Enemy of the kingdom
Citrus Heights mother Patricia Roush takes her personal battle with Saudi Arabia to America’s bookstores
The Saudi Arabian government and the U.S. State Department can agree on one thing: Patricia Roush is a thorn in their sides. “I’m public enemy No. 1,” said the Citrus Heights mother. “[A Saudi official] referred to me as ‘an enemy of the kingdom.’”
What crime has she committed? She simply won’t stop speaking out. And to make matters worse, she’s written a book.
She’s not an Ivy League anti-Arab pundit peddling the new xenophobia. For Roush, like the tagline for Jaws: The Revenge, this time it’s personal. Her book At Any Price: How America Betrayed My Kidnapped Daughters for Saudi Oil screams rage on every page.
The book chronicles the torturous tale of how her two daughters, Alia and Aisha, were kidnapped at ages 3 and 7, respectively, from their Chicago home on January 26, 1986, by her ex-husband and taken to his native Saudi Arabia. She’s been fighting to get them back for the last 17 years. At one point, she even hired a team of mercenaries to extract her daughters, an effort that ended in a gun battle that left all but one of her team dead.
“No one is handling this issue except for me. No one is working for their release,” said Roush. “It’s a bit like the POW/MIA issue where this government wishes that it would go away or ignores it.
“I have the most high-profile international abduction case,” said Roush. “I’ve gone to everyone: princes, kings, walking the halls of Congress. I lobbied hard and strong for my daughters.”
On paper, Roush’s efforts have been productive. “We have four fantastic pieces of legislation. Almost anything that has to do with this subject has come from my efforts,” said Roush. “The Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department was my idea.”
Yet, she’s still far from satisfied. Roush just returned from Geneva, Switzerland, where she spoke at a session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. “We presented it as contemporary slavery, and we also filed it under civil and political human-rights abuse and women’s-rights abuses,” said Roush. “Saudi Arabia is a signatory to many human-rights treaties, yet they still go on their merry way and abuse all these people.”
Roush is emphatic that contemporary slavery is alive and well in Saudi Arabia. “I don’t know what else to call it when people are unable to have freedom of movement, speech, decision-making—they’re forced into arranged marriages, they’re forced to have sex with a strange man and bear their children. They’re forced not to speak to their American family, never to know their mother,” said Roush. “For women, it’s a life sentence.
“The same depravities that Saddam Hussein’s sons lived with in their palaces are practiced as a daily routine every day in Saudi palaces,” said Roush. “It’s a shame on America.”
Saudi Arabia has remained an important U.S. ally in the Middle East both for the oil it provides and for the U.S. military bases Saudis have allowed on their soil. For this partnership, the State Department gets even more of Roush’s venom than the Saudis do. “I’ve worked with administrations and four State Departments. George W. Bush has been terrible,” she said.
Beyond the department being deaf to her constant drumbeat, Roush accuses it of being willfully cruel and actively working to betray her. The most recent example was last September when Representative Dan Burton, R-Ind., led a congressional delegation to Saudi Arabia to get Roush’s daughters out. That same weekend, the Saudi government flew the two women to London for a meeting with a State Department representative.
“The State Department called and said my daughters were somewhere in Europe. They said, ‘We can’t tell you where they are. We want your permission to interview them and take a statement.’ They didn’t need my permission; they were just rubbing my nose in it,” said Roush. “They were calling to try to destroy me. They were calling to cause me a great deal of pain, which they did.”
The State Department also wouldn’t tell Roush where her daughters were or how they were.
“Alia and Aisha were taken to London, and the Saudi government paid for all expenses. The next day, the State Department called me and said that a statement had been taken down, that they had sent somebody from the American embassy. Their father was there, even though he’s wanted around the world on counts of kidnapping and was on the red alert for Interpol, [as were] the men that married them, their uncles, members of the Saudi government and an employee from Qorvis Communications, who was sitting in the room with my daughters and telling them how to answer by head signals.” (Qorvis is the Saudi government’s Washington, D.C.-based public-relations firm.)
“An AP reporter, very friendly with the Saudis, was flown in from Cairo to interview them, also,” Roush said. “The AP reporter stated in her article that Alia and Aisha had dark circles under their eyes and looked like they hadn’t slept for a long time. When there were two knocks on the door of the room, both girls jumped. They were anxious, they were twisting their hands, and yet they were forced to say they did not want to come home. And the State Department thinks this is just fine,” fumed Roush.
