Patricia Roush’s 11-year odyssey for the return of her kidnapped daughters from Saudi Arabia
The mother waited. A world away, her hired gun was driving through dusty morning streets in the heart of Saudi Arabia, culminating a year of meticulous planning. Separated by thousands of miles, the San Francisco woman and the grizzled mercenary were staging a dangerous crime, returning two young girls to what the American courts have deemed their proper home.
The five rescue-team members drove swiftly toward their hazardous destination, a compound of dune-colored villas on the outskirts of Riyadh. The team was led by a genial Boston man who’d spent his younger years engaged in numerous Special Forces assignments, all of it classified, the stuff of Stallone. The old soldier, now back on familiar Middle East turf, and the stateside mother, driven by rising desperation, were embarking on a blunt, old-fashioned kidnapping.
But then a squad of Saudi police cars converged suddenly upon the covert caravan. And the mother is still waiting.
Waiting for daughters spirited away more than a decade ago.
Waiting for girls grown and all but lost to her.
And the mother fights on.
Fights legislators, ambassadors, entire governments, fights when others would have been intimidated into resigned silence, challenging anyone who thwarts her crusade.
Patricia Roush is a mother with the most basic of goals: to be reunited with her two daughters, Alia, 18, and Aisha, 14.
In that pursuit, she has found herself catapulted into an international odyssey, one that has taken her from the high powers of Washington, D.C., to the harsh regime of the Saudi nation, a nightmarish journey that has spanned 11 interminable years and cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars, depleting her life savings and those of her elderly mother.
In that time, Roush has seen her children only once, for two heartbreaking hours.
She is caught in a cultural cross-fire, mired in a singularly complex case. Her plight is a stark illustration of the anguish and disturbing lengths that parents will attempt to combat the escalating problem of international parental abductions.
Every year, about a thousand American children are smuggled out of the country, a number that has more than doubled over the last decade.
Implausibly, at the core of Roush’s impasse is just one stubborn man – a man of no particular significance overseas, Roush’s former spouse and the children’s father, Khalid Al-Gheshayan, a man who during his days in San Francisco acquired a fair-sized record of arrests as well as a diagnosis of alcoholism and paranoid schizophrenia.
Two world powers say they are powerless to do anything about this man.
And two U.S. citizens, says a bitter mother, are being held hostage to his whims and apparent vindictiveness.
“I have been begging for years,” Roush says in quiet fury. “I’ve never been able to go on with my life. I wake up with it, I go to sleep with it, I think about them all day. I will never stop fighting for them to be able to leave Saudi Arabia.”
By some measures, Roush’s efforts have borne impressive results. She’s won a custody order, federal and state arrest warrants, even an Interpol “Red Alert” against the girls’ father. Two U.S. presidents have sent her consoling words of support. Dozens of U.S. senators have signed an unusual petition to Saudi’s royal ruler on her behalf.
Her case helped trigger important federal legislation that brings kidnapped children back to American soil. Some of the governmental support, in Roush’s view, was lip service. None of it has been effective.
A former Saudi diplomat who defected to the U.S. three years ago has a unique perspective on the matter. “This case is very clear,” says Mohammed Al-Khilewi, 34, who served as a Saudi diplomat to the U.N. for nine years and now lives in Washington, D.C.
“The United States closes its mouth, its eyes, its ears, when it comes to Saudi Arabia. They think it will protect its interests there. It is a shame on the Clinton administration that they are not helping this lady and protecting American citizens. They are not putting the right pressure on. When it comes to the Saudi American relationship, the White House should be called the “White Tent.’ ” And the Saudis protect this man, stand behind him even though he kidnapped the children. If they were to return the children, it would be as if they are saying they made a mistake.”
Roush’s long crusade is faltering, at a time of even greater urgency – her eldest daughter has reached the age where a husband is traditionally chosen for her. Once married, Alia likely would never leave Saudi Arabia, Roush fears.
