With all eyes fixed on her — particularly those of the senators who reluctantly allowed her eleventh-hour nomination to pass — Consular Affairs chief Maura Harty is making efforts to resolve long-ignored child-abduction cases, in which foreign-national parents have kidnapped American-citizen children to the foreign parent’s home country.
Or at least so it appears.
Harty is taking the unprecedented step of meeting with the parents Monday in a “town hall”-style setting at the Hotel Washington, not far from the White House. The parents will be allowed to vent their frustration at Harty, and the assistant secretary of state for Consular Affairs will likely nod and take copious notes. But if her recent actions are any indication, the parents shouldn’t expect more than the mere appearance of support.
NRO has obtained e-mail correspondence between Harty and one of the parents, Monica Stowers, showing that Harty is doing at best a perfunctory job. Stowers — whose daughter, Amjad, has been trapped in Saudi Arabia for 17 years now — had e-mailed Harty on Valentine’s Day to let her know that the kingdom was not living up to its promise to allow her daughter to leave her desert prison. (Last year, Congressman Dan Burton led a bipartisan delegation to Saudi Arabia, primarily for the purpose of negotiating the release of the many Americans held there against their will. One of the few promises he was able to extract from the House of Saud was that no American would be blocked from leaving Saudi Arabia.)
Last week, Amjad attempted to leave Saudi Arabia with her uncle to go to Bahrain, but was prevented from doing so because she didn’t have written permission from her husband. Such permission is required for all women under Saudi law, but Prince Saud al-Faisal also said it would no longer be necessary for American citizens. Harty’s response? Not to agree that the Saudis had violated their pledge to Congressman Burton, but simply to ask Stowers if the embassy was aware that Amjad was attempting to leave the country.
Many American children languish in foreign lands — not only in the Middle East, but in countries such as Europe, Russia, and Japan — in large part because State has never tried its hand at anything more than polite requests and diplomatic niceties. While other countries might threaten some sort of punishment or retaliation for the illegal harboring of abducted women and children, the United States — through the State Department — refuses to do anything that might upset foreign officials, particularly those in Saudi Arabia. So while Harty promised Stowers in a follow-up e-mail that “we want to work with you to get that exit permit,” Stowers was not comforted.
Still, at least Stowers got a response. Patricia Roush — whose two daughters, Alia and Aisha, were kidnapped by their Saudi father from their suburban Chicago home in 1986 and have been held in Saudi Arabia ever since — has still never been granted the privilege of direct contact with Harty (who had two previous stints heading up the Office of Children’s Issues within Consular Affairs). Despite Roush’s hundreds of phone calls and letters to State over the years, Harty apparently never once felt compelled to communicate with a woman who wanted merely to see her daughters freed.
And Harty’s cold-shouldering has continued to this day: Roush is not on the guest list for the Monday meeting. Though State’s official line is that Roush wasn’t invited because her daughters’ case is no longer considered “active” — which happens to be the way the House of Saud sees the matter too — you have to wonder if Roush’s outspoken criticisms of both State and Harty over the years had at least something to do with her not getting an invitation to the town-hall event.
Venting anger can make some people feel better — at least temporarily — but the parents at Monday’s meeting could well end up as frustrated as Stowers was during her back-and-forth with Harty. When Harty declined to even acknowledge that the Saudis were violating their promise, Stowers shot back, “What is so complicated about it? Freedom is easy.” Not for the likes of Alia and Aisha.
— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist.