U.S. Mothers Seek to Regain Custody of Children Being Held in Saudi Arabia

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, June 12, 2002, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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Other guests and topics for
June 12, 2002 included:
• We asked Paul Bremer, of the National Commission on Terrorism, about the future of President Bush's bioterrorism bill
• Why the sudden rush to tell Jose Padilla's story when it had been kept secret for so long? Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., explained
• How did a Puerto Rican-American from Brooklyn get involved with Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network? Maulana Shafayat Mohamed, leader of Padilla's mosque, and former federal prosecutor John Loftus weighed in
• The FBI is looking into whether the next wave of terrorist attacks could come from the water. Jeff Nadler of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors joined us to discuss
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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: An emotional hearing on Capitol Hill today… A House committee is looking into child custody cases involving American children held by their fathers in Saudi Arabia.

Pat Roush is one mother who testified today. Her children were kidnapped by their father, who brought them to Saudi Arabia, where they remain today.

Pat joins us from Washington now, along with Indiana Congressman Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which held today's hearings.

So Pat… I presume you had custody and a legal order and so forth, and your ex-husband grabbed the kids and went to Saudi Arabia. What did the Saudi government offer you in the way of advice or help?

PAT ROUSH, SEEKING DAUGHTERS: Actually, when the girls were first taken in 1986, I connected with U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon from Illinois, and he called Prince Bandar… He held up arms packages to the Saudis in the U.S. Senate, and Prince Bandar was very, very cooperative at that time.

… The Saudis were going to give them back about 10 months after they were taken, and there was a complete deal on the table with the Saudi Arabian government, because they weren't liking what was happening with the Congress. The State Department prevented the embassy from going into the last final negotiations with the Saudis to return my daughters. This is just 10 months after they were taken.

And after that, after the Saudis saw that the State Department would not allow the ambassador to go into the meeting, they told me, "Your children will come home if and when we decide. Your government doesn't want. Your State Department won't help you."

… For the next 16 years it was all downhill.

GIBSON: So Congressman Burton, why is it the U.S. State Department would stand in the way of Mrs. Roush being reunited with her daughters?

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), HOUSE GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, that's a great question. They shouldn't have. They should have been doing everything they could to get these children back. They should have put pressure on the Saudi government. Instead, they did just the opposite. We were very upset, all the members of the committee, on both the Democrat and Republican sides, when we heard her story, as well as the story of the other two ladies.

It's tragic, in my opinion, that the State Department hasn't denied visas to Saudi families who have been involved in kidnappings like the Roush case or the other cases. It's just tragic. We told them today, the State Department, that unless they change and start putting heat on the Saudi government, we were going to be all over them like water on a webbed duck.

GIBSON: Pat… So what about the Saudis? Have you gotten a feeling from them, since they realized they weren't going to be pressured by the American State Department, that you had all the rights and privileges of any Saudi woman — which is zero — and that your daughters were going to stay with their father?

ROUSH: … The Saudis told me I had to go to Saudi Arabia to go to Sharia court, which is Islamic court… Saudi women have no standing in an Islamic court, and as a Christian American woman, I would have zero…

So, in other words, the State Department told me they wouldn't help me, the Saudis told me I could go to Islamic court, which means nothing — I wouldn't win. So what choices did I have? None.

GIBSON: Anywhere along the line, did you have any contact with a Saudi official who offered you any hope, or did they just slam the door in your face every time?

ROUSH: The Saudis continually played games and tricks on me, since the Department of State reneged on that deal. I can tell you stories. In 1988, Walter Cutler was due to go back to Saudi Arabia as his second term as ambassador, because they had expelled Ambassador Hume Horan, non-persona gratis, because of the… clandestine purchase of Silkworm missiles by the Saudis.

I asked Senator Dixon to hold up the confirmation of Walter Cutler… so I met with the representative of Prince Salman in New York at the Waldorf, and he told me, "If Walter Cutler is in Saudi Arabia, things will go very well for you."

He encouraged me to ask Dixon to take the hold off of Cutler. I went to Washington, met with Cutler at the State Department and Assistant Secretary of State Joan Clark. They said [that] yes, Cutler was there, that he would go ahead and negotiate for my daughters.

So Dixon took the hold off Cutler's confirmation. Cutler was confirmed in the Senate. He went back to Saudi Arabia. After he was there, he refused to talk to me or the senator… Also, the Saudis refused to talk to me.

They have played tricks on me all along. I could tell you stories...

GIBSON: … Congressman Burton, this seems to be just the latest… actually, it's one of the oldest of these Saudi outrages. Why is it we can't crack this…

BURTON: … We can. What we have to do is use every tool at our disposal to put pressure on them. One tool that can be used that has been used elsewhere very effectively is to say that nobody in the family of the person who's committed this crime… can get a visa to come to the United States for anything.

Once you start cutting off visas for these people, many of whom are in very high places, it's going to put the fear of God into the Saudi government… We've got to use every diplomatic tool we have, and the State Department has not done that…

GIBSON: ... Americans are so annoyed and angry at a lot of things that have happened with the Saudis lately. We can't get information on these terrorists who attacked us. How have you reacted to all the latest Saudi news?

ROUSH: It's awful. I mean, it's continuing. But one good thing that's happened since 9/11 is [that] the things that I've been talking about for the last 16 years have come to light in the straight press, so to speak. Everyone is now talking about Saudi Arabia, and the truth is coming to the top of the surface…

GIBSON: Pat Roush... good luck. We appreciate it. Pat Roush joining us.

ROUSH: Thank you.

GIBSON: And Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Thanks to both of you.

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