Mohammed Al-Qahtani: Will Severe Mental Illness Secure His Release from Guantánamo?

Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, who is seeking release from the prison because of severe mental health issues that cannot be adequately addressed by Guantánamo staff. The text accompanying the photo describes his current mental state.

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For anyone seeking a single story that is emblematic of the horrors of Guantánamo, the story of Mohammed al-Qahtani ought to be instructive.

One of hundreds of prisoners seized in the chaos of Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in October 2001 and sent to Guantánamo after brutal treatment in US prisons in Afghanistan, al-Qahtani finally came to the attention of the US authorities in Guantánamo when it was assessed that he was the same man who had tried and failed to enter the US before the 9/11 attacks, and was presumed to have been intended to be the 20th hijacker.

He was then subjected to a horrible torture program, personally approved by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which lasted for several months in late 2002, and which, as Murtaza Hussain explained for the Intercept in April 2018, involved him being subjected to “solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and noise exposure, stress positions, forced nudity, body cavity searches, sexual assault and humiliation, beatings, strangling, threats of rendition, and water-boarding.” On two occasions he was hospitalized with a dangerously low heart rate.

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The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse on Guantánamo: “Born in Fear and Sustained Through Political Cynicism and Public Indifference”

Guards in a watchtower at Guantánamo Bay.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Two weeks ago, the 18 year-long struggle by lawyers, NGOs and all decent people to bring justice to the men held at Guantánamo reached a new low point in the court of appeals (the D.C. Circuit Court) in Washington, D.C., as I explained at the time in an article entitled, Trump-Appointed Appeals Court Judge Rules That Guantánamo Prisoners Don’t Have Due Process Rights.

The judge in question, Judge Neomi Rao, appointed by Donald Trump last year, is an enthusiastic supporter of the opposition, by various judges in the court, to the landmark Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush, decided in June 2008, which granted constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners.

That ruling led to the only time in Guantánamo’s history when the law has successfully applied at the prison. From 2008 until 2010, 38 prisoners had their habeas corpus petitions granted by District Court judges, and the majority of those men were released.

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Judge Upholds Ruling Ordering Independent Medical Review for Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani

A composite image of Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Mohammed al-Qahtani and District Judge Ellen Huvelle.

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Back in March, as I explained in an article at the time, District Judge Rosemary Collyer made history when she ordered the US government to allow independent medical and psychiatric experts from outside the US to assess a prisoner at Guantánamo.

The prisoner in question is Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani, who had pre-existing serious mental health issues that the US authorities failed to disclose when, at Guantánamo, they came to regard him as the intended 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and subjected him to a torture program involving months of sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation.

Judge Collyer’s ruling involved her, as Carol Rosenberg explained for the New York Times, stating that “she was granting a request” by al-Qahtani’s lawyers “to compel the United States to apply an Army regulation designed to protect prisoners of war and to create ‘a mixed medical commission’ made up of a medical officer from the US Army and two doctors from a neutral country chosen by the International Committee of the Red Cross and approved by the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

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Uzair Paracha, Victim of Tortured Terrorism Lies, is Freed from US Jail; Why Is His Father Still at Guantánamo?

Uzair Paracha, left, photographed at the time of his arrest in 2003, and his father Saifullah, still held at Guantánamo, in a photo taken a few years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

For anyone who has been paying attention not only to the long and horribly unjust Guantánamo saga, but also to the stories of others held in other circumstances as part of the “tangled web” of the “war on terror,” the recent announcement that Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani national, has been released from a US jail and repatriated after 17 years in prison, with a judge throwing his conviction out of court, is extremely good news.

If there is any justice, Uzair Paracha’s release ought to secure the release from Guantánamo of his father, Saifullah, although, when it comes to Guantánamo, of course, it has rarely been the case that anything involving that prison has ever had any meaningful connection to justice.

I first came across Saifullah Paracha’s story in 2006, while researching my book The Guantánamo Files, and I came across his son’s story in 2007, which prompted me to write about a possible miscarriage of justice in my article, Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man.

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US Judge Orders Independent Psychiatric Assessment of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani

Tortured Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, and US District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who has ordered the US government to allow independent psychiatrists to visit him at Guantánamo, to assess whether his long-standing mental health problems are so severe that he should be sent back to Saudi Arabia.

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In a breakthrough legal ruling, a US judge has ordered the government to allow a psychiatric assessment of a Guantánamo prisoner, involving not only US doctors, who have been allowed into the prison before, to make assessments of certain prisoners’ mental and  physical health, but also, for the first time, foreign doctors, the intention being, as Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times explained, “to determine whether he should be released from the prison” and “sent home for psychiatric care.”

The prisoner in question, Mohammed al-Qahtani, is well-known to seasoned Guantánamo watchers, as he is one of only two prisoners at Guantánamo to have been subjected to torture programs specifically approved for them (the other one being Mohamedou Ould Slahi). Al-Qahtani was regarded as the intended 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and was subjected to what Carol Rosenberg described, accurately, as “two months of continuous, brutal interrogation”, by US soldiers, at the end of 2002 and the start of 2003. The torture took place in a wooden hut at Guantánamo’s Camp X-Ray, after that facility — the prison’s first camp — had closed, and TIME magazine published the harrowing log of those torture sessions in 2006, which are available here.

What was not publicly known until long after al-Qahtani’s torture was that, as Carol Rosenberg put it, he “had a history of profound mental illness and psychiatric hospitalization in Saudi Arabia before he left in 2000 or 2001,” although this has been consistently ignored by the US authorities.

