U.S. House of Representatives
STATEMENT OF MONICA STOWERS
BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM
107th Congress, 2nd Session Washington, D.C
June 12, 2002
My Experiences Trying to Recover My Children Kidnapped in Saudi Arabia
by Monica Stowers
I meet a Saudi, Nizar Radwan, at the University of Dallas. He does not tell me about his wife and family in Saudi Arabia. We marry and I have a son, Rasheed, in 1976. Our daughter was born in 1983.
Nizar tells me that all Saudi students used to come to the states on diplomat visas. Apparently it was some kind of “special relationship.” He says that a Jewish congressman from New York objected to it, and that arrangement was withdrawn. He says that some Saudis committed crimes, including rape, but were only sent out of the country.
In 1982 Nizar finishes his education. He has to get special permission for me to come; Saudis are not allowed to marry foreigners, he says.
In 1983 I arrive in Riyadh, where he leaves me at his mother’s house. I discover he has a wife and family already.
I tell him I want to return to the U.S. He agrees. Incredibly, I could not even leave the country without his permission. The embassy confirms this.
He says he is taking the children to the park. He never returns. I find myself alone at his mother’s house surrounded by hostile relatives.
I take him to court. The only help the American embassy offers me is a list of lawyers. This turned out to be useless because there are no divorce lawyers in Saudi Arabia. The courts in Saudi Arabia are Islamic Sharia of the very conservative Wahabi sect. The guidelines are clear. The court ruled that because I was a woman, a Christian, and I wanted to take my children to the U.S., Nizar got complete custody of them and could even determine when I could see them. The judge only asked him orally to let me see the children. My son was seven and my daughter was a year and a half.
Nizar’s family tries to get me into a home for indigent Saudi women.
I get threatening phone calls and have trouble sleeping at night. I decide I could get more accomplished in the U.S. I left Saudi Arabia, which turned out to be a big mistake.
I go to Washington to the offices of my senators and congressman, the State Department, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. No real help is offered. Saudi Arabia is not a signatore to the Hague Convention. I go to the Saudi Embassy. I was met in the lobby by an employee. “Why don’t you go to your government for help?”he said with a smirk on his face. He knew what I was beginning to realize; the U.S. government did not care! I was going to have to fend for myself.
In 1987, my ex-husband gets me a visa. I am allowed several visits in a police station in Riyadh. My daughter does not know that I am her mother. She’s been told her Palestinian stepmother is her mother. She thinks I’m only Rasheed’s mother. My visa expires, and I have to go.
In 1990 my ex-husband gets me another one month visa in exchange for giving him a good reference to a Colonel Swartzlander, who had interviewed him for a job as a translator for the U.S. military. I call the colonel and tell him my situation. “I don’t want to hire him. He’s a jerk!” he says. “If you don’t hire him, I won’t be able to see my children.” Swartzlander hired him. My son is in the hospital getting his appendix out.
In November 1990 my son met me at the airport. I did not recognize him. He was fourteen years old. Later he tells me about an uncle, Sami Kurdi, and his older step- brother, Ahmed Radwan, who had sex with him. He had also been thrown in jail at the military base my ex-husband had been living at and had been beaten. I decided I would stay and get my children out somehow.
I called the U.S. embassy and spoke to Frederick Pauleski. I asked him if American citizens could claim sanctuary at the U.S. embassy. He said he thought so, but he was not sure. “You’re not thinking about doing something crazy?” “In my situation you do what you have to do.”
I went to my daughter’s school wearing an abaya (black cloak) and covered my face like Saudi women do. I went inside the courtyard of the school and saw my daughter. She recognized me by my shoes and followed me out. We went to the embassy with my son.
Pauleski let me in very reluctantly when he saw the hand luggage. We sat on a couch and refused to leave the embassy. It was after 9:00 a.m. A barrage of coaxing, pleading, and then threatening by Pauleski began. He said he was in trouble for letting us in the embassy. “Believe me, I’m in more trouble than you!” was my response.
