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Guantanamo detainee repatriated to mental health facility in Saudi Arabia

Authorities once alleged that the detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was an al Qaeda operative who had planned to be the “20th hijacker” on 9/11 but failed to board United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
Al-Qahtani was captured near the border of Afghanistan in December 2001 and was transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in February 2002. After his capture, al-Qahtani was imprisoned, tortured by the US government and — when charges against him were dropped in 2008 — left to languish behind bars.

But in February, the Periodic Review Board — a government entity established during the Obama administration to determine whether detainees at the facility were guilty — recommended repatriating al-Qahtani to a mental health facility in Saudi Arabia. The board “determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” according to public documents.

“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 Monday.

CNN previously reported that al-Qahtani’s lawyers had said he is severely mentally ill, battling schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his torture.
This is the second repatriation of a Guantanamo detainee during the Biden administration, and the first person to be cleared by the Periodic Review Board and repatriated under President Joe Biden. The other detainee, who was transferred in July 2021, had been cleared by the board for transfer during the Obama administration.

Thirty-eight detainees now remain at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Of those, “19 are eligible for transfer; 7 are eligible for a Periodic Review Board; 10 are involved in the military commissions process; and two detainees have been convicted in military commissions,” the Defense Department said.

Biden has said publicly that he wants to close the detention facility, and the National Security Council is undergoing a review of the facility.

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