The autobiography of Bernard B. Kerik, President Bush's nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, recounts a difficult time 20 years ago when he was expelled from Saudi Arabia amid a power struggle involving the head of a hospital complex where Kerik helped command a security staff.
In the book, Kerik described his discomfort at having to investigate employees' private lives, but said it was necessary because of the Saudis' laws prohibiting drinking and mingling of the sexes in public. "It was challenging, negotiating such a closed, rigid system and trying to find justice in laws that, to an American, were unjust," he wrote. He was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1984, the book said, after he had a physical altercation with a Saudi secret police official who was interrogating him.
Since he was nominated last week to be homeland security secretary, however, nine former employees of the hospital have said that Kerik and his colleagues were carrying out the private agenda of the hospital's administrator, Nizar Feteih, and that the surveillance was intended to control people's private affairs. Feteih became embroiled in a scandal that centered in part on his use of the institution's security staff to track the private lives of several women with whom he was romantically involved, and men who came in contact with them, the ex-employees said.
Kerik, who as chief of investigations was considered third in command of the security staff, personally surveilled some employees and at times confronted them with the results, several former employees said. He also was a lead investigator in the controversial arrest, for drinking, of a physician who was detained and deported from Saudi Arabia for the crime.
Ex-employees also said the official Saudi investigation of Feteih and the security team was begun in response to hospital employees' complaints to Saudi officials of intimidation by Feteih and the security staff.
After medical personnel at the hospital complained to Saudi officials, the security team helped get one whistleblower jailed overnight, sought to put another into a Saudi mental hospital, and stepped up its surveillance of some members of the medical staff, several of the former hospital employees said. Six members of the hospital security staff, including Kerik, were fired and deported, and Feteih was sacked as hospital administrator after an investigation in 1984 by the Saudi secret police, they said.
Loyalty to Superiors
Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner whom Bush praised as "one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America," was nominated last week to succeed Tom Ridge as secretary of the sprawling anti-terrorism agency created in 2003. If confirmed, Kerik would run a Cabinet department with investigative units, including the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At times they deal with the Saudis.
The former employees said their allegations shed light on the extent of Kerik's loyalty to his superiors. They involve his work from 1982 to 1984 as chief of investigations for the security office at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, one of the kingdom's premier hospitals, where members of the royal family are treated.
"Kerik was a goon," said John Jones, a former hospital manager, who said he felt harassed by the security team. "They were Gestapo. . . . They made my life so miserable."
"Kerik used heavy-handed tactics in following single men around and keeping them away from some women," said Ted Bailey, who was a doctor at the hospital and now practices in Indiana. Added paramedic Michael Queen: "Men and women had to be careful with security, but Bernie was the one we watched out for the most."
Kerik said that he knows of no improprieties by the security staff, and that he was put in an awkward position in having to enforce the strict Saudi moral code. Alcohol is prohibited under the code, but the government usually allows Westerners to ignore that ban, as well as the ban on intermingling of the sexes, inside the walled compounds of institutions such as the King Faisal hospital and their homes, as long as they do so privately.
Bob Burghardt, who worked with Kerik at the hospital and remains his friend, said in an interview that he knew of no improper surveillance by the security team. "Bernie and I were ostracized [by hospital staff members] for upholding Saudi law," said Burghardt, who is now an auditor.
Gilda Riccardi, then a hospital nurse and now a friend of Kerik's, said that despite strong rumors of wiretapping and impropriety by the security staff, she knows of no proof it occurred. "To implicate Bernie [in any possible misdeeds by the security team], I have a problem with that," said Riccardi, who became friendly with Kerik years later when he was a New York police officer and she was a prosecutor.
Kerik is barred from commenting by the rules governing the confirmation process. A spokesman for Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm for which Kerik works, twice declined to comment. An administration official working with Kerik on his confirmation said Kerik described events at the hospital "with candor and in some detail" in his 2001 memoir, "The Lost Son."