Family claims dual Saudi-US citizen detained and tortured

WASHINGTON (AP) – 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.”

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.

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.

National Security Adviser John Bolton was briefly asked about Fitaihi’s case during a Sunday interview on CNN’s State of the Union. 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.