Held Hostage in Riyadh
by Stephen Schwartz
AS THE CRISIS of U.S.-Saudi relations grows, long-hidden American grievances have begun to emerge. For many Americans the problem of Saudi abuse of U.S. citizens on the kingdom's soil is almost as disturbing as the issue of Saudi involvement in September 11.
The worst cases to come to light so far involve young women, born American citizens with American mothers and Saudi fathers, who are now over 18, yet are not permitted to leave Saudi Arabia. In June congressman Dan Burton held a hearing into the case of the Roush sisters, Alia and Aisha, abducted in 1986, when Alia was 7 and Aisha 3, by their father, Khalid al-Gheshayan, who took them to Saudi Arabia. Al-Gheshayan has connections with the Saudi royal family that have enabled him to evade a U.S. criminal warrant while traveling in the United States. The Roush girls remain captives in the kingdom.
An even more shocking story was reported earlier this month by William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal. Amjad Radwan, born in Houston in 1983, was taken to Saudi Arabia by her American mother, Monica Stowers, and Saudi father, Nizar Radwan. Once the family was there, Stowers discovered that her husband was already married.
In 1990, Stowers, with her then 7-year-old daughter, sought shelter in the American embassy in Riyadh. She was ordered out of the building, which, she was informed, is not a "hotel." When she refused to leave, two Marine guards were summoned to expel her from the premises. A U.S. State Department representative called her ex-husband to retrieve the child, and Stowers ended up serving a term in a Saudi prison.
Amjad Radwan herself was then reportedly sodomized by her male relatives, before being married off by her father at 12. She fled and for a time lived out a nightmare with her mother and brother on the edge of Saudi society, inhabiting a derelict school building. Her mother is now in the United States, but Amjad still cannot leave.
Thirty-nine members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, have signed a letter to Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan demanding Miss Radwan's freedom. On the morning of July 25, congressional interns held a demonstration on the steps of the fortress-like Saudi Embassy across from the Watergate in Washington. It was a cool day, but muggy and cloudy, and if you gazed up at the Saudi flag, with its representation of King Ibn Saud's favorite sword, raqban or "the neck-cutter," you could almost imagine yourself on the kingdom's soil.
The demonstration, supported by Rep. Frank Wolf, drew 25 interns, representing more than 350 who have signed a petition demanding that Miss Radwan be allowed to travel freely as an American citizen. The earnest protestors chanted, "Amjad, Amjad, we won't fail, human rights are not for sale," and, "Saudi detention--U.S. oppression."
The latter slogan cuts pretty close. Saudi detention of U.S. citizens is made possible by U.S. protection of the Saudi regime. Furthermore, official U.S. conduct in these cases has been appalling. Supporters of the Roushes and Radwan were outraged by the State Department's dismissal of these as "custody" cases, a position affirmed by spokesman Richard Boucher on July 12. Boucher commented, "We've got cases that are very difficult for families involving Germany and Austria and Saudi Arabia, and there are many others." But Germany and Austria do not prevent grown women from leaving the country.
The real scandal in these cases is the attitude of U.S. diplomats. American citizens expect their diplomats to protect them and their interests, and view U.S. embassies as a safe haven. In Saudi Arabia, this turns out to be unrealistic. Thus, Pat Roush initially received diplomatic and moral support for her daughters from Ray Mabus, then U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, who secured a ban on the issuing of visas to her ex-husband's family. But Mabus's successor, Clinton appointee Wyche Fowler Jr., reversed course. Before being posted to the kingdom, Fowler was a senator from Georgia. Now he is chairman of the board of the Middle East Institute, a Saudi lobbying front. Fowler has careened around Washington denouncing PatRoush's defenders as liars.
It is appalling to consider how cordially the United States treats Saudi citizens, while the Saudi authorities trample the rights of American citizens who happen to be young women. On the roster of unresolved Saudi issues--along with the promiscuous issuance of visas and Riyadh's failure to investigate thoroughly its own terrorist entanglements--the release of American citizens held against their will should remain close to the top.