He left the room and Karla Reed came in. “This is not a hotel. We have nowhere for you to stay,” she said in a not so pleasant tone. “I’m claiming sanctuary on U.S. territory.” I remembered from a civics class that invading an embassy is the same as invading that embassy’s country. “People are mistaken if they think this is U.S. soil. This is Saudi soil and the Saudis can come in here whenever they please.” (More of that “special relationship” I thought.) Later I heard that the U.S. government had to sign an agreement that it would not use the U.S. military stationed in Saudi Arabia to help mothers escape with their children. Karla became more and more aggressive. “I’ve been in contact with Washington, and I can have you removed.” I told her I was not going anywhere. She left in a huff.
Pauleski returned. He informed me that he had called my ex-husband and told him where the children were! “He’s a reasonable guy. I’m sure he will come to some kind of agreement with you.” “I can’t believe you did that. Now he will go to the authorities and I’ll be arrested,” I said. I pointed out the shabby clothes my daughter was wearing and showed him the bread she had in her bag for lunch. This is something I was to encounter over and over again as I had to deal with the embassy and its rotating personnel over the years: the arrogance of consuls and vice consuls I had to go to for help; their ignorance of the environment they were working in (all the ones I dealt with in the early and mid – 1990′s spoke no Arabic and Syrian clerks were doing any government business that had to be done in English for them); and the utter lack of imagination on their part that something really bad was happening. They were too busy smoozing with big shots and business interests, partying, traveling, and doing whatever it took to make their CVs look good. Many American expats I met over the years encountered the same arrogance and lack of help. ( I had to laugh as I was reading an autobiography written by Kirk Douglas, a movie actor, talking about this same kind of arrogance and ignorance personnel at an embassy in Europe displayed to him! This is no coincidence! Another American mother in the same situation as I, Debra Sultan, told me she called up the embassy and told them her Saudi husband had beaten her and kicked her out of her house, and she was told the embassy is not a hotel!)
Other exchanges – Karla, “If you don’t leave, you will make it hard for other American mothers to visit their children. The Saudi government will remember all the trouble you made and not give them visas.” I could not believe that a U.S. official could sympathize with the Saudi stance against an American mother whose children were stolen from her. I was just seen as a troublesome woman who would not go away! “Which American women are you talking about? Is it Pat Roush, Khristine Uhlman, Joy King, Vickie Melko, Laura Phillips? I know them all. None of them would object to me being here.” The embassy let me call my mom. I told her what I was doing. Around noon I got a call from Pat Roush, God bless her soul. “Don’t you leave there, Monica. You make a stand for all of us,” she said. I intended on doing just that.
For hours I had to endure this. Around 5:00 p.m. the embassy started closing down, and people were going home. Karla returned. “I will put you in an embassy car with the flags flying on it, and it will take you wherever you want to go,” she said. “I don’t have anywhere to go. If you put me outside the embassy gates, I will be arrested and thrown in jail and I will never see my children again,” I told her. “Oh, you’re just exaggerating. I’m sure nothing will happen to you.” “Can you put that in writing? Can you guarantee that?” I asked her. “I can’t guarantee anything. You could go outside and be hit by a car. There is no guarantee on anything,” was her observation. I had trouble seeing the connection. “Since you can’t guarantee anything, I’m not going anywhere.” Karla was really ticked off. “OK, that’s it!” She left the room, and I could hear her over the intercom calling for security.
Pauleski entered with two marines. My children and I witnessed the following like a bad dream: Pauleski grabbed my son by his left arm and tried to pull him off the couch. “Ouch,” my son cried out. “Don’t touch him,” I said. Pauleski looked embarrassed. I took out our three U.S. passports and held them out in front of me like a shield. The black marine apologized, “I’m sorry ma’am, I’m just doing my job.” “It’s not your fault,” I said. The other marine was looking us over trying to decide how to handle it. Rasheed, my son, started to moan and shake. “Mom, let’s just get out of here.” He started crying. My daughter tried to hide her body behind mine and held onto my arm. “You remember this day when you went to your country for help, and what they did to us. We’re American citizens and we claim sanctuary in this embassy.” I held the passports in front of me. The other marine moved swiftly and scooped up Amjad, my daughter, and carried her out of the room. My son and I had no choice but to follow. I could barely walk. I had to support Rasheed as he walked. It was the longest walk I ever took: down the corridor, outside the building, and outside the gate, which was closed behind us. The Saudi police who are on duty outside the embassy looked at the curious sight of a mother and two children clinging on to each other. All three of us were crying. The marines looked at us from behind the gate. The black marine spoke, “Ma’am, you risk further arrest if you remain here.” “Thank you,” I answered. (My father, Eddie Stowers, a WWII navy veteren who had been at Normandy and the Pacific theater of war, was particularly disturbed to hear about the Marines being asked to do something like this!)
