al Qahtani v. Obama

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

October 5, 2005

Current Status 

Al Qahtani’s motion to force the government to convene a panel of neutral medical experts to evaluate whether his psychiatric condition (schizophrenia, torture-related PTSD) entitles him to repatriation was granted by the District Court in March 2020. The government sought to delay implementing this ruling by appealing to the D.C. Circuit. The government sought a stay of the ruling pending appeal, which the district court denied on August 12, 2020; the Court of Appeals granted al Qahtani's motion to dismiss the appeal on September 29, on the grounds that it is premature to appeal a ruling before any final order disposing of the entire habeas case (for example, an order requiring release).

Co-Counsel 

Ramzi Kassem, Larry S. Lustberg, Sandra Babcock

Client(s) 

Mohammed al Qahtani

Case Description 

Mohammed al Qahtani was sent to Guantánamo in February 2002. Within months of his arrival, Mr. al Qahtani was subjected to a systematic and brutal program of physical, sexual, and psychological torture. Officials in Washington, up to and including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, helped design and approve the plan, with the active participation of psychiatrists. He was hospitalized twice during his interrogation at Guantánamo because he was on the brink of heart failure and death. Al Qahtani remains the only detainee whose abuse a senior U.S. government official has admitted was “torture.”

His torture became widely known only because records describing the execution of the torture plan were leaked to Time magazine in 2005. The torture plan was designed to “break” Qahtani, to “drive him crazy,” and it is easy to read those initial stories and assume they show a sane person driven slowly into madness. But as early as his first year at Guantánamo, in 2002, the FBI observed him “talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices” and “crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end” before the implementation of the torture plan on him by military interrogators and psychiatrists. As the government was well aware even before they began torturing him, Mr. al Qahtani was already severely mentally ill long before he arrived at Guantánamo. Indeed, he was suffering from psychosis long before the time the U.S. government accused him of having associated with criminals or traveling to Afghanistan.

Al Qahtani’s problems began when he was in a car accident at age eight: he was thrown from the car and suffered a traumatic brain injury, after which his performance in school, which had been excellent, suddenly collapsed. In late adolescence, the classic age for onset of schizophrenia, his family witnessed uncontrolled crying and inability to deal with basic life functions. At one point the Riyadh police pulled him naked from a garbage dumpster he had thrown himself into. Later, in Mecca in May 2000, he was arrested by police after throwing himself half-naked into traffic and was involuntarily confined to a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The government does not contest these facts, which are documented in the reports of Dr. Emily Keram, the only independent psychiatrist known to have examined Mr. al Qahtani since his imprisonment, and in records of his hospitalization in 2000. Dr. Keram was appointed by the district court to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Mr. al Qahtani, and after a series of visits beginning in 2015 confirmed his diagnosis of schizophrenia and major depression, now combined with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by his torture and abuse in confinement. After Dr. Keram’s report became public in 2016, the military finally acknowledged that al Qahtani’s symptoms, as observed by the guard force and Joint Medical Group mental health professionals, are consistent with schizophrenia and has begun efforts to dispense antipsychotic medications to him, including Aripiprazole (Abilify), Quetiapine, and Haldol.

Schizophrenia is a chronic disorder. It is permanent; it may be eventually manageable, but it is not curable. As Dr. Keram put it, “[the g]oals of appropriate treatment are symptom management, not cure.” The systematic torture al Qahtani survived at Guantánamo—which included prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, physical violence and grotesque sexual humiliation along with other forms of psychological torture—have caused him to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But that abuse also left him unable to trust American military doctors; one of the psychiatrists who helped design his torture program has been publicly reported as having been in the room during his interrogations under torture. Although PTSD—unlike psychosis—is often curable, Dr. Keram believes that Mr. al Qahtani needs to be treated by Saudi doctors who understand his culture and speak Arabic, and that any recovery from PTSD cannot take place at Guantánamo, where he was tortured. Dr. Keram also believes that successful treatment requires the involvement of Mr. al Qahtani’s family as well. All these factors argue strongly for his repatriation to psychiatric care in Saudi Arabia.

The current legal regime applied by the federal courts holds the detainees as if they were prisoners of war in a never-ending “war against terrorism.” But the Geneva Conventions never contemplated prisoners remaining in custody into their old age or while suffering from incurable mental illness. Instead, they mandate that a panel of medical experts decide whether prisoners are so infirm that they are unable to take part in armed conflict, in which case the rationale for their detention has evaporated and they must be sent home. In the middle of World War II, the United States sent home over a thousand German soldiers under a similar set of procedures—mostly young men, with combat wounds, tuberculosis, or PTSD from shellshock. In 2017, al Qahtani filed a motion demanding that the government convene just such a panel, a “Mixed Medical Commission” of three medical experts, as provided for under current U.S. military regulations. After a very long delay precipitated by the judge’s illness, the judge ordered the government to convene an Mixed Medical Commission for these purposes. The government appealed, and al Qahtani filed a motion to dismiss that appeal as premature. Meanwhile, the government sought a stay of the order pending appeal, which the district court denied on August 12, 2020. The Court of Appeals granted our motion to dismiss the appeal on September 29, 2020.

