Burton presses Saudis
to release Americans

By Jon Dougherty

A leading House Republican has sent a letter to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah urging the monarchy to release Americans being held in the kingdom against their will.

The letter by Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, comes less than two weeks after he led a congressional delegation to the kingdom to try to win the release of a number of Americans being held there – some since they were children – amid controversy.

“I write to continue the dialogue that my congressional delegation began with Prince Saud during our recent visit,” Burton wrote. “It is my sincere hope that the Saudi government will work to respond to the concerns raised by my colleagues, especially those regarding the kidnapping and retention of American citizens.”

Of the 14 cases Burton’s delegation raised with Prince Saud, one – the case of Californian Pat Roush and her two daughters – has probably garnered the most attention.

Roush’s daughters, Alia and Aisha, then 7 and 3 respectively, were abducted from a Chicago suburb by her ex-husband, Saudi national Khalid al-Gheshayan, in 1986. Roush has seen her daughters only once – in 1995 – since they were abducted.

As Burton’s committee left for Saudi Arabia late last month, Saudi officials spirited the girls out of the kingdom to London, where they met with a producer for Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” hosted by top-rated prime-time host Bill O’Reilly.

During a taped interview for the program, both girls – through a Saudi interpreter, with officials from Riyadh looking on – said they did not want to come back to the U.S. or to live with Roush.

The meeting upset Roush as well as Burton, the latter accusing the Saudi government of sabotaging the delegation’s mission before they arrived in the kingdom.

“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,” the Burton delegation said in a statement on Monday.

Meanwhile, in a column published Wednesday, Roush accused O’Reilly of conspiring with the Saudis to keep her daughter – a charge the Fox News talk king has denied.

The Government Reform chairman, in his letter to Prince Abdullah, also mentioned the case of Amjad Radwan, an American who allegedly “has been held in Saudi Arabia against her will for many years.”

“She has been attempting to leave the kingdom for most of her life,” Burton wrote, but “despite the fact that she was an adult American citizen who wanted to leave … she was not allowed to do so.”

The Indiana Republican said a number of “unusual things” happened to her prior to the arrival of the delegation, such as her father admitting her to a hospital for a painful medical procedure, marrying her off to a 42-year-old Saudi air force officer who had a wife and five children already, and removing her from her home where she lived with her mother and brother.

Burton said he hoped Saudi officials will eventually allow Roush’s girls and others to meet with parents and relatives in the U.S.

“Given the fact that the London meeting took place under conditions which were not clearly free of duress or intimidation,” Burton said, “I reiterate my earlier request … that the Roush sisters, and any children they might have, and all other U.S. citizen victims of Saudi kidnapping be permitted to travel to the United States to meet their American parents.”

Burton said “there is a clear record” that some kidnapped Americans were subjected to abuse, though he said he had no way of knowing if Roush’s children had been abused.

“I hope that your government takes this issue seriously,” he wrote. “The conduct of your government during the delegation’s trip … suggests otherwise.”

In a statement issued by the delegation earlier this week, lawmakers said they were disappointed that Abdullah – who usually meets with U.S. congressional delegations – declined to meet with Burton and his colleagues.

Saudi officials say they are attempting to work out any differences over the issue.

Calling the child abduction cases “a national tragedy,” Saud called for a mechanism that can provide a practical and workable way to resolve these very difficult and delicate situations, according to a statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia deplores the taking of a child without the consent of both parents,” said Saud.

“We need a mechanism to help facilitate resolution of such cases,” added Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Abdullah. “We look forward to working with the United States to establish a protocol in this area.”

Al-Jubeir, who earlier had agreed on “The O’Reilly Factor” to produce the Roush girls for a controlled interview, added, “The integrity of the family is very important to our culture.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that children have the benefits of a relationship with both parents,” al-Jubeir said.

“I hope we can work together in a more constructive fashion to resolve these cases and give these U.S. citizens a real opportunity to make decisions about their own future,” Burton pressed.

“Rest assured, however, that until real progress is achieved, I will use all means available” to help Americans who want to leave Saudi Arabia get out, said Burton.

Saudi officials said the government has established a special committee to deal with abduction cases.

“While most are amicably resolved, there are instances where issues of jurisdiction make it difficult for governments to interfere,” said the Saudi statement.

Related stories:

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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

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