Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Government Hid Fact Tortured GITMO Detainee Mohammed al Qahtani Had Lifelong History of Severe Mental Illness

The Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mohammed al Qahtani on June 16, 2016 has more significance than another instance of the woefully inadequate and unjust form of adjudication for Guantanamo detainees. (For example, the PRB can consider evidence the prisoner, his lawyer, and his personal representatives cannot even see.)

No, this PRB hearing is significant for two reasons. Mohammed al Qahtani - Gitmo detainee 063 - was the first of the detainees to be subjected to an "enhanced interrogation" style torture at Guantanamo, using SERE-derived forms of torture that were approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Al Qahtani's torture was famously recorded in log form (most likely to assess him psychologically, not for intelligence reasons), and released by Time Magazine in 2006. Download and read its 83 pages here.

But as a press release today by Center for Constitutional Rights, posted below, indicates, filings made in the PRB case show that the government knew that al Qahtani suffered from schizophrenia, depression, and possibly a traumatic brain injury from a young age, but they tortured him anyway. As CCR notes, government interrogators, which included both DoD and FBI in al Qahtani's case, must have known that with severe mental illness al Qahtani was, one, not up to the stressors of rigorous interrogation (such as the isolation that the FBI and CITF interrogators wanted for him) much less the torture DoD implemented. They also had to know that he was not going to give reliable information as a result.

According to the statement by CCR attorneys Ramzi Kassem and Shayana Kadidal, an expert report by Dr. Emily Keram discovered that al Qahtani had been involuntarily psychiatrically hospitalized in Mecca a year before 9/11 for an "acute psychotic state." According to telephonic interviews with al Qahtani, his relatives, and a review of records from the hospitalization show that his history of psychosis went back to a head injury during an auto accident when he was 8 years old.

The attorneys wrote: "His family recalled 'episodes of extreme behavioral dyscontrol' over the years, including one when the Riyadh police contacted the family because they had found Mr. al-Qahtani naked in a garbage dumpster, spells of 'auditory hallucinations,' and an incident where Mr. al-Qahtani threw a new cellular phone out of a moving car because he believed it was affecting his emotional state."

Far from being a diabolical terrorist, in the months before 9/11, al Qahtani couldn't even hold down his job as a civilian driver for the Armed Forces Hospital in the Saudi city of Kharj. Dr. Keram came to a shattering conclusion - shattering because the U.S. had staked much of its "terror" interrogation/torture program on prisoners like al Qahtani:
...Dr. Keram concluded that Mr. al-Qahtani's pre-existing mental illnesses likely impaired his capacity for independent and voluntary decision-making well before the United States took him into custody, and left him "profoundly susceptible to manipulation by others." These findings call into serious question the extent to which it would be fair to hold Mr. al-Qahtani responsible for any alleged actions during that period of his life. They also cast doubt on any claims that Mr. al-Qahtani would have been entrusted with sensitive information about secret plots.

Moreover, Dr. Keram found that "Mr. al-Qahtani's pre-existing psychotic, mood, and cognitive disorders made him particularly vulnerable to [ ... ] the conditions of confinement and interrogation" his U.S. captors inflicted on him at Guantanamo under the guise of the "First Special Interrogation Plan." In fact, according 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 water-boarding, 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 illness."

Applied to Mr. al-Qahtani, the torture and conditions of his confinement at Guantanamo were nothing short of devastating, exacerbating his pre-existing psychological ailments.
It is amazing that in 2016, the criminality of the U.S. government when it comes to torture only looks more inhumane and more ominous with every new revelation.

What follows is the CCR press release:
Tortured GITMO Detainee Had History of Severe Mental Illness

Attorneys Provide Records to Review Board, Urge al Qahtani’s Release to Care

June 15, 2016 – Tomorrow morning Guantánamo detainee Mohammed al Qahtani will have a hearing before a Periodic Review Board to determine whether he can safely be transferred to the custody of Saudi Arabia.

Al Qahtani was systematically tortured under a “Special Interrogation Plan”, designed to disorient, sexually humiliate, and psychologically destroy him, based on the suspicion that he might have been the “20th hijacker.” He is the only prisoner whose abuse has been formally described as “torture” by a senior U.S. government official, when the head of the Military Commissions explained that she had refused to authorize charges seeking the death penalty against him because “we tortured Qahtani.”

Filings made before the Periodic Review Board disclose, for the first time, that from an early age al Qahtani suffered from schizophrenia, major depression, and possible traumatic brain injury. He was mentally ill not only prior to his imprisonment and torture at Guantánamo, but also long before the government claims he was invited into the secretive, closely-guarded 9/11 conspiracy. Records independently located by the Center for Constitutional Rights show that al Qahtani was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in Mecca in May 2000 because he suffered an acute psychotic break and attempted to throw himself into moving traffic. Saudi police once found him naked in a garbage dumpster, and he heard voices and suffered other classic symptoms of psychosis throughout his adolescence. A psychiatric expert’s report, based on the hospitalization records, other investigative work, and many hours of examination of al Qahtani, was filed with the Review Board as well.

“Mohammed was already mentally ill long before the time when the government alleges that he first met anyone involved in plotting anything. It would be passing cruel to put a person like that on trial or to continue to imprison him,” said Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York whose legal clinic represents al Qahtani with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“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,” said Shayana Kadidal, Senior Managing Attorney of the Guantánamo project at CCR, which has represented al Qahtani since 2005. “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.”

Read the attorneys’ statement to the Periodic Review Board.

Read more about Mohammed al Qahtani on his case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for more than 14 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country, ensuring that nearly all the men detained at Guantánamo have had the option of legal representation. Among other Guantánamo cases, the Center represents the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking justice in international courts.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit Follow @theCCR.
What can one say in conclusion? That the U.S. government waited years to reveal this information? That they never bothered to check on the actual life of someone they claimed was a "terrrorist"? That the moral standing of this country is next to nil?

We are still waiting for the kinds of accountability that the massive program of CIA and DoD torture demands. Moreover, the collaboration with torture also included, as revelations over the years have shown, include other state actors, most notably the FBI, but also NCIS, the Bureau of Prisons, and perhaps, though it seems incredible, even the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee (circa 2003).

I wish the best for Mr. al Qahtani, and demand that the PRB find him releasable, and send him on his way back to try and construct some kind of life for himself after the nightmare of Guantanamo.

I do want to add this thought: it turns out that both the CIA test case for their torture program, Abu Zubaydah, and the DoD test case for their torture program, Mohammed al Qahtani, suffered from severe brain trauma. That is too strange to be a coincidence. What was really going on here?

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