Wednesday, March 12, 2003 1:00 a.m.
While standing at the baggage-claim carousel at National Airport in Washington, D.C., sometime around midnight last June, I switched my cell phone on to retrieve my messages.
I was tired from my all-day cross-country journey to attend a congressional hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee for Government Reform.
Six months earlier, I had made that all-too-familiar trek to our nation’s capital to meet personally with the chairman of that committee, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. I had hopes of convincing him to investigate the State Department-Saudi Arabian government joint venture concerning the 17-year-old kidnapping of my two U.S. citizen daughters who, even as adults, were forced to languish inside the Saudi kingdom.
Suddenly, the unknown voice of a State Department female consular affairs officer came up on my voice-mail. She coldly stated that my 19-year-old daughter, Aisha, had been recently married “… and we have no further information.”
I was numb – couldn’t even cry. Alone, I somehow made my way to my hotel and collapsed. But I had no time for tears – I had to present myself the next morning to Congress and put on a stoic face to continue the fight for their freedom. Aisha was being punished by her father and the very involved Saudi Arabian government for my political activism. A phone call was arranged to her just eight months before – a few days before 9-11. I had only heard my youngest daughter’s voice twice in almost two decades – but she poured out, “Mom, I love you. I love you. I love you.” Then her father took the phone away from her and never let me speak to her again.
Now, in retaliation for this very publicized congressional hearing, Aisha and I had to pay the price – she was the sacrificial lamb and my punishment was to stand by and watch her suffer.
She only wanted the mother that was taken away from her but, instead, she was given a strange Saudi man whom she did not know. The State Department smirked and told me they didn’t know anything about the man who had paid for my daughter.
All I could do was continue to expose this evil and lead the campaign to free them and all the other American women and children dying a little each day inside the tortuous walls of the totalitarian kingdom while the U.S. State Department continued to make excuses for the Saudis, and pandered to their slightest requests – at any price.
Adel Jubeir, the Saudi point man in Washington for the last 20 years, wanted this “thing with me” ended once and for all. A couple of weeks after that June hearing, he was making his “rounds” at the State Department’s Near Eastern Bureau and made a request to Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. He said my daughters would be made available to U.S. embassy personnel in Riyadh under one condition – that a statement be taken down concerning where they want to live. Randy Carlino from American Citizen’s Services called me and asked for my “approval” for this meeting. I asked if Burns believed my girls would be able to speak freely at this tea party and Carlino replied, “Ambassador Burns feels it would appear to be staged.” But Jubeir wouldn’t be stymied. He was used to getting what he wanted.
Courageously, Dan Burton decided to lead a congressional delegation into Saudi Arabia over Labor Day weekend and vowed to ask the Saudi authorities for the release of my daughters and the other Americans. For several weeks prior to the trip, Burton’s staff had been meeting with Adel Jubeir, his brother Nail from the Saudi embassy and representatives from Qorvis Communications – the American PR firm whom the Saudis had hired post 9-11 to improve their image in the U.S., headed by Michael Petruzzello. The Saudis knew what Burton wanted, and the staff was told that things would be very favorable even though the delegation’s request to meet with Crown Prince Abdullah would not be honored. Only one prince would meet with them – Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud bin Faisal.
On Labor Day weekend, I spoke with Dan Burton and his Chief Counsel Jim Wilson – they were scheduled to meet with Prince Saud the next day. Then, the phone rang again – it was Randy Carlino from the State Department rawly informing me that my daughters were “somewhere in Europe” and would I object to a statement being taken from them? I asked where they were in Europe and he responded, “We cannot tell you that information due to the Privacy Act.” I told him no statement and again asked where my daughters were. He hung up.
But Jubeir couldn’t contain his glee. Later that night, he called William McGurn, chief editorialist for the Wall Street Journal and bragged about his accomplishment – he’d gotten my girls to London. McGurn advised that they had made an unwise decision. What were the girls going to do in London? Jubeir laughingly responded, “See Big Ben and go to the cinema.”
The next day, the State Department legitimized the Saudi’s dastardly deed by sending an American embassy consular officer to the swank hotel where my daughters, their male Saudi entourage (their father, the men who bought and paid for them, their uncles), and an employee of Qorvis Communications who was their “minder” (called herself a Saudi Media Specialist), had set up this little Stalinistic show trial.
Held hostage in Saudi Arabia since they were children, this had been the only time in their young lives that they had breathed the air of freedom, albeit inside a controlled Saudi “hothouse.” They knew why they were taken there – nevertheless, they must have been excited, if only for a moment.
The same weekend that a freedom flight was made for them by members of the U.S. Congress, the Saudi Arabian government had flown them to London (an in-your-face statement to the U.S. Congress and American people) to prove that they could make my daughters do and say anything the Saudi government wanted. And that even though the Saudi government stated they don’t get involved in these “private family matters,” they admitted they paid for the “vacation” and had arranged the meetings with the State Department and media.
Jubeir produced the show, and it was directed by their PR flaks at Qorvis Communications who were being paid over $200,000 per month by the Saudi government. But this was different – this was flesh and blood. The Saudi mouthpieces had gone too far this time. But the State Department continued to comment that they took down a statement “at the girls’ request.”
During the State Department interview, my daughters were dressed in black abayas and sat in a corner of the room while their husbands negotiated with the American embassy officer. There was no English-Arabic translator in the room – only a speaker phone and then my daughters stated they didn’t want to come home to America and didn’t want to see their mother. The State Department couldn’t wait to promote this – telling U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan to announce it to Burton’s delegation just before the meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister and releasing a statement to the press the next day. When asked about this Saudi scheme, State’s spokesman Richard Boucher aloofly responded that the department’s actions were “normal.”
The Saudis continued with the trial by bringing in a Saudi-friendly female reporter from the Cairo office of the Associated Press, Donna Abu-Nasr. Even she reported that Alia had dark circles under her eyes and the girls appeared anxious and nervous – jumping up with a startle when there was a knock on the hotel room door. But my daughters knew what they had to do – disavow their country and their mom. They did as they were told – what choice did they have?
Then, to finish it off, Jubeir called upon his old friend, Bill O’Reilly, who provided the coup de grace – a female producer from San Diego to interview Alia and Aisha for American television. After all, no one had seen them in the West for 17 years – this would make a great story for a TV talk show. He had the scoop – and Jubeir had his fish.
When questioned about what she thought about Osama bin Laden, poor Aisha who had been a victim of Saudi-censored living since age three replied that she thought he was a “clean and peaceful man.” That was it: O’Reilly said they were too far gone – brainwashed and not worth saving! But when questioned by O’Reilly’s reporter about what they were going to do in London, Aisha repeated what Jubeir had told William McGurn – “see Big Ben and go to the cinema.” The script was well rehearsed. Jubeir and Petruzzello should be nominated for an Oscar.
Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan then sent his lobbyists to Capitol Hill with a packet of information written by Qorvis. This information states that my case is now “closed.” Bandar also states that no Americans are being held against their will in Saudi Arabia and Prince Saud says that any American woman who wants to leave Saudi Arabia can leave. Tell that to Alia and Aisha.