In July, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio joined three Democratic colleagues, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, in a letter to President Trump urging action on a case that has gotten far too little media attention — the apparent detention of the son and daughter of Saad al Jabri.
The lawmakers expressed grave concern that Omar and Sarah al Jabri were being held against their will to compel their father’s return from Canada to Riyadh to face charges of corruption.
Mr. al Jabri served under former Minister of Interior Muhammad bin Nayef (widely known as MBN), the onetime next-in-line for the Saudi throne who has been displaced by now-Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS). Fearing getting caught up in a desert version of “Game of Thrones,” Mr. al Jabri submitted his resignation, which was not accepted.
The elderly King Salman instead fired him months later, after which Dr. al Jabri remained an adviser to MBN before departing for Canada in 2017. In June 2017, the new crown prince, as part of broad move to consolidate power, replaced MBN and relieved him of all official positions by royal decree.
In their letter, the senators described Mr. al Jabri as a “highly valued partner” in the ongoing fight against al Qaeda. Mr. al Jabri, who earned a PhD in artificial intelligence and rose to the rank of major general in the Saudi military, was critical to building the post-9/11 U.S.-Saudi security partnership as well as transforming the kingdom’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency capability.
I met Mr. al Jabri while serving as chief of the CIA’s Middle East Division, and found him to be a brilliant public servant dedicated to countering extremism and disrupting terrorist plots. He created the Riyadh Contact Group, which trained Western security professionals in countering extremist ideology, and disrupted numerous terrorist attacks, including the notorious explosive-laden printer plot of October 2010.
I watched in real time as U.S. authorities disrupted that plot, which involved two packages, each with plastic explosives and detonators, bound for Chicago via the U.K. and Dubai from Yemen. Mr. al Jabri and his Interior Ministry colleagues passed to the U.S. tactical intelligence confirming a female terrorist had dropped off the packages at FedEx and UPS offices in Yemen.
Much has been written in recent weeks about Mr. al Jabri’s lawsuit in which he accused MBS of dispatching a “tiger squad” hit team to Canada to assassinate him in October 2018. Canadian Border Guards reportedly detained a group of Saudis carrying bags of forensic tools and allegedly planning to target Mr. al Jabri.
The Saudi government has every right to contest Mr. al Jabri’s lawsuit and pursue all legal means to bring him home to face justice for any crimes he has truly committed. In October 2019, Canada rejected a Saudi extradition request for Mr. al Jabri, leaving open the possibility the two sides might find some common ground in agreeing to take the case to an international court.
But Saudi Arabia’s ongoing detention of Mr. al Jabri’s innocent children, and the refusal to allow them to join their parents in exile, openly conflict with U.S. policy to resolve disputes with respect for the rule of law and freedom from arbitrary detention. The case has understandably caught the attention of U.S. lawmakers on humanitarian grounds as well.
The senators’ July letter reflected the ethos of U.S. national security, which relies both on lethal strikes against our irreconcilable enemies and on “soft power” commitments to human rights enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. There has long been tension between international humanitarian law and an individual nation’s territorial integrity. International law implies a duty not to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states — but also makes exceptions for gross human rights violations.
The recent UAE-Israeli normalization pact, which the Trump administration deftly facilitated, has the potential to transform the region by spurring economic growth and more effectively countering Iran. Already some are speculating that Oman and Bahrain could possibly following the UAE in reaching a deal with Israel.
But as the center of Islam, with immense oil reserves and a “Vision 2030” plan that MBS hopes will transform and modernize the kingdom’s society, economy and military, Saudi Arabia remains the key to a durable Middle East peace.
The lawmakers’ letter was an implicit acknowledgement of the centrality of a healthy U.S.-Saudi alliance, which continues to be a driving force for stability in the Persian Gulf, countering Iran, and counterterrorism. Continuing to detain his children not only undermines the Saudi legal case against Mr. al Jabri, but also provides ammunition to those who seek to drive a wedge between our two nations, at a time when the need to work together against those who truly seek to do us harm has never been more urgent.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.