Congressmen Challenge 'Friendship' of Child-Stealing Saudis
Dave Eberhart, NewsMax.com June 13, 2002
WASHINGTON - "To be an ally, you must walk like an ally and talk like a ally," Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in her opening statement before hearing from live and closed-circuit witnesses telling horror stories of kidnapped children and other American citizens held against their will in Saudi Arabia. "With friends like this, who needs enemies?" added the newest member of the House Committee on Government Reform, Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla.
Committee chairman Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., pointedly said, "I hope Saudi Arabia is listening."
'I Can't Believe This' After hearing from the first two mothers kept from their children in Saudi Arabia, Burton got emotional. "I can't believe this ... I can't believe this." He promised he would meet with President Bush Wednesday afternoon to plead the witnesses' cases. But Saudi Arabia is not alone under the committee microscope. "Feet need to be held in the fire. The State Department better get off the dime," warned Rep. Ed Schrock, R-Va.
The State Department has provided the committee with a list of 46 recent cases involving as many as 92 U.S. citizens who have been held against their will in Saudi Arabia, with the full blessing of the Saudi government and often in violation of U.S. law. Saudi law gives a man extraordinary power over his wives and children, who may not leave the country without his written permission.
The State Department has generally viewed such cases as being governed by Saudi law, even when it conflicts with U.S. values. According to Burton, who called the hearing, the U.S. government has refrained from holding the Saudi government responsible for these detentions and has never made it clear to the Saudi government that the detention of innocent U.S. citizens is an affront not merely to those detained, but also to the people of the United States. Although the hearings focus on American children citizens held against their will, Burton made it clear in the announcement of the hearings that the kidnappings are but a symptom of what he perceives as a larger issue with Saudi Arabia.
Those Saudi Hijackers
"The events of September 11, and the discovery that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia have led the American public and U.S. policy-makers to re-evaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
"While the Saudi government and the United States have often pursued mutual interests in the past, the relationship has recently become more strained. It is estimated that as many as half of the al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay are Saudi. "A poll conducted by the Saudi government estimated that 95 percent of Saudi men between the ages of 25 and 41 sympathize with Osama bin Laden. Another recent problem was the failure of the Saudi government to fully cooperate in the investigation of the Khobar Tower bombings. ...
"Now that the Taliban is no longer in power, the Saudi government is one of the most repressive governments on earth. Religious freedom is forbidden by law, and apostasy is punishable by death. Women have few rights. There is practically no political freedom.
Just Like the Axis of Evil
"The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that Saudi Arabia be named a 'country of particular concern,' placing it in a category with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan."
Illustrating the repression in Saudi Arabia was testimony by Alexandria Davis, formerly known as Yasmeen Alexandria Shalhoub, who was held against her will in Saudi Arabia from June 1997 to April 7, 1999. She explained how she was one of the very few to escape. "I changed my name to try to help me forget what I had to endure in Saudi Arabia but it will be with me until I die," she testified. "At the time when I was kidnapped, I was an 11-year-old, living in Miami with my mother and grandmother ... I attended church on Sundays as that was also part of my religious and schooling commitment."
Everything changed and the nightmare began when her Saudi father, Khalid Shalhoub, told her estranged mother that he was taking her for the summer and unilaterally decided to take her to Saudi Arabia. "My father began beating me every time I begged to go home or begged to speak to my mother.
'Told That as a Christian I Was Going to Hell' "I started having nightmares that lasted the entire time I was there. In Saudi Arabia, I was not allowed to go outside, not even to play. I was locked in the house alone while my Saudi family went out. I was constantly told by my father and his family that as a Christian I was going to hell and burn in the flames of hell. ... "I did not understand why I was treated so badly. All I know is that my father and his family hated Christians.
"I remember asking my mom [via a secretive overseas call] if I could jump out of my father's car and run to a policeman for help or take a taxi to the American Embassy. My mother warned me not to do that. She told me that not even the American Embassy would help. "I could not understand why my country would let me down and not help me."
Saudi Kidnappers Are State Department's 'Clients' Pat Rouche, who has been fighting for over 16 years to get her kidnapped daughters returned, explained how an official at the State Department repeatedly referred to the Saudis as "their clients." The second panel of witnesses sworn in the afternoon included representatives from the State Department.
Hume Horan, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1987 and '88, succinctly explained to the panel his understanding of the cultural divide. The Saudi mind-set was, and is, "God's law is on our side; buzz off. ..."
Speaking of his own attempted intercession in the Rouche case, Horan recalled being told by a Saudi official, "If you're going to see the prince, don't bring up the Rouche case."
Censoring the Cross
He furthered explained that his son, a Marine platoon commander in the Gulf War, told how the unit's Navy chaplain serving in the field was made to remove the cross insignia on his uniform collar. Daniel Pipes, director of Middle East Forum, said the U.S. had a history of making nonsensical concessions to Saudi Arabia, including a 10-year period where female members of the military had to wear traditional clothing when off the base and sit in the back seat of cars. He recalled how Crown Prince Abdullah insisted that no female air traffic controllers be involved in his recent U.S. flight. Pipes said that the worst example of the pandering came when the first President Bush was not allowed to lead American troops in saying grace before the Thanksgiving meal when visiting American forces on Saudi soil during the Gulf War period.
Doug Bandow, senior fellow at Cato Institute, testified that the Saudi oil reserves and their strategic importance to the U.S. were overstated. "The present regime has limited on impact on prices," Bandow said. "It's time to reassess the relationship." Ryan Crocker, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, attempted to explain how the State Department had to work within the legal system of Saudi Arabia.
'Why Are Kids Thrown out of Our Embassies?'
He was interrupted by Burton, who pressed to know, "Why are kids thrown out of our embassies? That's ridiculous!" In his written statement, Crocker revealed that the abduction unit of State Department employs 17 officers and staff to work with parents to resolve the cases of their abducted children. "The Office currently handles approximately 1,100 international parental child abduction cases, including abductions to and from the United States. While the majority of abduction cases involve children taken to Western countries, these cases are present throughout the world." Dianne Andruch, deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services at the State Department, was asked if she considered the situation with the abducted American children a crisis. She replied simply, "Yes."
Much of the questioning revolved around an attempt by Monica Stowers to seek sanctuary with her children in the American embassy in Saudi Arabia. As Stowers described:
"I took out our three U.S. passports and held them out in front of me like a shield. The black Marine apologized, 'I'm sorry, ma'am, I'm just doing my job.'
"'It's not your fault,' I said. The other Marine was looking us over trying to decide how to handle it." 'When You Went to Your Country for Help'
"Rasheed, my son, started to moan and shake. 'Mom, let's just get out of here.' He started crying. My daughter tried to hide her body behind mine and held onto my arm. 'You remember this day when you went to your country for help, and what they did to us. We're American citizens, and we claim sanctuary in this embassy.' "I held the passports in front of me. The other Marine moved swiftly and scooped up Amjad, my daughter, and carried her out of the room. My son and I had no choice but to follow. I could barely walk. I had to support Rasheed as he walked. It was the longest walk I ever took: down the corridor, outside the building, and outside the gate, which was closed behind us."
Before leaving, ostensibly to prepare for his meeting with the president, Burton assured the witnesses: "We can face them down [the Saudis]. They have a lot to lose." Burton also said that his committee was drafting a letter and report on the issue to be sent to the White House.
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