US: Diplomats Have Visited With Detainee in Saudi Arabia

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2019-03-03

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U.S. diplomats have visited with a dual U.S.-Saudi national believed to have been tortured during his detention in Riyadh, National Security Advisor John Bolton said Sunday.

Walid Fitaihi, a Harvard-trained doctor who opened a hospital in Saudi Arabia in 2006, was detained in November 2017 along with other prominent Saudis as part of what the government said was a corruption crackdown. After being held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh for a week, Fitaihi later told a friend he was dragged into a room where he was slapped, blindfolded, stripped to his underwear and bound to a chair, where he was shocked with electricity for an hour.

Little has been known about his fate since then, but Bolton told CNN, "As of this moment, my understanding is we've had what's called consular access, meaning American diplomats in Saudi Arabia have visited with him."

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

Fitaihi's lawyer, Howard Cooper, told the U.S. State Department in January that Fitaihi has been held in a Saudi prison where "he has been permitted little contact with the outside world."

Cooper said in his letter, "It is believed that Dr. Fitaihi has been and is tortured at least psychologically during his imprisonment."

The attorney said his family has been able to visit him occasionally, as well as talk to him on the phone. But Cooper said "he has physically deteriorated" and that he appears to be "emotionally broken."

Fitaihi was one of about 60 people held for prosecution during the crackdown that included the arrests of 200 prominent Saudis, detentions seen by outsiders as solidifying the rule of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The New York Times said the reason for Fitaihi's detention is unclear. It said the friend who relayed information about Fitaihi's mistreatment said he mostly was questioned about a relative by marriage who also had been detained.

Fitaihi's detention is occurring at a time when President Donald Trump has struggled to answer criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers that he has done little to hold Prince Mohammed accountable for the killing inside Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote opinion articles in The Washington Post that were critical of Mohammed.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a White House Middle East adviser, met with Saudi officials last week, the first such meeting since Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents in October.