Tortured Saudi Gitmo Detainee Receives Review Board Hearing
This morning the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) held a hearing for Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani. Al-Qahtani is a 40-year-old Saudi Arabian detainee who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since February 2002.
According to the U.S. government, al-Qahtani was likely supposed to be the 20th hijacker for the attacks of September 11, 2001. Qahtani attempted to enter the United States on August 4, 2001, but was denied entry by Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. He then returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan and fought against the Northern Alliance. Prior to his capture, the U.S. government believes he was hiding out in Tora Bora with Osama bin Laden and his bodyguards.
Al-Qahtani’s government profile also alleges that he received training from al Qaeda, swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. It is believed that he received money from Mustafa al-Hawsawi in order to purchase a one-way ticket to Orlando, Florida in August 2001, where he was supposed to meet Mohamed Atta, the tactical leader and one of the other September 11th hijackers.
During his detention at Guantanamo, al-Qahtani has been mostly compliant with guards, though the government doesn’t believe he has been cooperative in interrogations because he has repeatedly denied any involvement with terrorism. He has asked to be returned to Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions.
The four-page statement from al-Qahtani’s pro bono counsel, Professor Ramzi Kassem of the Center for Constitutional Rights, explained that al-Qahtani has suffered from severe psychiatric disabilities for most of his life. The statement also noted that al-Qahtani “is the only prisoner whose torture has been formally acknowledged by a senior U.S. government official.” In 2009, the Convening Authority of the Military Commissions, Susan Crawford, declined to prosecute al-Qahtani due to his torture. Crawford also noted that the torture forced him to be hospitalized twice while at Guantanamo and that he “was on the brink of heart failure and death.”
A statement from Dr. Emily Keram, an expert witness, noted that al-Qahtani suffered from “schizophrenia, major depression, and possibly neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury” prior to his detention at Guantanamo. In 2000, he suffered “an acute psychotic break” and was involuntarily committed. Dr. Keram believes that al-Qahtani’s medical conditions meant that he was susceptible to being manipulated and his ability to make decisions on his own was severely impaired. She noted that his torture—including solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positions, sexual humiliation, beatings, and waterboarding—only served to exacerbate his pre-existing conditions.
Dr. Keram recommends that al-Qahtani be repatriated to Saudi Arabia, and states that he cannot receive the psychiatric treatment he needs at Guantanamo. Al-Qahtani’s family has said that they are eager to support him if he is returned to Saudi Arabia for care.
In the past, Saudi Arabia has accepted 134 Guantanamo detainees; most recently, they accepted nine Yemeni detainees in April 2016. Saudi Arabia has a robust rehabilitation program for those suspected of engaging in violent extremism. If al-Qahtani’s release is approved, he would be under constant monitoring and likely committed to a psychiatric facility.
President Obama has been steadily working towards his goal of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. There are currently 80 detainees still at the prison, and 30 of them have been cleared for release—15 by the PRB. This means that representatives from the six main governmental national security agencies have determined that the detainee no longer poses a threat to the United States.
Unfortunately, there is a push from members of Congress to prevent even cleared detainees from being transferred to another country. Today, the House passed the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, which includes an amendment that would bar any transfers out of Guantanamo Bay, even to countries like Saudi Arabia who have a strong and successful history of rehabilitation.
Closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay shouldn’t be a political issue—it’s a matter of national security that dozens of retired flag officers strongly support. It is also an exorbitant burden on American taxpayers to the tune of $5 million per detainee annually. Congress needs to stop putting up road blocks and allow the era of Guantanamo to come to a close.