US Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Ted Cruz yesterday introduced legislation that, if passed, would impose sanctions against Lebanese officials involved in the unlawful detention, arrest or abuse of any United States citizen in Lebanon.
The legislation, which would ban visas and freeze assets of Lebanese officials, family members and associates involved in the detention of Amer Fakhoury, comes as a response to Lebanese officials’ refusal to free the US citizen who has been illegally detained in Beirut since 12 September 2019.
Fakhoury was visiting family in Lebanon in September, after not visiting the country for two decades. Soon after arriving, his passport was confiscated, he was taken into custody and allegedly tortured by officials.
The American citizen was a former member of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army, and worked at a former prison which has since been described by human rights groups as a centre for torture. Fakhoury faces charges of murder and torture of inmates which allegedly took place while he was working at the former Khiam Prison.
It has since been discovered that Fakhoury is suffering from stage 4 cancer and was hospitalised in early February for treatment.
A news release from senator Shaheen’s office said Fakhoury’s cancer symptoms were “exacerbated by the beating he received at the hands of the Lebanese security officials looking to extract a false confession” from him.
The Lebanese intelligence service said Fakhoury has confessed to previously being a warden at the Khiam Prison. However, Fakhoury’s family and lawyer say that the former prison warden had no direct contact with inmates and was never involved in interrogation or torture.
The bill does not directly name Fakhoury, but Senator Shaheen’s staff said they are unaware of another US citizen being held in Lebanon.
Shaheen’s senior foreign policy advisor, Naz Durakoglu, said that staff understand that Fakhoury’s detention has been led by Hezbollah, which the South Lebanon Army opposed.
Adding that, “What’s happening right now with Amer Fakhoury is truly a criminal act… to just take someone, and then to make up allegations and then just hold them while they’re gravely ill is not something that we want to encourage around the world, especially with US citizens.”
Lebanon is experiencing simultaneous economic and political crises, alongside widespread anti-government protests which have swept across the country since October 2019. With a new Hezbollah-backed government formed on 22 January, it is unclear who will address Fakhoury’s case.
“Understanding the urgency of the situation, we hope this bill moves quickly through Congress before it’s too late,” Fakhoury’s family said in a statement.