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Alleged '20th hijacker' tried suicide, lawyer says

A lawyer for the alleged "20th hijacker" said Tuesday that the Saudi tried to kill himself at Guantanamo last month after learning he faced a possible death sentence.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks tried to kill himself at Guantanamo last month, his lawyer disclosed Tuesday, saying the Saudi prisoner was distraught over a possible death sentence for charges later dropped by the Pentagon.

Mohammed al-Qahtani cut himself at least three times and had to be hospitalized at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez said.

Al-Qahtani made the suicide attempt after learning military prosecutors filed capital charges against him and five other Guantanamo prisoners for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I cannot accept this injustice," the lawyer quoted him as saying. "If I have to stay in this jail, I want to put an end to this suffering."

Gutierrez, a lawyer with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said she met with al-Qahtani in late April and learned he had attempted suicide weeks earlier. She could not disclose it until her notes had been reviewed and cleared by U.S. authorities under security rules for attorneys.

"He felt the Saudi government has thoroughly abandoned him and as if he is surrounded by people — the U.S. military — who want to kill him," she said. "He has lost all hope."

Military won't confirm attempted suicide
A detention center spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, would not confirm the suicide attempt, saying the military does not comment on specific detainees to respect their privacy rights.

Gutierrez said the military did not inform her or al-Qahtani's family of the alleged suicide attempt. She said she learned of it when she went to visit him and noticed three scars on his hand, inside wrist and inner forearm near the elbow. Gutierrez did not know what he used to cut himself.

The prisoner seemed desolate during the meeting, said the attorney, who has met with him more than 20 times.

"This was the worst I have ever seen him in terms of his psychological state," she told The Associated Press. "He just can't take it anymore and just kept threatening to kill himself."

Authorities have alleged that al-Qahtani barely missed out on taking part in the Sept. 11 attacks because a U.S. immigration agent denied him entry when he arrived at the airport in Orlando, Fla.

But last week, the Pentagon dropped charges against the Saudi. Military officials did not disclose a reason and said the charges could be filed again later.

Murder and other charges still pending
Murder and war crimes charges are still pending against the five others, including the suspected mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. They face a June 5 arraignment at Guantanamo.

Gutierrez and al-Qahtani's Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, have suggested that harsh interrogation tactics used on the detainee could have influenced the decision not to charge him.

Al-Qahtani, who the military says is about 28, admitted his role in the attacks but recanted in October 2006, saying he confessed after he had been tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo and had information fed to him by interrogators.

The alleged torture included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, prevented from sleeping, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel.

The treatment of al-Qahtani caused a "major disagreement" between the military and FBI agents, who objected to the harsh tactics and preferred a rapport-building approach, according to a report by the U.S. Justice Department's Inspector General that was released Tuesday.

The military holds about 270 men at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban and plans to prosecute about 80 in the first U.S. war crimes trials since World War II.

Gutierrez says she is scheduled to visit al-Qahtani again this week and plans to inform him that the charges have been dropped. "It's hard, though. I'll have to tell that the United States is threatening to charge him again."