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al Qahtani v. Obama

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Synopsis

Al Qahtani v. Obama is a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of Mohammed al Qahtani. Al Qahtani is a Saudi citizen who has been detained in Guantánamo for nearly nine years and who was the victim of the Pentagon’s “First Special Interrogation Plan—a regime of “aggressive interrogation techniques” amounting to torture—authorized by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He is the only Guantanamo detainee who administration officials have openly admitted was tortured.

Status

There are no military commission charges pending against al Qahtani. The government announced charges in February 2008 for al Qahtani’s alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks and intended to seek the death penalty, but all charges against al Qahtani were dismissed without prejudice in May 2008.

Al Qahtani’s habeas corpus petition is currently pending (but stayed) in the D.C. District Court.

Description

Mohammed al Qahtani is a Saudi citizen who was detained by Pakistani authorities on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on December 15, 2001, and was shortly thereafter transferred to the custody of the U.S. forces on December 26, 2001. On February 13, 2002, he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. While at Guantánamo, al Qahtani was subjected to “aggressive interrogation methods”—a euphemism for torture—under a “special interrogation plan” approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which was partially detailed in a military interrogation log leaked to and ultimately published by Time magazine on March 2, 2006.

Prior to the time period covered in his interrogation log from August 2002 through October 2002, the military held al Qahtani in severe isolation in a cell with constant bright lights. At some point in early September 2002, military intelligence personnel at Guantánamo began planning a new and more aggressive interrogation regime for al Qahtani. Military intelligence officials wanted to apply the training tactics used in the program, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training program – popularly known as “SERE” – for U.S. Special Forces. The SERE program is designed to teach U.S. soldiers how to resist torture techniques if they are captured by enemy forces. In Guantánamo, though, military intelligence officials wanted to use the training methods as interrogation techniques against al Qahtani and others.

The SERE training program involves forms of torture such as religious and sexual humiliation, and water-boarding. As a first step in implementing this new interrogation program, military intelligence personnel from Guantánamo attended SERE training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from September 16 to 20, 2006. In response to these developments, Criminal Investigation Task Force leaders – a separate team of interrogators seeking information through lawful means that could be introduced in criminal proceedings – memorialized September 2002 written orders prohibiting their agents from engaging in coercive interrogations, especially those involving SERE techniques.

In October 2002, military intelligence interrogators used military dogs in an aggressive manner to intimidate al Qahtani. As a result of witnessing this treatment, on July 14, 2006, FBI Deputy Assistant Director T.J. Harrington, reported to the Army that in November 2002 he observed a detainee – later identified as al Qahtani – exhibiting symptoms of “extreme psychological trauma.”

Despite this trauma, al Qahtani was not provided with any break in the isolation or his interrogations, nor treatment for his symptoms of “extreme psychological trauma” in November 2002. Instead, on or around November 23, 2002 through January 11, 2003, al Qahtani was subjected to an official interrogation regime known as the “First Special Interrogation Plan” that is detailed in his interrogation log. The 84-page log describes interrogations during a six week period, including how military intelligence interrogators stressed al Qahtani to physical and psychological limits. The methods used against Mohammed include:

• severe sleep deprivation combined with 20-hour-per-day interrogations, all continuing for months at a time;
• prolonged solitary confinement (including isolation for several months prior to November 23, 2002);
• religious and sexual humiliation, including strip searching and forced nudity in the presence of female personnel, and being forced to wear a bra and a women’s thong on his head;
• various other forms of humiliation (being forced to bark like a dog, wear a leash like a dog, dance with a mask on his face, pick up piles of trash with his hands cuffed while being called “a pig”);
• denial of the right to practice his religion, including prohibiting him from praying for prolonged times and during Ramadan, threatening to desecrate the Koran in front of him, shaving his beard, and forcing him to pray to Osama Bin Laden;
• forcible administration of IVs by medical personnel during interrogation; denial of access to a toilet so that he would be forced to urinate on himself;
 • repeatedly placing him in tight restraints and in stress positions; beatings; threats and attacks by military working dogs;
• exposure to low temperatures for prolonged times, often while doused with water;
• exposure to loud music for prolonged times;
• threats made against his family, including female members of his family;
• threats of extraordinary rendition to countries that torture more than the United States

On one occasion described in the interrogation log, al Qahtani was rushed to a military base hospital when his heart rate dropped to about half the normal rate during a period of extreme sleep deprivation, physical stress, and psychological trauma. The military flew in a radiologist from the U.S. Naval Station in Puerto Rico to evaluate him. After being permitted to sleep a full night, medical personnel cleared al Qahtani for further interrogation the next day. During his transportation from the hospital, al Qahtani was interrogated in the ambulance.
 
