“Guantánamo Diary” Detainee Makes the Case for His Release

Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been held for 14 years without charge, but a parole board could recommend his release.

Photos of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian held in Guantanamo. ACLU

In a hearing this morning, advocates for Mohamedou Ould Slahi made the case that the high-profile U.S. detainee should be released from Guantánamo, where he has been held for 14 years without being charged with a crime.

If freed, Slahi plans to return to life with his family and pursue a career as a writer, following on the success of his bestselling memoir, Guantánamo Diary, which tells of Slahi’s imprisonment and torture by the United States and its counterterrorism allies. Held secretly in Jordan and Afghanistan before being brought to Guantánamo, Slahi recounts in his book beatings, sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, and a catalogue of other horrors, along with the close relationships he developed with various guards.

Slahi was not allowed to speak during the open portion of today’s hearing. Instead, statements were made on his behalf by his attorney and by military representatives. Slahi, a slender, clean-shaven 45-year-old Mauritanian, sat quietly behind a sign identifying him as “detainee,” dressed in a short-sleeved white shirt and glasses, his arms folded on the table. A live video feed of the proceeding was shown at the Pentagon and watched by reporters, lawyers, and other members of the public.

The hearing was in front of a Periodic Review Board, or PRB, comprised of officials from various government agencies. Such boards evaluate prisoners at Guantánamo to determine whether they pose a threat to the United States and what their prospects are likely to be once released. PRBs are central to the Obama administration’s push to move as many people as possible out of Guantánamo before the end of this year. Of the 80 men remaining at the prison, 29 have been approved for release, 14 by PRBs.

Slahi’s hearing began with a reading of the military’s unclassified detainee profile for “MR-760,” as Slahi is called in the document. The profile recounts Slahi’s journey in the early 1990s from Germany to Afghanistan, where he fought with the mujahideen against the Soviet-backed government. It also states that in the 1990s Slahi recruited jihadists to fight in Bosnia and Chechnya, and even helped two future 9/11 hijackers travel to Chechnya. It adds that while Slahi once had “a broad network of terrorist contacts,” he has in Guantánamo interrogations repeatedly expressed “his intention to pursue a non-extremist life.” The document also asserts that Slahi  “probably would reunite with his family, take care of his sisters” and “travel internationally to promote his book” if released.

Later at the hearing, Slahi’s lawyer, Theresa Duncan, read a warm and supportive account of her relationship with Slahi over hundreds of hours meeting with him in Guantánamo and visiting his family in Mauritania. Duncan noted that a federal judge ruled in 2010 that Slahi was not a member of al Qaeda when he was arrested in 2001 and ordered him released (the government appealed that decision, and the case has stalled). She added that he has learned Spanish and Turkish inside Guantánamo, as well as computer programming. (Slahi also learned English as a detainee, as recounted in Guantánamo Diary.)

The military representatives described Slahi as “one of the most compliant detainees” and as “an advocate for peace” who “has pursued a new direction in life.”

“We are certain that Mohamedou’s intentions after Guantánamo are genuine, and that he possesses sound judgment, and that he is good for his word,” the representatives wrote in a joint statement. “We firmly believe he does not represent a continued significant threat to the United States.”

Slahi’s advocates also said at the hearing that he hopes to be released to Mauritania (two representatives from the Mauritanian Embassy attended the hearing) or to Germany, where his youngest brother lives. In either case, he has said he’d like to keep writing.

The members of the panel asked no questions during the open portion of the review. After the opening statements, the panel adjourned for a closed session.

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