And so she is attempting a desperate stand: a hunger strike in Washington next month. There’s little else for her to do.
My darling Alia and Aisha: I love you so much and miss you so much. I have tried so hard to be with you all this time. I want to see you and hold you and kiss you forever. Please come to be with me. am waiting for you. All my love, Mommy. Dec. 1989
Amid the tidy three-bedroom rented house near the Bernal Heights district of San Francisco, five cats scamper about, hurling themselves onto a white couch, and a smile falls on Roush’s face.
The feline frivolity is a momentary distraction from the ghosts of two dark-eyed girls that hang heavy in her home. Their images and possessions lie in every room, haunting symbols of pain – photos on the piano, a pink Dumbo in the dining room, handprints and homespun artwork in the living room, Barbies, blankets and baby clothes in the basement.
“I never threw anything away,” Roush says somberly. “Is that crazy? I don’t think so. I just couldn’t get rid of things. I want them to know I never gave up on them. Someday maybe I can show these things to them.”
Patricia Roush, who is 50 now – she was 32 when she married Al-Gheshayan – works as a medical surgical nurse at Peninsula Hospital in Burlingame and several home health agencies, in a per diem position that allows her flexibility to pursue her single-minded mission.
She’s an emotional woman, tears never far away. Inclined sometimes to issuing emotional ultimatums, Roush long ago lost any semblance of tolerance for genteel waitmanship.
To the diplomatic world, accustomed to linguistic niceties and composed deference, Roush inevitably can seem strident, overbearing. Indeed, Saudi officials demonstrate some disdain toward her, privately critical of what they consider her impertinence and impatience. Startlingly, they believe Roush should placate her husband, be more conciliatory.
“She has a thousand warrants for her husband’s arrest out all over the world and then she wants him to be flexible,” says a high-ranking Saudi official. “Put yourself in his shoes. … If you found out that your husband is going around slamdunking you all over the world, making you out to be a criminal, a monster, would you be in any mood to be accommodating? “What if Mrs. Roush were for a change to be more accommodating, if she were to drop some of these warrants, be more flexible, be just a little bit more civilized about the whole thing, then what’s the likelihood that the husband would be responsive?” The words gall Roush. Irretrievable years stolen from her, she’s not willing to passively wait for a dubious reunion. “The situation has become a bit of a joke to the Saudis,” she says in uncontained outrage. “They think “Your government isn’t going to help you, won’t back you up, why should we?’ It shouldn’t be that I’m a nuisance to my government, asking them to help me …”
Roush met Khalid Al-Gheshayan while both were students. Roush moved to San Francisco from Chicago in 1968, a child of the ’60s, ready to spread her wings. Gheshayan moved here in late 1974 when he was 25, part of a wave of young Saudi men sent abroad to study.
Gheshayan notched a dismal scholastic record. A transcript shows that out of 18 classes at San Francisco City College between 1975 and 1979, including grammar, criminal law, self defense and soccer, he failed or withdrew from all but two.
He and Roush met at a party in 1975. Roush was an anthropology student at San Francisco State University and a single mom, raising Dana, her daughter from her first marriage, which ended in 1971.
“My father had just died, I was alone, Khalid kept calling and giving me attention,” Roush remembers. “He was constantly there, always flattering. It was a schoolgirl romanticism that made me want to marry a man from the Middle East.”
The two married in 1978. Raised Catholic, Roush was pregnant with Alia and wanted her child to have a father. A few weeks after the birth of “the most beautiful baby that ever lived,” Gheshayan was deported for failing to obtain proper visa documentation.
He moved briefly to British Columbia, then petitioned the United States to return. Although the couple had already started experiencing marital difficulties, “I didn’t file an objection, so they let him back in,” Roush says quietly.
Gheshayan returned in September 1979.
But the marriage, compounded by Gheshayan’s excessive drinking, rapidly descended into turmoil. He racked up nearly a dozen arrests, according to local law enforcement records, for drunken driving, battery, vandalism.