Like many mentally ill people, for most of his life Mr. al Qahtani was in denial about his illness. He (like his family) understood it not in psychiatric terms as a permanent illness but as a form of possession, for which the likely cure was religious ministration and prayer. Both he and his family now fully accept that he has a psychiatric illness and needs medical treatment for it—in all likelihood, in psychiatric confinement—back home in Saudi Arabia.

Case Timeline

September 29, 2020
Court of Appeals dismisses government's appeal as premature
September 29, 2020
Court of Appeals dismisses government's appeal as premature
The D.C. Circuit grants al Qahtani's motion to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that it is premature to appeal a preliminary ruling before any final order disposing of the entire habeas case, absent irreparable harm that would result from waiting.
September 4, 2020
Government moves to keep under seal parts of its briefs (and al Qahtani's) seeking a stay
September 4, 2020
Government moves to keep under seal parts of its briefs (and al Qahtani's) seeking a stay
The government filed a brief with the district court seeking to seal parts of its briefing on its motion for a stay, as well as our response opposing the sealing. (These briefs have not yet been redacted by the government in a form it will allow to be posted publicly here.) We file our opposition on September 15 and the government files its reply brief on September 18.
August 31, 2020
Al Qahtani opposes stay in D.C. Circuit
August 31, 2020
Al Qahtani opposes stay in D.C. Circuit
Al Qahtani files brief in DC Circuit opposing the government's motion in that court for a stay of the district court order. (A public version, redacted by the government, is produced a few weeks later and is posted here and on the DC Circuit PACER website.)
August 18, 2020
Government files motion for stay in the Court of Appeals
August 18, 2020
Government files motion for stay in the Court of Appeals
After the district court denied the government's motion for stay, the government files a motion for stay with the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. (A public version of the brief is filed, with redactions, on September 1, 2020.)
August 12, 2020
District Court refuses to stay order pending appeal
August 12, 2020
District Court refuses to stay order pending appeal
After full briefing by both parties, the new district judge, Judge Huvelle, issues an opinion denying the government's request for a stay (but clarifying that the original order does not mandate that any particular doctor be appointed to the mixed medical commission, a point on which both parties agreed).
June 25, 2020
Al Qahtani files motion to dismiss the appeal
June 25, 2020
Al Qahtani files motion to dismiss the appeal
Appeals are generally only permitted from final judgments of the district courts, disposing of cases in their entirety or granting the relief requested (here, release). The government, al Qahtani argues, impermissibly has tried to appeal an interlocutory order by Judge Collyer.
May 6, 2020
New district judge is assigned to the case
May 6, 2020
New district judge is assigned to the case
A new judge, Senior U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, is assigned to the case, replacing Judge Collyer (who has presided over the case since it was filed in 2005) for all further proceedings at the trial court level.
May 5, 2020
Government files notice of appeal
May 5, 2020
Government files notice of appeal
The government filed a notice of appeal from Judge Collyer's order
March 6, 2020
Judge Collyer issues opinion, granting motion
March 6, 2020
Judge Collyer issues opinion, granting motion
Almost two years after oral argument, the court grants Qahtani's motion and orders the government to convene a mixed medical commission.
April 19, 2018
Oral argument held in district court
April 19, 2018
Oral argument held in district court
Oral argument is held on the motion to compel a mixed medical commission. During the argument, Judge Collyer noted: "I find it extraordinarily difficult for the government to argue that Mr. Al-Qahtani, who, admittedly, has some mental problems, doesn't always take his medicine, and so, therefore, it's his own fault if he's not getting better at Guantanamo Bay. I'm sorry, that is a sign of his illness. I mean, I find that so callous. It just makes me shiver that the United States would say, well, you know, you're sick; and since you're so sick and you don't want to take medicine, it's your own fault that you're still sick. What are you talking about? Now, please, don't do that to me, okay? Don't go there, because I find that so chilling. That's not humane at all. But the fact that the doctors are having trouble having Mr. Al-Qahtani stay on and take a regular course of medicine, I'm happy to accept that fact. That is clearly so. And I understand that they're having trouble, and I give them much credit for working hard in a difficult environment. But don't argue that it's his own fault. That is so callous. That is so inhumane. It really is not worthy of the United States, even today."
September 26, 2017
Reply brief filed in support of convening mixed medical commission
September 26, 2017
Reply brief filed in support of convening mixed medical commission
Qahtani files his reply brief. A supplemental declaration from Dr. Keram is filed while the motion remains pending, just prior to oral argument in April 2018.
August 29, 2017
Government files opposition to motion to compel mixed medical commission
August 29, 2017
Government files opposition to motion to compel mixed medical commission
Government opposes al Qahtani's motion, arguing regulations don't apply to the forever war against al Qaeda, and that al Qahtani's psychosis is his own fault because his symptoms lead him to not always take his medication or interact readily with the base 's mental health workers. Filing includes a declaration from the senior medical officer at the base acknowledging that Qahtani exhibits symptoms of psychosis.
August 8, 2017
Motion to Compel Government to Convene Mixed Medical Commission
August 8, 2017
Motion to Compel Government to Convene Mixed Medical Commission
Al Qahtani files motion seeking to force government to convene a panel of medical experts to evaluate whether his psychiatric condition entitles him to repatriation. Exhibits include the report of court-appointed psychiatric expert Dr. Emily Keram.
July 18, 2016
PRB refuses to clear al Qahtani for transfer to psychiatric custody in Saudi Arabia
July 18, 2016
PRB refuses to clear al Qahtani for transfer to psychiatric custody in Saudi Arabia
PRB determined that al Qahtani should continue to be indefinitely detained
June 16, 2016
Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing to review al Qahtani's status
June 16, 2016
Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing to review al Qahtani's status
March 9, 2015

