Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have introduced a biting new sanctions bill aimed at senior Lebanese officials involved in the holding of U.S. citizens -- in response to the detention and torture of 57-year-old American citizen Amer Fakhoury.
Fakhoury is believed to be the only U.S. citizen currently being held by Lebanon.
The sanctions legislation -- “The Zero Tolerance for Unlawful Detentions of U.S. Citizens in Lebanon Act” -- seeks to impose sanctions against Lebanese officials “who are involved in the unlawful detainment, arrest or abuse of any United States citizen in Lebanon.”
While no names are mentioned in the legislation, U.S. officials have been in contact with Lebanese counterparts over Fakhoury’s case, as Fox News has previously reported. The bill brings together Shaheen, a strong backer of the U.S.-Lebanon relationship, and Cruz, an outspoken skeptic of giving financial assistance to the Lebanese government due to Hezbollah’s influential role there.
In a press release announcing the new bill, Shaheen who has worked with White House and State Department officials to get Fakhoury released, stated: “The U.S. Government has provided ample opportunity for Lebanese officials to free Amer Fakhoury. However, Amer is fighting for his life and time is running out. Lebanon’s officials know that their behavior – which is motivated by Hezbollah’s desire to sow discord in Lebanon – are illegal even under their own laws. There must be consequences for this flagrant disregard of international norms and human rights.”
Since his detention, he has developed stage 4 lymphoma cancer.
Fakhoury was arrested in his native Lebanon during a trip last September to visit relatives he had not seen in 20 years -- after he was accused in a pro-Hezbollah publication of torturing Hezbollah and Palestinian prisoners while he served with the South Lebanon Army (SLA) at Khiam prison. The SLA was a predominantly Christian force allied and supported by Israel during its proxy war against Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups in the 1980s and '90s.
Upon arrival, he had his U.S. passport confiscated and was later arrested. He was attacked by Lebanese security officials, tortured and forced into signing a fake confession at gunpoint.
After he was held without charges for nearly six months, the Associated Press reported that Fakhoury was charged earlier this month by a military judge with murder and attempted murder of prisoners at a jail run by the SLA. He was also charged with kidnapping and torture.
In a call last week with reporters, a senior adviser to Shaheen said they had done a deep dive into the charges against Fakhoury and concluded they did not add up.
Shaheen’s statement addressed those inconsistencies.
“Anytime a U.S citizen is wrongfully arrested, detained or abused by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to bring that person home and ensure they are not used as pawns in political games. That’s why today I’m introducing bipartisan legislation with Senator Cruz to impose visa bans and asset freezes against those culpable in Amer’s illegal imprisonment,” Shaheen stated.
Fox News has learned that the sanctions would also apply to associates, friends and family of those directly targeted.
Bill co-sponsor Cruz also said in a statement: “Protecting American citizens both at home and abroad is the most fundamental responsibility of our government, and there is nothing I take more seriously.”
He concluded: “The taking of American hostages is completely unacceptable, and I’m committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure that this vital bipartisan legislation is signed into law.”
Celine Atallah, Fakhoury’s lawyer, echoed both senators' statements and told Fox News that there was not one shred of evidence to substantiate the charges against him during his time at Khiam prison while serving with the SLA.
“There had never been an accusation against Amer of torture, murder, or abuse at Khiam prison, and the first time we ever heard about such accusations, was in an article published by Al-Akhbar newspaper, the same day Amer was illegally detained and tortured.”
With Lebanon in the middle of a dire financial and social crisis, Atallah said the Lebanese people need U.S. support and called on authorities to set her client free.
“It is not the right time for Lebanon to be on bad terms with the United States, and this is their opportunity to do the right thing and release Amer immediately. We also stand by the Lebanese people, who are calling for an impartial judiciary, and we also call on the Lebanese Judges handling Amer’s case to stand up, be brave, not to bow to any political pressure, abide by their own rule of law, and release Amer immediately,” Atallah said.
Fakhoury’s daughter Guila thanked both senators for their help. “Currently the family is undergoing a lot of stress, and in constant fear for our father’s life. We don’t know if he will make it back home under these circumstances,” she said.
She also noted that the family’s business, a restaurant, has been closed, leaving them not only emotionally drained but also financially strapped in supporting the costly efforts to free and get medical treatment for her father. Friends of the family in New Hampshire just recently set up a GoFundMe page to help the family with their mounting costs.
Lebanese authorities have not yet responded to Fox News' questions over the continued holding of Fakhoury.
Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich and the Associated Press contributed to this report.