US military drops charges against so-called '20th hijacker'

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense [official website] has dropped criminal charges against Mohammad al-Qahtani, [JURIST news archive] a Saudi Arabian citizen being held at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Al-Qahtani was known as the "20th hijacker" for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. According to US Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, his military lawyer, the charges were dismissed without prejudice on Friday by the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford [official profile, PDF]. Al-Qahtani had been one of six men initially charged [JURIST report] with murder and other crimes for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 attacks. The charges against the five other defendants are proceeding in al-Qahtani's absence. AP has more.

Al-Qahtani was refused entry into the US at Orlando, Florida in August 2001 and was later captured in Afghanistan. Since his capture, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay, where Pentagon officials say he admitted to being sent to the US to participate in the attacks. In documents the Associated Press obtained in September 2007 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [PDF, text], he denied his involvement in and knowledge of the attacks [JURIST report]. Al-Qahtani also alleged that his statements were coerced by US torture [JURIST report]. A military investigation in 2005 concluded that al-Qahtani had been subjected to harsh treatment, authorized [JURIST report] by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [official profile] because he would not crack under interrogation. The investigation revealed that al-Qahtani was forced to wear women's underwear [MSNBC report], was kept in solitary confinement for 160 days and was interrogated for 18-20 hours per day on 48 of 54 days. Lead investigator Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt concluded, however, that he was not tortured since he was not denied food, water or medical care, and interrogators did not inflict physical pain on him.



 

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