The Department of Defense said Monday it sent a Saudi Arabian national, who allegedly wanted to be part of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, back to his home country after being detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002.
The Periodic Review Board determined June 9, 2021, that Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, 46, should be returned to Saudi Arabia, and was no longer a threat to the United States and did not need to be held at the facility as a law of war detainee, according to the agency.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, rebuked the release in a statement Monday night:
"Al-Qahtani is a terrorist who made it his life goal to kill Americans. I believe he remains committed to jihad and the destruction of the United States. Now, because of the Biden administration's misguided policies, he has the opportunity to once again return to the battlefield. The decision to transfer al-Qahtani is not simply a lapse in judgment, it is a massive error which poses a serious risk to our national security and the security of our allies."
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Feb. 4 he intended to send al-Qahtani back to Saudi Arabia, allowing the agency to complete the paperwork and other requirements for the transfer.
"The United States appreciates the willingness of Saudi Arabia and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts toward a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing of the Guantanamo Bay facility," the agency said in a statement announcing the release Monday.
According to documents obtained by The New York Times during al-Qahtani's 2016 review in front of the board, the Saudi national was "selected by senior al-Qaida members to be the 20th hijacker" during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in 2001.
The documents said he failed in that attempt and then returned to Afghanistan to fight the Northern Alliance.
NBC News reported al-Qahtani has displayed symptoms of schizophrenia since a young age and was witnessed speaking to non-existent people, hearing voices, and "crouching in a corner of his cell while covering himself with a sheet for hours."
"After two decades without trial in U.S. custody, Mohammad will now receive the psychiatric care he has long needed in Saudi Arabia, with the support of his family," Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who represented al-Qahtani with help from students for over a decade, told the Times. "Keeping him at Guantanamo, where he was tortured, and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence."
The repatriation brings the number of detainees left in the facility to 38, with 19 eligible for transfer, seven eligible for a review board hearing, 10 involved in the military commission process, and two convicted in military commissions, the agency statement said.
The Periodic Review Board began under former President Barack Obama in 2011 by executive order and is made up of one career officer from the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Department of Justice, the director of national intelligence, and a member of the joint staff, the agency said.
According to The New York Times, about 780 detainees have been held at the facility since 2002.
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