The Pentagon board recommends the transfer of a mentally ill Guantánamo Bay detainee



A walkway separates the two sides of the abandoned Camp X-Ray detention center at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base on July 23, 2015. A detainee at the now-closed Camp X-Ray, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was recommended for release and transfer to Saudi Arabia by a Pentagon executive on Friday. File photo by Ezra Kaplan/UPI

5 February (UPI) — A mentally ill detainee being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was due to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Saudi Arabia after being held for two decades, a Pentagon executive said on Friday.

The detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was suspected of being an intended kidnapper in the 11 September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks. He was captured and taken to the US Naval Base in 2002, where Qahtani was tortured by military interrogators early in his detention. A senior Pentagon official later found he was unfit to stand trial because of the treatment.

In a press release, the six-member Periodic Review Board said it had reached consensus that Qahtani’s detention “is no longer necessary to protect against an ongoing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The facility would provide Qahtani with mental health care and extremism rehabilitation. Upon completion of the program, the Pentagon Executive Board recommends the Saudi Arabian government implement “a comprehensive set of security measures, including surveillance and travel restrictions.”

The Biden administration could send Qahtani as early as March, the New York Times reported.

Officials haven’t known what to do with Qahtani for a long time. The Saudi Arabian national had a history of schizophrenia and psychiatric hospitalizations related to a childhood brain injury before he was captured and taken to Guantanamo.

Authorities believe Qahtani, who reportedly tried to enter the country two months before the 9/11 attacks to meet with an al-Qaeda ringleader, should join the team that defeated the United Airlines Flight 93 hijacked. The flight was likely destined for the US Capitol, but passengers fought back and diverted the plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field.

US forces captured Qahtani with a group of foreign fighters along the Pakistani border shortly after the attacks.

In late 2002 and early 2003, the military subjected Qahtani to prolonged and brutal torture at Guantánamo. Transcripts leaked to Time magazine in 2005 show interrogators placed him in solitary confinement, subjected him to prolonged cold and sleep deprivation, and sexually and psychologically abused him, including making him bark like a dog. They extorted a confession that Qahtani later recanted.

In 2008, a senior Bush administration official concluded that the military’s actions amounted to torture and left Qahtani in a “life-threatening condition” that rendered him unfit for prosecution. The US government then dropped all charges against him.

“We tortured Qahtani,” military commissions convening officer Susan Crawford told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward at the time. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I didn’t refer the case.”

In March 2020, a federal judge ordered the military to allow a panel of foreign and American doctors to examine Qahtani, a departure from the court’s usual deference to the military over activities at Guantánamo.

That investigation led to a recommendation to transfer Qahtani, a recommendation that was formally endorsed by the Pentagon’s six-member board of directors in June. The Biden administration delayed the release of the announcement until Friday, likely because it is negotiating the terms of the deal with Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported.

About 780 detainees have been held at Guantánamo since 2002. Qahtani, now in his 40s, is one of only 39 left.


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