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US military prosecutors filing new charges against so-called '20th hijacker'

[JURIST] US Army prosecutors said Wednesday they would be filing new charges against Mohammad al-Qahtani [JURIST news archive], a Saudi Arabian citizen being held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Al-Qahtani is known as the "20th hijacker" for his alleged role in the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. This will be the second time the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] has filed charges against al-Qahtani. DOD originally filed charges for his alleged role in the 9/11 attacks in January 2008 only to drop the charges in May [JURIST report] . The DOD did not give a reason for the dismissal in May but it is suspected that the use of aggressive interrogation methods [Time report] to obtain information from al-Qahtani would have damaged the prosecution's case in a trial. Top prosecutor at Guantanamo, Colonel Lawrence J. Morris, said [NYT report] the charges were dropped so he could review the case files, and he concluded there was sufficient independent evidence that al-Qahtani was involved in the terrorist plot to move forward with prosecution in a military commission.

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, 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 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 [detainee log]. 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.

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