Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Colorado Bows to the Saudis

One well-known weakness of the U.S. is that we have difficulty paying attention to more than one foreign crisis at a time. So while Hezbollah is getting Lebanon ready to burn - a subject I've been commenting about on various Lebanon-oriented blogs, especially Michael Totten's - I thought it might be a good idea to peek outside the tent to see what was going on elsewhere.

John Burgess blogged about the return today of Colorado's Attorney General from Saudi Arabia, where he was subject to several days of "aggressive questioning" - that is, interrogation - by the Saudi King and lesser persons of importance on the conviction of Homaidan Al-Turki for the enslavement and rape of his Indonesian maid:
In what I consider to be a nice piece of public diplomacy, Colorado Attorney General Suthers went to Saudi Arabia to explain the process by which Homaidan Al-Turki was convicted...At the very least, in defending the American judicial system he made it clear that Americans stand behind and respect that system.

I was not pleased:
I watched the video. Suthers actually said that he was certain he didn't change any minds. He also discovered, in the course of sessions of "aggressive questioning" by the Saudi King and his advisors, and again by the Interior minister, that his interlocutors were poorly briefed as to the specifics of the case - they simply didn't do their homework.

The stumbling block here was Saudi sexist and racist prejudice: the word of an Indonesian maid (no matter what her religion is) isn't to be believed over that of a Saudi male, so the only possible explanation must be anti-Muslim prejudice. So the defendant's family tried to shield their boy by equating his fate to that of all Muslims.

The key revelation to the Saudis was that they didn't know that two other maids had also testified that they had been sexually assaulted by the defendant. In Islam, a woman's testimony is half a man's, correct? Therefore the testimony of three women is superior to that of one male.

A measure of Saudi embarassment may be found in the total absence of this story from Saudi newspapers since this Arab News article of November 17th. That story described Suthers' meeting with the defendant's relatives and the Saudi Human Rights Commission. Gee, how many AGs look forward to meeting the relatives of people they convicted away from their home turf, at the total mercy of their hosts, surrounded by people primed to accuse them of violating the defendant's human rights?

Maybe this is a PR triumph, but you would have to be a diplomat to understand that. It does not appear to be a case of reciprocation: has any Saudi prosecutor ever flown to the U.S. to be grilled by a Congressional committee for failure to prosecute, or keep in prison, known terrorists? I can't see that attorney generals all over the country haven't received another message entirely: that ultimately they can be held accountable to the Saudi royal family, not their elected constituency.

To dispel this negative impression, the Saudi government could release a statement assuring Americans that they will never ask that this sort of episode be repeated ever again, and if they have future questions on such matters, they will be handled on U.S. soil just like everybody else.

As the Rocky Mountain News wrote:
Did it really need a personal trip to the Saudi King?...Foreign nationals are convicted in Colorado courts on a regular basis. Surely Al-Turki's friends and relations are not the first to consider their loved one a victim of alleged American intolerance and bias. Shall we dispatch the AG on a lengthy mission to smooth ruffled feathers and justify our legal system every time these suspicions surface - or only when they involve a monarch presiding over one of the most reactionary autocracies on Earth?

I'm quite upset that one question the AG had to deal with was if President Bush could issue a pardon to al-Turki. Suthers had to personally deny that the president had jurisdiction over this case. We've seen how Clinton abused his pardoning authority; clearly, the Saudi King was expecting something similar from President Bush.

The implication is that Suthers' trip to Saudi Arabia was necessary to explain the excuse for the president's inactivity on behalf of a well-connected Saudi family. As if President Bush needed a note from his mother to tell his teacher that the dog ate his homework. [Linked at The Carnival of the Insanities]

Addendum: All federal charges - labor and immigration violations - against al-Turki were dropped in September, the U.S. attorney saying that prosecution wasn't necessary after the state case.

Update, 11/23: Debbie Schlussel was kind enough to provide this link to a detailed story in the Rocky Mountain News:
For all of the coverage the case has received, Suthers said Saudi officials seemed surprised at two aspects that had not been reported there. They did not know that two other women had testified at the trial as having experienced similar treatment. They also did not realize that Al-Turki did not testify during the trial.

While that choice is a defendant's right in an American court, it carries a different impact in Saudi Arabia, Suthers said.

"In the Saudi system, the failure to testify is very significant. When somebody makes an accusation, you're expected to respond," he said.

David Harsani has also penned an interesting commentary in today's Denver Post: Saudis need a mirror to see injustice.

Update, 11/29/06: It appears that Homaidan al-Turki's family connections are a carefully guarded secret. While the names of his wife and children are publicized, his parents, aunts, and uncles are simply referred to as "influential relatives", even by those Americans who have met them.

There is a Lieutenant-General Mansour al-Turki who is the director of the Haj affairs department in the directorate of public security and is the Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jeddah is Saleh Al-Turki, an Abdul-Aziz Al-Turki is Secretary General of the Organization of Arab Oil Exporting States, and of course the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. is also named al-Turki. There is nothing beyond the names to suggest a connection.

However, Abdullah Al-Turki is Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, a religious organization of some influence which publishes books for worldwide distribution - and Homaidan al-Turki's business, Al-Basheer Publications, may have sold some of these. The connection would seem tenuous save for the fact that Suthers emphasized the al-Turki family's religious influence: "His father is an imam".

In the meantime, the case of Hamaidan al-Turki has vanished from the Saudi and American press entirely, in keeping with Suthers' contention that Homaidan al-Turki's "family has a lot of clout with the press over there."

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