Dual Saudi-US citizen detained and tortured, family claims

Dr. Walid Fitaihi’s family has spent months trying to secure his release from a Saudi prison, and now seek to publicly pressure the Saudi and US governments on the issue. But President Trump’s tight alliance with the Saudi crown prince could pose a roadblock. 

Evan Vucci/AP/File
President Trump meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in 2018. The family of a dual Saudi-US citizen imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than a year are claiming that he has been subjected to routine torture, and they seek to publicize the issue in hopes of his release.

The family of a dual Saudi-US citizen imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than a year are claiming that he has been subjected to routine torture and is on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

After months of quietly trying to secure his release, the family of Dr. Walid Fitaihi is now seeking to publicly pressure both the Saudi government and the Trump administration on the issue.

"There is an American citizen being tortured in a Saudi prison," said Howard Cooper, a lawyer working with the Fitaihi family. "He has been not only psychologically tortured but physically tortured and he can't hold out much longer."

In seeking to publicize the issue, Mr. Cooper and the Fitaihi family will have to contend with the extremely tight public relationship between President Trump and powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, popularly referred to as MBS.

Dr. Fitaihi gained his American citizenship while studying and working in the US for years. He received undergraduate and medical degrees from George Washington University and a master's in public health from Harvard, said Cooper a Boston-based attorney who has known Fitaihi for more than 10 years.

He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2006 to help found a hospital built by his family and also became a popular motivational speaker on television. In November 2017, Fitaihi was one of about 200 prominent Saudis detained in a mass roundup and held prisoner in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel.

The Saudi government described the mass arrests as a crackdown on corruption; critics, however, decried it as a move to consolidate power by Prince Mohammed and claimed the detainees were being tortured.

Most of those detainees were eventually released after agreeing to pay massive financial penalties, but Fitaihi and a small handful of others were instead transferred to a prison in Riyadh. Cooper said Fitaihi was recently moved to a different prison in the coastal city of Jeddah and that he was now in the prison hospital after suffering "an emotional breakdown" after months of physical and psychological torture.

Mr. Trump's relationship with Saudi Arabia has already been tested by last year's grisly murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Trump however stood firmly by Prince Mohammed; in the face of widespread international skepticism, Trump repeatedly backed the official Saudi explanation that the murder was a rogue operation that took place without the crown prince's knowledge.

Despite the Kashoggi controversy, the relationship remains strong and the Trump administration continues to depend on Prince Mohammed as a key regional ally. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Prince Mohammed last week to discuss Kushner's plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

National Security Adviser John Bolton was briefly asked about Fitaihi's case during a Sunday interview on CNN's "State of the Union." Mr. Bolton said he knew only that American diplomats had recently met with him in prison.

"Beyond that, we don't really have any additional information at this point," Bolton said.

In response to an Associated Press query, the State Department released a statement confirming that US diplomatic representatives have met with Fitaihi and have "raised his case" with the Saudi government.

"We take all allegations of abuse and torture extremely seriously. We urge the Government of Saudi Arabia, and all governments, to ensure fair trial guarantees, freedom from arbitrary and extrajudicial detention, transparency, and rule of law," the statement said. "We also call on the Government of Saudi Arabia, and all governments, to treat prisoners and detainees humanely, and to ensure that allegations of abuse are investigated quickly and thoroughly."

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Dual Saudi-US citizen detained and tortured, family claims
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2019/0304/Dual-Saudi-US-citizen-detained-and-tortured-family-claims
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe