Shaheen, who was addressing a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, said Amer Fakhoury has been illegally detained since Sept. 12. The 57-year-old Fakhoury, who owns a restaurant in Dover, New Hampshire, went to visit family in Lebanon on vacation -- his first trip back in nearly 20 years.
“I think his health is very critical and we do not want a situation where he dies in Lebanese custody," the Democratic senator testified during a hearing on Lebanon and Iraq. She said sanctions should include ones that would make any involved officials and their family members ineligible for entry into the United States.
Joey Hood, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the U.S. Embassy team in Beirut visited Fakhoury on Wednesday. “There are grave concerns about the process and the way he's being treated,” he said. “But we are making this our absolute highest priority at the embassy and here at the State Department.”
Shaheen said, "I think this is a very serious situation that has not been taken seriously by the officials of the Lebanese government, and they need to be on notice that we are looking very carefully and closely at what they're doing."
Fakhoury's family said doctors have told them his condition is life threatening. In addition to an infection and bleeding disorder, doctors believe he's developed an aggressive form of lymphoma. “We need to get him out of Lebanon as soon as possible to be treated," his lawyer, Celine Atallah, said from Lebanon in a phone interview Thursday.
Atallah said it remains unclear why he's being held. Fakhoury, however, was once a member of the former Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army. He also worked at a former prison described by human rights groups as a center for torture.
His lawyer and family insist he had no direct contact with prisoners and never abused anyone, and there was never an abuse allegation against him. Shaheen entered into the record a document provided by Atallah that she said indicates ”that he's not the individual that the Lebanese and Hezbollah-liked papers allege him to be."
The articles described Fakhoury as “the Butcher of Khiam,” accusing him of torture and murder at the former Khiam Prison in Lebanon. The document said Fakhoury was assigned to the prison from 1989 to 1996 and that he never was involved in the interrogation or torture of prisoners. It also says he fled Lebanon in 2001 through Israel and eventually to the United States, because of credible death threats he and other SLA members received after Israel ended its occupation of Lebanon in 2000.
The prison and the SLA were “investigated and documented exhaustively"by journalists, international organizations, agencies of the Lebanese government and others, according to the document. It also showed a 1996 charge of collaborating with Israel against Fakhoury was dropped in 2018.
The document shows Fakhoury decided to return to Lebanon after receiving written confirmation in August 2018 from the Lebanese government that there were no accusations against him in Lebanon. Also, a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official encouraged Fakhoury, during an event in Boston in September 2018, to “come back to Lebanon.”
Lebanon is in the middle of an unprecedented economic and political crisis amid nearly 50 days of nationwide protests. The anti-government protests led to the prime minister's resignation last month. Given the current instability in Lebanon, it was unclear who could address Fakhoury's case.
“This is their opportunity to do the right thing,” Atallah said, “and to show the world the democracy they've been striving for now."