A judge has denied attempts by the family of a deceased Lebanese-US citizen to sue Lebanon over allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before his return to the US where he died of cancer in 2020.
Amer Fakhoury, a former member of the now disbanded Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) – a Maronite militia, was detained by Lebanon’s General Security Agency in September 2019 after a military court ordered his arrest during a return visit to the country.
Fakhoury had already been charged in absentia to 15 years in prison for collaborating with Israel. He had confessed to working as a senior warden at the notorious Khiam Prison during the 1980s and 1990s which was run by the SLA where he earned the nickname “the butcher of Khiam”.
The former militia member-turned restaurant owner stood accused of “murder and attempted murder of prisoners inside Khiam Prison as well as kidnapping and torture.”
However, the Lebanese Supreme Court later dropped charges against Fakhoury, then aged 57. He was returned to the US on 19 March 2020 on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft and died five months after his return.
Hezbollah condemned the tribunal’s decision, attributing it to pressures exerted by the US Embassy in Beirut to free Fakhoury. “This day is sad for Lebanon and justice,” Hezbollah said in a statement stressing that “it was more honourable for the head and members of the military court to submit their resignations rather than to yield to the pressures.”
At the time a statement by his family said: “Amer Fakhoury went to Lebanon for vacation with his family. Under the hands of Hezbollah, he was tortured and given Epstein-Barr Virus which later developed into stage 4 B cell lymphoma cancer.”
The family’s lawsuit initially intended to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah as an “instrument” of Iran.
The family’s lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a waiver of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
US District Judge John Bates yesterday wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity. Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit, but is unlikely to do so, considering that it has ignored others filed against it in US courts following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
While Israel has sought to distance itself from its involvement at Khiam Prison, a Human Rights Watch report released in 1999 said that an Israeli defence ministry affidavit confirmed that Israeli intelligence agents had “direct involvement with Lebanese interrogators at Khiam”.
Following Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon after years of armed resistance by the Hezbollah movement, the SLA collapsed and its leader, General Antoine Lahd, fled to France where he died in September 2015.