A U.S.-Saudi dual citizen faced prolonged torture while imprisoned in Riyadh’s notorious Ritz-Carlton hotel and has been since visited by U.S. diplomatic staff, according to the White House.
Walid Fitaihi, a 54-year-old Harvard-trained physician, was among around 200 prominent Saudis who were held captive in the luxury hotel amid a major purge of the royal family ostensibly carried out in November 2017 amid an anti-corruption drive by Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many faced severe torture and even death. Those who survived the torture were forced to sign over their fortunes to the prince as a condition of their release.
Fitaihi, who has been in detention since the infamous purge began, was allegedly “slapped, blindfolded, stripped to his underwear and bound to a chair” before being tortured with electric shocks in an hour-long session, a friend told The New York Times.
Doctor Fitaihi’s lawyer, Howard M. Cooper, told the State Department in a January letter:
“Thereafter, without explanation, he was transferred to a Saudi prison where he has been held for nearly a year during which he has been permitted little contact with the outside world … It is believed that Dr. Fitaihi has been and is tortured at least psychologically during his imprisonment.”
Fitaihi is one 60 people who have been held for prosecution after the 15-month purge, but holds no public charges or trial, according to the Times.
The attorney added that the prisoner told his wife and family that “he is in fear for his life, that he cannot take his situation any longer, and that he desires all possible help.”
Fitaihi has had a presence in the United States since the 1980s, when he began attending school in the country before proceeding with his career.
He returned to his home country in 2006 to start a hospital with his family, periodically returning to the U.S. on business trips. While in Saudi Arabia, he became well-known as a motivational speaker and “a well-recognized voice in Saudi Arabia for the movement towards more American oriented ideas of civil rights and equality,” according to Cooper’s letter.
However, it is likely that his reformist message provoked the ire of Crown Prince Mohammed, who has sought to mete out reforms in a piecemeal manner, on his own terms, while retaining absolute power. He is largely believed to be the true power behind the throne of his aging father, King Salman.
On Sunday, White House national security advisor John Bolton told CNN’s State of the Union that Fitaihi has been visited by U.S. diplomats in the country, but added: “beyond that, we don’t really have any additional information at this point.”
The revelation of Fitaihi’s mistreatment and abuse by the ultra-conservative kingdom is the latest blow to Saudi Arabia’s reputation in the eyes of the U.S. public and policymakers, and comes mere months after the October 2 murder and dismemberment of journalist and prominent Saudi figure Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, by Saudi agents in Istanbul.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the execution of Khashoggi despite Riyadh’s incredulous claims that it was a rogue operation.
U.S. President Donald Trump has stood by the crown prince, however, by down playing or outright denying his role in the killing while citing the value of Saudi oil deals and arms contracts.
In a text message to The Times, U.S.-Egypt dual citizen and former prisoner Aya Hijazi, who had been invited to appear alongside the president following her release from a Cairo jail, noted:
“Not making Walid Fitaihi a priority will send a message that America isn’t really first … Financial deals and petroleum are.”
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