President Joe Biden’s Department of Defense released Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani back into the arms of Saudi Arabia after nearly 20 years in prison for his involvement in the September 11 terrorist attack.
Dubbed the “20th hijacker” from September 11, al-Qahtani was transferred out of Guantanamo Bay this week after a review board determined last year that he did not present a current national security threat.
“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 Defense Department said in a statement.
Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani has allegedly suffered from schizophrenia since a young age, according to Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantanamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, with witnesses testifying to have seen him talking to himself and hearing voices.
“In a statement from February, the Center for Constitutional Rights said that an independent psychiatric expert examined al-Qahtani at Guantanamo and confirmed the diagnosis of schizophrenia in 2016, and the military’s own doctors unanimously agreed with that conclusion,” reported CBS News.
Former Bush administration official Susan Crawford declined to recommend that al-Qahtani be prosecuted in 2009, charging that his treatment in prison “met the legal definition of torture.”
“That’s why I did not refer the case,” Crawford told The Washington Post.
Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured so badly that he was ineligible to be tried at the war crimes court https://t.co/nMfYzptvhI
— Kyle Rempfer (@Kyle_Rempfer) March 8, 2022
Declassified court documents from 2016 show that al-Qahtani had been accused of working with al Qaeda in lead up to the 9/11 attack and would have been the “20th hijacker” had he not been denied entry into the United States after immigration officers “found the circumstances of his travel and his conduct to be suspicious,” according to the documents. Per CBS News:
The declassified documents said the lead hijacker, Mohammed Atta, was “almost certainly” waiting to pick up al-Qahtani at the Orlando airport in 2001 when he was denied entry and deported to the United Arab Emirates.
The government said al-Qahtani returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan in August 2001 to tell Atta and Osama bin Laden separately that he was denied entry to the U.S. He then traveled to Kabul to fight against the U.S. and its allies, the documents said. The government said al-Qahtani was briefly in Tora Bora and rejoined bin Laden and his bodyguards before being captured.
The documents alleged he “repeatedly” tried to “disassociate himself” from al Qaeda, although the government said that they believed his “repeated denials of terrorism involvement” limited their “insight into his motivation.” His family has no known links to terrorism, the government said.
President Joe Biden has aimed to eventually close Guantanamo Bay, currently home to 38 detainees.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) denounced al-Qahtani’s release in a statement on Monday, calling him a “terrorist who made it his life goal to kill Americans.”
“I believe he remains committed to jihad and the destruction of the United States,” Rubio said. “Now, because of the Biden Administration’s misguided policies, he has the opportunity to once again return to the battlefield.”
“The decision to transfer al-Qahtani is not simply a lapse in judgment, it is a massive error which poses a serious risk to our national security and the security of our allies,” he added.
Sen Rubio issued a statement following the transfer of Al-Qaeda terrorist Mohammed al-Qahtani from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, calling it “a massive error which poses a serious risk to our national security and the security of our allies.”
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) March 8, 2022