Bad day for the House of Saud

Joel Mowbray

6/30/2003 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray

It was no wonder that Saudi Arabia’s slick spokesman Adel al-Jubeir was racing around Capitol Hill on Thursday: two hearings were held simultaneously that afternoon on Saudi Arabia, one on child abductions, the other on how the Saudis bankroll terrorism.

  The child abduction hearing couldn’t have been more timely given the intense news coverage of the past week of Sara Saga.  Sara is a 24-year-old mother of two who had spent just over a week holed up in the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with her children.  She escaped from her abusive Saudi husband, and she tried to get her children out of the desert prison, receiving powerful media assistance from the Wall Street Journal and Fox News.  Sara, who was kidnapped to the Kingdom when she was six years old, didn’t want her children to grow up under a despotic regime as she had been forced to.  But her dream of freedom for her children was sadly not realized.

  Two days before the hearings, Sara arrived in the United States—but without her children.  State Department officials in Jeddah—the Saudis’ greatest friends—allowed a Saudi goon squad to enter the U.S. consulate and bamboozle the terrified young mother into signing an “agreement” whereby she essentially forfeited her parental rights.  Even though within hours Sara, upon realizing what she had done, wanted to take back what had happened, the fate of five-year-old Ibrahim and three-year-old Hanin had been sealed. 

  Unless Sara’s children fare better than the dozens—or more—of other American children held hostage in the Kingdom, they will remain trapped there for years.

  Although Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar—the best friend the State Department, and thus the House of Saud, has in the Senate—tried to downplay the significance of Saudi Arabia in child abduction cases, it was clear to the standing-room-only audience that the hearing was very much about our so-called ally. 

  The first witness before the committee was actually a fellow Senator, Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who testified about the plight of her constituent, Margaret McClain.  Margaret’s daughter, Heidi, was kidnapped by her Saudi father in August 1997—with the apparent help of the Saudi embassy.  With Heidi, who turns eleven on July 10, almost of marrying age—some kidnapped American girls have been married off in the Kingdom at age twelve—Margaret is desperate.  Her visit to see her daughter—which didn’t happen until July 2002, after nearly five years had passed—was disastrous.  Margaret’s scheduled five-day visit with Heidi was reduced to three hours—at a McDonald’s.  Her second visit this year went somewhat better, but Heidi’s prospects of reaching freedom don’t seem to have improved.

  After Sen. Lincoln finished, assistant secretary of state for Consular Affairs Maura Harty, whose agency is responsible for handling abduction cases, testified that her office was doing all that it could to help the children.  But even though the Saudis received mild criticism from her, the House of Saud has never been pressured by Harty to return the kidnapped American kids.

  Although State might not be taking the Saudi royal family to task, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) certainly are.  Holding a hearing one floor above the session on child abductions, Kyl and Schumer explored the tangled web of Saudi funding for Islamic terrorism.  For the Saudis, it was devastating.  Despite protests from Saudi-defenders at State and “unnamed” administration officials that the Saudis are helping in the War on Terror, a high-ranking FBI official plainly disagreed.

  In testimony that could only be considered damaging for the House of Saud, the FBI’s assistant director for Counterterrorism called Saudi Arabia the “epicenter” of terror funding.  When asked if that included al Qaeda, he said, “Yes.”

  No amount of money can conceal an increasingly—glaringly—obvious reality: the Saudis are not our friends.  They not only fund groups who aim to kill us, but they directly imprison Americans, preventing them from leaving the Kingdom.  The sooner Americans see past the Saudi spin machine, the sooner the Saudi jig will be up.

  Hopefully for ten-year-old Heidi, five-year-old Ibrahim, three-year-old Hanin—and all the other American children trapped in the desert prison—the truth will set them free.