Mar 8, 2022 - World

Saudi Guantánamo detainee with alleged 9/11 ties repatriated after 20 years

A US-American flag pictured at Guantanamo Bay.
The fence at Guantanamo Bay in 2018. Photo: Maren Hennemuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, 46, has been sent home to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

Why it matters: In 2021, a U.S. review board found that al-Qahtani's confinement, "was no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States."

  • Al-Qahtani had ties to Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was accused of being selected by senior al-Qaeda members as the "20th hijacker." He was refused entry into the U.S. and did not participate in the terrorism.

The big picture: The Saudi national was later arrested in Afghanistan. He had been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay since 2002.

  • Al-Qahtani was tortured during his imprisonment at the U.S. Naval base, said a Bush administration official in 2009 in declining to recommend him for prosecution.
  • He has had schizophrenia since an early age and will receive psychiatric treatment upon his repatriation, his legal team said, per NBC News.

What they're saying: Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said in a statement that the repatriation of al-Qahtani was a "massive error which poses a serious risk to our national security."

The other side: Ramzi Kassem, al-Qahtani's former counsel, told NBC News that after "two decades without trial in U.S. custody, Mohammed will now receive the psychiatric care he has long needed in Saudi Arabia, with the support of his family."

  • "Keeping him at Guantanamo, where he was tortured, and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence," Kassem added.
  • Kassem and representatives for the Biden administraion did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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