The embassy van pulled up, and we got in. Pauleski tried to get into the front seat. I told him if he got in, I was getting out. He got out. We had nowhere to go. We were dropped off at my ex-mother-in-law’s house.
My ex-husband, Nizar, took Amjad and locked her up in his house. My son and I went into hiding. Nizar went to the authorities and told them to arrest me. He made out a big file on me at the police calling me a prostitute. My son and I stayed at several locations. Nizar actually brought the police to our house one night, but luckily we had just turned off all the lights and gone to bed. We looked through the peephole and saw them and did not answer. The Gulf War started and the authorities became preoccupied. Nizar took his family, including my daughter, out of Riyadh. My son and I remained. Scuds fell on Riyadh; the first one was a few blocks from the house we were staying in. At one point we heard that the U.S. embassy was evacuating citizens. They did not call me about it, though they had my number.
After the war, Nizar told my son (through relatives) that he would not fight me anymore. It was my daughter’s birthday and he would meet us with her at Pizza Hut. I was desperate to see her. As we ordered, the manager told me someone outside wanted to see me. I went out to find the police waiting with mutawaa (religious police). I ran inside and tried to use the phone. The mutawaa slammed the phone down and told me “Later.” I was put into a paddy wagon. My son came with me.
I was taken down to the Aruba police station. This was June 12, 1991. They would not let me make a phone call from there, either. My son asked them, “Where are you taking my mother?” “To a place where women go.” It was night. My son followed me outside, where another paddy wagon was waiting for me. My son had trouble walking. He was dazed and I had to shake him. His legs buckled and he sank to the ground. “Mom, save me,” he cried. “Listen, Rasheed. Call Princess Noura (I had met her at a school I had found employment in.) Tell her what is happening to me.” (Noura’s mother was Fahada bint Abdullah, daughter of Crown Prince Abdullah). Rasheed watched as they drove me away. I never thought I’d see him again.
I was taken to the women’s prison in Batha. I spent three days there. I could not make a call until the third day. Karla Reed came to see me on the third day. She offered no help at all and said she was on her way to see an American man in the men’s prison who had been arrested for selling drugs. (I was in the same category as the drug dealer.) The State Department did call my mother in Houston and tell her I was in jail. She sceamed at them, “Why don’t you help her?” All she was told was that I had broken the law and not left when my visa ran out!
Saturday afternoon a car from Princess Fahada bint Abdullah arrives to pick me up. My son remembered where her daughter’s house was and had told her what had happened to me.
Princess Noura, Fahada’s daughter, gave me a paper with her stamp on it asking authorities not to arrest me because my residency permit was being processed.
The next few years there is nothing my ex could do because I was under the sponsorship of the daughter of the Crown Prince.
My son is doing poorly in school. In the religion class they teach him things like the Jews are cursed and you should never make peace with them; just kill them. He is also taught that non-Muslims have freckles because they eat pork, the genie lives in the drain in the bathroom, and non-Muslims are here in Saudi Arabia to do the work for Muslims.
1995 My son, Rasheed, has a nervous breakdown. He is admitted to King Fahd Hospital where he is diagnosed as having a “conversion reaction.”
1996/1997 My son was able to escape from Saudi Arabia through Bahrain. How he did I prefer not to say to protect those that helped.
