Alleged 9/11 "20th hijacker" tried suicide: lawyer

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba Tue May 20, 2008 6:45pm EDT

A guard checks cells in the maximum security Camp Six at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, September 4, 2007. A Saudi citizen who allegedly intended to be the ''20th hijacker'' on September 11 tried to kill himself last month at the prison camp in Guantanamo after learning he faced charges that could carry the death penalty, his lawyer said on Monday. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

A guard checks cells in the maximum security Camp Six at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, September 4, 2007. A Saudi citizen who allegedly intended to be the ''20th hijacker'' on September 11 tried to kill himself last month at the prison camp in Guantanamo after learning he faced charges that could carry the death penalty, his lawyer said on Monday.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A Saudi citizen who allegedly intended to be the "20th hijacker" on September 11 tried to kill himself last month at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba after learning he faced charges that could carry the death penalty, his lawyer said on Monday.

The prisoner, Mohammed al Qahtani, cut himself at least three times in early April, once deeply enough to produce "profuse bleeding" that required hospital treatment, said attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez.

Qahtani apparently thought his execution was imminent and had a mental breakdown. "He lost all hope and really had a very direct psychological reaction to all of this," Gutierrez said.

A spokeswoman for the detention center declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing specific conditions of individual detainees.

Prosecutors filed charges against Qahtani in February, requesting the death penalty if he is convicted of conspiring with al Qaeda to crash hijacked passenger planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

The Pentagon official overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals dropped the charges on May 13 without giving a reason but reserved the right to file them again later.

Gutierrez said she learned of the suicide attempt during an April visit to the prison camp at a U.S. naval base in Cuba. She said the military had just given clearance for her to publicly discuss notes taken during that visit.

U.S. government officials said Qahtani had intended to join the 19 hijackers who commandeered four passenger planes and crashed them on September 11, but that an immigration agent denied him entry into the United States at a Florida airport.

Held at Guantanamo for more than six years, Qahtani was the subject of a "special interrogation plan" approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2002. It included beatings, sleep deprivation, extended isolation, threats against him and his family, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, cold temperatures, loud music and being chained in painful positions for long periods, according to publicly leaked interrogation logs .

He was forced to bark like a dog and pick up trash with his hands cuffed while he was called "a pig," Gutierrez said.

FBI agents described some of Qahtani's treatment in a Justice Department inspector general's report issued on Tuesday, which found that high-level officials of the Bush administration ignored FBI concerns over abusive treatment of terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks.

Four prisoners have committed suicide by hanging at Guantanamo, three in 2006 and one last year.

His attorneys say Qahtani is "unprosecutable" because evidence against him was obtained through torture and that he should be returned to Saudi Arabia for continued detention and rehabilitation there.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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