Supreme Court denies cert in FOIA case

March 9, 2015

Supreme Court denies cert in FOIA case

September 2, 2014

Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirms District Court ruling on motions for summary judgment

September 2, 2014

Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirms District Court ruling on motions for summary judgment

June 25, 2014

Oral argument in Second Circuit Court of Appeals

June 25, 2014

Oral argument in Second Circuit Court of Appeals

April 8, 2014

CCR files appellate reply brief

April 8, 2014

CCR files appellate reply brief

March 21, 2014

Goverment files appellate brief in FOIA case

March 21, 2014

Goverment files appellate brief in FOIA case

December 20, 2013

CCR appeals denial of summary judgment in FOIA case

December 20, 2013

CCR appeals denial of summary judgment in FOIA case

September 12, 2013

District court denies CCR's motion for summary judgment and grants government's motion for summary judgment

September 12, 2013

District court denies CCR's motion for summary judgment and grants government's motion for summary judgment

October 3, 2012 - April 8, 2013
Briefing on CCR motion and government cross-motion for summary judgment in FOIA case
January 9, 2012

CCR files lawsuit over government's noncompliance with FOIA requests for videotapes and photographs of al Qahtani's detention

January 9, 2012

CCR files lawsuit over government's noncompliance with FOIA requests for videotapes and photographs of al Qahtani's detention

September 15, 2010
CCR files identical FOIA request with FBI
September 15, 2010
CCR files identical FOIA request with FBI
March 4, 2010
CCR files Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request for recordings of al Qahtani during his interrogation
March 4, 2010
CCR files Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request for recordings of al Qahtani during his interrogation
The request is filed with the CIA, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice, and seeks videotapes and photographs of al Qahtani in the period immediately before he was subjected to the “First Special Interrogation Plan.”
October 5, 2009
Court order to disclose videotapes
October 5, 2009
Court order to disclose videotapes
The court orders the government to disclose video and audio recordings of al Qahtani during the period immediately prior to the period described in the torture log.
February 4, 2009

CCR files motion to compel government to turn over exculpatory evidence and to hold government in contempt for 'flagrant' violation of Judge Hogan's December 2008 order to do so

February 4, 2009

CCR files motion to compel government to turn over exculpatory evidence and to hold government in contempt for 'flagrant' violation of Judge Hogan's December 2008 order to do so

January 14, 2009

Government admits to torturing al Qahtani

January 14, 2009

Government admits to torturing al Qahtani

Susan Crawford, senior official in charge of the Office of Military Commissions, admits “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.

December 16, 2008

Judge orders government to comply with requests for exculpatory evidence

December 16, 2008

Judge orders government to comply with requests for exculpatory evidence

Judge Hogan, coordinating judge for nearly all Guantánamo habeas cases, issues a generally-applicable order mandating that the government must produce certain exculpatory evidence in its possession, upon request by a detainee's counsel.

November 18, 2008

Chief Prosecutor Lawrence Morris announces he will file new charges against al Qahtani

November 18, 2008

Chief Prosecutor Lawrence Morris announces he will file new charges against al Qahtani

When announcing the new charges Morris states that the new charges were based on “independent and reliable evidence”; no charges have been filed to date

October 9, 2008

Department of Defense issues directive on intelligence interrogations

October 9, 2008

Department of Defense issues directive on intelligence interrogations

The Defense Department issues a directive on intelligence interrogations stating in part that the "[u]se of SERE techniques against a person in the custody or effective control of the DoD or detained in a DoD facility is prohibited," but preserving a possible loophole for SERE techniques authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogations.

