The family wants to sue Lebanon over the dead father’s imprisonment


CONCORD, NH (AP) – The survivors of a Lebanese-American who filed an ambitious lawsuit last year alleging that the Lebanese security agency kidnapped and tortured him before he died in the United States are hoping to find an opening after the agency recently responded in an American court.

Amer Fakhoury died in August 2020 at the age of 57 in the United States after suffering from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit says he developed the disease and other serious medical problems while detained during a visit to Lebanon on decades-long allegations of murder and torture, which he denied.

Fakhoury’s imprisonment in 2019 and his release in 2020 put further strain on relations between the United States and Lebanon, which is reeling from one of the world’s worst economic disasters and strained by tensions between Washington and Iran.

Recently, lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the Directorate-General for General Security, asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit in order to remove the allegations against them. Lebanon is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit against Iran.

In its filing, the Lebanese Security Agency claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes, including kidnapping, torture, and killing at the direction of or with the help of suspected terrorist organizations.”

In return, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, has asked a judge for permission to formally sue Lebanon along with Iran. In the family’s response, he described Lebanon’s action as “a very strange and unusual request submitted by a non-party person”.

The family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington in May, initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exemption from the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it has been described as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984, a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon “Instrument” of Iran.

Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored other cases filed in American courts after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the US Embassy hostage crisis. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

Similar lawsuits against Iran have won financial judgments, although obtaining a payout can be complicated. Any award could come from the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which has distributed funds to those held and/or affected by the hostage crisis.

Referring to Lebanon, Tolchin said that without the allegations against the Lebanese Security Agency, the Fakhourys’ lawsuit would make no sense.

“We interpret that as a waiver of sovereign immunity,” he told The Associated Press of the agency’s request. “You can’t come in and ask for positive relief on the matter and at the same time claim to be immune.”

In a statement to The AP, a lawyer for the agency, David Lin, said the Fakhourys’ position “that Lebanon or our client somehow waived sovereign immunity by attempting to remove unsubstantiated material from the complaint is confusing and.” legally incorrect.”

The agency’s lawyers have a deadline on Wednesday to respond to the fakhoury’s lawsuit motion.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said it could be difficult to bring a case against Lebanon that isn’t identified as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

“If you don’t have that list, it will be difficult to track Lebanon, unlike Iran,” she said.

O’Connell also said that a move like Lebanon’s to scrap the allegations “won’t normally be accepted by the courts as a waiver” of sovereign immunity.

Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon took place in September 2019, shortly after he became a US citizen. Fakhoury visited his home country on holiday for the first time in almost 20 years. A week after his arrival, he was detained and his passport confiscated, his family said.

The day before his arrest, a newspaper affiliated with the Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah published an article accusing him of playing a role in torturing and killing inmates at a prison run by an Israel-backed one Lebanese militia was led during the Israeli 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 center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he worked as a member of the prison’s militia, but that he was a clerk with little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury, like many other militiamen, left the country for fear of reprisals.

After returning to Lebanon in 2019, Fakhoury was held for five months before being formally charged, his family said. By then he had lost more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma and had broken ribs, among other serious health problems, they said.

In its request for intervention, the security agency said Fakhoury was not abducted but was “lawfully detained” for investigation purposes and then “handed over” to another agency responsible for prosecuting the alleged crimes. It called the allegations “scandalous, outrageous and highly damaging”.

The family’s lawsuit says security personnel let him watch as they beat prisoners and kept him isolated in an interrogation room, where he was subjected to verbal and physical abuse with a black sack over his head. The lawsuit also alleges that Fakhoury was threatened with execution unless he signs a statement pleading guilty to the allegations mentioned in the newspaper article.

Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was brought back to the United States on March 19, 2020 on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.

The lawsuit also linked Fakhoury’s eventual release to the US government’s decision in June 2020 to release Kassim Tajideen, a Lebanese businessman who was sentenced to five years in prison for providing millions of dollars to Hezbollah.

The Fakhourys’ lawsuit called it a “quid pro quo prisoner swap.” However, Tajideen’s lawyer and the then US State Department denied that he was involved in a prisoner swap.

Fakhoury first came to the United States in 2001. He opened a restaurant in Dover, New Hampshire, with his wife and brought their four daughters to college. But his family said he felt Lebanon was still his home, even though other members of his militia had been targeted in the years after the war.

As early as 2018, Fakhoury had obtained assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon unhindered. His family said he had been told there were no allegations against him in Lebanon or any legal matters that could affect his return.

After his death, the Fakhourys set up a foundation in his name dedicated to supporting the families of hostages.

“This is a fight not just for us,” Guila Fakhoury, the eldest of Fakhoury’s four daughters, said in an interview about the lawsuit. “This is a fight for our father and a fight for every American illegally imprisoned and every person illegally imprisoned.”

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and a jury trial.

“I know my father will not rest in peace until we get justice for what was done to him,” Fakhoury said.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.


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