Americans Held by Saudi Family Members

ByABC News

W A S H I N G T O N, June 15, 2002 -- For two years, Alexandria Davis says, she was held captive in Saudi Arabia.

"I was locked in the house. I was not [allowed to] talk to anybody because [my father] was afraid that I would, you know, contact an American woman or — or try and call my mom," Alexandria said.

Alexandria's American mother, Miriam Hernandez-Davis, says she was powerless to get her daughter back after her Saudi ex-husband took the girl to his homeland.

"In that country, I really had no recourse. I couldn't even go there to visit. I couldn't see her, and I couldn't get her out even though she was an American citizen."

Under Saudi law, a woman cannot leave the country without the permission of her husband, father or brother.

The House Government Reform Committee held a hearing Wednesday to look into the recurring problem of the abduction of American children to Saudi Arabia.

‘I Would Rather Die Than Stay Here’

Alexandria visited with her father and his family in Saudia Arabia every summer, but the year she turned 11, she says her father told her he wanted to extend her visit.

"When I asked him, that I wanted to start school and go back home, he told me to shut up, he started beating me, and he completely changed and flipped out on me. Out of nowhere," Alexandria said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America on Thursday.

Eventually, she was able to call her mother and tell her of the father's abuse. The House committee heard a recording of that call.

"You should have seen the look in his eyes. I don't know what's wrong with him. I can't stay here anymore. I would rather die than stay here," Alexandria is heard saying.

Alexandria's mother says she paid $180,000 to smuggle her daughter out two years after the girl was forced to stay.

Emotional Words on the Hill

The State Department says there are 46 cases, in addition to Alexandria's, in which more than 90 U.S. citizens are being held in Saudi Arabia.

Mothers and grandmothers of some of these other victims provided emotional testimony before the House panel.

"I came here today to plead for my daughter and my granddaughter's life," said Ethel Stowers, whose two grandchildren are being held by their Saudi father.

In videotaped testimony, Stowers' daughter, Monica, broke down in tears as she described how U.S. Marine guards evicted her from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh when she asked for help getting her two children out of the country in 1990. Saudi authorities then arrested her and handed the children back to the father, Nizar Radwan.

"It's like a horror picture," Monica said, then began weeping.

"Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian state where my daughters are locked up, wrapped up and shut up," Patricia Roush proclaimed. Roush said she's seen her two daughters only once, for two hours, since her husband, Khaled Gheshayan, abducted them to Saudi Arabia in 1986.

At the conclusion of the hearings, Ethel Stowers spoke for all of the women yearning for their children, when through tears she pleaded, "Can anyone tell me why they can't do something for our children? Please help our children."

‘Start Doing Something’

Problems with the custody of American children are not confined to Saudi Arabia's borders. The State Department says there are more than 1,000 children who have been taken overseas and not allowed to return, most of them in Western Europe.

State Department officials say it is U.S. policy in all custody cases to handle them under local law.

Saudi courts almost always favor Saudi fathers in child custody cases involving non-Saudi mothers.

"I don't understand why we have to abide by their law and they can't abide by our law. If these families get divorced in the United States, and the custody orders are issued in the United States, then they should abide by our laws," Hernandez-Davis, Alexandria's mother, said on Good Morning America.

Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., called on President Bush for his help on the Saudi cases.

"We will not let this rest," Burton said Wednesday. "We will continue to push. I promise you as long as I am chairman, we'll do everything we can to get this resolved."

As long as the United States needs Saudi assistance in the war on terrorism, though, Middle East analysts say Washington is unlikely to get tough with Saudi Arabia on this issue.

That's no comfort to women who are desperate to get their children back.

"They are American citizens," Hernandez-Davis said on Good Morning America. "The government needs to start doing something about it now."

ABCNEWS' John Yang contributed to this report.

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