The Magazine

Sultan of Spin

The dishonesty of Saudi PR flack Adel al-Jubeir.

Dec 16, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 14 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
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Adel al-Jubeir was asked about a series of kidnappings in which little boys and girls, U.S. nationals abducted from their American mothers by abusive Saudi fathers, have been spirited across the globe and held captive for years--in unspeakable conditions (beatings, rapes, forced conversions to Islam, arranged marriages for 12-year-old girls) and all under color of Saudi law. The "beguiling" al-Jubeir kept cool: "I couldn't have asked for a better question, sir. Thank you." And then he coolly beguiled: Among the world's 10,000 unresolved international child custody disputes, he said, only 4 involve the United States and Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has done "as much if not more than any other country" to find an effective solution to this problem. But "at the end of the day, these are strictly personal matters between parents," so what's a royal family to do? Next question, please.

Not so fast, buddy.

First, however, a word about Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. Over ten terms in the House, Burton has regularly courted controversy, and has been regularly mocked for it. We have made sport of him ourselves. But now we take it all back, and apologize to him for not doing so earlier. Here's why: This past year alone Dan Burton has covered himself in glory and made his entire public career worthwhile. Specifically, Burton and his House Government Reform Committee staff (with notable publicity assistance from Wall Street Journal editorialist Bill McGurn and Mike Wallace of CBS's "60 Minutes") have worked month after month to keep the Saudi child abduction story--and the flickering hopes of its great many victims--alive.

Because of Dan Burton, we know that there aren't just 4 kidnappers now being shielded behind the Saudi border, but 46 of them--according to State Department case files that name at least 92 U.S. citizens apparently being held against their will. Because of Burton we know that most of these abductees are girls, that some have been hostage so long they are now adults, and that even these adults are helpless before their captors: Saudi Arabia is the only nation on the planet where no female of the species, not even a grown woman, is permitted to travel abroad without the express, written consent of her father or husband.

Because of Burton we also know that Adel al-Jubeir is, we say again, a lying sonofabitch--that there is, too, something more the Saudi government could do to reunite these desperate American children with their desperate mothers. Otherwise, why would senior Saudi diplomats be personally intervening to keep such people apart? As Adel al-Jubeir himself has intervened in two recent cases.

Back in the first week of September, Dan Burton led a congressional delegation to Saudi Arabia, having badgered its government into allowing him interviews with a number of kidnap victims--and having heard vague hints that he might actually be able to bring 3 of them home: a pair of sisters, Alia and Aisha al-Gheshayan, abducted from their mother, Pat Roush, in 1986, and a third American, Amjad Radwan, whose mother, Monica Stowers, was expelled from the Kingdom in 1985 after discovering that her Saudi husband was a psychotic bigamist.

The last time Pat Roush saw her daughters, a two-hour meeting in a Riyadh hotel room seven years ago, the elder girl, Alia, begged her, "Please, Mama, don't leave us here." Monica Stowers has not had quite so excruciating a wait; she's been back in Riyadh on and off since 1990, moving her daughter from house to house so as to protect her from a sexually abusive stepbrother and uncle. Amjad's father has tolerated his ex-wife's meddling. But until Dan Burton's trip, there was no sign the man might ever let his daughter go home. A lot was banking on that trip, in other words, and hopes were very high.

But on the day Burton arrived in Riyadh, the al-Gheshayan sisters were not there. They'd left for a rush "vacation" to a London hotel room, where, surrounded by male Saudi relatives and coached by a Saudi lobbyist from the American PR firm Qorvis Communications, which should be ashamed of itself, the two girls told an Associated Press reporter, who should be ashamed of herself, that they hate their mother and "will not rest until she dies." This grotesque scene was then reported back to the States by a second invited witness, whose gullible boss, Fox News talkshow host Bill O'Reilly, promptly pronounced it credible. O'Reilly should be ashamed of himself, too. But the man who should be most ashamed of all is Adel al-Jubeir. Because he set the whole thing up.