Each wrongful detention is different, and your Family Engagement Team will be with you as long as your loved one remains wrongfully detained. Below is a non-exhaustive list of actions to consider taking as you work with your partners inside and outside the U.S. government to secure your loved one’s release. This list comes in part from feedback from, and experiences of, families of other wrongfully detained U.S. nationals. Please review and consider which actions might be appropriate for your situation. If you have questions or need additional information, you can always reach out to your Family Engagement Team for explanations or additional resources.
General Actions to Consider
- Take notes on the meetings and phone calls related to your loved one’s detention:
· Identify a central place (a notebook, a compute folder, etc.) to keep your notes.
· Write down meeting dates, attendee names and titles and phone numbers, and what was discussed, and what the next steps would be moving forward.
· Keep a running list of action items, next steps, and your remaining questions.
- Maintain a timeline of events to include important facts and key dates (i.e. date arrested, what the charges are, court dates, medical concerns, etc.). Keep track of the number of days your loved one has been detained.
- Create a one-page summary of your loved one’s case to leave behind with contacts that you meet with. Include any requests or things you need their help with on that document.
- Practice summarizing your loved one’s case in 2-3 sentences. This can help you effectively communicate by avoiding too many details.
- Adopt a filing system for your notes, emails, articles, and other information.
· Maintain a spreadsheet or some other way of tracking the names, phone numbers, and other notes about the people helping your case. If you are using a paper-based system, you may use the blank contacts pages in this book if you want to keep this information in the same place.
· Update your contact lists and other products (i.e., one-page summary) regularly.
- Document efforts you’ve made to secure your loved one’s release for them to read once they’re back home.
- Research U.S. relations with the country wrongfully detaining your loved one. This can deepen your knowledge about the challenges and other issues impacting the detention.
- Make the decisions for your loved one in good faith. You will likely have to make decisions with incomplete information.
- If you are able to have contact with your loved one, try to keep their spirits up.
Actions to Consider for Building and Maintaining Your Network
- Contact trusted family/friends about joining you in pursuing your loved one’s release.
- Designate the following roles on your team (one can fill multiple roles if needed):
· Spokesperson for both in-person media events and managing social media;
· Financial manager for your loved one’s financial affairs in the U.S. (securing bank accounts) and overseas (ensuring access to money in detention, if possible);
· Advocate with the U.S. government, NGOs, other governments, etc.;
· Someone to coordinate letter writing and fund-raising campaigns. Letter writing campaigns can include letters to government officials asking for the release, as well as letters of support to your loved one, if they can receive outside mail.
- Review how to formally address members of Congress, foreign government officials, and anyone else you may need to contact. This will help make your outreach as effective as possible.
- Reach out to Congress for help. Specific congressional points of contact can include:
· Your U.S. Representative and your state’s two U.S. Senators;
· The U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators of your loved one, if different;
· Your friends’ and family’s U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, if different;
· Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff;
· House Foreign Affairs Committee staff;
· Other members of Congress who might support your loved one’s release due to their policy priorities, past assistance with wrongful detentions, etc.
- As private citizens, you may ask members of Congress and other government officials (which can include the National Security Council and the President) if they are willing to:
· Host phone calls or meetings with you to discuss updates and options;
· Sponsor/support legislation or resolutions that can help free your loved one;
· Request briefings from the State Department and/or the National Security Council so that both branches of government can share the same updates and facts;
· Write letters to the foreign ambassador, US ambassador, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and the President on behalf of your loved one.
· Consider traveling to the detaining country to request your loved one’s release.
- Possible discussion topics with members of Congress or other government officials can include:
· Taking a bipartisan approach and reaching out to members of all political parties;
· Understanding different members’ views in relation to policy on the country detaining your loved one. Use this information to decide who to ask for what.
· Understanding grievances the U.S. government has with the detaining country, and asking how your loved one may be impacted.
· Understanding grievances the detaining country has with the U.S. government, and asking if these could be opportunities for negotiation as you advocate for your loved one;
- Develop non-government contacts to assist you, which can include NGOs, third party intermediaries (TPIs), lawyers, and even families of other wrongful detainees. (See the Assistance Resources section.)
- Find a lawyer who would be willing to help you without charging a fee (i.e. pro bono). This might be a more likely option to find in the United States than overseas.
- Consider the costs and benefits of hiring a lawyer(s) to represent your loved one in the country of their detention. Your U.S. government team can help you understand the legal system of that country.
- Ask consular staff to provide detailed updates on the condition of your loved one while in detention, and messages where allowed. These partners in-country have the best direct access to your loved one and those holding him or her.
- Develop a way of sending regular updates to contacts in government, NGOs, the media, and other contacts. This can include email lists, and/or regular updates to your website, Facebook page, Go Fund Me page, and other platforms.
- Understand there can be some turnover within the government. Your Family Engagement Team will do everything it can to ensure continuity and sustained momentum. As old staff depart and new staff replace them, continue to build your network of contacts.
Media Actions to Consider
- Consider selecting a media spokesperson from family members, friends, or third-party advocates.
- Consider asking a public relations professional for help with effective media coverage.
