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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a key member of the United States-led coalition against terrorism, has imprisoned a dozen or more house-church leaders in Jeddah since last summer.

The Bush administration has not publicly called for the release of the detainees, mostly expatriate workers. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has warned against policy tradeoffs. Human-rights advocates believe the Bush administration will tolerate Saudi abuse of human rights as long as the Saudi royal family supports the war on terrorism. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met recently with Saudi leaders to shore up support for the American-led campaign against the Taliban.

Steve McFarland, the commission's executive director, believes the United States has significant clout with Saudi authorities. "It's not like the United States has its hat in hand," he says. "There are 10,000 gis that are the only thing standing between Riyadh and [Iraq's] Saddam Hussein." American military forces have been stationed in Saudi Arabia since the Gulf War.

The Saudi royal family has repressed internal political opposition. Saudi law requires the nation's 15 million citizens to remain Muslims. Anyone who abandons Islam faces the death penalty. From 1990 to 1999, Saudi Arabia executed 767 people, including 419 foreign nationals, for a variety of offenses. As the United States has increased support for the Saudi regime, Saudi terrorists have targeted Americans. A terrorist bombing in 1996 killed 19 American soldiers at a Saudi airbase in Dhahran.

Despite its record on human rights, the Saudi royal family has a reputation for attempting to stay "in the middle," according to Daniel Hoffman, director of Middle East Concern, a monitoring ...

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December 3, 2001

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