Mohamedou Ould Slahi's Guantanamo Diary was a bestseller. (photo: Guardian UK)
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose book detailed his treatment by the US military, was found to have no ‘continuing significant threat’ to US securityne of the most tortured men in the history of Guantánamo Bay has received clearance from the wartime prison’s quasi-parole board to leave after nearly 14 years of detention without charge.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen whose harrowing account of his torture at Guantánamo Bay became an international bestseller in 2015, will soon leave behind the Cuban detention center where US military personnel contorted his body; bombarded him with noise; deprived him of sleep; stuffed his clothing with ice during a nighttime boat ride meant to to convince him he was headed to an even worse place; threatened his life; and threatened his mother with rape.
The periodic review board, a nonlegal panel representing various US security agencies tasked with assessing threats posed by Guantánamo’s 76 residual detainees, found Slahi to represent no “continuing significant threat to the security of the United States”. The consensus decision, reached on 14 July, was made public on Wednesday.
Slahi has maintained that position throughout his ordeal. Although he once fought alongside al-Qaida against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, he wrote in his book Guantanamo Diary of renouncing the terror group in 1992. A federal judge in 2010 ordered him freed for lack of evidence untainted by torture to justify his detention, yet the US justice department appealed. He is considered so docile inside Guantánamo he is permitted to garden.
“In making this determination, the board considered the detainee’s highly compliant behavior in detention. The board also noted the detainee’s candid responses to [the] board’s questions, to include recognition of his past activities, clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset,” the panel found.
It is not clear when Slahi will actually get to leave Guantánamo. His lawyers do not yet know whether he will return to Mauritania or resettle in a different country, and a destination is a prerequisite for the US military to place Slahi on a plane off the base in south-eastern Cuba.
Myles Caggins, a detentions spokesman at the White House national security council, said that “no decision has been made regarding the location to which Mr Slahi will be transferred.”
Slahi’s lead attorney, Nancy Hollander, said she learned of her client’s imminent release in the Dallas airport. Emailing from an airplane, Hollander said she grew emotional at the news.
“I cannot stop crying every time I write it as I notify the many, many people who have supported Mohamedou through the years. I now hope for a speedy release so I can meet him next in his new home, surrounded by his family,” Hollander said.
In a 2 June hearing before the quasi-parole panel, Slahi’s representatives told the board that he bore no grudge against the US, “despite all the US government has done to him” and referred to the unlikely but “meaningful relationships he developed” with some of his Guantánamo guards.
Slahi’s brother Yahdih, a computer engineer who lives in Germany, has offered to support him financially while his representatives told the panel he works on his plans to “pursue a small business and write books.”
In the summer of 2003, senior Guantánamo officials, believing Slahi was an important link to al-Qaida, sought and received permission from the Pentagon to torture him.
The torture plan, overseen by a Chicago police detective and navy reservist, called for stress positions, sleep deprivation, sensory bombardment and more. A masked interrogator told Slahi he dreamed of killing him. At one point, the detective, concocting a false identity as a White House aide, told Slahi that were he not to cooperate, the US would arrest Slahi’s mother and transfer her to the “all-male prison environment” at Guantánamo.
US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally approved Slahi’s torture on 13 August 2003.
Mark Fallon, the deputy commander of the now-defunct criminal investigative task force at Guantánamo, called it “a shameful chapter for the Department of Defense and those who served in uniform.
“It was a command-sanctioned torture of a prisoner in custody. It was unwarranted, unnecessary, and obviously totally ineffective,” he said.
In his book, Slahi recalled being so broken by the torture that he would tell his tormentors whatever they wished to hear. “I don’t care, as long as you are pleased. So if you want to buy, I am selling,” Slahi informed his interrogators.
Guantánamo officials would later move him into housing reserved for detainees cooperating with US interrogators, where he was permitted to watch TV and maintain a modest garden. There, he would write his memoirs, which he provided to his attorneys and ultimately published to international acclaim.
Slahi’s torture “left us with a detainee [who] continued to be held for years, not based on what he did to us,” said Fallon, “but based on what we did to him.”