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Tortured Guantanamo Prisoner With Severe Mental Illness Asks Review Board To Approve Release

During a hearing before the Periodic Review Board, Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani’s attorneys highlighted new evidence that Qahtani has endured a life of “severe psychiatric disabilities” in order to persuade the board to approve his release to Saudi Arabia.

A statement from attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights highlights Dr. Emily A. Keram, who concluded Qahtani “suffered from schizophrenia, major depression, and possibly neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury.”

“He was mentally ill not only prior to his imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo but also long before the period of time when he was alleged to have participated in criminal acts,” the statement adds. “Dr. Keram’s report is based on extensive conversation with Mr. al Qahtani at Guantanamo, on a telephonic interview with his family in Saudi Arabia, and on her review of records of an involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in 2000 that were independently obtained by his legal team.”

The United States government initially alleged Qahtani is the “20th hijacker,” who had a role in plotting the September 11th attacks, and in a filing to the review board, the government reaffirms this allegation.

According to the government, Qahtani has “not cooperated with his interrogators, repeatedly trying to disassociate himself from al Qaida and using cover stories to account for his travels. His repeated denials of terrorism involvement limit our insight into his motivation for joining al Qaida or his current mindset. He is not known to have made any statements in the past 10 years renouncing the group or its ideology.”

The government further claims that, even though his family has been supportive during Qahtani’s detention and have no involvement with terrorism, they may be in contact with “former Guantanamo Bay detainees,” as if that is a factor that should influence the review board’s ultimate decision.

In January 2009, the Defense Department’s Convening Authority for Military Commissions, Susan Crawford, conceded Qahtani’s treatment at Guantanamo “met the legal definition of torture” when she was interviewed by the Washington Post.

A Seton Hall Law Center report released in 2015 detailed how Qahtani was treated like a “lab rat” by U.S. military personnel. Medical staff monitored Qahtani’s body closely to make determinations about how much more torture he could endure. They monitored his body to ensure organ failure did not occur because if organs failed that would meet the Justice Department’s “legal definition of torture.”

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo project at CCR, declared, “The obvious manifestations of Mohammed’s illness—hearing voices, speaking to nonexistent people—were plain to see even before the worst of his abuse began. The people who designed and carried out his torture-and-interrogation plan must have known in advance that it could not possibly produce reliable information.”

“Between his torture and his psychosis, he can never be tried. Rather than warehouse him forever at Guantánamo, Mohammed should be committed to a mental hospital in Saudi Arabia that can care for someone with his conditions,” Kadidal added.

Attorneys additionally informed the review board that his “psychotic symptoms” were a symptom of a “string of traumatic brain injuries, beginning with one sustained in a car accident when he was only eight years-old.”

Qahtani was once found by Riyadh police “naked in a garbage dumpster.” He has suffered from “auditory hallucinations.” On one occasion, he threw his new cell phone out of a moving car “because he believed it was affecting his emotional state.”

He had an acute psychotic breakdown in late May of 2000 and was committed involuntarily to a hospital in Mecca. During the time, Qahtani “expressed suicidal wishes and was given antipsychotic medication and sedatives.” He lost his job as a civilian driver for the armed forces hospital in Kharj, Saudi Arabia, after this episode.

Dr. Keram determined Qahtani would have been “particularly vulnerable” to the torture and interrogation, which he experienced at Guantanamo.

…[A]ccording to Dr. Keram, the combination of 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 waterboarding, amounting to “severely cruel, degrading, humiliating, and inhumane treatment” that Mr. al-Qahtani endured would have profoundly disrupted and left long-lasting effects on a person’s sense of self and cognitive functioning “even in the absence of pre-existing psychiatric illnesses.”

CCR attorneys recount how he was on the “brink of death” as a result of torture and “had to be hospitalized twice.” He repeatedly hallucinated. He saw ghosts and believed there was a “talking bird.” He “soiled himself, cried uncontrollably, and conversed with himself and with others who were not present.”

Years later, Qahtani has developed post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from the cruel and inhuman treatment of which he was subjected.

Keram contends Qahtani will need “lifelong mental health care.” An approach involving “supportive psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, skills-based therapy, and psychotropic medication,” is essential to treating his condition.

“We have no reason to believe that the U.S. government knew of Mr. al Qahtani’s debilitating mental illnesses at the time it took him into its custody, or that it deliberately exploited those ailments in its interrogations of Mr. al Qahtani,” CCR attorneys suggested. “The facts nonetheless remain the same: our government apprehended a severely mentally disabled man, brought him to Guantanamo, and intentionally and systematically tortured him there.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."