A CIA suicide sparks hard questions about the agency’s Memorial Wall
The Washington Post
By Ian Shapira
May 19, 2019
The CIA Memorial Wall in the main lobby of the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., pays tribute to operatives who “gave their lives in the service of their country.” (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
She had spent the year in Afghanistan targeting senior al-Qaeda and Taliban members from one of the CIA’s most important bases.
Ranya Abdelsayed was less than 48 hours away from returning to the United States in 2013 when a colleague found her body in her bed at the agency’s Gecko Firebase in Kandahar. At 34, she had shot herself in the head.
The next year, Abdelsayed was honored with a black star on the CIA’s vaunted Memorial Wall, which pays tribute to members of the CIA who, its inscription reads, “gave their lives in the service of their country.”
On Tuesday, the CIA will hold its annual ceremony to recognize the fallen, unveiling new stars on the increasingly crowded wall. But not everyone agrees that Abdelsayed — one of at least 19 CIA deaths in Afghanistan during the longest war in U.S. history — deserved that honor. Of the 129 men and women given stars, she is the only one to have died by suicide.
Nicholas Dujmovic, a longtime CIA historian who retired in 2016, said that Abdelsayed’s inclusion violates the agency’s own criteria — and that her star “must absolutely come off the wall.”
The famed memorial, he said, is reserved for deaths that are “of an inspirational or heroic character” or are the result of enemy actions or hazardous conditions. But, in addition to Abdelsayed’s, some stars have been awarded to operatives who died in airplane or vehicle accidents that had no connection with the dangers of their assignments.
“There’s been an erosion of understanding in CIA leadership for at least two decades about what the wall is for and who is it that we’re commemorating,” said Dujmovic, who has researched multiple agency deaths to see whether they meet the criteria for inclusion on the wall. “Now we have a suicide star on the wall. That’s not what the wall is for. Suicide is a great tragedy, of course. But the purpose of the wall is not to show compassion to the family. It’s to show who in our community is worthy of this honor.”
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Worthy of this honor? Is that really what he said in denying inclusion of this star for a woman who faithfully served the CIA?
He also said that the wall was to show "compassion" to the family but seems to think that her family should not be worthy of compassion.
If they had "an inspirational or heroic character" during their service, shouldn't they be worthy...for their service and not be defined by how they died?