Donald Trump confirms Lebanon has freed American Amer Fakhoury

Dual-nationality citizen was detained in September on charges of collaborating with Israel

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US-Lebanese dual national Amer Fakhoury is on his way to the United States after a court in Beirut ordered his release from jail in Beirut this week.

Mr Fakhoury, 57, a resident of New Hampshire, was arrested on arrival in Lebanon in September and held on charges of collaborating with Israel. He was hospitalised the following month for stage 4 cancer treatment.

US President Donald Trump announced Mr Fakhoury's release at the White House, saying, "Today we are bringing home another American citizen... he is battling late stage cancer. I am very grateful to the Lebanese government."

Mr Fakhoury "is returning to the United States where he will be reunited with his family and receive urgent medical treatment," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

A Lebanese military tribunal ordered Mr Fakhoury's release on Monday, stating that more than 10 years had passed since he allegedly tortured prisoners at a facility run by the South Lebanon Army, a now disbanded pro-Israel militia.

In this May 2019 file photo provided by Guila Fakhoury, her father Amer Fakhoury, second right, gathers with family members at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, is sponsoring a bill, which she is expected to introduce Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, along with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to ban visas and freeze assets of Lebanese officials involved in the detention of Amer Fakhoury. Fakhoury, a restaurant owner in Dover, New Hampshire, who became a U.S. citizen last year,  has been jailed since Sept. 12, 2019, in his native country and has been hospitalized with stage 4 lymphoma. (Guila Fakhoury via AP, File)

"We found that international law has never superseded local law in Lebanon, so he was released. We cannot apply international laws unless we amend our own laws," a source at the military tribunal told The National.

Mr Fakhoury is the only American prisoner known to be held in Lebanon.

His release caused uproar in Lebanon and embarrassed Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia that wields large influence in the country's political affairs and defines its mission around fighting Israel. On Tuesday, another Lebanese judge in Nabatiyeh issued a two-month travel ban on Mr Fakhoury that would prevent him from leaving Lebanon. Moves for a retrial fell through, sources told The National. 

Lebanese local media reported that Mr Fakhoury had sought refuge at the US Embassy after his release. The new US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, took up her post last week.

Neither the US embassy or Mr Fakhoury’s lawyer were available for comment.

Mr Fakhoury's release raised questions about what arrangement the Trump administration may have struck with the Hezbollah-backed Lebanese government. The case was discussed in detail during a meeting in December between Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and the then Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil, high-level Lebanese officials told The National. One source said Mr Bassil, an ally of Hezbollah, gave his word to Mr Hale that Mr Fakhoury would be released. It is not clear whether anything was promised in return.

Since then, Lebanon has seen a change in government that gives both Mr Bassil and Hezbollah more political leverage.

Before the Bassil-Hale meeting both National Security Adviser Robert O’Brian and former senior White House official Victoria Coates had also pressured Lebanon for Mr Fakhoury's release.

In Congress, senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, one of the staunchest advocates for Mr Fakhoury's release, and Ted Cruz introduced a bipartisan bill in February that threatened sanctions against Lebanese officials if he was not freed. The two senators pledged to expedite a vote on the bill as questions mounted about his whereabouts this week, according to the news website Al Monitor. 

But the Lebanese judiciary also faced significant public pressure to keep him behind bars.

Mr Fakhoury was a high-ranking member of the SLA, a militia that collaborated with Israel during its 1982-2000 occupation of the region. He fled to Israel on May 27, 2000 and from there moved to the United States.

In the 1990s, Mr Fakhoury supervised the SLA’s most infamous detention centre in the town of Khiam, where detainees fighting Israel’s occupation were held outside any legal framework.

According to human rights organisations and former detainees, torture and solitary confinement were routine for the thousands of Lebanese held there between 1985 and 1999.