He was also hospitalized for psychiatric reasons. According to medical records, he was diagnosed in 1980 by Mary’s Help Hospital in Daly City (now Seton Medical Center) as a paranoid schizophrenic who also suffered from acute and chronic alcoholism and alcoholic hepatitis. The records say that Gheshayan vehemently wanted to leave the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric program because “he was feeling paranoid” and “brainwashed,” and maintained “that he was on a secret mission for the Saudi Arabian government.”
He went back to Saudi Arabia in 1981.
Roush filed for divorce, but Gheshayan returned, and the couple reconciled. “He said he’d changed,” Roush says ruefully. “He said he would make life easier, he’d stopped drinking, he wore a Brooks Brothers suit.”
Roush gave birth to their second daughter, Aisha, in July 1982. Four months later, Gheshayan returned to Saudi Arabia.For the next few years, Roush raised the young girls alone, struggling financially, working as an insurance agent and attending nursing school.
She came down with hepatitis. In January 1985, after months of pleading from Gheshayan, Roush and the girls joined her husband in Saudi Arabia – Roush says she went because she needed time to recover her health and to gain financial stability.
Despite all the emotional tumult that had already occurred in her marriage, she adds that Saudi Arabia continued to hold a mysterious allure. “It was like the Arabian nights there,” she recalls. Like other women in Saudi Arabia, Roush cloaked her body in the black abaya, her face in the black shayla. She lived with her husband’s large family; he was the eldest of eight children.
All too soon, however, she felt stifled by the fundamentalist Islamic culture’s systematic discrimination, where women’s freedom, access to education and employment is severely limited, where women are prohibited against driving cars – or riding bikes.
In an angry outburst her husband assaulted her, she says. She suffered broken ribs and a cardiac contusion – a bruised heart. (Despite efforts to reach Gheshayan in Saudi Arabia and through Embassy officials in Washington, he was not available for comment for this story.)
Roush tried to leave the country, but discovered to her horror that she needed her husband’s permission. A few months later, Roush persuaded Gheshayan to allow her and the girls to return to the U.S. on the understanding that he would later join them.
Roush went home to relatives in Chicago. She completed nursing school, filed for divorce, and obtained a court order giving her sole custody of Alia and Aisha. The divorce became final on Dec. 26, 1985.
The same month, Gheshayan flew to Chicago and hired a private detective to locate Roush and the girls. After succeeding, he promised Roush that he wanted to remain in the U.S. and swore that he only wanted to visit the children. Roush believed him, allowed one visit, then one more.
It was one too many. On Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 25, 1986, Gheshayan spirited the two girls, then ages 7 and 3-1/4, back to his homeland.
That day, Roush joined the ranks of “left-behind” parents in an international netherworld where American laws carry no weight.
Abductions have become so pervasive that the State Department has established a special office called the Child Custody Unit, tripled staffing and prepared a 26-page Internet guide on “How to guard against international child abduction.”
California has the most children stolen every year – 147 in 1994, the most recent available statistics. Canada and Mexico are the two most common harbors for abducted children.
But both countries, along with 42 other nations, have signed a treaty known as the Hague Convention, stipulating that children wrongly removed from the country where they primarily live will be promptly returned.
Saudi Arabia, like most other Middle Eastern nations, refuses to sign the treaty.
“This is an extraordinarily ambiguous matter in international law,” says Anthony Cordesman, co-director of the Middle East program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington, D.C. “In Saudi law, the father has the rights (while) the U.S. courts tend to protect the rights of the American parent. … Could countries just sit down and work it out? The answer, quite honestly, is no.”
