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Biden admin releases 9/11 ’20th hijacker’ suspect to Saudi Arabia for mental health care

War-on-terror captives conduct communal evening prayers at the Camp 6 prison building at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on July 7, 2015. (Walter Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)
March 08, 2022

On Monday, President Joe Biden’s administration announced the release of a Guantanamo Bay detainee known as the “20th hijacker” who has been held at the facility since 2002 for his involvement in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani was repatriated to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for mental health treatment, according to the New York Times.

“On June 9, 2021, the Periodic Review Board process determined that law of war detention of Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani was no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States. Therefore, the PRB recommended that al-Qahtani be repatriated to his native country of Saudi Arabia, subject to security and humane treatment assurances,” a statement from the Department of Defense read.

Al-Qahtani’s lawyer, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said his client has experienced severe mental health issues since his youth.

“For 14 years I’ve sat across from Mohammed as he talks to nonexistent people in the room and makes eye contact with the walls — something that’s been a constant part of his life since his teens,” Kadidal said. “It’s an extraordinary relief that the next time the voices in his head tell him to swallow a mouthful of broken glass, he’ll be in a psychiatric facility, not a prison.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin notified Congress on Feb. 4 of his decision to repatriate al-Qahtani to Saudi Arabia.

“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,” the release added.

The Periodic Review Board is a panel made up of one senior career official from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, as well as the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The DoD said that as of March 7, Guantanamo Bay has 38 detainees, including 19 who are eligible for transfer, 7 who are eligible for a Periodic Review Board; 10 who are involved in the military commissions process; and two who have been convicted in military commissions.

“After two decades of indefinite detention, Mr. Qahtani finally has a chance to heal from the torture he suffered, receive mental health care Guantánamo can’t provide and hopefully one day reclaim his life,” said Scott Roehm, the Washington director of the Center of Victims Against Torture. “His transfer is a welcome incremental step, but the Biden administration needs to act much faster and more comprehensively to close Guantánamo than it has so far.”