A Lebanese citizen who was recently freed from US prison after spending 23 years behind bars for alleged ties to the resistance group Hezbollah has talked to Press TV about his ordeal, describing the US federal judiciary as a "lousy system based on lies."
Last week, Muhammad Youssef Hammoud returned to his homeland in Lebanon and was welcomed as a political detainee liberated from forced detention in the US.
Hammoud was arrested in July 2000 on charge of leading a cell operated by Hezbollah in Charlotte, Michigan, during an FBI operation, and was tried before a federal court in North Carolina.
He was accused of collecting money for Hezbollah by smuggling cigarettes. During his trial, he denied the charges and argued that although he was a patriot Lebanese citizen, he didn't provide material support to Hezbollah.
Nonetheless, he spent over two decades in various US prisons, often alongside members of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Hammoud said his conviction was based on no evidence and just over the words of a Lebanese expatriate named Saeid, who received payments from the US government, got his own charges dropped and even secured visas for 12 members of his family to enter US soil and later on become US citizens in return for him leveling accusations against Hammoud.
Talking to Press TV's Mideastream show, he said a judicial system that issues a 155-year prison sentence based on the words of a witness and without any evidence is truly a lousy one.
"To be honest with you, my grudge is not as much against him as much as against the system itself, because he contradicted himself several times, and they knew he was lying."
Hammoud said an appeal judge came to the conclusion that the man was a liar, but that appeal judge was alone and couldn't overturn the verdict.
"This man was described throughout the trial as a liar, manipulator, exaggerator, a person that cannot be trusted. And that's not my words. This is the words of Judge Gregory in US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. In his appeal, he ruled that my conviction should be overturned because there was no evidence."
Hammoud said he officially had a lawyer during his trial, but his lawyer "was not doing what a lawyer is supposed to do."
Hammoud was considered by the American judiciary to be a close friend to the secretary general of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and late Shia cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. But Hammoud only wished it to be so.
He said it was quite absurd for the US media to portray him as "the most dangerous terrorist" on American soil.
"I challenged them in the court. I told them look, you can solve this issue immediately by calling [Ayatollah] Fadlallah ... You will see if they let you talk or give you an appointment. Of course he did not want to do that and just ignored my response and moved on."
Hammoud said that before his arrest, he thought he was living in a country where people have freedom of opinion and expression, but following his arrest he found some bitter truth about the level of political freedom in the United States.
"I thought I was in the greatest country in the world that respects human rights and justice and everything, but I found otherwise when I went to the justice system and saw [things] by my eyes," he said.
Robbed of his youth
Carried on shoulders and with joyous celebrations, Hammoud was last week received at Beirut International Airport, after he spent 23 years in detention inside the US.
He did not imagine that he would receive such a warm welcome from people in the airport.
Although one week has passed since his return from US prisons, the Lebanese citizen still felt like he was "dreaming," saying he could not find anything to describe how he felt about coming back to home after so many years.
"It can't be described. I can't still comprehend what's going on. It's hard to describe how I feel."
Hammoud, who left the country in 1992, arrived back home at the age of 49. He spent the "flower of his youth" as an Arabic idiom says, inside prison, but he is not sorry.
He says he's proud to say that his years in prison were a small sacrifice for his homeland.
"I did not offer one percent of what was offered by the resistance fighters who struggled and elevated the honor of the entire nation. My sacrifice is not comparable to their sacrifices, not even 1 percent," he says.