CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire senator is sponsoring a bill to ban visas and freeze assets of Lebanese officials involved in the detention of an American citizen since September.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is expected to introduce the bill Monday, along with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. It would sanction current or former Lebanese government officials, including members of the judiciary system, involved in the "unlawful detainment, arrest or abuse of any United States citizen in Lebanon." Sanctions also could apply to family members and associates of the officials.
Amer Fakhoury, 57, a restaurant owner in Dover, New Hampshire, who became a U.S. citizen last year, has been jailed since Sept. 12 in his native country. He went on vacation to visit family he hadn't seen in nearly two decades.
Fakhoury was once a member of the former Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army and worked at a former prison described by human rights groups as a center for torture. His lawyer and family say he fled Lebanon in 2001 through Israel and eventually to the United States, because of death threats he and many other South Lebanon Army members received after Israel ended its occupation of Lebanon in 2000.
Earlier this month, Fakhoury, who has been hospitalized with stage 4 lymphoma, was charged by a military investigative judge with the murder and torture of inmates at the former Khiam Prison. Lebanon's intelligence service said he confessed during questioning to being a warden there. But Fakhoury's family and lawyer say that he had no direct contact with inmates and was never involved in any interrogation or torture.
A news release from Shaheen's office said Fakhoury's cancer symptoms are "exacerbated by the beating he received at the hands of Lebanese security officials looking to extract a false confession" from him.
"The U.S. government has provided ample opportunity for Lebanese officials to free Amer Fakhoury," Shaheen said. "However, Amer is fighting for his life and time is running out. ... There must be consequences for this flagrant disregard of international norms and human rights."
The bill does not specifically name Fakhoury, although Shaheen's staff said they are not aware of any other U.S. citizens being held in Lebanon.
"What's happening right now with Amer Fakhoury is truly a criminal act," said Naz Durakoglu, Shaheen's senior foreign policy adviser. "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 U.S. citizens."
Durakoglu said it is their understanding that Fakhoury's detention has been led by the militant Hezbollah organization, which the South Lebanon Army opposed.
The news release said Fakhoury's case has been exploited by Hezbollah "in order to exacerbate ethnic and political tensions in Lebanon during this critical time in the country's history."
Lebanon has been in the middle of an unprecedented economic and political crisis amid nationwide protests since October, leading to the prime minister's resignation. A new government has been formed. It was unclear who could 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.