The State Department has 45 cases, including Roush’s, of American children abducted to Saudi Arabia, virtually all by men. None has been voluntarily returned. This information may be downloaded as a pdf file from their website:http://www.house.gov/reform/
“These cases are the most difficult, there are so many differences,” says a spokeswoman who, according to agency policy, would not be named for this story. “They don’t view child custody disputes the way we do. In the minds of the Saudi government, the child is a Saudi citizen, not a U.S. citizen. That’s what you’re coming up against. … It doesn’t see the mother as having rights.”
Children abducted to Saudi Arabia wind up in a “black hole,” says Elizabeth Yore of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia.
“It is a nightmare of the worst kind,” Yore says. “Saudi Arabia is the most difficult country in the world to recover them from. If this were Bill Gates being held hostage in Saudi Arabia … or an American adult, you can imagine the major diplomatic efforts that would be done. But here are children with no voice.”
Over and over, Yore has witnessed the suffering of parents.
“You can never ever fill the void or scars,” Yore says. “They have no closure, they can’t move on with their lives. Often the search bankrupts them, it becomes their life. … They know that somewhere in the world their children are falling asleep and they aren’t with them. You can’t tell a parent to forget about their child and expect them to walk away.”
Dearest Alia and Aisha: It has been almost nine years since you were taken away from me, and everyday since that horrible day I have been in constant pain. … I have tried so very hard to be able to be with you, but all my efforts to have you with me have failed. No matter what happens I want you to know your mother loves you more than life itself. Dec. 1994
Year after year, Roush – who returned to San Francisco from Chicago in 1989, has tried to recover her children through official channels. Instead, she says, she encountered a federal bureaucracy whose insensitivity was rivaled only by its incompetence. “How can these people at the State Department sleep at night?” she wonders.
The agency, on the other hand, says its help is limited – American officials cannot demand that U.S. laws or custody orders be honored abroad.
In fact, the agency expects parents caught in Roush’s quandary to “direct the search and recovery operation.” And while it will help parents contact foreign officials, it won’t intervene in “private legal matters between parents.”
“Ms. Roush has been very persistent and has not given up,” says one State Department representative admiringly. “Other parents sort of figure that they just aren’t going to get their kids back. They stop calling us. In that sense, she is probably unique to keep pursuing this.”
Roush also wrote every member of Congress asking them to plead her case with the Saudis.
Altogether, 54 senators signed a letter in 1988 to the Saudi King, Fahd Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, asking him to help reunite Roush with her children and promising that the children would be tutored in Islamic religious studies and Arabic.
A new policy went into effect that year allowing “amicable” visits for mothers to the Saudi Kingdom – if the fathers raised no objection. A Saudi source who asked to remain anonymous said that at one point an informal proposal was made that mothers could visit their children if American officials in turn guaranteed not to issue visas so the children could be smuggled back into the States. Unsurprisingly, that was not acceptable to the United States, so the proposal was dropped.
In due course, the State Department requested a visa for Roush. In November 1988, the Saudis responded that whereas they could encourage a visit with the father, they couldn’t order one.
“An unacceptable test of wills would seem to be quite possible, even foreseable (sic) if Ms. Roush went to the Kingdom, based on the unbroken history of this case,” the Royal Embassy wrote. “Untoward developments are not hard to anticipate. That would not serve the children’s interest there, much less reduce tensions between the estranged parents and hopefully lead to a longer-term solution. … A so-called humanitarian exception would then not work out to be that at all.”
One night, not long after her arrival, Gheshayan had The stalemate has been compounded by the delicate geopolitical dynamic between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, whose oil fuels the machinery of the western world.
“It is the central point in the stability of that region,” says Robert Neumann, who served as the ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1981 and is now retired.
“You have to bear that in mind when you are asked to put pressure on people who are sensitive to having pressure put on them … it does not mean we could not apply more pressure. … You can try to put your head together with the (Saudi) minister, to try to get his interest in working it out with you. In Saudi Arabia, people are very sensitive about their dignity, about a big country leaning on a small country. You have to try to make it as easy as possible for them to help you.”
After more than a month of repeated requests with the Saudi embassy in Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, the embassy’s First Secretary – diplomatic ranking – finally consented to an interview.
