By Debbie Gregory.
Before accepting a defense contract job in Kuwait, Barbara Jennings had served in the region as part of Operation Desert Storm. After two decades, she retired from the Army in 2003. But now she finds herself tied to the region once again.
In March, 2016, Jennings’ son, Gabriel Walker, also a contractor, was sentenced to 20 years in Kuwaiti prison for the crime of marijuana possession.
Although the outlook is grim, she is a mother who will continue to fight to bring her son home.
Jennings has received very little in the way of assistance from the U.S. government.
Walker is one of eight imprisoned Americans in Kuwait.
He had been staying at a friend’s apartment when he was arrested in the early hours of the morning. Jennings learned of the arrest from one of her son’s friends. Jennings tracked Walker down to the Central Prison, a notoriously overcrowded jail complex on the edge of Kuwait City.
Jennings secured a lawyer and was prepared to pay the estimated $13,000 in legal fees to help her son.
Although the attorney, Fayez Tahous Al-Otaibi was challenged to speak English, he said that he’d successfully defended Americans in court before. Whether that is true is doubtful. Jennings said she paid Al-Otaibi about $20,000, but now can’t even get a response to her calls and emails.
The other Americans that have been arrested under similar circumstances were detained by Kuwait’s Criminai Investigations Department (CID.) CID units have been characterized as unscrupulous, targeting foreigners and either planting evidence or making unfounded accusations, taking the accused straight to jail. CID agents planting evidence is a common allegation. But judges are more apt to believe their own than the foreigners that are trial before them.
Currently the eight Americans being held at Central Prison are African American, and all were working as defense contractors when they got arrested.
Walker has suffered extreme physical abuse during his incarceration. Jennings immediately reported this to the U.S. State Department, and was stung by the coldness of the response. “They just said he wasn’t hurt that bad.”
The State Department verified that it had received the complaint from Jennings, and said that the department works with prison officials to ensure treatment consistent with internationally recognized standards. But that doesn’t appear to be the case in Kuwait.
Although the U.S. does not have a prisoner transfer agreement with Kuwait, an exchange is still possible. And unfortunately, that may be the only way home for Jennings and Walker.