That same year I go on vacation to Houston. When I called my daughter, she informs me that her father had married her off. She was 12 years old! She was no longer going to school. She had been in grade six and had flunked.
I return to Riyadh. Her “husband” brings her to my apartment for a visit. He looked like one of those radical clerics. His name was Ismail Mohammad Myajan (03-898-4674). He lived in Dhahran. I was heartbroken. We could not hope to get any sympathy from him. When he was ready to leave with her, she refused to go. He was in a panic and did not know what to do. He left and informed Nizar.
Now we had to make our move. My daughter and I got together some things and left the apartment. We stayed for over a month at the house of someone I knew who was traveling. Then we went to live at an abandoned school for several months. During this time my daughter would lock herself up while I went to work and be alone all day. She was unable to attend school. Her father got one of his wives to go to her school and get her file. Without it she could not enroll in any school. Also, the Saudi government does not allow Saudi citizens to go to schools for foreign students, so she was not allowed to go to my school by law! While she was living with me she confided in me that her stepbrother, Ahmed Radwan, had intercourse with her “from behind.”
The American embassy was aware of all that was happening to us. My daughter and I went to the embassy for help. We wrote out a statement, but nothing came of it. We also stayed at the house of Sallybeth Bumbrey, consul and first secretary at the embassy, but she tells us she will be in a lot of trouble if we do not leave. I did not want my daughter to experience the marines again.
My ex-husband is able to get my daughter back after beating me up. I call the police, my sponsor, and the American embassy. I tell them to do something before my ex-husband kills Amjad. I refuse to leave from the front gate of my ex-husband’s house. I can hear my daughter screaming from inside the house. (Later she told me her father beat her badly. She tried to jump off the roof, but her father grabbed her.) My sponsor informs the governor of Riyadh’s office. The police cannot use force unless they get permission from the governor of Riyadh. They call Nizar inside the house and tell him to come out. By this time two embassy personnel arrive just in time to see Nizar come out of his house with my daughter. They go with me to the police station. The police chief tells me there is nothing they can do to Nizar. “According to the religion, a father can beat his children,” said the police chief at the Aruba station. We are given a court date for the next day, and Amjad is sent home with her father and “husband.” At the embassy I have heated conversations to personnel there about why they can’t help Amjad. It is déjà vu all over again. “If you don’t help me get her out, I will never see her again.” The most they can come up with is that they can prevent Nizar’s relatives from traveling to the states. (Later we learn that Samir Radwan, Nizar’s brother, went to the U.S. without any problem as a Saudi government representative.)
Amjad goes to court in her father’s car. I go separately with the embassy. Amjad arrived at the court and went in with her father while her “husband” went to park the car. Nizar (her father) had to go to the bathroom. While he was there, my daughter ran out of the court building and hailed a cab. She laid down in the back seat and saw her father as he rushed out and looked up and down the street for her. She managed to escape. Amjad came to my school, and we were reunited. We moved to another location.
My ex-husband finds out where my school has moved to and complains to the government that the school is teaching Christianity to students. The government closes the school down. Then he convinces a gang of several brothers who are involved in crime as a way of life to take my daughter away from me. (A “friend” who overheard my ex talking informs us of this.) My school was able to reopen, and the gang follows us around in a Chevy Caprice. I got most of the license plate number (—909). From another sympathetic Saudi we learn that the police apprehended them.
My ex-husband goes to the governor of Riyadh’s office and speaks to a Prince Ahmed. Prince Ahmed issues an order that I must hand over my daughter to her father or I’ll be arrested and deported. A lot of pressure is put on my sponsor, Princess Fahada. I am informed through an employee of hers that I have to give my daughter back to her father. I refuse and send her a letter back, ” I refuse to send my daughter back to a house where she is beaten, sexually abused, not attending school, and married off to someone she does not even know. You are asking too much from a mother.”
We are told we will have to meet with a representative of the governor’s office, Saad Al Gamdi (1-411-5050 or pager 19445816). He threatened us that if Amjad did not go to her father, I would be deported. It was an order from Prince Ahmed. I asked for a copy of the order. He had a big file on me and showed me an official-looking document in Arabic. He would not give me a copy. “It is not allowed.” I told him they would have to put me in jail first. He could see that the meeting was not having the desired effect of intimidating me, so he left. We did not hear anything more after that.