- Maintain barriers to guard your privacy. You are never required to speak to the media.
- Decide the level of engagement you’d like to have with the media. This may change as the case develops over time. Consider working with family members, your loved one, or supporting organizations or third-party intermediaries to develop this into a media strategy.
- Create a briefing book using your prepared media statements to help you concisely answer questions that reporters might ask.
- Practice ways of pivoting away from sticky questions from media and refocusing on your loved one’s wrongful detention.
- Communicate the ground rules before an interview, if you choose to engage with a journalist. If you want to give a journalist information for background purposes only, state upfront what information is ‘not for publication or broadcast’ and verify that they have understood and agreed.
- Decide what outcome you hope to achieve before you engage with a journalist.
- Secure your loved one’s social media accounts as you’re able. Protect information that may imperil your loved one, such as information about your loved one’s prior or current government or military service, religious affiliation, or any other sensitive information.
- Contact the social media companies if you don’t have your loved one’s passwords.
- Take regular screen shots of the social media accounts to track whether your loved one or others are making changes to your loved one’s pages/profiles.
- Consider starting a website or social media handle as a way of sharing information widely. Be aware that anyone (including the detaining government) can access this public information.
- Stay up to date on foreign news that might have an impact on your loved one’s detention.
- Explore translation tools online and learn how to search for news on your loved one on foreign websites. This can help you track relevant updates in foreign media.
Financial Actions to Consider
- Secure bank accounts and credit cards. Individuals in the detaining government or other hackers and identity thieves may try to misuse your loved one’s financial information.
- Alert your loved one’s employer of the detention. If your loved one is self-employed, you may need to alert their clients and take additional steps to secure the finances of the company. It will be important to know what assistance you can expect from your loved one’s employer throughout the ordeal.
- Consider the expenses that may be incurred over your loved one’s detention. Pace yourself in a way that best manages your spending, your energy, and your well-being.
- Weigh the costs and benefits of hiring professionals (lawyers, public relations professionals, etc.) domestically and in the detaining country. Seek out professionals that will work on a pro bono basis. Contact your Family Engagement Team if you have questions.
- Consider the costs and benefits of traveling to attend meetings, be they in the detaining country, Washington DC, or elsewhere. Would such trips pose a safety risk? Are there equally effective alternatives?
- Start a Go Fund Me or other fundraising campaign to raise money for your loved one’s expenses (necessities in jail, legal expenses, etc.).
- Assemble a list of your loved one’s financial accounts to monitor activities, money owed, and other potential sources of income/support. Be aware that there may be such accounts outside of the United States as well, depending on where your loved one was living at the time of arrest. This can include but is not limited to:
· bank accounts,
· credit cards,
· car loans,
· student loans,
· rent/lease agreements,
· insurance policies (life, health, automobile, residential),
· child support,
· salary records/pay stubs,
· pensions or other government benefits,
· investment accounts,
· private pensions or other retirement benefits,
· safe deposit boxes,
· worker’s compensation, or
· other tax records and returns.
- Do your best to locate and safeguard your loved one’s important documents while they are away. This can include but is not limited to:
· citizenship/nationality records,
· employment contracts and records (note that individuals who work on a free-lance basis may have billing records for time spent working instead of an official employment contract),
· birth certificate,
· marriage certificate,
· divorce/separation papers,
· custody/parenting agreements,
· adoption papers,
· legal settlements,
· living wills,
· power of attorney records,
· property deeds/titles/surveys,
· business licenses,
· union or other organized labor documents,
· copyrights, royalties, or trademarks,
· appraisals of any valuable items,
· planned giving agreements,
· military records (discharge, veterans’ benefits),
· driver’s license, and
· vehicle deed/title.
- If you are concerned you or your loved one has been the victim of fraud or identity theft, the following resources may be helpful to you:
· Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline:
1-877-438-4338 or .
· Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline (to report theft or fraudulent use of your Social Security Number):
1-800-269-0271 or .
· U.S. Postal Inspection Service (for identity theft that involves U.S. Mail): 1-800-275-8777
· National Credit Reporting (to report credit card theft or fraudulent misuse):
· Internet Crime Complaint Center (to file a complaint or read the latest warnings): .
· National Crime Victim Bar Association (for information regarding filing civil lawsuits against a perpetrator or other responsible party, and help locating attorneys specializing in victim related litigation):
1-202-467-8753 or .
Self-Care Actions to Consider
- Be kind to yourself and take care of yourself.
- Consider the costs (financial and otherwise) that may be incurred over the weeks and months and years of your loved one’s detention. Pace yourself in a way that best manages your spending, your energy, and your well-being.
- Continue your efforts, even after a particular meeting or contact proves less than helpful.
- Take advantage of support and assistance available through trusted volunteers, your U.S. government team, NGOs, etc.
- Focus on what you need to accomplish. Keep your eye on your ultimate goal.
- Be patient with yourself and those trying to help you.
- Don’t waste time/energy engaging with unscrupulous people. Unfortunately, some people go online to harass, mislead, or otherwise defame those in the headlines.
- Keep supporting your loved one and those supporting you, even when it gets difficult to do so.
- Keep as much balance in your life as possible and tend to your resilience.