Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity

Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity
Three of Amer Fakhoury’s four daughters gather Nov. 5, 2019, in Salem. The Fakhourys are trying to sue Lebanon, as well as Iran, alleging mistreatment of their father. (AP)
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Updated 19 January 2022

Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity

Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity
  • His family’s suit says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, has asked a judge for permission to formally sue Lebanon, along with Iran

CONCORD, N.H.: A Lebanese American man’s survivors, who filed an ambitious lawsuit last year alleging Lebanon’s security agency kidnapped and tortured him before he died in the U.S., hope to find an opening after the agency recently responded in an American court.
Amer Fakhoury died in the United States in August 2020 at age 57 after suffering from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s suit 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.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Recently, lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit to have the allegations against it stricken. Lebanon is not named as a defendant in the suit, which targets Iran.
In its filing, the Lebanese security agency claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, has asked a judge for permission to formally sue Lebanon, along with Iran. He referred to Lebanon’s action in the family’s response as “a very strange and unusual motion filed by a nonparty.”
The family’s lawsuit filed in Washington in May initially argued 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, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and U.S. Embassy hostage crisis. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Similar lawsuits against Iran have won financial judgments, though receiving 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.
Regarding Lebanon, Tolchin said the Fakhourys’ lawsuit would not make sense without the allegations against Lebanon's security agency.
“We interpret that as a waiver of sovereign immunity,” he said to The Associated Press of the agency’s request. “You can’t come in and ask for affirmative relief on the merits, and, at the same time, claim to be immune.”
In a statement provided to The AP, an attorney for the agency, David Lin, said the Fakhourys’ position “that Lebanon or our client somehow waived sovereign immunity by seeking to strike baseless material from the complaint is baffling and wrong as a matter of law.”
A judge pushed back a deadline for the lawyers representing the security agency to respond to the Fakhoury’s request to sue by Jan. 26.
Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at the Notre Dame Law School, said it may be challenging for a case to be brought against Lebanon, which is not designated a “state sponsor of terrorism."
“Not having that listing will be difficult to go after Lebanon, as opposed to Iran,” she said.
O’Connell also said a move like Lebanon's to strike the allegations “is usually not accepted by the courts as a waiver” of sovereign immunity.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury visited his home country on vacation 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 Shiite group 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 dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, 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.
Upon his return to Lebanon in 2019, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
In its request to intervene, the security agency said Fakhoury was not kidnapped, but was “lawfully detained” for investigative purposes and then “handed off” to another agency responsible for prosecuting the alleged crimes. It called the allegations “scandalous, impertinent, and highly damaging.”
The family's suit alleges security personnel made him watch as they beat prisoners and kept him isolated in an interrogation room, where he faced verbal and physical abuse with a black sack placed over his head. The lawsuit also claims Fakhoury was threatened with execution unless he signed a declaration saying he was guilty of the accusations mentioned in the newspaper article.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a U.S. Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.
The lawsuit also linked Fakhoury’s eventual release to the U.S. government's decision in June 2020 to free Kassim Tajideen, a Lebanese businessman who was sentenced to five years in prison for providing millions of dollars to Hezbollah.
The Fakhourys' suit called it a “quid-pro-quo prisoner exchange.” However, Tajideen’s lawyer and the U.S. State Department at the time denied he was part of a prisoner exchange.
Fakhoury first arrived in the United States in 2001. He started a restaurant in Dover, New Hampshire, with his wife and put their four daughters through college. But his family said he felt Lebanon was still home, even though other members of his militia had been targeted in the years after the war.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the U.S. 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 or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
After his death, the Fakhourys started a foundation in his name dedicated to helping the families of hostages.
“This is a fight not just for us,” Guila Fakhoury, the oldest of Fakhoury’s four daughters, said in an interview about the lawsuit. “This a fight for our father and a fight for every American who is illegally detained, and for every person who is illegally detained.”
The lawsuit seeks financial damages and a jury trial.
“I know my dad will not rest in peace until we have justice for what has been done to him,” Fakhoury said.


