ne by one, they leaned into the microphone and told their stories. David Goldman, the man from Tinton Falls, went first. His former wife, now deceased, took their son to Brazil 5 years ago.
The way Goldman sees it, Sean was abducted. The way Goldman and his supporters see it, the boy is being abused. “Child abduction is child abuse,”’ said Congressman Chris Smith, R-N.J. “We must call it what it is.”
The law in this country happens to agree with Goldman. So does the law in Brazil. As if that weren’t enough, it’s spelled out in bold print in the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction.
Next up at the microphone was Commander Paul Toland, U.S. Navy. His daughter Erika was abducted 6• years ago by his former wife, Etsuko. Etsuko committed suicide two years ago. Erika now lives with her maternal grandmother in Japan, “a black hole for abduction,” as Toland calls it.
He proceeded to draw a vivid picture for his audience. He described what it felt like, standing on a street corner in a foreign land, waiting for his daughter to get out of school.
“Oct. 16, day before her birthday,” he added later, after he’d testified. “I was worried I might get arrested for approaching my daughter. Christopher Savoie was still in jail in Japan.”
Savoie, the man from Tennessee, had attempted to take matters into his own hands in September. He traveled to Japan, grabbed his two kids, and made a run for it. He had exhausted all other avenues. The authorities caught him.
“I wanted to give my daughter a birthday present,” Toland went on. “She was a little standoffish at first. She didn’t really talk to me. It was over quickly. She went into the apartment building where she lives.”
“As I was leaving I saw her looking out the window. Then she was pulled away.”
“It was a long trip for such a brief visit, but it was worth it. Now she knows she has a dad. She knows he exists.”
Patrick Braden of Los Angeles was next. The last time he saw his daughter Melissa was in 2006. She, too, is living in Japan, an important American ally that has yet to sign the Hague treaty. Braden pointed out that over the course of time Japan has not returned one single abducted child, “zero.”
Then Tom Sylvester spoke. His daughter, Carina, was 13 months old when she was abducted and taken to Austria, another ally. Now she is 15 years old.
“For the past 14 years I have lived in a world where right is wrong and wrong is right,” Sylvester said.
The first time David Goldman told me his story 15 months ago, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Since then, I have come to find out that there are many stories like his, thousands in fact. There are 2,800 American children alone who have been abducted, at last count. Sixty-six of them are in Brazil, which isn’t even deemed a “non-compliant” country by those who keep track of Hague violations. Can you imagine what must go on in the countries that made the list? How is this possible in an allegedly civilized world?
That’s what the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission wanted to know … among other things. A lot of people want to know. That’s why they held the hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, that’s why they had to bring more chairs into room 1310 of the Longworth Building. That’s why Goldman was on the “Today” show first thing in the morning, why CNN grabbed him as soon as the hearing was over.
Chaired by Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., the commission got an earful. When the four left-behind fathers were done with their testimony, Wolf was up in arms. So were Smith and Congressman Rush Holt, D-N.J.
“Wait a minute,” Wolf wanted to know. “Your daughter is in Austria? Wasn’t Austria rebuilt with American dollars under the Marshall Plan? And your daughter, sir, is in Japan? Wasn’t Japan rebuilt with American dollars?”
He went on to suggest that these men needed to tell their stories directly to the secretary of state, then to the president of the United States. ““If the President can go to Copenhagen to get the Olympics,’”’ Wolf added, “I certainly think he could make a trip to these countries to help U.S. citizens.”
After the fathers came the panel of experts, including Patricia Apy, Goldman’s attorney from Red Bank; Judge Peter Messitte, who knows both the Hague Convention and the Brazilian judicial system backward and forward; and former Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson.
These four left-behind parents had all followed the rules in trying to get their children back, Apy noted, none of them “went off the reservation.”
Messitte then said he thinks the “unbelievably slow” judicial system in Brazil is catching on to what the Hague Convention is all about, a good thing.
Then Aronson brought down the house with this: “If 2,800 American children were abducted tomorrow by Somali pirates … the President of the United States would summon congressional leaders to the White House, convene an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, dispatch Delta forces and aircraft carriers to where the children were being held, send his United Nations ambassador to convene an emergency meeting of the Security Council, and go before the nation in prime time to report on what the U.S. government would do to secure the return of these abducted children.”
“Well,” Aronson concluded, “two thousand eight hundred American children HAVE been abducted.”
He went on to deplore the fact that left-behind parents everywhere must live in a “Kafkaesque world” filled with “Catch-22” absurdities.
David Goldman understands only too well. “My reality is somebody else’s bad fiction,” he was saying over lunch Wednesday.