“We as a government have to go by the laws of our country,” he says. “You as a government have to go by the laws of your country.”
He says there have been about a dozen similar cases.
“We were able to resolve almost all of them (in which) the mother could visit back and forth. This case has been the most difficult. … Because Mrs. Roush wants us to respect the decision of an American court, we can’t invalidate the decision of a Saudi court.
“The problem you run into is two people get married, the marriage ends in divorce, both parents run to court in their respective countries and get court orders for custody. The mother has a court order which the father has violated, the father will say no, these are Saudi citizens, I have an order … that gives me custody.
“Both our governments are stuck in the middle. We cannot take Saudi children, who are legally Saudi irrespective of the fact that they have an American passport, and take them from their father who has a court order from a Saudi court and deliver them to their non-Saudi parent. Period.”
Over the years, Roush attempted every diplomatic and legal avenue to get her children back. All failed.
So she went outside the law. The first and most promising contact was with Ed Ciriello, a folksy private investigator near Boston. His business card advertises “an unusual service for unusual problems.”
Ciriello served in the Army and Navy, then worked for 15 years in Special Forces assignments as a private contractor, according to his resume. For seven years, he says, he ran security and intelligence operations in Vietnam – essentially kidnapping high-ranking North Vietnamese officials. The resume also says that he worked in Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He says he successfully recovered a handful of American children from the Middle East and the Dominican Republic.
Roush paid him $30,000.
Ciriello, 62, got a job in Saudi Arabia as a quality control inspector for a Boston company, working on an air base near Riyadh.
For months, he tracked Roush’s daughters. When located, he sent a Saudi contact to their school to ask if they’d like to return to the United States.
“The oldest daughter seemed like she wanted to go, but said their father told them God would punish them if they ever went back to their mother,” Ciriello says. “We decided if they wouldn’t come out voluntarily, we’d go in and get them. We’d go into the house and overpower the people there … use brute force when finesse fails.”
He hired four Saudis to help him take the girls across the border, a team composed of smalltime cigarette and booze smugglers.
“They knew they were doing something that would get you beheaded,” Ciriello says.
Try not to bite your fingernails, he wrote Roush on Jan. 2, 1991. Everything is in place, it looks do-able, the price is right and if the creeks don’t rise we will all be out of here soon – not soon enough for me.
The kidnapping was set for Jan. 18, 1991.
Ciriello and his squad were driving in a paneled van, truck and car toward their clandestine rendezvous, Ciriello in a Chevy Blazer behind the other two vehicles. It was early morning on crowded Saudi streets.
By woeful coincidence, Saudi police at that very same location were chasing another vehicle. Ciriello’s lead driver panicked, stopped in an intersection and started firing at police. In the shootout, the driver was fatally wounded. Then another team member – the leader of the Saudi squad, dubbed “Ali Baba” by Ciriello – darted out of the van and toward Ciriello in an attempt to hide from police.
He flung himself into the car. Ciriello, certain that his life was in danger, fired his English six-shooter pointblank at his collaborator, killing the man.
In a letter to Roush two days after the failed kidnapping, he wrote: “I should tell you that Ali is dead because I shot him after he jumped out of the van and ran to my truck. The cops think I was just defending myself but since the Arab mind loves a conspiracy, they, or at least a couple of them, want to tie me to him. I, we, can only wait to see if they can stay tuned.”
“I shot him,” Ciriello says in a telephone interview from Boston, adding: “The cops would have tied him to me. … He was the guy I was paying, he knew the plan.
“There was pandemonium. … I kept hollering “Who is this guy, what does he want with me?’ I’ve been in the business a long time. It’s called pretext.”
Saudi police promptly put Ciriello under house arrest. They released him not long after, but interrogated him repeatedly over the next few weeks.
