The Saudi nationwide, US authorities alleged, was an al-Qaeda operative who was speculated to have been the “twentieth hijacker” however he didn’t board United Airways Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
After his seize, al-Qahtani was imprisoned, tortured by the US authorities and — when expenses towards him had been dropped in 2008 — left to languish behind bars with no sign of ending.
His quest for freedom is forcing the Biden administration to think about whether or not to launch the 45-year-old man whose attorneys say is severely mentally sick battling schizophrenia, despair and post-traumatic stress dysfunction on account of his torture or search to carry him indefinitely with out charging him with a criminal offense.
The problem going through the Biden administration’s authorized crew is the right way to steadiness the deserves of al-Qahtani’s case with the bigger political realities at play, mentioned Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor on the College of Texas College of Legislation who follows Guantanamo litigation. Whereas there might be those that urge the President to facet with the severely mentally sick detainee as a part of the method of closing down Guantanamo, mentioned Vladeck, others inside the White Home might advise Biden to think about the political drawbacks of any choice which will assist let out a person who allegedly aspired to participate within the worst terrorist assault on US soil.
“As a lot because the administration might want to present compassion towards al-Qahtani, any broader effort to effectuate his launch and that of the opposite 38 males nonetheless in detention there would require political capital that the administration is both unable or unwilling to spend,” mentioned Vladeck, who’s a CNN authorized analyst.
Efforts to maintain al-Qahtani in custody, nevertheless, have their very own potential downsides. Biden has staked his overseas coverage agenda on bettering relations with US allies and altering America’s picture overseas. He has offered his selections to finish fight missions in Afghanistan and Iraq as transferring the nation ahead from the perpetual “struggle on terror” footing it has operated on for almost 20 years. Holding al-Qahtani in custody and Guantanamo open wouldn’t align with these acknowledged objectives, mentioned Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional legislation at Hofstra College who has lengthy been crucial of detentions at Guantanamo.
“The saga of this particular person clearly exemplifies the layer upon layer of shock that the complete Guantanamo enterprise has represented since its inception,” Freedman mentioned. “If President Biden desires to stick to his marketing campaign guarantees to carry America again, releasing this man can be a superb place to start out.”
Psychological sickness, extremism and seize
Al-Qahtani’s lengthy historical past of psychological sickness started at age eight when he was in a severe automobile accident and thrown from the automobile, struggling a traumatic mind harm, based on Dr. Emily Keram, a court-appointed psychiatrist employed on the request of protection attorneys to judge their shopper. Keram, who reviewed al-Qahtani’s Saudi medical data, mentioned the harm impaired his capacity to learn and focus, which worsened with two extra automobile accidents in later years.
Within the years that adopted, al-Qahtani skilled “episodes of maximum behavioral dyscontrol,” based on Keram, who has interviewed al-Qahtani a number of occasions, together with throughout two journeys to Guantanamo Bay, since 2015. She additionally interviewed an older brother of al-Qahtani, certainly one of 12 kids in his household.
Sooner or later in his early 20s, al-Qahtani was discovered by Riyadh police bare in a rubbish dumpster, Keram famous in her report. A number of years later, police within the holy metropolis of Mecca arrested al-Qahtani after he hurled himself into oncoming site visitors, Keram mentioned.
That incident resulted in his involuntary dedication to the psychiatric unit of the town’s King Abdul Aziz Hospital for 4 days the place medical doctors decided he was delusional and suicidal, based on Keram, who additionally mentioned he suffered from schizophrenia previous to getting into US custody.
Six months after leaving King Abdul Aziz Hospital, al-Qahtani began embracing a extra excessive model of Islam and later attended an al-Qaeda coaching camp in Afghanistan, US authorities allege.
Al-Qahtani’s “psychological and cognitive deficits can be acknowledged by others, main him to be weak to manipulation and coercion,” Keram wrote in a June 2016 evaluation of al-Qahtani.
On the camp, based on US navy data, al-Qahtani met al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and swore his loyalty to him. Bin Laden personally chosen him to participate within the 9/11 assaults, the data declare.
Weeks later, within the wake of the September 11 assaults, the Bush administration launched into a world manhunt to search out the perpetrators that prolonged to the far reaches of Afghanistan’s distant jap frontier.
In December, as al-Qahtani traveled with different suspected al-Qaeda fighters from distant Tora Bora in jap Afghanistan to cross into Pakistan, he was captured by the Pakistani military on the border and transferred to US custody roughly two weeks later, navy data present.
