This article was created in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
WASHINGTON – A federal judge ordered the U.S. military to have a group of American and foreign doctors examine a Saudi man who was tortured in Guantánamo Bay to determine whether he should be released from prison and sent home for mental health care.
Friday's 25-page statement by US District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer is a departure from the court's customary respect for the military regarding medicine in the U.S. Naval Base War Prison in Cuba. There is also a decisive say for foreign doctors when deciding for the first time whether an inmate from Guantánamo Bay should be released.
Judge Collyer wrote that she was making a request by lawyers to prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani to force the United States to use army regulations to protect prisoners of war and to form a "mixed medical commission" composed of a medical officer U.S. Army and two neutral country doctors selected by the International Committee of the Red Cross and approved by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Qahtani, who is over 40 years old, had severe mental illness and psychiatric hospitalization in Saudi Arabia before he left in 2000 or 2001. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he was captured on the Pakistani-Afghan border and subjected to two months of continuous, brutal US military interrogation in a wooden hut at Camp X-Ray in Guantánamo in late 2002 and early 2003 after the military had closed that particular detention center.
For a while, prosecutors tried to include Mr. Qahtani as a potential 20th kidnapper in the September 11 death penalty trial. In the summer of 2001, a border guard at Orlando International Airport in Florida denied him entry into the United States. However, he was excluded from the process by a senior Pentagon official who concluded that the US military had tortured him in Guantánamo.
imageRecognition…Ministry of Defense
A U.S. executive with representatives from six national security agencies concluded in 2016 and 2018 that it would be too dangerous to release Mr. Qahtani. He was made a permanent prisoner who could be detained for the duration of the war on terror.
In response, Mr. Qahtani's lawyers petitioned the court to order the Pentagon to treat him like a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Convention, as defined in a U.S. Army ordinance, to assess whether he was too sick to be in Guantánamo to be held.
Ministry of Justice lawyers denied the request, saying that Guantánamo detainees are not covered by the Army regulation.
When ordering the assessment, Judge Collyer relied on a report from Dr. Emily A. Keram, an American psychiatrist who treats US veterans and examined Mr. Qahtani in Guantánamo and some of his medical records in Saudi Arabia. According to the report, after an "acute psychotic break" and attempted suicide in May 2000, Mr. Qahtani spent four or five days in the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Keram also wrote that as a child, Mr. Qahtani suffered a head injury in a car accident and was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hallucinations were a symptom; He spoke to non-existent people before leaving Saudi Arabia and after his arrival in Guantánamo.
Central to Judge Collyer's order was Mr. Qahtani's lawyers' allegation that Guantánamo was not equipped to treat his psychiatric illnesses and that he was entitled to return to culturally appropriate psychiatric care under the provisions of prisoners of war in army regulations .
The provisions grant board members access to Mr. Qahtani and his clinical records. Recommendations are made by a majority of votes, and if repatriation is justified, it must be made within three months of the decision.
Judge Collyer wrote that she agreed with the Department of Justice that the use of the mixed medical commission was "breaking new ground" and "likely to be burdensome".
Ministry of Justice and Guantánamo officials did not respond to requests for comments on whether to appeal or accept the order. The United States could also send Mr. Qahtani to Saudi Arabia for treatment instead of allowing the first mixed medical commission to evaluate him.
The need to repatriate Mr. Qahtani is "a matter of life and death," said Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers. "We hope that he can return to Saudi Arabia, where he will receive the psychiatric care and treatment he needs."