An American known as Amer Fakhoury, who was jailed for months in Lebanon and later released over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied died Monday, his family said. He was 57.
Fakhoury, a restaurant owner in Dover, New Hampshire, died at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma while in prison.
He had been visiting family in Lebanon in September when he was detained. Lebanese officials accused him of torturing prisoners in the 1990s at a prison run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Fakhoury’s family and lawyer said he worked at the former Khiam Prison, but had no direct contact with inmates and was never involved in any interrogation or torture. They said he was illegally detained.
In March, a judge dismissed the charges after U.S. officials worked to free him. They felt his detention was led by the militant Hezbollah organization, which the South Lebanon Army opposed.
In a statement, Fakhoury’s family said he was tortured “under the hands of Hezbollah.”
“God loved Amer Fakhoury so much that he took him out of the hands of these terrorists and brought him to his family in America to live out his last days,” they said.
Fakhoury became a U.S. citizen last year. His lawyer and family said he fled Lebanon in 2001 through Israel and eventually to the United States because of death threats he and many other SLA members received after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.
Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. Lebanon bans its citizens from traveling to Israel or having contact with Israelis.
Fakhoury hadn’t set foot in Lebanon in nearly 20 years, but was given assurances from the government that he could return and that his file was clear, his lawyer said.
Fakhoury started looking into a visit after President Michel Aoun encouraged former SLA members to return home. Like many others in the army, Fakhoury faced a charge in 1996 of collaborating with Israel, but that was dropped, his lawyer, Celine Atallah, said.
He was jailed in Beirut while on vacation to visit family. Lebanon’s intelligence service said he confessed during questioning to being a warden at Khiam, described by human rights groups as a center for torture.
His lawyer and family said he never abused anyone, and there was never an abuse allegation against him. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said documents indicated that “he’s not the individual that the Lebanese and Hezbollah-linked papers allege him to be.” She introduced a bill that called for imposing sanctions on Lebanon.
“It’s heartbreaking to learn of Amer’s passing,” Shaheen said in a statement. She added, “I’m very relieved that Amer was able to spend the last few months of his life surrounded by loved ones while receiving the best care possible.
Amer was a loving husband, father and grandfather, and a pillar in his community. He immigrated to the United States, and through hard work and entrepreneurship, he lived the American dream.”
Fakhoury’s case had put a significant strain on already troubled ties between the U.S. and Lebanon. Lawmakers in Washington had threatened to withhold critical aid to the country and impose sanctions on the Lebanese military, which is seen by the Trump administration as a bulwark against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.
Lebanon has been embroiled in a political and financial crisis, and earlier this month, a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut killed at least 180 people and wounded 6,000.