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 Family can’t sue Lebanon over jailed man’s death

by Aug 16, 2022Arab News

A US judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their relative before he died in America.

Amer Fakhoury, 57, a Lebanese American, died in August 2020 after suffering from Stage 4 lymphoma.

His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.

The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also sue Lebanon.

Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the US and Lebanon, which is beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tension between Washington and Iran.

Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Beirut stricken.

That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order on Monday.

The Lebanese security agency claimed the lawsuit falsely accused it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organisations”.

The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.

The family’s lawsuit initially said it was possible 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, a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.

Mr Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a waiver of sovereign immunity. A lawyer for the agency denied that and the judge agreed.

Mr Bates wrote that there was “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.

Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts after its 1979 revolution and US embassy hostage crisis.

Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen.

A restaurateur in New Hampshire, he visited his home country on holiday for the first time in nearly 20 years.

A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.

The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago.

Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.

The article called him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Centre, which was notorious for human rights abuses.

Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but  that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates.

When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.

As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely.

His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon and no legal matters that might interfere with his return.

Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said.

By then, he had dropped more than 27 kilograms, was suffering from lymphoma and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.

Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury.

He was returned to the US on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft and died five months later.

(FILES) In this file photo members of the Lebanese Shiite Amal movement on September 15, 2019,  hold a photograph of Amer al-Fakhoury, dring a  demonstration in front of the former Israeli-run prison of Khiyam on the border with Israel, to demand his trial.  A former member of a pro-Israel Lebanese militia accused by witnesses of torture was released March 19, 2020 to the United States, where he is a naturalized citizen, President Donald Trump said.Trump said that Amer al-Fakhoury, a former member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) who was detained on his return to Beirut in September, was suffering late-stage cancer.  / AFP / JOSEPH EID

Amer Fakhoury's daughters, Guila, Macy, and Zoya Fakhoury, gather in Salem, New Hampshire. He was accused of torturing and killing inmates at a former prison where his family says he had worked as a clerk. AP



Former detainees of the pro-Israel South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia hold posters depicting former SLA member Amer al-Fakhoury during a demonstration denouncing his return and entry outside the Justice Palace in the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 12, 2019. Lebanon has detained Fakhoury, a senior warden in the notorious SLA-run Khiam prison, after his return to Lebanon from exile sparked widespread condemnation and accusations of torture, a judicial source said. Opened in 1984 in an Israeli-occupied security zone, the Khiam prison was run by the SLA under Israeli supervision during it's 22-year occupation of south Lebanon. / AFP / ANWAR AMRO

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