My daughter made two attempts to escape Saudi Arabia through Bahrain with some sympathetic Saudis. She was caught both times.
During the last three years my son returned to Saudi Arabia. He had become dependent on drugs and was involved in self-destructive behavior. I was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and had to have a radical hysterectomy. My daughter is now 19 and has a not been to formal school since grade 6. Her “husband” divorced her and married his cousin.
What will happen to my children if I pass on? I shudder to think about it.
My ex-husband has a brother, Samir Radwan. He had two children by an American, Wonna Akawa. He kidnapped her two children. Her daughter, Talida, saved her money and was able to escape from her father (who also beat her severely to pray like a Muslim). She got out when her father took her and his new family to Egypt on a holiday. Her younger brother, Fahd, remained with his father several more years. For some unexplained reason his father sent him home to his mother in San Antonio. Fahd told his mother what had happened to him; his father had had sex with him. Fahd had then threatened to kill his father’s new family. The new wife was too scared to keep Fahd in the house with her, so the father sent him to live with Wonna, his mother. Fahd is now in the Austin State Mental Hospital. My son, Rasheed, and his cousin, Fahd, did not fare well with the abuse from there fathers, who are brothers. I am watching my daughter closely.
I asked Wonna Akawa, Fahd’s mother, to make some kind of statement for this hearing. She said she put her faith in Jehovah God, not in governments, and it was Jehovah God that had returned her kidnapped children to her. She may have something there.
My children and I have all been in jail in Saudi Arabia. We are patriots of our country, and the U.S. government should be ashamed of turning its back on us.
I am asking the U.S. government to let my daughter get on a U.S. transport plane and be flown out of Riyadh. No one in the Saudi government will help my daughter on humanitarian grounds, because it goes against the Muslim religion.
When my son escaped from Saudi Arabia, he had a layover in New York. There were two places he had heard about and wanted to see: Harlem and the World Trade Center.
“Mom, I went up to the base of the World Trade Center, and I had to touch it. I could not believe it was real.” He cried. To him it represented what was great about America.
On September 11, my son, now in Saudi Arabia, rushed home from work and banged on the door, “Mom, haven’t you heard what happened? A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center!” We sat in front of the TV for 12 hours in a trance. How angry I was to see that happen. It could have been prevented. It made me recall the anger I felt in the past when I went to the visa section of the U.S. embassy in Riyadh and saw all those Saudis in line for visas – the line stretched around the building at the beginning of summer. They could easily go, but my children, American citizens both, were denied that right.
When an American citizen comes to any U.S. embassy in dire straights, they should receive help getting out with their children. I can assure you that the Saudi government does not hesitate at all to help Saudis take their children away from foreign spouses. The Saudi government even issues passports under a different name to Saudis unable to enter the U.S. Why aren’t we fingerprinting them and developing a database? It is very careless not to. I’ve been told by maids and drivers from the Philippines working for the royal family that they were issued Saudi passports from their sponsors so that it would be harder for them to run away when they traveled to the U.S. with the royal family. (Pat Roush’s ex-husband was not allowed to enter the U.S., so the Saudi government issued him a passport under another name so he could bring his father to the U.S. for medical treatment. Pat’s ex-husband was stupid enough to call Pat and brag about it.)
It is scandalous that American mothers were not allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia to see their children unless their kidnapping Saudi ex-husbands got them a visa. The American government valued their “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia over the human rights of its own citizens.
It is disgraceful that even now American mothers are stuck in Saudi Arabia and cannot leave when they want to. (ex. Debra Sultan in Riyadh.)
I am asking the American government to remember what it stands for, human rights, and they should not forget this in exchange for perks from countries who have abysmal human rights records.
My father passed away in 1992. He never got to see his granddaughter. My mother is in her seventies. My sister is ailing. They want us back safe and sound. After almost twenty years of this, I am still asking: Please help us!