Washington moved al-Qahtani to Guantanamo Bay on February 13, 2002, one of many first wave of detainees that arrived on the new facility.
He turned often known as Detainee 063.
Army canines, strangling and beatings
For roughly 39 hours in Could 2015, Keram met with al‐Qahtani in a naked interrogation room at Camp Echo, a former CIA black web site within the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
She was there to judge the general state of his psychological well being after greater than 13 years of detention and whether or not he was receiving sufficient medical and psychiatric care.
When their conversations turned to his torture at Guantanamo, al-Qahtani usually wept as he relived the ordeal.
Over a roughly 50-day interval between November 2002 and January 2003, al-Qahtani was subjected to an extended checklist of brutal strategies — together with sleep deprivation, excessive temperature and noise publicity, sexual humiliation, beatings and strangling, based on Keram’s report. At occasions, in obvious protest at his therapy, al-Qahtani refused to eat or drink water.
Dehydrated, medical doctors would sometimes forcibly administer an IV, the logs present. In a single occasion, al-Qahtani bit an IV tube in two earlier than he was restrained.
Al-Qahtani’s interrogators additionally threatened him with navy canines and tied a leash to his shackles, led him across the room and compelled him to carry out a sequence of canine methods. At occasions, they’d not enable him to make use of the lavatory, leading to him urinating on himself repeatedly, based on navy data.
Al-Qahtani informed Keram that in his torture he skilled hallucinatory episodes. In a single, he believed he was useless and seeing ghosts earlier than an imaginary chook assured him that he was nonetheless alive. He informed her that he wished to finish his life to cease the torture.
“The depth I needed to kill myself was not the depth to die, it was the depth to cease the psychological torture, the horrible ache of solitary confinement,” mentioned al-Qahtani. “The signs of psychological torture had been horrific. It was even worse than the consequences of the bodily torture.”
In the course of the periods, interrogators allowed medical personnel contained in the room to test al-Qahtani’s vitals indicators — generally thrice a day. They had been achieved to make sure he was “capable of proceed” with the interrogations, the data word.
He was hospitalized on two events for an abnormally sluggish coronary heart fee, based on navy data. In a single occasion, officers flew in a radiologist from a naval station in Puerto Rico to learn al-Qahtani’s CT scan after his coronary heart fee dropped to 35 beats per minute. When the physician discovered “no anomalies” al-Qahtani was “hooded, shackled and restrained in a litter” and brought again to Camp X-Ray for interrogations the next day, the logs report.
On December 6, 2002 — roughly two weeks after the interrogations started — al-Qahtani informed interrogators the story that he had met bin Laden in Afghanistan. “I’m doing this to get out of right here,” he mentioned. He retracted the story the following day, saying that he had made the declare as a result of he was beneath strain.
In an October 2008 memo, a navy official alleged that al-Qahtani’s admission of involvement in bin Laden’s “particular mission to the US seem like true and are corroborated in reporting from different sources.” The doc doesn’t element what info the navy had or the way it was corroborated.
Within the June 2016 analysis, Keram concluded that al-Qahtani couldn’t obtain efficient psychological well being therapy whereas he stays imprisoned at Guantanamo. She really helpful his launch to Saudi Arabia, the place the federal government has mentioned it will present him psychiatric care.
“The profound bodily and psychological torture Mr. al-Qahtani skilled throughout interrogations, coupled together with his incapacity to regulate what was taking place to him, led him to conclude that he had solely two technique of ending his struggling; suicide or compliance,” wrote Keram of the torture periods. “Thus, Mr. al-Qahtani’s statements had been coerced and never voluntary, dependable, or credible.”
Al-Qahtani’s situation has considerably deteriorated within the final yr. He has tried to take his personal life on three separate events within the final 9 months throughout psychotic episodes pushed by schizophrenic hallucinations, together with by swallowing damaged items of glass, his authorized crew says.
“The truth that someone as sick as Mr. al-Qahtani poses some sort of safety risk to the US is unthinkable,” mentioned Scott Roehm, Washington director for The Middle for Victims of Torture, a nonprofit that has pressured the Biden administration to shut Guantanamo.
CNN was unable to interview al-Qahtani for this text.
This previous February, Keram equipped one other court docket declaration, writing that al-Qahtani was at “excessive threat for suicide.”