The military’s mistreatment of al Qahtani, and the command authority sanctioning the use of these interrogation methods, has been the subject of several military investigation into reports of abuse and was the subject of a lengthy memo prepared by the former General Counsel of the Navy, Alberto J. Mora, who warned that the use of these impermissible interrogation methods could make U.S. personnel vulnerable to war crimes prosecutions.

The U.S. government has accused al Qahtani of being a member of Al Qaeda and of intending to come to the U.S. to take part in the September 11 attacks; in actuality, he has adamantly and consistently denied ever taking up arms against the United States, or ever being a member of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Al Qahtani presented his first public statement to his 2007 Annual Review Board at Guantánamo and explained that all of the government’s claims against him originate from statements obtained through torture.
 
On February 11, 2008, six years after he was first brought to Guantánamo, al Qahtani was charged with involvement in the September 11 attacks, along with five men who had been held in the CIA detention program. All of the men held in CIA detention and charged with al Qahtani disappeared for months or years; the extent of coercive interrogation methods to which they were subjected is not known for certain. One of those men, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has stated that he made false statements implicating others under torture, and CIA director Hayden has admitted that the CIA used water-boarding as part of his interrogation program. In the 90-page charge sheet, the allegations relating to al Qahtani consisted of five paragraphs which did not even allege any actual contribution on his part to the attacks. The government had intended to seek the death penalty against all six men.
  

On May 9, 2008, the Convening Authority for Military Commissions issued final charges for the other five men, but dismissed all charges against al Qahtani. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, which leaves open the possibility that he will be re-charged in the future, separate from the five men currently facing the death penalty for alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks.

Timeline

December 15, 2001: al Qahtani detained by Pakistani officials near the border with Afghanistan
 
December 26, 2001: al Qahtani turned over to U.S. forces
 
February 13, 2002: al Qahtani transferred to GTMO. He is initially interrogated by JTF-170, CITF and FBI personnel at Camp X-Ray.
 
Mid-2002: al Qahtani is held in isolation for months.
 
November 23, 2002 through January 11, 2003: al Qahtani is subjected to an official interrogation regime known as the “First Special Interrogation Plan.”
 
(After the First Special Interrogation Plan ended, al Qahtani was held in solitary confinement for five years.)
 
October 5, 2005: CCR attorneys along with co-counsel from Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of Mohammed al Qahtani.
 
December 2005: a CCR attorney met with al Qahtani for the first time and began the difficult process of establishing a trusting attorney-client relationship after his extensive abuse and torture at the hands of U.S. personnel.
 
December 6, 2005: the district court ordered the government to produce documents showing the factual justification for al Qahtani’s detention. The government sought to delay production until December 27, 2005. After the enactment of the Detainee Treatment Act, the district court stayed its order.
 
March 2, 2006: Time magazine posted an interrogation log detailing al Qahtani’s torture and interrogation by the U.S. government on the internet. Rather than challenging the authenticity of the interrogation log, the Department of Defense has used al Qahtani’s interrogation as an example of the benefits of “aggressive interrogation methods” and claims to have extracted valuable information from him.
 
October 2006: al Qahtani became a plaintiff in a case brought in Germany under universal jurisdiction against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials to hold them accountable for war crimes committed at Guantánamo and in Iraq.
 
November 2006: senior investigators with the Defense Department's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) told msnbc.com that they were informed by military prosecutors that al Qahtani would be "unprosecutable" because of what was done to him during interrogation.
 
May 9, 2007: the district court dismissed al Qahtani v. Bush for lack of jurisdiction subsequent to the D.C. Circuit’s dismissal of Boumediene v. Bush. In response, on August 10, 2007, CCR filed a petition for review under the Detainee Treatment Act.
 
September 2007: al Qahtani’s ARB statement was released and was his first public statement since his detention began.
 
February 11, 2008: The government announced military commission charges against al Qahtani. Al Qahtani was charged with war crimes and murder, and faced the death penalty if convicted.
 
May 2008: The Convening Authority for Military Commissions dismissed all charges against al Qahtani. The reasons for the dismissal were not made public.
 
November 18, 2008: Chief Prosecutor Lawrence Morris announced that he would be filing new charges against al Qahtani. When announcing the new charges Morris stated that the new charges were based on “independent and reliable evidence.” No charges have been filed to date.
 
January 14, 2009: Susan Crawford the senior official in charge of the Office of Military Commissions, admitted “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer [his] case [for prosecution],” leading to the May 2008 withdrawal of charges.