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Guantánamo | US sends suspected ’20th hijacker’ home



(Washington) A Saudi prisoner in Guantanamo detention center suspected of trying to join the 9/11 hijackers has been sent back to his home country for treatment for a mental illness, announcing Monday the Ministry of Defense.

Mohammad Ahmad al-Qahtani was flown back to Saudi Arabia, to a treatment center, from the US base in Cuba after a review board including military and intelligence officials concluded he could be safely released after 20 years in detention.

The 46-year-old prisoner has suffered from mental illness, including schizophrenia, since childhood, according to medical exams and records obtained by his lawyers. The United States dropped plans to try him after a Bush administration legal official concluded he had been tortured at Guantanamo.

With his release, there are now 38 prisoners left in the detention center. He is the second released under President Joe Biden, who has promised to shut down the facility.

“The United States appreciates the willingness of Saudi Arabia and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts toward a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsible reduction of the detainee population and eventual closure of the prison. ‘Guantanamo facility,’ the Defense Ministry said in a statement announcing Mr. al-Qahtani’s repatriation.

However, only half of the men held there have been released and no decision has been made on what to do with the others, including those still on trial by military commission.

The Department of Defense notified Congress of its intention to transfer Mr. al-Qahtani in February, sparking outrage among some Republicans.

Lawyers for Mr. al-Qahtani won a federal court order in 2020 requiring a medical examination of the prisoner by an independent medical panel, which could have ordered his repatriation under army regulations if his doctors’ diagnosis was correct. confirmed. The Trump administration challenged the order, a legal fight that was dropped under President Joe Biden.

“After two decades without a trial in custody in the United States, Mohammed will now receive the psychiatric care he has long needed in Saudi Arabia, with the support of his family, said Ramzi Kassem, professor of law at City University of New York who represented Mr. al-Qahtani with the help of students for more than a decade. Keeping him in Guantanamo, where he was tortured and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence. »

In August 2001, Mr. al-Qahtani was turned away from the United States at Orlando airport by immigration officials who were suspicious of his trip. The main 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta, was going to seek him out to participate in the plot, according to previously released documents.

US forces then captured him in Afghanistan and sent him to Guantanamo, where he was subjected to brutal interrogations that the Pentagon legal officer in charge of war crimes commissions said amounted to torture.

This treatment included beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures and noise, sleep deprivation and prolonged solitary confinement. In 2002, an FBI official observed Mr. al-Qahtani talking to non-existent people, hearing voices and squatting in a corner of his cell while covering himself with a sheet for hours at a time.

The 38 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo include 19 who have been approved for repatriation or resettlement by the review board. There are seven others that can be reviewed. Ten prisoners are tried by a military commission, five of whom are accused of having taken part in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Their death penalty case has been blocked for years in the preliminary phase.

The other two prisoners at the camp have been sentenced, one of whom, former Maryland resident Majid Khan is set to complete his sentence under a plea deal.

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