Today, the population of the prison at Guantánamo Bay stands at just 60 men, after Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture victim and best-selling author, was released, and sent back home to Mauritania.
It is just under 15 years since the Mauritanian authorities seized Slahi, at the request of the US. As he later put it, in the English he learned with a particular relish during his captivity, “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”
A Zelig-like figure, who had been around al-Qaeda, but only involved in it in the early 1990s, when he fought with al-Qaida against the Soviet-installed government of Afghanistan, Slahi (who later renounced al-Qaeda) was related to al-Qaeda’s spiritual advisor, Abu Hafs (a man who, it should be noted, did not approve of the 9/11 attacks), and, while living in Germany, had met some of the 9/11 hijackers. At the time, they had wanted to go to Chechnya to fight, but he advised them that it was better to go to Afghanistan to undertake training instead.
However, he had no involvement with terrorism, as a US judge concluded when ruling on his habeas corpus petition in 2010. The government appealed, a politically biased appeals court backed that appeal, and Slahi slipped into a legal limbo that only came to an end in July this year, when a Periodic Review Board — the most recent of several review processes that have punctuated Guantánamo’s long and generally lawless history — approved him for release after a review in June.
The Bush administration, however, had regarded Slahi as significant, based on the kind of hunch that, in the early years of the “war on terror,” led to men being rendered to torture based on nothing more than suspicions. Slahi was sent first to Jordan, one of a handful of countries that acted as proxy torturers for the US, and in Guantánamo, with the suspicions still unalloyed, he was subjected to a specific torture program approved by defense secretary Donal Rumsfeld.
He finally broke when he was taken out on a boat, and threats were made that his mother would be found and brought to Guantánamo, where, the insinuation was, she would be raped. He then became what the authorities regarded as a useful informant (although I don’t actually believe he had much to tell), and was housed separately from the other prisoners (with another informant, an Egyptian freed earlier this year), and allowed to have a small garden — and to write.
His sweet revenge on those who tortured him was to write a memoir that, after a long struggle, was eventually published, in heavily redacted form, in January 2015, as Guantánamo Diary. Translated into numerous languages, for publication in over two dozen countries, it has become an international bestseller, and although the US administration never mentioned it, the book’s success, and its powerful revelations about the depravity of the US’s post-9/11 torture program, must have been a profound embarrassment.
As the ACLU noted in a press release following Slahi’s return home, “More than 100,000 people signed petitions by the ACLU, Change.org, and MoveOn calling for his release. His plight gathered high-profile supporters, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Roger Waters.” The ACLU added, “In the UK, members of Parliament concerned with his case urged the British government to call on the US to release Slahi,” and I was pleased to attend a Parliamentary meeting called by Tom Brake MP, at which Slahi’s brother Yahdih came over from Germany, where he lives, and where I took a handful of photos of other distinguished guests.
On his release, Slahi said, as the ACLU reported, “I feel grateful and indebted to the people who have stood by me. I have come to learn that goodness is transnational, trans-cultural, and trans-ethnic. I’m thrilled to reunite with my family.”
Nancy Hollander, one of his attorneys, who has represented him for many years, said, “We are thrilled that our client’s nightmare is finally ending. After all these years, he wants nothing more than to be with his family and rebuild his life. We’re so grateful to everyone who helped make this day a reality.”
Hina Shamsi, another of his attorneys and director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said, “We are overjoyed for Mohamedou and his family, and his release brings the US one man closer to ending the travesty that is Guantánamo. Dozens of other men still remain trapped in Guantánamo. With time running out, President Obama must double down and not just close the prison, but end the unlawful practice of indefinite detention that it represents.”
I couldn’t agree more — and if you want to help to maintain pressure on President Obama to close Guantánamo before he leave office, please join us in the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, which Nancy Hollander and Yahdih Ould Slahi showed their support for earlier this year.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), and the 176 prisoners released from February 2009 to August 2016 (by President Obama), whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files, and for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; 1 Mauritanian; 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents; 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; 2 Algerians; 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan), repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani); 4 Uighurs to Bermuda; 1 Iraqi; 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad); 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni; 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); 2 Somalis; 4 Afghans; 6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland; 1 Egyptian, 1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania; 1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); 1 Algerian; 1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians; 2 Saudis; 2 Sudanese; 3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, 1 Palestinian and 1 Tunisian to Uruguay; 4 Afghans; 2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer); November 2015 — 5 Yemenis to the United Arab Emirates; January 2016 — 2 Yemenis to Ghana; 1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi; 10 Yemenis to Oman; 1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal; 9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; June 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; July 2016 — 1 Tajik and 1 Yemeni to Serbia, 1 Yemeni to Italy; August 2016 — 12 Yemenis and 3 Afghans to the United Arab Emirates (see here and here).
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Great news, as torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi is released from Guantanamo, to rejoin his family in Mauritania! Slahi survived a specific torture program, approved by Donald Rumsfeld and implemented on the mistaken basis that he was involved with al-Qaeda, and wrote a memoir that, when finally released (in redacted form), went on to become an international bestseller that was a damning indictment of the US’s post-9/11 detention program. I wish him well recovering from his long ordeal.
Hanan Bagh wrote:
Congratulations to you and all your friends who work so hard for these prisoners Andy Worthington and prayers for him to recover quickly !
Thanks for the supportive words, Hanan.
Finally !!! Ould slahi’s long nightmare has come to an end. He’s released from GTMO. Life has given him one more chance to start his life over again.
Yes indeed, Aqsa. Great to hear from you!
Mohamedou’s brother Yahdih posted a photo of Mohamedou back at home: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=546712675515777&set=a.175410719312643.1073741827.100005311481671&type=3
Javier Rodriguez wrote:
That is great news!
Yes, it’s always good news when men are released, Javier, but the fog of Guantanamo is such that very little, in general, is known about the men who are released, with some notable exceptions – Shaker Aamer was one, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is another.
When my friend Sara SN shared this, she wrote:
Deepest gratitude to London Guantánamo Campaign and Andy Worthington for campaigning for Mohamedou Slahi’s release.
Thanks, Sara. I don’t feel like I was able to do much for Mohamedou beyond what I’ve tried to do for all the prisoners – to tell his story when I had the opportunity, and to make sure people knew he was a human being and not just a statistic. Mohamedou himself broke out of Guantanamo with his words, after the heroic effort of those representing him to make sure that the US authorities didn’t completely suppress “Guantanamo Diary,” as I’m sure they wanted to. Sometimes I recall that the checks and balances in our systems, as opposed to outright dictatorships, are immensely helpful in addressing injustices committed by governments, even if it takes a long time.
When Nilantha Ilangamuwa shared this, he wrote:
good news from Andy Worthington
Thanks for sharing, Nilantha!
When Jakub Barat shared this, he wrote:
Just learned that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the real life Joseph K. and the author of this amazing book (Guantánamo Diary), was released from Guantanamo. Thanks to Andy for all the great work.
Thanks, Jakub. I’m glad to have played a part, however small …
The ACLU released the following video of Mohamedou thanking his supporters:
It’s always amazing to hear a Guantanamo prisoner speak after you’ve got to know them and their stories over so many years, and Mohamedou is no exception. How wonderful to hear him forgiving everyone who wronged him and talking about how forgiveness is his “inexhaustible resource,” after all that happened to him.
[…] been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. In October, another release took place — of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture victim and best-selling author, who had also been approved for release by a PRB, and in […]
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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