Family claims dual Saudi-U.S. citizen detained, subject to routine torture

/ AP

The family of a dual Saudi-U.S. 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, Cooper and the Fitaihi family will have to contend with the extremely tight public relationship between President Donald Trump and powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, popularly referred to as MBS.

Fitaihi gained his American citizenship while studying and working in the U.S. 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.

Trumps 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." 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 U.S. 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.

First published on March 4, 2019 / 7:11 AM

© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Stunning twist after panhandler accused in woman's murder

Keith Smith, 52, had told police that his wife, Jacquelyn, was trying to give money to a panhandler at a traffic light when she was robbed and fatally stabbed

9M ago

After deadly tornadoes in the South, stories of survival emerge

At least 23 people are dead in Lee County, Alabama, after a tornado tore through everything in its path

15M ago

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper running for president

Hickenlooper is the second governor or ex-governor to enter the ever-growing Democratic primary

51M ago

Paul to become deciding vote to block emergency declaration

Republican Kentucky senator says he'll join at least 3 others from his party, assuring the Senate will force President Trump to use his first veto to keep the declaration alive

2H ago

Big companies paying little to no federal income tax

Last year's cuts in corporate tax rates is looking like a boon for giants from Amazon and Netflix to GM and U.S. Steel

2H ago

Family claims dual Saudi-U.S. citizen detained, subject to routine torture

The family of Dr. Walid Fitaihi is now seeking to publicly pressure both the Saudi government and the Trump administration on the issue

10M ago

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper running for president

Hickenlooper is the second governor or ex-governor to enter the ever-growing Democratic primary

51M ago

Paul to become deciding vote to block emergency declaration

Republican Kentucky senator says he'll join at least 3 others from his party, assuring the Senate will force President Trump to use his first veto to keep the declaration alive

2H ago

House Judiciary chair to demand docs from dozens in Trump obstruction probe

Nadler said his committee will send requests for documents on Monday to more than 60 people

18H ago

Jones calls on Congress to "put some teeth" back in Voting Rights Act

The Alabama Democrat said Republican lawmakers across the country are working to suppress African-American votes

18H ago

Family claims dual Saudi-U.S. citizen detained, subject to routine torture

The family of Dr. Walid Fitaihi is now seeking to publicly pressure both the Saudi government and the Trump administration on the issue

10M ago

D.C. court to hear U.S. "ISIS bride's" plea to come home

Hoda Muthana left America of her own free will as a teenager to join ISIS, now she wants to come home with her son, but it's not up to her

31M ago

World's top bridge player suspended for doping

Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, said the drugs were "not performance enhancing"

Mar 2

U.S. and South Korea to halt military exercises

Smaller-scale drills will continue, but major planned war games will no longer go ahead

Mar 2

Saudi Arabia revokes Hamza bin Laden's citizenship

Osama bin Laden's son is now believed to be around 30

Mar 2

HBO documentary alleging Michael Jackson abused 2 boys airs

The documentary details the new sexual abuse allegations against the late pop icon

15H ago

Julianne Moore on dramatizing the immensity of a life

The Oscar-winning actress now stars in "Gloria Bell," playing a free-spirited divorcée who discovers romance in an L.A. dance club, and much more

21H ago

Passage: André Previn

"Sunday Morning" looks back at the composer, conductor, pianist and music director who died this past week after a lifetime of crossing musical boundaries

21H ago

The Golden Age of documentary filmmaking

Documentaries were once treated as cinematic spinach – films that were good for you – but now, non-fiction filmmakers have transformed a genre with great storytelling

22H ago

Johnny Depp sues Amber Heard for $50 million in defamation lawsuit

The suit said Depp has suffered financial losses because of the accusations

Mar 2

Scientists prove bees can do math

A new study finds that honeybees can perform basic arithmetic – adding or subtracting – triggered by color cues

22H ago

SpaceX craft pulls off flawless docking with space station

SpaceX moves a step closer to launching astronauts on its Crew Dragon spacecraft

Mar 3

SpaceX capsule for astronauts blasts off toward space station

SpaceX launches unpiloted crew ship on historic test flight

Mar 2

Facebook sues over sales of fake accounts, likes and followers

The lawsuit was filed against three people and four companies based in China

Mar 1

Rare sea creature washes ashore in Southern California

A 7-foot sea creature that washed ashore in Southern California has been identified as a hoodwinker sunfish, a recently identified rare species thought to live in the Southern Hemisphere

Mar 1

Debate rages in Texas over vaccination requirements

Texas has more than 56,000 children with non-medical exemptions

Mar 1

"Alarming" surge in measles cases in 98 countries

A new report from UNICEF warns that cases of the vaccine-preventable disease are surging around the globe

Mar 1

More blood pressure drugs recalled due to cancer risk

In recent months, multiple drugmakers have recalled medications after tests revealed traces of carcinogens

Mar 1

Tiny wireless sensors could revolutionize how premature babies are monitored

The skin-like silicon patches attach to the chest and foot proved just as reliable as traditional electrodes, according to a new study

Mar 1

New parents' sleep doesn't recover for years, study finds

The study finds new moms lose an average of 62 minutes of sleep a night, while dads only lose about 13 minutes

Feb 28

Big companies paying little to no federal income tax

Last year's cuts in corporate tax rates is looking like a boon for giants from Amazon and Netflix to GM and U.S. Steel

2H ago

Almanac: Schemer Charles Ponzi

The founding father of financial hijinks, who trapped his investors in a "musical chairs" of fraud, was born on March 3, 1882

22H ago

Subaru recalls 1.3 million vehicles over brake light problem

Subaru is recalling 1.3 million vehicles in the U.S. because the brake lights may not illuminate properly

Mar 2

A $267M winning Mega Millions ticket was sold in New Jersey

The winning numbers for the March 1 drawing were: 29, 33, 39, 60, 66 and Mega Ball 21

Mar 2

Facebook sues over sales of fake accounts, likes and followers

The lawsuit was filed against three people and four companies based in China

Mar 1

Stunning twist after panhandler accused in woman's murder

Keith Smith, 52, had told police that his wife, Jacquelyn, was trying to give money to a panhandler at a traffic light when she was robbed and fatally stabbed

9M ago

Protesters call for justice after Stephon Clark decision

Protesters shut down a popular mall in Sacramento on Sunday

12H ago

Police: Driver in New Orleans crash that killed 2 was likely impaired

Tashonty Toney, 32, was arrested at the scene of the crash where people had been gathering for Mardi Gras

17H ago

Mysterious S.C. death probe reopened after "48 Hours investigation

A beautiful mom and her infant daughter are found dead near train tracks — was it a murder-suicide or a cold-blooded killing?

Mar 2

Officers won't face charges in fatal shooting of Stephon Clark

Clark, 22, was shot while holding a cellphone that police said they thought was a gun

Mar 2