Ciriello held firm to his fable:
“I said I’m an American engineer driving to work, and suddenly all these people were yelling and shooting and this guy was shouting at me in Arabic and waving a gun and I didn’t think he was raising money for Mother Theresa. I panicked and we wrestled for the gun.
“One cop believed me, the other didn’t. … (They) got tired of talking to me. If they thought I was lying, they thought I’d continue to lie.”
Roush, at home in San Francisco, waited through a long night for word of the abduction. When the call finally came, her hopes faded.
“If I didn’t believe very strongly in God, I don’t know what I would have done,” she says, still shaken.
Ciriello remained in Saudi Arabia for a few months until his construction contract expired. To this day, he feels enormous regret over the case, and says he has given up such missions as a result.
“I don’t want to do this, I didn’t then,” he says. “But it’s hard to say no to a mother when they say, “Look, my kid’s been stolen.
“This took two years of my goddamn life,” he adds. “I blew it, I screwed up. I don’t take failure well … It is unfinished business, it pisses me off.”
In August 1991, Roush hired another mercenary, then a third team in 1993. In all, she says she spent nearly $70,000 in money borrowed from her mother. None of the “private” rescues worked.
“It is risky, but the part that outweighs it is that this is a U.S. citizen,” says Michael Taylor, president and CEO of American International Security Corp. in Boston. Roush says she paid Taylor $11,000 in 1993, signing a seven-page “consulting services agreement” with him.
In commando lingo, Taylor calls his contacts overseas “indigenous support.” Kidnappings are “liberations.”
He says he’s rescued approximately a dozen children over the last six years from the Middle East, Europe, Peru. Parents have paid him sums ranging from $50,000 to $150,000.
“What is paramount is the safety of the child and the parent,” he says. “It is very costly because of the amount of indigenous support that is needed.
Other parents have tried the same path.
“I hired psychics, bounty hunters, unscrupulous private investigators,” says Georgia Hilgeman, executive director of the Vanished Children’s Alliance, a national nonprofit based in San Jose.
Hilgeman’s daughter was abducted by her former husband in 1976; it took 4-1/4 years and well over $100,000 to bring her home. Ultimately, her ex was convicted of child stealing and false imprisonment.
“Most of these abductions are a form of revenge or power against the former partner; they have little to do with the children,” Hilgeman says. “I was so vulnerable and desperate, I did everything. I was ripped off many times. … I gave a lot of money that I never saw again. It’s not a route I recommend. But a lot of families resort to these self-help methods because they feel they have no choice.”
Maureen Dabbagh has spent $200,000 in front-door attempts to recover her daughter, who was kidnapped four years ago to Syria. The child is still overseas.
“I’ve spent that much and went perfectly legal,” says the Virginia mother, who has written a book (The Comprehensive Guide to the Recovery of Internationally Abducted Children) about her experiences that is being published this spring. “It would have been enough to pay for a covert operation.
“Mercenary groups are coming out of the woodwork. Some are crooked, they don’t even leave the country. Some have no training, they can’t even speak other languages.” Please God. This one time let this happen. June 13, 1995
For two brief hours that day at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, Roush met her daughters, in a trip sponsored and paid for by a prominent Saudi lawyer. So different from the little girls she’d last seen, they were now young women, clad completely in black draping. They removed their veils, and stood perfectly still. Roush searched their faces, trying to determine which daughter was which. The eyes, of course, provided the answer.
“Is that Alia?”
“Yes,” was the murmured reply.
Roush was overcome with emotion.
She ran to the girls sobbing, grabbed them, touching their hair and kissing their faces.
They sat on a sofa, Roush in the middle. She showed them photos of themselves when they were small, she told them repeatedly in Arabic that she loved them.
Alia spoke English with an Arabic accent, Aisha spoke no English at all.
Alia told her that “He (her ex-husband) said you left us here,” Roush says. “I said, “Alia, you know that isn’t true.’ I said, “Alia I am going to get you out of here, I am working with the embassy, I will never stop until I bring you home.’ “
Gheshayan waited outside the room. But clearly, unable to resist a look at his former spouse, he stepped inside for one moment
“Hello Patricia,” he said.
