Burton’s Saudi trip called promising

By Jon Dougherty

After meeting in Saudi Arabia, a congressional delegation and representatives of the kingdom have expressed cautious optimism that several Americans reportedly being held against their will in the kingdom soon could be released.

“The primary purpose of this trip was to bring attention to the crisis of American citizens who have been kidnapped and held in Saudi Arabia,” said a statement issued by the office of Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, who led the delegation.

Burton said the bipartisan delegation, which returned from its week-long trip Sept. 3, provided Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal with a list of particular abduction cases “on which we expect prompt action.”

While expressing “disappointment” that Crown Prince Abdullah refused to meet with them – though he regularly meets with U.S. congressional delegations – the lawmakers said their trip nonetheless produced “significant promises” by the House of Saud.

“If the Saudis’ representations prove to be true, this would result in significant progress,” said the statement. “However, it is clear that the Saudis still have significant steps to take in the immediate future.”

Burton said the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, pledged that no American seeking assistance would ever be turned away from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.

“This is a relief to us, given the fact that in the past, at least one American family was turned away from the Embassy in Riyadh to face arrest and physical abuse in” the kingdom, said the statement.

“Having now heard firsthand of the terrible physical abuse suffered by hundreds of American women who are trapped in Saudi Arabia, we hope that these women and children will freely avail themselves of the protection of the Embassy,” it said.

Meanwhile, Al Faisal promised that “no adult American woman will ever be held in Saudi Arabia against her will,” a move Burton called “an important step forward.”

But the GOP lawmaker said more needed to be done to resolve the abduction issue. Barring progress on the issue, he said it was unlikely the U.S. government could trust Riyadh “on [other] matters of policy critical to the United States.”

“There is still a great deal of work to be done regarding the dozens of American children who have been kidnapped to Saudi Arabia in violation of U.S. law,” said the statement.

Burton’s delegation provided the Saudis with a list of particular cases, noting that if nothing happened, he and his committee would “continue its close scrutiny of these matters.”

In June, Burton chaired hearings into the abductions. In particular, the committee focused on the case of Californian Pat Roush, who has seen her daughters only once – in 1995 – since they were abducted from a Chicago suburb by her ex-husband, Saudi national Khalid al-Gheshayan, in 1986.

Al-Gheshayan took the girls – Alia and Aisha, then 7 and 3 respectively – back to Saudi Arabia, where he has reportedly prevented them from leaving. Now adults, both women are married; Alia has at least one child of her own, reports said.

“We are very disappointed with the way the Saudi government handled the Roush matter,” said the statement.

Burton said lawmakers were upset that the Saudi government spirited Roush’s daughters off to London while they were visiting, allegedly as a ploy to prove neither really wanted to return to the U.S.

During a televised interview on “The O’Reilly Factor,” hosted by Fox News broadcaster, radio host and WND columnist Bill O’Reilly, the girls – through a Saudi interpreter – said they did not want to return to the U.S. with their mother. But Roush and Burton believe the event was staged and that the girls never had an opportunity to speak freely.

“This Stalinistic show meeting is not unlike the forced dog-and-pony show that Elian Gonzales’ father had to play going back and forth to the U.S. while his family was held inside Cuba,” Roush said Aug. 31.

“Of greatest concern … is the possibility that the Saudi government has been complicit in manipulating high-profile cases to make it appear that certain American citizens do not really want to travel to the United States,” said the delegation statement. Such demonstrations “make it appear that the Saudi government is coercing American citizens to keep them in Saudi Arabia. If true, this would be a shocking display of bad faith.”

For his part, O’Reilly, in his Sept. 5 nationally syndicated column, said that during the meeting between the women and Saudi officials his television program helped arrange, Alia and Aisha “were uneasy and, in my opinion, brainwashed.”

He said he believed they were “too far gone” because they described Osama bin Laden as “a clean, good man.”

“That sealed it. If two American citizens are that far gone – for whatever reason – there is little anyone can do,” O’Reilly wrote.

Roush is writing a book on her ordeal for WND Books.

Accompanying Burton on his trip, which included visits to Israel and France, were Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y.; Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass.; Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.; and Rep. Brian Kerns, R-Ind.

Related stories:

Saudis, U.S. colluding on kidnapped kids?

Saudis to be pressed on kidnapped Americans

Head of consular affairs at State resigns

Witnesses set for Saudi kidnap hearing

Hearing on kidnapped girls next week

Congress takes up Saudi kidnap case

Mom of kidnapped girls continues crusade

Roush to write WND book on ordeal

Related columns:

US hostages in Saudi Arabia

They weren’t home for Christmas

Booze over babes