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Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was accused of being the would-be twentieth hijacker, was taken into US custody in December 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo a few months later.

On February 11, 2008, the US government announced that it had charged him with conspiracy to commit terrorism, attacking civilians and civilian objects, murder in violation of the laws of war, destruction of property in violation of the laws of war, hijacking, terrorism and providing material support for terrorism. He was charged simultaneously with five other detainees, all of whom are alleged to have been directly involved in the planning and execution of the September 11 terrorist attacks; the Defense Department is seeking the death penalty for all of them.

However, on Monday, May 12, 2008, the government announced that it was dropping charges against al-Qahtani. It gave no explanation but it was widely believed that the case was dropped because so much of the evidence against al-Qahtani was tainted by torture and abuse. Prosecutors said they wanted to re-file charges against al-Qahtani, but in a January 2009 interview with the Washington Post, Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority of the military commissions, said she refused to refer charges against al-Qahtani because he had been tortured. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case," she told the Washington Post.

While at Guantanamo, al-Qahtani was subjected to carefully planned, pre-approved aggressive interrogation methods that amount to torture. Al-Qahtani's interrogation log reveals that he was intentionally deprived of sleep, forced into painful physical positions and subjected to forced exercises, forced standing, and sexual and other physical humiliation. After refusing water, al-Qahtani was forced to accept an intravenous drip for hydration and, on several occasions, was refused trips to a latrine. He urinated on himself at least twice. He was also threatened with forced enemas, and on one occasion was forced to undergo an enema.

In late 2007 he recanted a confession he said he made after he was beaten, abused and humiliated at Guantanamo.

On June 16, 2016, al-Qahtani appeared before a US government interagency review board created during the Barack Obama administration charged with reviewing whether prisoners at Guantanamo could be released from the facility. During this hearing it was revealed for the first time that al-Qahtani has been diagnosed with schizophrenia which predates his time at Guantanamo.

On July 18, 2016, the review board denied al-Qahtani’s release. Since US President Donald Trump was elected, the interagency review board has continued to operate but the Trump administration has not shown a strong commitment to the process. Though Guantanamo detainees can seek to have interagency review boards review their cases, Trump has said there should be no further releases from Guantanamo and lawyers for detainees contend that the review process is not genuine. 

Al-Qahtani appeared before the review board again on July 24, 2018 but a decision on his case was still pending at the time of this writing. He has been detained at Guantanamo without charge for 16 years. (Last updated August 9, 2018)


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