“Hello Khalid,” she answered.
Roush brought Levi 501s for the girls – guessing at their size – Estee Lauder perfume and the girls’ old Care Bear and Cabbage Patch dolls.
She also gave them her jewelry – a silver heart pendant to Alia, and a bracelet to Aisha. Roush placed the garnet and silver bangle on Aisha’s thin wrist, telling her, “Wear this and remember me.” Aisha burst into tears. A year later, when a consular official met the girls, Aisha was still wearing the bracelet.
When Roush’s all-too-short visit ended, Aisha hugged her and told her in English that she loved Roush.
“Alia also said, “I love you, but I can never see you again,’ ” says Roush weeping.
Her daughters fastened the veils across their faces, and left the room.
It was as if they’d been kidnapped again.
In her long struggle to get her children back, Roush has encountered a few heroes.
One is Alan Dixon, the former Illinois senator who repeatedly pleaded her case in Washington and came close to negotiating an arrangement for Roush’s girls to attend school in London. With Roush’s case as the impetus, Dixon sponsored legislation in 1988 that implemented the Hague treaty in the United States.
“I jawboned everyone I could in the State Department for her,” says Dixon, now an attorney in St. Louis.
“The only way to solve this is to pass legislation that makes (international parental abductions) a federal crime and negotiate agreements with other countries to extradite. If you want to put teeth in it, that’s the only way. You need to do more than the law has done to date.”
Dixon says the Roush case was a continual frustration for him.
“It was such an outrageous thing. I think that woman has been terribly wronged.”
Another hero is Michael Wildes, a New York attorney who has devoted countless hours to working on her case without pay.
“My heart went out to her,” says Wildes, who has two daughters himself. “Nothing to me would be worse than to have held my daughters as babies and not be able to hold them as they grow older.
“Our government has given up on her plight. The American government cares more about its oil and its military agenda than its daughters. A phone call from President Clinton to King Faud would have those girls on a plane in one day. He won’t do it. He and Bush and Reagan turned it over to their staffs, who do nothing but give it the runaround, writing letters, putting up a fa ade instead of going to the Saudi government and working out an arrangement so the girls could spend equal time here and there.”
The White House declined to respond, referring questions to the State Department.
Roush found another hero in Raymond Mabus, the former governor of Mississippi and the ambassador to Saudi Arabia until a year ago.
“It makes you want to cry every time you think about it,” says Mabus from his home in Mississippi. “This guy is a criminal. This is not a case about Saudi law, but American law.”
Mabus went to extraordinary lengths to help broker a resolution. In June 1995, he met with Gheshayan but was kept waiting for more than hour.
“He was one of the rudest people I’ve ever met,” Mabus says. “I just waited him out. I didn’t mind, but it was a terrible insult to the deputy of the governor of Riyadh,who had set up the appointment.”
Mabus had a plan to end the impasse: Roush would give her former husband joint custody and arrange to have the arrest warrants dropped. In exchange, Gheshayan would allow the children to visit her every summer and could travel to the United States as well with no fear of arrest.
For more than an hour, Mabus says, he tried to persuade Gheshayan to agree.
“He said, “I’ll never see the girls if I let them go.’ I said Pat is willing to change the court order and if she doesn’t abide by it, you can go to court over it. He said American courts lie. … I told him nobody forced you to go to the U.S., nobody forced you to marry. You put yourself under American law and you violated it.
“I said, “Look buddy, you are a criminal, we are offering you a good deal.’ I couldn’t find much redeeming about this man. … He was such a jerk.”
Gheshayan ultimately refused.
So Mabus put a stop to all visas being issued to Gheshayan’s relatives.
