DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he planned to raise U.S. concerns about human rights during a visit to Saudi Arabia, in particular the case of a Saudi-American doctor facing trial there who was barred from leaving the kingdom and allegedly tortured.
Pompeo was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and will remain there until Friday, before departing to Oman, a close U.S. ally that has ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Pompeo said that during his time in Saudi Arabia, he will speak with the kingdom’s leadership about security issues, threats posed by Iran, the economic relationship between the two countries, and issues of human rights.
When asked by a reporter whether he would specifically raise the case of Saudi-American doctor Walid Fitaihi, Pompeo said: “I’m sure I’ll bring up that issue and a wide range of human rights issues, as well.”
“In each of the visits I’ve had to the kingdom during my time both as CIA director and as secretary of state, we raised these important issues, these issues that matter a lot to the American people,” Pompeo said.
A day before Pompeo was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia, the two lead Congressmen in the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Pompeo to urge him to raise the case of Fitaihi with Saudi government officials.
Fitaihi, a Boston-area physician, was detained in Saudi Arabia in November 2017 during an unprecedented anti-corruption crackdown initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that targeted senior princes, ministers and businessmen. Some 200 people were detained in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh for weeks, and even months, and forced to sign over billions of dollars in assets to the government during the shakedown, which helped the young crown prince consolidate power.
Fitaihi was released from detention last summer, but he and seven members of his family, all of whom are U.S. citizens, have been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia while he stands trial, the congressmen said. It is unclear what specific charges Fitaihi faces.
Democratic representative Eliot Engel of New York and Republican representative Michael McCaul of Texas said in their letter that Fitaihi was held without charge for almost two years.
Ahmed Fitaihi has told members of Congress that his father was beaten, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of torture and allowed little contact with his family during his detention. Fitaihi returned to his native Saudi Arabia in 2006, where he helped found a hospital built by his family and became a popular motivational speaker on television.
Saudi Arabia has come under increased scrutiny for its alleged human rights abuses under the crown prince.
The prince’s reputation was tarnished internationally after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A critic of the crown prince, Khashoggi was living in exile and writing about the prince’s crackdown on critics and activists when agents who worked for the Saudi prince killed and dismembered him inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.