A View from the U.N. in Geneva

By Pat Roush

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

After venturing to Europe about a week and a half after the U.S.-led war in Iraq began, I found myself in a supposedly neutral country, Switzerland, with a very pointed, angry opinion about American involvement in a pre-emptive invasion of that Biblical cradle of land between the Tigris and Euphrates.

Having arrived in Geneva for a presentation at the 59th Session of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, I was stunned to watch the anti-war demonstrations, hear blasphemies against my government and see the vandalism of walls and buildings with explicit graffiti about the President of the United States and American policy.

The people of Geneva were of course lovely, asking me many questions about America and if I agreed with the U.S. decisions concerning Iraq. My mission at the U.N. concerned the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, not specifically Iraq, but rather its neighbor to the East – Saudi Arabia.

I was there to ask for help in securing the release of hundreds of American women and children unable to leave Saudi Arabia. Some of these people have been there for decades – their voices long ago hushed by the desert storms and the beatings they received from their male Saudi captors. They have been threatened, tortured, and terrified by these men, their brutal keepers, and have known that no one – no American embassy diplomat, no Saudi government official, no ex-patriate working in Saudi Arabia will help them get out.

This is contemporary slavery. And it is going on right now. It is alive and well and thriving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The United States government knows about this and yet turns a blind eye to these forgotten women and children and just pretends it does not exist – but it does.

The U.S. State Department and Administrations throughout the years have a history of keeping things like this ‘under wraps,’ especially when it has to do with something they wish had never happened like Viet Nam and all the murky garbage that goes along with the Washington-Riyadh connection known as the ‘culture of corruption’ as Middle East expert, Daniel Pipes has labeled it.

Just as the MIA-POW issue was denied and dismissed until the lid was pried off that can of worms and the truth was known, this is one facet of U.S. foreign policy that Washington wishes would just disappear.

Hundreds of American women married Saudi Nationals when these men were ‘stationed’ in the U.S. by the Saudi Educational Mission beginning in the early 1970s. They were sent to America’s heartland – the South, the Southwest, the Northeast and to small towns in ‘Anywhere, U.S.A.’ Colleges and universities were happy to open their doors to the Saudis – their coffers bulged with expensive payments from foreign student tuition fees that were paid by the wealthy Saudi government. The University of San Francisco, a staunch Catholic institution, had so many Arab-Muslim students that they even allowed for a ‘mosque-like’ model to be on the campus and the ‘athan’ or prayer call was heard.

Once the brides of these marriages found themselves inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, everything changed. Their husbands ruled them and took their passports. Phone calls to their families were stopped and even if clandestine petitions were able to be made to the nearby American embassy or consulate, they were to no avail. Now what?

The little girls from these American-Saudi marriages who grew up with or without their American mothers (many were kidnapped from the United States as children and are now adults) also suffer from this ‘life sentence.’ No civil rights are allowed anyone in Saudi Arabia but for a woman, total control over her life is held by a male. At least when the boys reach the age of maturity, they can leave the country in most cases.

Since no one seems to care about this issue or is doing anything about it, I guess I’m here to ‘carry the water’ for them all. That’s why I went to the U.N. I met many interested people there that heard my call for help. One delegate from The Sudan confessed that women from his country were also kidnapped and raped and forced to marry their kidnappers. The Saudi Ambassador to the United Nations from the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Torki al-Madi, attended my presentation. I played a tape from Congressional Hearings last year outlining the horrors of American women captivity in Saudi Arabia and handed him a copy of my book, At Any Price: How America Betrayed My Kidnapped Daughters for Saudi Oil. He was pleasant and told me he would ‘look into it.’

My friend who also attended the U.N. Session left for Saudi Arabia today. She went to plead for the release of her daughter, Heidi, – a ten year old who could be sold into an arranged marriage at any time. She is afraid that the fate of my daughters who have been locked up for seventeen years in Saudi Arabia, beaten and threatened and now married to strange Saudis and forced to bear their children will also happen to her little girl.

Mr. Al-Madi, we are waiting.