“We tried being equitable and fair. When that didn’t work, we said, OK, no family members. It was beginning to have an effect. They really got mad about it. They would come to the embassy. I would say it’s easy, you’ll get your visa when Pat Roush gets her children. I told (the consul general) you tell ole Gheshayan to sue me.”
After Mabus’ meeting with Gheshayan, the Saudi Ministry for Foreign Affairs sent a short note early last year to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh. It was only four paragraphs, but enormously significant, spelling out the first time the terms for a possible resolution.
It described the proposal made by Mabus for arrest warrants to be dropped in exchange for summertime visits.
“The Ministry would like to advise the Embassy of its preliminary agreement,” the Saudis wrote.
It was what Roush had waited years to see.
And since then … nothing.
Mabus left Saudi Arabia last May; his replacement, Wyche Fowler, took over in August.
“He totally dropped the ball,” says a furious Roush. “He has dismissed me as if I’m a schoolgirl.”
Fowler’s embassy representative declined comment.
A State Dept. spokeswoman says that since the Saudi memo was written, the embassy’s Consul General twice met Roush’s former husband. She supplied limited information about the meetings.
“The second one was more cordial,” the spokeswoman says. “The first meeting was acrimonious. … Meeting with the father is an effort to get him to trust us. There may not be a concrete result, but at least we can work to establish a relationship. … This is a really really sticky case … an extraordinarily complicated case. Neither side trusts the other. Any progress is likely to be slow and incremental.”
Apparently the Mabus ban on visas to Gheshayan’s family has been lifted.
“We can’t legally block visas, but we can use them to bring pressure,” says the State departmentspokeswoman. “If they are issuable under U.S. law, then we are essentially not able to refuse them. We have done an extraordinary amount of work on this case. Even using visas as leverage, to get involved to that degree is not standard. We have been doing everything in our power to help.”
To an outraged Roush, however, who had looked to the visa ban as a way of ending the impasse, the government has failed in its most primary duty: protecting its young citizens.
“You’re desperate, you’re naive,” Roush says now. “I thought if I worked long and hard with the government I’d get the girls back.”
She is strongly critical of local legislators, particularly Senators Feinstein and Boxer. In the last few years, the two Democratic legislators jointly wrote to Clinton, the secretary of State and to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the U.S. But Roush believes the letters were insufficient.
“They think I’m a pest, they think this is a hopeless case,” Roush says. “As women, they should get involved to save two young women from a life of black veils behind closed doors. They could rally the other members of Congress to put pressure on the Saudis.”
After The Examiner requested further comment from Feinstein’s office about the saga, Feinstein wrote Ambassador Fowler, referring to the Saudi memo and asking him to look “closely at this case.”
Roush says she was pleased by Feinstein’s letter, but adds that “it’s a shame she didn’t do it years earlier.”
Roush wants Feinstein, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, to block Fowler’s confirmation. A Washington Post story reported that the State department was investigating correspondence between the 55-year-old ambassador and a 24-year-old Scottish woman.
His office declined comment, referring all questions to the State Department, which also declined to elaborate. “Beyond our looking into it, I don’t have any comment,” a spokesman said.
Bill Chandler, Feinstein’s state director, concedes that Roush’s case fell through office cracks.
“The fact is that the staff work was inadequate and the senator has now addressed it,” Chandler says. “We’ve imposed policy changes here, so a case like this will be given a higher priority, so something like this will get directly to the senator.”
But that’s scant consolation to a grieving mother about to embark on a frightening hunger strike. She plans to sit in front of the Saudi embassy and the Senate office building with a large sign. It will read “Oil for Children – Let My Children Go.”
“My dream is that I can get my girls, that we can change the way these things are handled, so that when children are stolen it will be a high priority,” Roush says.
“This is so hard. It’s hard sometimes just to get up in the morning. It’s an awful big fight. I’m tired of it. But I won’t let it go. I won’t give up. The girls will be coming home to me. If it takes the last breath out of me, I’ll get them home.”
©1998 San Francisco Examiner