To avoid numerous Interpol warrants waiting for Roush’s ex-husband in London, the Saudi government gave him different passports in different names, she said. “He bragged about it to the American embassy in Riyadh. They do it all the time.”
According to Roush, the State Department times its actions to hurt her most. “A couple of days before I testified at Burton’s committee hearing, my daughter Aisha was married off, and I found that out the day before the hearing. I found out that my daughter Alia had a baby. The State Department sadistically waited to again hurt me.”
The only time Roush has seen her daughters since the kidnapping was in 1995. She was only in the same room with them for two hours. At that time, they were 16 and 13. According to Roush, they said, “Mom, don’t leave us here. Take us home, please.”
“I was able to speak to Aisha a few days before 9/11. The embassy had given me my ex-husband’s phone number, and he allowed me to talk to her, which he never did again. She must have told me 100 times she loved me. She said, ‘Come here, Mom. Help.’ And her father took the phone away from her and never let me speak to her again. Then she was forced into this arranged marriage last summer.
“Aisha told the AP reporter that she ‘couldn’t even go on a honeymoon because my mother would kidnap me.’ They’ve never left the country before or since.
“They’re not little girls anymore. How can you kidnap a 24-year-old? If she goes to Switzerland on vacation, am I going to kidnap her? Alia was asked by the mercenary, ‘Do you want to go home?’ and she said that ‘Allah would kill my whole family if I leave.’”
A 2002 U.N. agreement demands the release of all American women and children from Saudi Arabia. “The Saudis have said that anybody can leave that wants to, but nobody has been able to,” said Roush. “An American woman tried to leave in February and was stopped at the border. She was issued a Saudi passport but couldn’t use it.”
“Congressman Burton went there last summer and confirmed what I’ve been saying all along, that there are hundreds of American women who married Saudis, and their daughters who can’t leave. Boys can usually leave if they’re 18,” said Roush. “One woman told Burton that her husband threatened to cut her into little pieces and mail her to America.
“My daughters have the right to come home to America,” said Roush. “They have the right to know their mom, for their mom to know their children, and they have the right to stay here if they want to.”
According to Roush, “We are victims of the Washington/Riyadh connection, the cultural corruption fostered by Washington. We don’t have that same sick connection with the other oil-producing nations in the Arabian Gulf. That is because of the reward system [in Saudi Arabia]. Many of the former U.S. diplomats that worked in Saudi Arabia end up working for the Saudis. The U.S. corporations that built Saudi Arabia have deals, trillions of dollars of deals that contributed to this corruption.
“Newt Gingrich was right. He said the State Department’s numerous failed efforts at diplomacy have been fueled by self-interest rather than the interest of the country.”
The Washington/Riyadh connection is so strong, Roush said, that “when the Saudi ambassador [Bandar bin Sultan] is invited to Kennebunkport, Maine, he’s called Bandar Bush. I think that says quite a bit. He’s the only one in the diplomatic corps who is allowed State Department police protection. He has $70 million a year that his government allows him for lobbying Washington, which is technically against the law, but he does it very well.”
Bin Sultan contributed more than $1 million to George H.W. Bush’s presidential library and museum. The former president is affiliated with the Carlyle Group, which does extensive business with the Saudis.
Roush said the U.S. move to pull some military operations out of Saudi Arabia and move those operations to nearby Qatar is too little, too late: “It is a move that the princes think will help them with the Wahabist extremists.” These groups see U.S. troops as infidels occupying land in the country that houses Islam’s two holiest sites.
“The Saudis are in a lot of trouble right now. They are more and more implicated in Al Qaeda, in terrorism. The royal family was implicated in giving money to one of the hijacker’s families. They support Hamas, suicide bombers’ families. And yet Washington says they are OK, they’re a good country, they’re our friends.”
“I’d like to see us appoint someone like Jay Garner to go into Saudi Arabia and be able to negotiate for these people, someone outside of the State Department,” said Roush. (Garner is the retired general who, until last week, served as interim U.S. administrator in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.) “I’m also working privately on securing the release of these women—alternative methods for them to leave.”
She refused to elaborate further.
“My friend went to Saudi Arabia today. I’m trying to help her get her daughter out, who is 10 years old. I’m working on getting the others out, and I will not stop until I die.”