Courtroom ruling forces Biden White Home to make selections
To probe the final 16 years of court docket data in al-Qahtani’s authorized quest for freedom — a cache of greater than 400 filings between October 2005 and June 2021 — is to take a journey by way of a number of the most sordid moments within the latest historical past of the US.
The admission was unprecedented.
Regardless of dropping the fees, the 2008 navy memo argued for al-Qahtani’s continued detention, categorizing him as a “high-risk” to nationwide safety.
Al-Qahtani’s authorized crew has made quite a few efforts to safe his launch, significantly after 2008 when expenses towards him had been dropped. All had been unsuccessful.
Within the face of these defeats, al-Qahtani’s legal professionals determined in April 2017 to go down an untried authorized route for Guantanamo detainees. As a prisoner of struggle, they argued, their shopper had the fitting beneath the Geneva Conventions to be granted a medical analysis by an unbiased panel of three medical doctors, often known as a combined medical fee.
Al-Qahtani’s legal professionals argued that an unbiased medical analysis was assured beneath a US Military rule often known as Military Reg. 190-8, a home legislation which permits for the repatriation of sick and wounded prisoners of struggle.
The technique, based on al-Qahtani’s legal professionals, was to see if different medical doctors agreed with Keram’s view that al-Qahtani was so mentally sick that he poses no risk to the US and must be repatriated to Saudi Arabia. Justice Division legal professionals contended that the Military rule didn’t apply to Guantanamo detainees.
The decide’s order shook the Pentagon, which has persistently fought to dam civilian courts from deciding the destiny of Guantanamo detainees. The Trump administration appealed the order, which the DC Courtroom of Appeals dismissed in September.
A Pentagon spokesperson declined to remark for this text, citing al-Qahtani’s ongoing case.
On January 15, within the waning days of Trump’s presidential time period, the Justice Division made one other bid to have Collyer’s ruling tossed out, submitting a “movement for reconsideration” within the US District Courtroom for the District of Columbia, citing a last-minute rule change instituted by then-Military Secretary Ryan McCarthy declaring Guantanamo detainees exempt from Military Reg. 190-8. The brand new rule, the federal government mentioned, made the decide’s ruling moot.
Within the back-and-forth of court docket filings, al-Qahtani’s attorneys have argued that the last-minute tried rule change did not change the federal government’s obligation to stick to the Geneva conventions.
The Biden administration has now inherited the case and has on 5 events requested the court docket for an extension because it determines the way it will proceed. It has till September 8 to determine which plan of action to take: Proceed to battle Collyer’s order, grant a combined medical fee entry to al-Qahtani, or drop the matter and repatriate him to Saudi Arabia.
Wherever the White home falls, the potential ethical, moral and sensible implications are important.
The White Home declined touch upon al-Qahtani’s case, citing the pending litigation.
If the Biden White Home had been to permit a combined medical fee to look at al-Qahtani at Guantanamo, the primary within the base’s historical past, he might set a precedent wherein numerous different prisoners might request unbiased medical evaluations that might expose the situations they’ve been subjected to for almost 20 years in some circumstances. If the federal government denies al-Qahtani a medical analysis, nevertheless, and helps the Trump administration’s tried unilateral carve out to exclude Guantanamo detainees from the Geneva Conventions, that might put US servicemembers captured as prisoners of struggle in peril. In a life-or-death situation, these servicemembers might be denied the identical kind of therapy and medical evaluations al-Qahtani is now searching for, mentioned Freedman.
Just lately, nevertheless, the Biden White Home put its first stamp on Guantanamo coverage on July 19, permitting the switch of detainee, Abdul Latif Nasser, to Morocco. As a result of Nasser — who was by no means charged with a criminal offense — had been cleared for repatriation in 2016, it is unclear whether or not or not the transfer represents a major shift in coverage.
In the meantime, because the battle over the way forward for Guantanamo Bay performs out in Washington, al-Qahtani spends his days in isolation in his cell. He avoids different detainees due to his schizophrenic outbreaks, Keram famous in an August 2020 court docket declaration.
In a latest cellphone dialog together with his lawyer, Kassem, al-Qahtani mentioned he survived on the hope of seeing his household once more. The unclassified notes of that decision, based on Kassem, reveal the desperation his shopper feels.
“There isn’t a life for me right here,” al-Qahtani informed his lawyer. “If I’ve a future, it’s outdoors this place.”