- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Surprise honors

Few in the audience for Sunday’s commencement at Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., recognized a man seated politely at the dais.

His identity became clear only when outgoing college President George R. Houston Jr. diverted from the program to announce that he was awarding a presidential medal to Mohammed Odeh Al Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who risked his life by urging U.S. Special Forces teams to make a daring predawn rescue of captured and wounded Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

“At first there was stunned silence — it was a complete surprise,” Catherine Bartos, whose daughter received her diploma, tells Inside the Beltway. “Then this small man stood up and the place just exploded with applause — five minutes of sustained applause and tears — that went on and on and on and on. It was wonderful.

“Finally, at least a part of the American public was able to thank him for what he did for one of our own.”

Duffy Ross, director of communications for the Mount, says due to security concerns, the presence of 33-year-old Mr. Al Rahaief wasn’t announced. The Iraqi lawyer; his wife, Iman; and their 5-year-old daughter — recently granted asylum in the United States — had been staying with a family of the one of the Mount’s graduates.

“The president wove the presentation of the medal into his remarks, and the community was very much moved,” says Mr. Ross. He described the lawyer as “genuinely honored and moved by the recognition.”

This newspaper reported yesterday that Mr. Al Rehaief has accepted a job with Washington lobbying firm the Livingston Group, founded by former Rep. Bob Livingston, Louisiana Republican.

Saudi ‘slaves’

On the heels of three deadly terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia, an American woman whose daughters have been held as “slaves” in the Saudi kingdom for nearly two decades is appealing to President Bush to free them and hundreds of other American women and children unable to come home.

“These women are being kept as contemporary slaves of the male guardians that control their physical body and soul,” Patricia Roush writes in a letter to Mr. Bush. “Get them out now and send them home to America.”

The woman’s daughters, Alia and Aisha, were kidnapped more than 17 years ago by a Saudi father they barely knew. They were 3 and 7 at the time.

Mrs. Roush recently revealed in her book “At Any Price” that she made several desperate and risky attempts to rescue her daughters. Now she’s hoping that Mr. Bush, at a time when U.S. heat has been turned up on the Saudi royal family, will initiate a policy change with the country.

Margaret Scobey, deputy chief at the U.S. mission in Saudi Arabia, said recently that “although the embassy will continue to press for the rights of all American women to depart the kingdom without the permission of a male guardian, the embassy does not yet have such a broad commitment from Saudi authorities.”

Mrs. Roush recommends the State Department issue a powerful demarche to the Saudi family, rather than merely exchanging diplomatic “pretty pleases.”

Boxer match

Just before George W. Bush walked onto the stage at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia to accept the GOP presidential nomination, California Assemblyman Abel Maldonado made history by delivering a speech entirely in Spanish.

Now, the son of immigrant farm laborers who was elected in 1998 to represent California’s 33rd District, is being touted by Republican operatives in Washington and California as the strongest candidate to unseat the state’s liberal junior senator, Barbara Boxer.

A Bush administration official with close ties to Mr. Maldonado, who asks not to be identified, calls the assemblyman “a proven vote-getter from the moderate central coast, a strong fund-raiser with ties to the high-tech and agriculture industries whose family rose from the humble strawberry fields of central California to build a thriving business and secure a piece of the American dream.

“Abel truly reflects the new face and optimistic and inclusive message of George W. Bush’s Republican Party, and is the silver bullet in the GOP’s arsenal to retire Boxer,” the official says.

We’re told that Mr. Maldonado will make no decision about a Senate race until the state Assembly adjourns in early June.

However, he sounded every bit the candidate as keynote speaker Monday night at a Los Angeles Republican Party fund-raiser — introduced by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan as “my good friend and someone I want to see replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate.”

Mrs. Boxer, serving her second term, is up for re-election in 2004.

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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