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Horribly Repressive: The Truth About Donald Trump’s Guantánamo

Khaled Qassim, Abdul Latif Nasser and Saifullah Paracha, three of the Guantánamo prisoners who told their lawyers that, this summer, they were subjected to repressive and culturally inadequate treatment by medical personnel at the prison.

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In a recent article about Guantánamo — a rarity in the US mainstream media — ABC News picked up on a sad story of medical neglect and culturally inappropriate behavior by medical personnel at the prison, as conveyed to the broadcaster by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, an attorney who represents some of the 40 men still held.

In “‘Degrading’: Aging detainees describe health care woes at Guantánamo 18 years after 9/11,” ABC News’ Guy Davies described how a “breakdown in trust between detainees and doctors” had “reached breaking point” at the prison.

The ailments of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner

Davies’ article began by looking at the case of 72-year old Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, who suffers from “debilitating chest pains,” an “overactive bladder and enlarged prostate,” as well as “diabetes, coronary artery disease, diverticulosis, gout, psoriasis and arthritis,” as Sullivan-Bennis told ABC News, adding that he “has also suffered two heart attacks, one of which occurred when he was held in Bagram, in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo” in September 2004.

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18 Years After 9/11, the Endless Injustice of Guantánamo is Driving Prisoners to Suicidal Despair

The terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, and the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the day it opened, January 11, 2002.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

18 years ago, on September 11, 2001, the world changed irrevocably, when terrorists, using hijacked passenger planes, attacked the US mainland, killing nearly 3,000 people. In response, the administration of George W. Bush launched a brutal, global “war on terror,” invading Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda and to topple the Taliban government, and embarking on a program of kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), torture and the indefinite detention without charge or trial of alleged “terror suspects.”

18 years later, the war in AfghanIstan drags on, the battle for “hearts and minds” having long been lost, a second occupied country — Iraq — illegally invaded on the basis of lies, and of false evidence obtained through torture, remains broken, having subsequently served as an incubator for Al-Qaeda’s savage offshoot, Daesh (or Islamic State), and the program of indefinite detention without charge or trial continues in the prison established four months after the 9/11 attacks, at Guantánamo Bay on the US naval base in Cuba.

Torture, we are told, is no longer US policy and the CIA no longer runs “black sites” — although torture remains permissible in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and no one can quite be sure what the US gets up to in its many covert actions around the world.

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Lawyers’ Fears for Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Sharqawi Al-Hajj “After Rapidly Declining Health and Suicidal Statements”

Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing her client Sharqawi al-Hajj outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Shelby Sullivan-Bennis).

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Disturbing news from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who report that one of their Guantánamo clients, Sharqawi al-Hajj, “stated on a recent call with his attorney that he wanted to take his own life.” CCR described this, in a press release, as “a first” in CCR’s long representation of al-Hajj, adding that their attorneys have responded to it “with the utmost seriousness.”

As they further explain, “His suicidal statements follow a steady and observable deterioration of his physical and mental health that his legal team has been raising the alarm about for two years. They are monitoring his condition as best they can, and will provide any further information as soon as they are able.”

In an eloquent statement, CCR’s lawyers said, “When things are in a state of perpetual crisis, as they seem all around today, it is easy to lose sight of just how extreme a situation is, and grow numb to it. We have lost sight of just how extreme the situation in the Guantánamo prison is. We have grown numb to it.”

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Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cleared for release from the prison over three years ago, but still held, and Camp 6, where he remains imprisoned with 23 other low-level prisoners.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Over 17 and a half years since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, it is, sadly, rare for the mainstream US media — with the bold exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times — to spend any time covering it, even though its continued existence remains a source of profound shame for anyone who cares about US claims that it is a nation founded on the rule of law.

Given the general lack of interest, it was encouraging that, a few weeks ago, ABC News reported on the unforgivable plight of Abdul Latif Nasser, a 54-year old Moroccan prisoner, to mark the third anniversary of his approval for release from the prison. Nasser is one of five of the remaining 40 prisoners who were approved for release by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who are still held.

In Nasser’s case, as I reported for Al-Jazeera in June 2017, this was because, although he was approved for release in June 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process that approved 38 prisoners for release from 2013 to 2016, the necessary paperwork from the Moroccan government didn’t reach the Obama administration until 22 days before Obama left office, and legislation passed by Republicans stipulated that Congress had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner was to be released, meaning that, for Nasser, as I described it, “the difference between freedom and continued incarceration was just eight days.”

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US Supreme Court Supports Lifelong Imprisonment Without Charge or Trial at Guantánamo; Only Justice Breyer Dissents

Guantánamo prisoner and Yemeni citizen Moath al-Alwi, in a photo from Guantánamo included in his classified military file, dated March 2008, and released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, after being leaked by Chelsea Manning. Al-Alwi has been held without charge or trial for over 17 years, but last week had his request for a Supreme Court review of his case turned down.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Remember when the US courts used to guarantee the rights of any individual not to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of all accepted domestic and international laws and treaties?

Yes, so do we, but unfortunately all that changed nearly 15 years ago, when the Supreme Court, in a case called Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, dealing with the sole US citizen held at Guantánamo, Yasser Hamdi, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1980, but living in Saudi Arabia since he was a child, ruled that foreign prisoners held at Guantánamo could be — yes, you guessed it — imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial.

Hamdi, seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, had been held at Guantánamo until the US authorities realized that he was a US citizen, at which point he was moved to a military brig on the mainland, where he became one of three US citizens or residents held as “enemy combatants” and subjected to torture (the others being US citizen Jose Padilla, and legal resident Ali al-Marri).

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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