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Pentagon releases Mauritanian prisoner who penned Guantanamo memoir

The Pentagon has sent home a Mauritanian prisoner who wrote a best-selling memoir about his captivity at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after 14 years at the military prison.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a high-profile detainee whose release was approved by a government panel in July, was moved to Mauritania on Monday, said Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

Raha Wala, director for national security advocacy at Human Rights First, said that Slahi, who was never charged with a crime, had become a symbol of the mistreatment and extended detention that has occurred at the prison. "Slahi's case is the epitome of what went wrong with Guantanamo," Wala said. His case "only further underlines the need to take corrective action to close Guantanamo," he said.

A recent stream of similar transfers is an indication of the progress that President Obama has made in whittling down the prisoner population at the facility. Sixty prisoners remain, down from a peak of over 700; 20 of those left are cleared to be resettled as Slahi was. The resettlement is also a reminder of how far Obama remains from delivering on his promise of closing the prison, as lawmakers continue to block efforts to bring detainees to U.S. soil for trial or further detention. At least 20 of those remaining at Guantanamo are expected to be held indefinitely without trial.

In a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, Slahi said: "I feel grateful and indebted to the people who have stood by me."

According to his book, Slahi, the son of a Mauritanian camel dealer, traveled to Afghanistan around 1990 to join the fight against the Soviet-backed government. There, he became an early follower of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Later, in 1999, Slahi was living in Canada when he was questioned about his ties to an Algerian who was later convicted of trying to plot an attack on the Los Angeles airport.

Following his arrest in Mauritania in 2001 and interrogation in Jordan, Slahi was taken to a U.S. detention center in Afghanistan, and then brought to Cuba in 2002. According to a Senate report, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved special interrogation practices for Slahi, including the use of dogs and sleep and sensory deprivation. He was also threatened with death. After he agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities there, providing information on other terrorism suspects, Slahi was placed in a special area of the prison and granted privileges denied to other detainees.

Now in his mid-40s, Slahi was not among the handful of Guantanamo prisoners who were charged with a crime. While he admitted to an association with al-Qaeda, his lawyers say the other allegations fell apart over time.

In 2010, a federal judge ruled that Slahi must be released because the government could not prove his association with al-Qaeda at the time of his capture, saying he could not be held simply to prevent him from renewing his ties with the group.

In 2005, Slahi began writing a manuscript that would become his book, "Guantanamo Diary." The book, which was released last year, addresses his treatment at the hands of his U.S. captors. The book was initially considered classified, but was later approved for release with extensive redactions.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's national security project and one of Slahi's lawyers, said the book " showed the toll that torture and abuse took on Mohamedou" as well as his bond with at least one of his jailers at the prison. "We think that [his release] is a tremendous development and a very, very long time coming," she said.

[Source: By Missy Ryan, The Washington Post, 17Oct16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 20Oct16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.