February 11, 2008

Government announces military commission charges against al Qahtani

February 11, 2008

Government announces military commission charges against al Qahtani

He is charged with war crimes and murder and faces the death penalty if convicted.

September 2007

Al Qahtani’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) statement released and was his first public statement since his detention began

September 2007

Al Qahtani’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) statement released and was his first public statement since his detention began

It is his first public statement since his detention began.
August 9, 2007

CCR files petition for review under Detainee Treatment Act (DTA)

August 9, 2007

CCR files petition for review under Detainee Treatment Act (DTA)

May 9, 2007

District court dismisses al Qahtani's habeas case

May 9, 2007

District court dismisses al Qahtani's habeas case

The case is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction subsequent to the D.C. Circuit’s dismissal of Boumediene v. Bush.

November 2006

Senior investigators with Defense Department's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) tell MSNBC they were informed by military prosecutors that al Qahtani is "unprosecutable" because of what was done to him during interrogation

November 2006

Senior investigators with Defense Department's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) tell MSNBC they were informed by military prosecutors that al Qahtani is "unprosecutable" because of what was done to him during interrogation

October 2006

Al Qahtani becomes plaintiff in universal jurisdiction (UJ) case filed in Germany

October 2006

Al Qahtani becomes plaintiff in universal jurisdiction (UJ) case filed in Germany

The UJ case is filed against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials, to hold them accountable for war crimes committed at Guantánamo and in Iraq.

March 2, 2006

Time magazine publishes interrogation log detailing al Qahtani’s torture and interrogation by U.S. government

March 2, 2006

Time magazine publishes interrogation log detailing al Qahtani’s torture and interrogation by U.S. government

Rather than challenging the authenticity of the interrogation log, the Department of Defense uses al Qahtani’s interrogation as an example of the benefits of “aggressive interrogation methods” and claims to have extracted valuable information from him.

December 6, 2005

District court orders government to produce documents showing factual justification for al Qahtani’s detention

December 6, 2005

District court orders government to produce documents showing factual justification for al Qahtani’s detention

The government seeks to delay production until December 27, 2005. After the enactment of the Detainee Treatment Act, the district court stays its order.

December 2005

CCR attorney meets with al Qahtani for first time

 

December 2005

CCR attorney meets with al Qahtani for first time

 

CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez begins the difficult process of establishing a trusting attorney-client relationship after al Qahtani's extensive abuse and torture at the hands of U.S. personnel.

October 5, 2005

Habeas corpus petition filed

October 5, 2005

Habeas corpus petition filed

June 9, 2005
Schmidt Report
June 9, 2005
Schmidt Report

The Schmidt Report, an internal investigation of torture allegations, concludes that there was no torture by FBI personnel at Guantánamo and that Army Field Manual interrogation techniques were violated in only three instances.

July 14, 2004
T.J. Harrington letter redacted
July 14, 2004
T.J. Harrington letter redacted

In a letter to the Army Criminal Division Investigation Command, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, T.J. Harrington, raises concerns about suspected mistreatment of detainees.

July 7, 2004
Mora memo
July 7, 2004
Mora memo

Alberto J. Mora, outgoing general counsel of the United States Navy, submits a 22-page memo to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in an effort to get his superiors to halt torture at Guantánamo.

2003-2008
After First Special Interrogation Plan ends, al Qahtani held in solitary confinement for five years
2003-2008
After First Special Interrogation Plan ends, al Qahtani held in solitary confinement for five years
December 2, 2002
Rumsfeld action memo
December 2, 2002
Rumsfeld action memo

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approves interrogation techniques that include "removal of clothing," "inducing stress by use of detainee's fears," and "stress positions," such as standing for up to 4 hours--infamously stating, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours? D.R." 

November 23, 2002 - January 11, 2003

Al Qahtani subjected to official interrogation regime known as “First Special Interrogation Plan”

November 23, 2002 - January 11, 2003

Al Qahtani subjected to official interrogation regime known as “First Special Interrogation Plan”

Mid-2002

Al Qahtani held in isolation for months

Mid-2002

Al Qahtani held in isolation for months

February 13, 2002

Al Qahtani transferred to Guantánamo

February 13, 2002

Al Qahtani transferred to Guantánamo

He is interrogated by JTF-170, CITF, and FBI personnel at Camp X-Ray.

December 26, 2001
Al Qahtani turned over to U.S. forces
December 26, 2001
Al Qahtani turned over to U.S. forces
December 15, 2001

Al Qahtani detained by Pakistani officials near Afghanistan border

December 15, 2001

Al Qahtani detained by Pakistani officials near Afghanistan border