lee’s office, says after looking into the matter, she saw that a response to Jardine’s 2015 letter to Lee’s office re-posing his question was composed. Wheeler says the office had written a draft response, but that there was an “issue” with delivery that the office did not notice during the process.
Wheeler did say Lee’s office bears the responsibility for the lack of response, saying it was “an oversight on our end.”
Matt Whitlock, communications director for Sen. Hatch’s office, confirmed Hatch has received letters from Jardine and says the senator’s office has also replied.
The following is an excerpt from a letter Whitlock says was sent Nov. 30, 2016, in response to one of Jardine’s letters of inquiry: “Thank you for taking the time to write with your concerns regarding the imprisonment of Shakil Afridi in Pakistan. I welcome the opportunity to respond.
“I agree with you that the imprisonment of Mr. Afridi on murder charges from an incident that happened eight years before his trial is questionable. I also share in your concern that the charges may have been linked to Mr. Afridi’s assistance to the United States.
“Unfortunately, as Mr. Afridi is a Pakistani citizen and was sentenced in Pakistani court, it is difficult for the United States to do many actions to aid in his release. I do think that the current Administration could have put more pressure on the Pakistani government to be more transparent in their proceedings but that does not seem to have occurred. I hope that the incoming Administration will do more to address this issue with the Pakistani government.”
Whitlock says Sen. Hatch believes communication with constituents is among his most sacred responsibilities and has responded to each inquiry he has received from Jardine.
Jardine gave a resounding no to the Messenger’s inquiry about receiving the correspondence from Sen. Hatch’s office.
“I would have known if that had come,” Jardine says. “This has been important to me for so long. That would have been big for me.”
Jardine says he does not believe there is anything preventing the proper delivery of his mail and even made a point of speaking to the Ephraim City Postmaster to make sure no mix-ups would occur with anyone who might have a similar name or address to his.
Jardine says he remains hopeful he will eventually get a reply from all of the politicians he posed his question too.