US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects

US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects
Updated 58 min 26 sec ago

US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects

US vice president Kamala Harris, officials heading to UAE to pay respects
  • Trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: A high-powered American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to pay respects to the federation’s late ruler and meet with the newly ascended president.
The trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi, intended to be a potent show of support as the US administration tries to repair troubled relations with its partner.
The delegation includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and climate envoy John Kerry, among others.
The UAE named the Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan its new president following the death of his half-brother last Friday.
Underscoring Abu Dhabi’s great influence in Western and Arab capitals, an array of presidents and prime ministers descended on the desert sheikhdom over the weekend to honor the late Sheikh Khalifa, praise Sheikh Mohamed and solidify ties. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to jet to the UAE capital.
Before heading to Abu Dhabi, Harris said she was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to offer condolences on the death of the long-ailing Sheikh Khalifa and to shore up America’s crucial relationship with the UAE.
“The United States takes quite seriously the strength of our relationship and partnership with the UAE,” Harris told reporters. “We are going there then to express our condolences but also as an expression of our commitment to the strength of that relationship.”
Blinken was first to touch down in Abu Dhabi before talks with his Emirati counterpart. It was widely expected officials would address the UAE’s long-simmering frustrations about American security protection in the region as well as tensions that have emerged between the countries over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
UAE is a key Russian trading partner and member of the so-called OPEC+ agreement, of which Russia is an important member.
After taking office, Biden lifted a terrorist designation on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels that have fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is trying to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers — an accord that Gulf Arab states fear could embolden Iran and its proxies.
America’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and its long-term foreign policy goal of pivoting away from the Mideast and toward China has added to Gulf Arab concerns.


First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa
The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital. (File/Reuters)
Updated 38 min 26 sec ago

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa
  • The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives

SANAA: The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital on Monday, a major step forward in a peace process that has provided rare relief from conflict.
The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives, took off from Sanaa for the Jordanian capital Amman just after 9:00 a.m. (0600 GMT), AFP journalists saw.


Before take-off, the plane was taxied through an honor guard of two fire trucks spraying jets of water.
Sanaa’s airport has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016.


Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq
Flights at Baghad International Airport were cancelled after an intense dust storm hit Iraq.  (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq

Flights cancelled after dust storm hits Iraq
  • Flights were disrupted at Baghdad International Airport

Flights at Baghad International Airport were cancelled after an intense dust storm hit Iraq.

Videos circulating online showed a yellow hue eveloping the Iraqi capital city, impeeding vision and distrupting flights. 


Lebanon vote brings blow for Hezbollah allies in preliminary results

Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 5 min 49 sec ago

Lebanon vote brings blow for Hezbollah allies in preliminary results

Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Initial results indicate wins for at least five other independents

BEIRUT: Iran-backed Hezbollah has been dealt a blow in Lebanon’s parliamentary election with preliminary results showing losses for some of its oldest allies and the Lebanese Forces party saying it had gained seats.
With votes still being counted, the final make-up of the 128-member parliament has yet to emerge. The heavily armed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its allies won a majority of 71 seats when Lebanon last voted in 2018.
The current election is the first since Lebanon’s devastating economic meltdown blamed by the World Bank on ruling politicians after a huge port explosion in 2020 that shattered Beirut.
One of the most startling upsets saw Hezbollah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan, scion of one of Lebanon’s oldest political dynasties who was first elected in 1992, lose his seat to Mark Daou, a newcomer running on a reform agenda, according to the latter’s campaign manager and a Hezbollah official.
Initial results also indicated wins for at least five other independents who have campaigned on a platform of reform and bringing to account politicians blamed for steering Lebanon into the worst crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.
Whether Hezbollah and its allies can cling on to a majority hinges on results not yet finalized, including those in Sunni Muslim seats contested by allies and opponents of the Shiite movement.
Gains reported by the Lebanese Forces (LF), which is vehemently opposed to Hezbollah, mean it would overtake the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) as the biggest Christian party in parliament.
The LF won at least 20 seats, up from 15 in 2018, said the head of its press office, Antoinette Geagea.
The FPM had won up to 16 seats, down from 18 in 2018, Sayed Younes, the head of its electoral machine, told Reuters.
The FPM has been the biggest Christian party in parliament since its founder, President Michel Aoun, returned from exile in 2005 in France. Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea were civil war adversaries.
The LF, established as a militia during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, has repeatedly called for Hezbollah to give up its arsenal.

