- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

State Department official Maura Harty, chosen by President Bush to take over the department's troubled visa division, is under fire from critics who say she failed in a prior post to protect American children who have been kidnapped and taken to Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.
A senior State Department official confirmed yesterday that Mr. Bush plans to send Ms. Harty's nomination to the Senate for confirmation.
The decision sets up a potentially bruising confirmation battle, with human rights groups and parents of kidnapped children vowing to prevent Ms. Harty from taking the post.
"Her record was one of indifference bordering on hostility toward the interests of parents of abducted children," said Patricia Roush, whose two teenage daughters were taken to Saudi Arabia by their father when they were infants.
"Her priorities were not to bring back kidnapped U.S. children from foreign countries but to maintain the State Department policies of remaining 'neutral' and 'impartial,'" Mrs. Roush said.
Mrs. Roush said she last spoke to one of her daughters several years ago by telephone. She said the girl cried, 'Mommy, mommy, come here and help me,' before the father grabbed the phone and hung up.
Mrs. Roush said that when she told consular officials about the call they ridiculed her by saying that her daughter could not have been able to speak English.
She said she has since heard that both daughters have been sold to men as brides, an everyday practice in the desert kingdom.
Ms. Harty, who declined to comment for this article, holds the post of executive secretary at the State Department. She served as director of the Office of Children's Issues from 1994 to 1995 and from 1999 to 2000.
She would replace Mary Ryan, who retired as chief of Consular Affairs earlier this month amid charges that lax visa policies in her department had allowed the September 11 hijackers to enter the United States.
A coalition of 55 human rights groups said yesterday that it is sending a letter to Mr. Bush condemning his choice.
"He should look for someone strong who can stand up for American concerns and American individuals," said the Rev. Keith Roderick of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights.
"Maura Harty had her chance, and it didn't happen."
Maureen Dabbagh's daughter, Nadia, was abducted and taken to Syria and then Saudi Arabia in 1993 by her Syrian father.
"I have never seen her again," Mrs. Dabbagh wrote in letter to members of Congress. "My child is not home because of Maura Harty. I was told that the objective of the Office of Children's Issues was to 'Lower Parent Expectations.'"
More than 1,000 American children have been taken abroad by divorced or estranged spouses, beyond the reach of U.S. law.
In some cases, children are taken to other Western nations and wind up involved in extended custody disputes involving competing court systems.
But cases in Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, with primitive court systems and where women and children have few rights, the abductions often prove particularly tragic.
Miriam Hernandez-Davis of Pembroke Pines, Fla., said her daughter Alexandria Davis, formerly Yasmeen Alexandria al-Shalhoub, was 11 when she was taken against her will by her Saudi father, Khalid al-Shalhoub, to Saudi Arabia in June 1997.
"My daughter was able to secretly call me in December 1997," Mrs. Hernandez-Davis wrote in a letter.
"Alexandria's phone calls consisted of her cries and retelling incidents of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse," she wrote. "Her father consistently beat her every time she mentioned she wanted to come home, locked her in the house and left her alone for hours as punishments and [she] was repeatedly told she would go to hell and burn in hell."
The daughter, who was singled out for abuse because she was a Christian who refused to convert to Islam, called the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia and was told not to come there because officials could not help her.
Mrs. Hernandez-Davis managed to have her daughter smuggled out of Saudi Arabia.
"My daughter is back home in the United States because I paid $200,000 to help get her rescued and because my daughter was remarkably strong willed, but not because the State Department and Office of Children's Issues cared to help," she wrote.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, and several interns from his office sought to publicize the issue yesterday with a demonstration outside the Saudi Embassy in support of parents whose children are being held in Saudi Arabia.
"This is not a domestic-custody issue," Mr. Wolf said. "These people deserve to come home. We ask that they be allowed to come home."
Though the issue of abducted American children occasionally surfaces with demonstrations like the one sponsored by Mr. Wolf, Ms. Harty's confirmation hearings appear destined to serve as a lightning rod for further criticism.
Monica Stowers of Katy, Texas, wrote in a letter to Congress opposing the Harty nomination that her son, Rasheed Radwan, and daughter, Amjad Radwan, "were given no assistance whatsoever by the office [Ms. Harty] held dealing with children's issues in the State Department."
Mrs. Stowers said that in 12 years, "my son had a nervous breakdown and my daughter was married off by her father at age twelve."
"The State Department stance has always been to follow Saudi law. We deserve someone who will act in our interest first, not in the interests of their Saudi clients," she said.

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