Trump thanks Lebanon after 'Butcher of Khiam' is released to US
President Donald Trump thanked the Lebanese government for releasing a US citizen accused of war crimes after pressure from lawmakers in Washington.
Trump said on Thursday that his administration worked "very hard" to free Amer Fakhoury who had been detained in Lebanon since last September.
"I am very grateful to the Lebanese government. They worked with us, and we are very proud of his family; they stood by him so strongly," Trump said.
"The United States has no higher priority than the safety and well being of our citizens."
Senator Jeanne Shaheen had confirmed early on Thursday that Fakhoury, 57, was on his way to the US after his release.
Fakhoury was arrested in Lebanon last year over his alleged involvement in the torture of detainees at an Israeli-backed prison in the south of the country decades ago.
He had fled Lebanon after the Israeli army's withdrawal in 2000 and eventually settled in the United States, where he became a citizen.
Fakhoury's detention in Lebanon had caused an outcry in Washington, with the senator of his home state of New Hampshire, Shaheen, leading the charge for his release.
Last month, Shaheen, a Democrat, teamed up with Republican Senator Ted Cruz to introduce a bill that would impose sanctions on Lebanese officials involved in Fakhoury's detention.
On Monday, a Lebanese military court cleared Fakhoury of the charges levelled against him, based on the notion that the crimes he is alleged to have committed fall outside the statute of limitations.
Prior to 2000, Fakhoury served in the South Lebanon Army, a militia that helped the Israeli army maintain its occupation of south Lebanon for more than 22 years.
Known as the "Butcher of Khiam", Fakhoury is suffering from stage 4 cancer.
News of his release sparked a backlash by former detainees and human rights advocates who rebuked the decision as political.
Lebanon has a 10-year limit for prosecuting crimes of torture, but Beirut is party to the UN Convention Against Torture, which removed the statute of limitations on torture.
Still, a lawyer for former Khiam detainees obtained a travel ban against Fakhoury from a court of urgent matters in south Lebanon. But on Thursday, Lebanese media outlets circulated footage of a military aircraft leaving the US embassy in Beirut, claiming that Fakhoury may have been on board.
Senator Shaheen said the former Israeli collaborator was US-bound, without elaborating on how he left Lebanon.
"Amer has finally been released and is on his way to the United States," her office said in a statement. "Shaheen spoke on the phone with Amer soon after his release."
The senator said she hopes Fakhoury's release is a "first step to repairing relations" between Washington and Beirut.
Fakhoury's family also welcomed the news of his release, thanking the officials who advocated for him.
"Amer is in very poor health and urgently needs care, but all of you gave him a fighting chance and most importantly, hope and freedom. God Bless America," the family said in a statement.
'The Convention against Torture, to which the US is a party, obligates the US government to investigate and prosecute him'
- Sarah Leah Whitson, Quincy Institute
In Lebanon, former Khiam prisoners were furious. Hassan Bazzi, a lawyer for the ex-prisoners, said the aircraft that evacuated Fakhoury violated Lebanon's airspace.
"What happened today in the case of Amer Fakhoury is not acceptable," he told Al Mayadeen TV.
Sarah Leah Whitson, a human rights activist who now works at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, called on the United States to investigate Fakhoury's alleged crimes.
"The Convention against Torture, to which the US is a party, obligates the US government to investigate and prosecute him," Whitson wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
The US State Department had released a statement earlier in the day saying that Fakhoury requires urgent medical attention. "We are relieved to be able to welcome him back home."