WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Thursday announced the release of two Americans imprisoned overseas and said it had intensified demands for a third, amid global fears that the coronavirus could quickly spread among detainees and result in deaths.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese-born naturalized US citizen, headed to his home state of New Hampshire from Beirut, where he had been detained for months on decades-old charges of torturing Lebanese prisoners.
“Anytime a US citizen is wrongfully detained by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to free them,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, said as Fakhoury flew back to the United States on a military aircraft. “No family should have to go through what the Fakhoury family has gone through.”
Fakhoury is a former SLA member who became a US citizen last year.
Fakhoury was jailed last year after returning to Lebanon on vacation to visit family. Lebanon’s intelligence service said he confessed during questioning to being a warden at Khiam Prison, which was run by the SLA during Israel’s 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.
Separately, Michael White, a US Navy veteran and cancer patient, was released from an Iranian prison where he had been held since July 2018, the State Department announced. White, of Imperial Beach, Calif., was freed on a medical furlough.
For now, he must remain in Iran, undergoing medical testing and evaluation at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which has acted as a diplomatic intermediary between the United States and Iran.
“The United States will continue to work for Michael’s full release as well as the release of all wrongfully detained Americans in Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. He said White had been “wrongfully detained” and was serving a 13-year sentence on charges that included insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private photographs on social media.
White was arrested in the northeastern city of Mashhad while visiting an Iranian friend.
And at the White House, President Trump said he was working to free Austin Tice, a journalist and former Marine who was abducted in Syria in August 2012. The Trump administration has made repeated efforts to try and secure his release but with no success.
“We’re working very hard with Syria to get him out,” Trump said. “We hope the Syrian government will do that. We are counting on them to do that. We’ve written a letter just recently.”
It was not immediately clear what letter the president was referring to.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.