Mentally ill Guantanamo detainee repatriated to Saudi Arabia
WASHINGTON — A mentally ill inmate from Guantanamo Bay has been repatriated to Saudi Arabia, the US Department of Defense announced Monday.
Suspected of being Al Qaeda’s intended 20th hijacker for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by interrogators at the US military base in Cuba where he has been detained for nearly two decades.
The government dropped its case against him in 2008 due to the abuse he experienced at the prison. In February, US authorities recommended he be released and repatriated.
“On Feb. 4, 2022, Secretary of Defense Austin notified Congress of his intent to repatriate al-Qahtani to Saudi Arabia. In consultation with our Saudi partners, we completed the requirements for responsible transfers,” the Defense Department said in a statement.
“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 responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing of the Guantanamo Bay facility.”
Al-Qahtani was one of the first prisoners sent to Guantanamo in January 2002.
He had flown to Orlando, Florida on August 4, 2001, but was denied entry to the country and sent back to Dubai.
He was eventually captured in Afghanistan in December 2001.
His torture at the prison was widely documented and spurred on international human rights groups’ calls for the site to be shut down. He was subjected to prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and other abuses.
The Periodic Review Board, a panel composed of several US national security agencies, determined in June 2021 that the detention of al-Qahtani was “no longer necessary” to protect the United States against a “significant threat.”
The body noted his “significantly compromised mental health condition and available family support” he would have in Saudi Arabia.
In January, the United States approved the release of five of the remaining 39 men still at Guantanamo.
Ten others, including the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as “KSM,” are awaiting trial by a military commission.
The detention center, run by the US Navy, was created after the 2001 attacks to house detainees in the US “war on terror” and has been called a site of “unparalleled notoriety” by UN rights experts.
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