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June 02, 2016

Guantanamo Diary Author Receives Periodic Review Board Hearing

Today, nearly 17 months after the release of his best-selling memoir Guantanamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi received his Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing. Slahi is a 45-year-old Guantanamo detainee, originally from Mauritania. He has been held at Gitmo since August 2002.

Since the release of his book, Slahi’s case has garnered a great deal of attention. According to his U.S. government profile, Slahi traveled to Afghanistan in the early ‘90s to train with al Qaeda and planned to fight against the Afghan communist regime. In 1992 he moved to Germany, where he previously attended university, and the United States alleges that he recruited fighters for the Bosnian and Chechen jihads, as well as arranged travel for several of the 9/11 plotters and hijackers, including Ramzi bin al-Shibh in 1999. 

Slahi was first arrested in Senegal in 2000, and then again in Mauritania in 2001. According to his book, he was then transferred to American custody, and held by American forces in Jordan and Afghanistan until finally being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. His book also details months of torture, in the form of isolation, extreme temperatures, physical abuse, and sexual humiliation.

In his detainee profile, the U.S. government notes that if Slahi were repatriated to Mauritania, he would “probably reunite with his family, take care of his sisters, and start a business,” in addition to traveling to promote his book, if his travel was not restricted. They also note that he supports an idea of jihad that does not condone the killing of innocent people and does not support Osama bin Laden’s “version of justice.” Slahi has stated several times that all he wants is to pursue a non-extremist life after his release.

The support for Slahi’s clearance and transfer is impressive. In his personal representatives’ statement, they note that Slahi has been one of the most compliant detainees at Guantanamo and an advocate for peace since his arrival. They say that he wants to “live a life free of violence, where he can be a provider for his adopted children and teach them not to make the same transgressions he has made.” They also note that he has taken advantage of a number of classes offered at Guantanamo, is perfectly able to provide for himself upon release, and has a strong network of family who have all offered to help him reintegrate.

Slahi’s private counsel, Theresa Duncan, offered even more praise and support in her three-page opening statement. She first pointed out that Slahi’s habeas corpus petition was granted in 2010, meaning that a federal judge found that Slahi was not a member of al Qaeda in 2001 when he was captured, and that the U.S. government’s allegations against him are baseless. She also pointed out that a former chief prosecutor for the military commissions had reviewed Slahi’s files and said, “there is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Slahi ever engaged in any acts of hostility towards the United States.” Another former prosecutor refused to pursue Slahi’s case due to the torture he endured at the hands of American agents.

Regarding his time spent in Afghanistan training with al Qaeda, Duncan noted that at the time, al Qaeda was aligned with the United States against the Soviet Union, and it was a drastically different organization than it is today. She reiterated what Slahi says constantly in his book—he was only involved with al Qaeda for a specific time period and renounced association with them in the mid-1990s.

Duncan went on to describe what a polite and thoughtful individual Slahi is, and how he has developed countless personal relationships with his guards. One guard has even written a letter in support of Slahi’s release. In it, he notes that he would like to welcome Slahi into his home one day. Duncan later repeated this same sentiment on behalf of herself and her co-counsel, saying that she plans to travel to wherever Slahi is transferred to help him restart his life.

The PRBs are conducted via video conference between the detainee and his counsel in Guantanamo, and representatives from various government agencies in a location near Washington, D.C. Members of the press and representatives from NGOs are always invited to view the unclassified portions at an off-site location. Generally speaking, four or five people will show up to observe. Today’s hearing had over 20 attendees, including representatives from the Mauritanian embassy. Slahi’s brother also tried to come to the United States last week to support his brother’s hearing, but was denied entry.

Slahi would prefer to be returned to either Germany, where he lived for more than a decade, or Mauritania if his clearance is granted. Germany has previously accepted three detainees, while Mauritania has accepted two.

A decision in Slahi’s case is unlikely to be released for several weeks. In the meantime, eight additional PRBs are scheduled in June. The Department of Defense has rapidly increased the rate of these hearings, and aims to have them completed by the end of this coming fall.