“Mother, do you see the light? I want you to go toward the light.
I’ll be OK. Just call me when you get to Heaven. Ring me twice and
I’ll know it’s you.” Those were Pat Roush’s last words to her beloved
mother, Esther, who had awakened from a two-week coma, just days before
Christmas. Pat, a surgical nurse at a hospital near San Francisco, knew
it was time to let her mother go. She didn’t know how she would make it
alone, but she knew Esther needed her permission to give up the 14-year
struggle the two had shared to free her daughters from their Saudi
This common bond between these two women had brought them as close as
a mother and daughter could be. The return of Alia and Aisha was their
sole mission in life. They talked of little else. It consumed their
time and their resources. On Christmas, Pat received a phone call.
Esther had passed away. Pat was relieved. At least Esther would have the
peace that had eluded them since the girls disappeared on Super Bowl
Pat looked around the living room of her small rented house. Her
eyes came to rest on a picture of Alia and Aisha at age seven and
three-and-a-half, taken just weeks before Pat’s abusive former husband
Khalid Al-Gheshayan abducted them. She clutched her chest. The memory of
the pain from broken ribs and brushed heart after one of his beatings
had faded, but the pain of separation from her daughters was always with
Al-Gheshayan was arrested here in the United States almost a dozen
times for drunken driving, battery and vandalism and was diagnosed by a
doctor at Mary’s Help Hospital in Daly City, Calif., as a paranoid
schizophrenic. In 1982, he left Pat alone with their children and went
back to Saudi Arabia four months after Aisha was born. He returned in
1986, after Pat had obtained a divorce, and hired an investigator to
locate the girls.
After a month of harassment that included telephone calls throughout
the day and night, ringing the doorbell, banging on the windows and
staking out the school Alia attended, he persuaded Pat that he intended
to remain in the U.S. and only wanted visitation rights. Pat knew the
danger, but she desperately wanted to make peace with this man. Against
her better judgment she allowed one visit, and then one more — that
fateful overnight stay on Jan. 25, 1986, when he took the girls to the
airport and left the country.
Pat remembers that weekend as if it were yesterday. Her daughters
were fearful. He was little more than a stranger to Aisha. Alia begged,
“Mommy, please don’t make me go!” Pat assured them that everything
would be all right as she laid out their dresses and black patent shoes
for a birthday party they were to attend the next day. “Don’t worry,
honey,” she told Alia, “I’ll pick you up first thing tomorrow.” When
Pat arrived at his rented apartment, the place was empty.
Wednesday, Jan. 5, marks an important milestone. It is Alia’s 21st
birthday. If she were in her country, she would be able to enjoy all
the benefits of every other U.S. citizen. In Saudi Arabia, she is a
slave to her father or, as the case may be, to her husband. She cannot
drive, ride a bicycle, answer the phone, go out of the house or leave
the country without his permission.
During the last 14 years, Pat’s efforts have produced some important
results. She secured federal and state arrest warrants and an Interpol
“Red Alert” against the girls’ father. Her work helped trigger
congressional hearings, a General Accounting Office investigation and
important federal legislation designed to bring kidnapped children back
to American soil. However, during all of that time, her daughters have
remained out of reach, except for one brief, tightly controlled visit,
four years ago.
During a heartbreaking journey to Saudi Arabia, Pat was ushered into
a Riyadh hotel room by Saudi officials who took her cameras and left the
room. She turned around and her children were standing there in long
black robes. “When they removed their veils I didn’t recognize them
at first,” Pat explained. She said that Alia grabbed her and sobbed,
“Don’t leave me Mama. Take me home!” Aisha, who no longer speaks
English, told her in Arabic, “I don’t remember you, but I love you.”
Two hours later, her daughters were torn from her arms and she was left
Seven years earlier, after getting only lip-service from the State
Department, Pat and her mother pooled their savings and hired a Boston
detective, who was an expert on the Middle East, to attempt a rescue.
In 1991, with the Persian Gulf War as a distraction, an elaborate plan
was put into action. It ended in a shootout on Jan. 18 with two people
Pat Roush’s anguish is all too common. Since the 1970s, the State
Department has been contacted for help in about 11,000 international
child abductions where a parent was involved. Saudi Arabia is one of
the hardest places from which to recover abducted children. Like most
Middle Eastern countries, it is not a party to the Hague Convention —
an international agreement that requires that children wrongly removed
from the country must be returned.
Even if Saudi Arabia had signed the Hague agreement, chances are Pat
Roush’s children still would be enslaved. It appears that, while our
government will go to any extreme to help parents from other countries
recover children brought here without their consent, it does not share
the same concern for U.S. parents whose children have been stolen and
spirited away to foreign soil. We return approximately 90 percent of
the children brought illegally to the United States compared to
approximately 30 percent of the U.S. children who are returned from
Hague countries. However, most of these returns are voluntary. The
State Department has provided no reliable statistics on abductions to
non-Hague countries, but it is estimated that at least 1,000 U.S.
children have been illegally detained in the Middle East.
If you read between the lines of the various government reports that
recently have been issued on the matter, these underage U.S. citizens
are considered “expendable,” not worth the effort when weighed against
the possibility of upsetting foreign governments.
Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is a case in point. It appears that our
State Department is knocking itself out to see that this Cuban father’s
custody rights are not violated so that he can drag this child back to
Castro’s slave island. However, this same State Department will not
lift a finger to help U.S. parents whose children are abducted and taken
abroad. In a recent hearing before Sen. Strom Thurman’s Senate
Judiciary subcommittee on Criminal Justice Oversight, State and Justice
Department officials gave “insufficient resources” as the reason for
their dismal record. However, when questioned by Sen. Mike DeWine,
R-Ohio, State Department Deputy Legal Adviser Jamison Borek admitted,
“We don’t press (foreign governments) directly for the return.”
Esther Labut died without realizing her dream of seeing her only
granddaughters again. The day after Christmas, the phone in Pat Roush’s
home rings twice. Pat picks it up. No one is there. As she places it
back on its cradle, she smiles to herself. “Thanks Mom. I’m glad
you’re home safely.”
Today, the old pain is still there, but Pat Roush has a new resolve.
She believes that phone call was a sign from God that He will give her
the inner strength to carry on this mission alone.
On Jan. 5, BuyBooksOnTheWeb.com
is releasing the book, “Alia’s Rainbow.” You can contact Pat Roush
through the Center for Children’s Issues, 50 Justin Drive, San
Francisco, CA 94112 or