Military Law

Federal judge orders mental health review of Guantanamo Bay prisoner

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Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Image from Shutterstock.

A federal judge has ordered a panel of American and foreign doctors to evaluate the mental health of a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, the first time such a mixed medical commission has been used.

In her Friday opinion, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the court lacked the expertise to evaluate Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian man who has been held at the wartime prison in Cuba for more than 18 years, to determine if he qualifies for medical repatriation under Army Regulation 190-8, which deals with sick and wounded prisoners.

She directed the government to order an examination of al-Qahtani by a mixed medical commission—to be made up of a medical officer of the U.S. military and two physicians from a neutral country—and provide the court with the record so it could evaluate his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

“This Court will not substitute its lay opinion for that of a competent mixed medical commission,” the judge wrote in the opinion. “However, if the mixed medical commission finds that Mr. al-Qahtani qualifies for repatriation, Army Regulation 190-8 mandates that he be repatriated.”

The New York Times has the report.

According to the opinion, al-Qahtani was taken into U.S. custody abroad after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and transferred to Guantánamo Bay in February 2002. He was declared an enemy combatant and allegedly subjected to torture that resulted in repeated hospitalizations and threatened his life.

He also told the court he had a history of mental illness before he was taken into custody, the opinion states. Dr. Emily Keram, an independent medical expert, confirmed the illness through interviews with the prisoner and his family and a review of previous psychiatric evaluation records and predicted that he will require mental health care for the rest of his life.

“As a result, she has concluded that Mr. al-Qahtani cannot receive effective treatment while he remains in custody at Guantánamo Bay, due to, among other factors, his lack of trust in the medical and mental health professionals at Guantánamo Bay,” the opinion states.

In October 2005, al-Qahtani filed a petition seeking release, but according to the New York Times, a U.S. board with representatives from six national security agencies determined in 2016 and 2018 that it would be too dangerous to release him.

Despite ordering his evaluation by the mixed medical commission, the judge agreed that it would require the government to “enter uncharted territory which would be unusual and likely burdensome.”

The United States also could send al-Qahtani to Saudi Arabia for care instead of permitting an evaluation by the mixed medical commission, the New York Times reports.

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