Tortured Detainee At Guantánamo Wins Court Ruling on Health Care Services

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Pursuant to U.S. Army regulations, war detainees are “eligible for direct repatriation” if they are: (1) “suffering from disabilities as a result of injury, loss of limb, paralysis, or other disabilities, when these disabilities are at least the loss of a hand or foot, or the equivalent;” or (2) are ill or injured and their “conditions have become chronic to the extent that prognosis appears to preclude recovery in spite of treatment within 1 year from inception of disease or date of injury.” 

In March of 2020, DC District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer determined that the military’s regulation applied to Mohammed al-Qahtani and granted his motion for repatriation. Despite efforts by the government in the months since to delay that action, on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to delay the court-ordered medical examination by American military medical personnel of Mr. al-Qahtani that would precede Mr. al-Qahtani’s repatriation. Mr. al-Qahtani, a Saudi national who has suffered from mental illness for years, has been in US custody for 18 years at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he’s been subjected to abuse and torture.

According to an independent psychiatrist, Mr. al-Qahtani suffers from schizophrenia, moderate-to-severe depression, and traumatic brain injury – conditions he suffered from before his detention at Guantánamo. According to his lawyers, they have only been exacerbated by the torture he has endured in US custody. In addition, his lawyers say his experience at Guantánamo has resulted in Mr. al-Qahtani suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The US government does not dispute the nature or severity of Mr. al-Qahtani’s mental illness.

While Justice Department lawyers have warned that the first use of a mixed medical commission would be disruptive & lead to more requests by other prisoners for similar care, many human rights, civil liberties, and faith groups have expressed a diametrically opposite concern – that the Defense Department has not yet taken steps to establish a Mixed Medical Commission for Mohammed al-Qahtani, as required by both court-order and Department regulations.

Defending Rights & Dissent joined in that concern and recently signed onto a coalition letter expressing those sentiments to the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice. Mr. al-Qahtani is psychologically damaged to the point where he requires long-term, carefully managed treatment. Under these circumstances, the District Court rightly determined that he is entitled to a Mixed Medical Commission. The appeals panel also rightly asserted the same.

 The Defense Department needs to not only do the right thing, but follow its own regulations: establish a Mixed Medical Commission for Mohammed al-Qahtani.