20th Hijacker of 9/11 Released from Guantánamo for Mental Health Care in Saudi Arabia

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One of the men who was accused of joining hijackers in carrying out the September 11th attacks on America has been sent back to his home country so that he can have mental health treatment. 

Mohammad Ahmad al-Qahtani was flown back to Saudi Arabia but the Biden Administration after being held in a Guantánamo Bay facility for two decades, according to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense. This took place after a review board concluded that he no longer was seen as a significant threat to U.S. national security and could be safely released after 20 years as a detainee. 

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 Guantánamo Bay facility,” the Defense Department statement said.

Mohammad Ahmad al-Qahtani is now 46 years old and has suffered from mental illness since childhood. According to medical examinations and records that were obtained from his lawyers, he has schizophrenia. 

A report from 2002 indicated that an FBI official saw al-Qahtani talking to people who were not there, hearing voices, and crouching in a corner of his cell covered with a sheet for hours at a time. 

The United States ended plans to put him on trial after a legal official under former President Bush found out he had been tortured. 

It was reported in the detainee’s profile that he had been trained by al-Qaida and he tried to get into the United States on the 4th of August in 2001 so that he could join the other 9/11 attackers. He was captured by US forces in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo. The prisoner was given the title, “20th hijacker of 9/11.”

Lloyd James Austin, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, told Congress of his plan to repatriate al Qahtani to Saudi Arabia in February of this year. This announcement brought a backlash of criticism from several Republican leaders. 

Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, represented al-Qahtani. He had some of his students aid in the legal defense of the detainee. 

After two decades without trial in US custody, Mohammed will now receive the psychiatric care he has long needed in Saudi Arabia, with the support of his family. Keeping him at Guantánamo, where he was tortured, and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence,” Kassem wrote.

There are still 38 prisoners left at the detention center in Cuba. Al-Qahtani is the second one released under President Joe Biden. He has vowed to close the facility. 19 detainees have already been approved for repatriation or resettlement by the Periodic Review Board (PRB). There are seven more detainees who are now eligible for review. 

Ten of the detainees will face trial by military commission and that includes 5 who are charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Their cases include the death penalty and have been held up in courts during the pretrial phase. 

The PRB process was established by the President’s March 7, 2011, Executive Order 13567. The board consists of one senior career official from each of the following departments: Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, along with the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The question of justice should certainly be raised by the Republicans who are critical of the move by the Biden Administration. What remains to be seen is if the media will communicate these questions to the American people.