News Release

Rights Group Calls on Biden to Reverse Trump’s Treatment of Gitmo Prisoner Attempting Suicide

The Center for Constitutional Rights has put out a detailed news release: “Gitmo Torture Survivor Asks Court to Reject Eleventh-Hour Trump Bid to Deny Medical Evaluation,” which states: “Lawyers representing Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani are urging a federal judge to deny an effort by the Trump administration in its final days to reverse a court order to convene a panel of medical experts to evaluate him. A former Defense Department official appointed by Trump attempted to avoid convening the panel by purporting to make an exception excluding men imprisoned at Guantánamo from the military regulation requiring such an evaluation.

“Mr. al Qahtani is the only person imprisoned at Guantánamo whose torture has been formally admitted to by a U.S. government official, and he suffers from schizophrenia, diagnosed years before his detention, and major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from his torture. He has attempted suicide multiple times, including twice within the last four months, when, in a haze of hallucinations, he swallowed broken glass and cut veins in his arms. He is legally entitled to a neutral medical evaluation to determine whether the United States may continue to detain him.

“In an unclassified phone call with his lawyer, Mr. al Qahtani said, ‘I feel so much worse. I tried to kill myself again. I was in a state of madness. I don’t know what I did. … Even the psychiatrists here told me I’ve reached a stage where I might kill myself without even realizing it. These are dangerous behaviors. They put me in the clinic at first and now I’m back in the cellblock. They’re watching me but it’s as if they’re just waiting for me to kill myself. …’

“Al Qahtani experiences a host of symptoms, including hallucinations, screaming, insomnia, crying for hours, banging his head against walls, impaired concentration and memory, hypervigilance, hopelessness, and physical pain throughout his body, among others.”

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights said: “Our government knowingly tortured a man who was already suffering from schizophrenia from his teenage years, long before he was brought to Guantanamo. Eighteen years later, it serves no purpose to hold him alone in a largely-empty prison, where he is losing what little touch with reality he still has.”

“The Biden administration can and should reverse course on Trump’s effort to resist the independent medical examination of a mentally ill prisoner that the U.S. government has admitted torturing,” said Ramzi Kassem, a professor at CUNY School of Law and the director of the CLEAR Clinic, which also represents Mr. al Qahtani.

Contact: Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, jnessel@ccrjustice.org