An interagency review board has determined that Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi poses no threat to the United States and has recommended that he be released, setting the bestselling author on the path to be reunited with his family.
Slahi was arrested in his native Mauritania in 2001, and was held and tortured in secret prisons in Afghanistan and Jordan before being secreted to Guantánamo, an odyssey he recounted in a memoir, Guantánamo Diary, which became a bestseller last year. He has been imprisoned for over 14 years without being charged with a crime.
In early June, Slahi made his case to the Periodic Review Board as part of a sort of parole process instituted by the Obama administration to evaluate the cases of the remaining men at Guantánamo to determine if they might be safely transferred to another country.
At that hearing, Slahi’s advocates, including his lawyer and two representatives from the military, described his plans to continue writing and to start a small business, and noted the strong network of family and other supporters who could help him. They spoke to his unusual language skills and warm relationship with his lawyers and even the guards assigned to him. The military representatives described him as “an advocate for peace” and stated they were “certain that Mohamedou’s intentions after Guantánamo are genuine, and that he possesses sound judgment, and that he is good for his word.” One former guard submitted a letter attesting that he “would be pleased to welcome [Slahi] into my home.” (In keeping with the general secrecy of proceedings at Guantánamo, Slahi was not allowed speak during the open portion of the review, and he declined to have his own statement from the closed session made public.)
In a document dated July 14 but released today, the board members noted Slahi’s “highly compliant behavior in detention,” “candid responses to the Board’s questions,” and “clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset.” They had also taken into consideration his “robust and realistic plan for the future.”
Slahi has admitted to traveling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to fight with the mujahideen against the Soviet-backed government, and the government claims he helped recruit and facilitate the travel of al Qaeda fighters. In 2010, a federal judge found that he was not a member of al Qaeda when the U.S. picked him up; the judge ordered his release, but that case stalled on appeal.
The board’s recommendation on a detainee is just a first step. The secretary of defense must arrange for a country to receive him and notify Congress of the transfer. In Slahi’s case, the government of Mauritania has already indicated that it would be willing to take him back.
One of Slahi’s lawyers, Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union, said they were pressing the Pentagon to arrange for his actual release as soon as possible, but the exact timing is uncertain.
“We will now work toward his quick release and return to the waiting arms of his loving family,” said Nancy Hollander, another of his lawyers, in a statement. “This is long overdue.”
Slahi’s mother and one of his brothers died while he was imprisoned, and his father died nearly three decades ago. But he has 10 other siblings and has described plans to “take care of his sisters.”
There are currently 76 men still held in Guantánamo. Including Slahi, 31 of them have been approved for release. Last week, the Obama administration sent a Yemeni prisoner to Italy and another Yemeni and a Tajik detainee to Serbia; those countries agreed to accept them as “humanitarian gestures.” It seems that the administration is prioritizing moving out as many people as possible from the approved list before the end of the year, as it looks increasingly unlikely that Guantánamo will actually be closed before Obama leaves office.