“A NEW BEGINNING“
An opposition candidate also made a breakthrough in an area of southern Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah.
Elias Jradi, an eye doctor, won an Orthodox Christian seat previously held by Assaad Hardan of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, a close Hezbollah ally and MP since 1992, two Hezbollah officials said.
“It’s a new beginning for the south and for Lebanon as a whole,” Jradi told Reuters.
Nadim Houry, executive director of Arab Reform Initiative, said the results of 14 or 15 seats would determine the majority.
“You are going to have two blocs opposed to each other — on the one hand Hezbollah and its allies, and on the other the Lebanese Forces and its allies, and in the middle these new voices that will enter,” he said.
“This is a clear loss for the FPM. They maintain a bloc but they lost a lot of seats and the biggest beneficiary is the Lebanese Forces. Samir Geagea has emerged as the new Christian strongman.”
The next parliament must nominate a prime minister to form a cabinet, in a process that can take months. Any delay would hold up reforms to tackle the crisis and unlock support from the International Monetary Fund and donor nations.


Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries

Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries
Updated 16 May 2022

Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries

Nakba memories and resistance: The right of return remains in refugee diaries
  • Palestinian cause ‘alive and growing’ in Gaza camps, researcher says

RAFAH, GAZA STRIP: Abu Ahmed Adwan was five when his family was forcibly displaced during the Nakba in 1948. They sought refuge in a camp in the city of Rafah, adjacent to the Palestinian-Egyptian border in the far south of the Gaza Strip.

Adwan grew up in the alleys of the Barbara camp, which got its name from the original village that was abandoned by the Adwan family and other families that settled together.

“We were neighbors in Barbara before the Nakba, and here we are in the camp until the return,” Adwan, now in his late 70s, told Arab News.

Today he is the mayor of his village (the chief of the refugee families from the village of Barbara), and despite spending his life as a refugee, he still believes in the right of return.

“We will return one day, and if we pass away, our children and grandchildren will return and rebuild the country.”

Estimates by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees show that the number of refugees in the Rafah camp grew from 41,000 in 1948 to more than 125,000 today. Residents in one of the largest camps in the Gaza Strip live in overcrowded houses in narrow streets. In Gaza, refugees represent more than 70 percent of the population of almost two million people.

Adwan uses a large map of the village of Barbara, which tops one of the walls of his meeting hall in his home, to describe the village he visited for the last time about 35 years ago.

He classifies his constant talk of Barbara, and the refugee stories linked to the memory of the Nakba, as a “kind of resistance” in order to keep the memories of past generations alive and encourage the restoration of stolen rights.

He said: “Today’s generation is more aware than their parents and grandfathers than the generation of the Nakba, and the experience of the Nakba in 1948 cannot be repeated again.”

Mohammed Adwan, born in 1970, is a freed prisoner of an Israeli jail. He said: “The camp is the storehouse of the revolution since the Nakba, and the fathers and grandfathers are its fuel by constantly talking about Palestine with all this nostalgia.”

He added: “We will return sooner or later.”

Adwan said that refugee camps play a role in “resisting the occupation, forming the awareness of successive generations and preserving the national memory.”

He added: “It was important to preserve the names of our original towns and villages, by calling them to the refugee camps, as this is a resistance to the factors of time, and the occupation’s efforts to falsify reality and distort Palestinian geography.”

The growing population in the camp led to mixing with city neighborhoods. Simple houses built from brick and roofed with asbestos have largely disappeared, replaced by concrete houses.

A researcher in refugee affairs, Nader Abu Sharekh, said that stories told in the homes of the camps, generation after generation, have made the Palestinian cause “alive and growing.”

The families of each village and city destroyed in the Nakba gathered in neighborhoods inside the new camps to draft names. They used original names from their homeland, out of love for the land and adherence to the right of return, and to keep the names and meanings present in memory. In each camp there are streets bearing the names of original homes.

“In the camp, the events of the Nakba are present, and the right of return is an absolute belief,” Abu Sharekh said.

“In wedding parties, they sing historic songs from before the Nakba like Ataba, Mijna, Dabke and Dahia.

“These traditions remained in circulation, so that the homeland remains a title to joy, and the right of return remains in the refugees’ diaries.”

In the camp, old women still wear traditional dress rich in color.

People have allotted part of their yards to plant something that reminds them of their lost orchards and farms. Sometimes the space is used to construct a hut or tent.

Some of the refugees still bake using traditional clay ovens modeled on the kind lost in their destroyed towns and villages.