Guantánamo Torture Victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi and the Extraordinary Power of Forgiveness

Former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi photographed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson for Middle East Eye.

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In the long and dispiriting history of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, few of the 729 men and boys released have become household names, but one who has is the Mauritanian citizen Mohamedou Ould Salahi, best known as the author of the acclaimed memoir Guantánamo Diary, written while he was at the prison.

A victim of the US’s global network of torture prisons, and subjected to a special torture program at Guantánamo that was approved by then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Salahi (generally identified at Guantánamo as Slahi) was mistakenly regarded as a significant player in Al-Qaeda, but was finally approved for release in July 2016, and was released in Mauritania three months later, almost 15 years since his own government, as he so memorably put it, “turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

Despite being freed, Salahi is trapped in Mauritania, as his government has broken a promise to return his passport to him after two years, a situation that I wrote about in March, when, as I also pointed out, everyone released from Guantánamo — all those men and boys described by the US as “enemy combatants” — are forever tainted by the experience, and continue to live fundamentally without rights.

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The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

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As Mohamedou Ould Slahi is Denied a Passport, Remember That All Former Guantánamo Prisoners Live Without Fundamental Rights

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed in the desert after his release, with a message of peace. Photo from Mohamedou's Facebook page.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the long quest for justice for the 779 men and boys held at Guantánamo, it’s not just the 40 men still held who are victims of the US’s contempt for the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Although they, shamefully, remain held indefinitely without charge or trial, or are charged in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that seems incapable of delivering justice, those who have been released from the prison also face problems that, in many cases, will make the rest of their lives a misery.

This is an important fact that those paying attention were reminded of two weeks ago, when Literary Hub published an article about the tribulations of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture survivor and best-selling author, who, after nearly 15 years in US custody, was released in his native Mauritania in October 2016.

Although he was never charged with a crime, along with the majority of former Guantánamo prisoners, Slahi expected that there would be restrictions on his freedom following his release, and, sure enough, as Literary Hub described it, “the day after he returned to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s director of state security told him that he couldn’t leave the country for two years.”

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Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Message to the Trump Administration: Close Guantánamo Now!

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, in a photo he posted on his Twitter account on December 31, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

It’s now over two weeks since the 17th anniversary of the opening of the US’s post-9/11 “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which, disgracefully, is still open, holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of all international norms, and in some cases in endless pre-trial hearings in the military commissions, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice.

As has been the case since 2011, I was in the US earlier this month to call for its closure, including at a vigil outside the White House and at a panel discussion in the New America think-tank on the anniversary itself. Earlier that day, a Congressional briefing had been held on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by Amnesty International USA and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at which former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi spoke by video link from Mauritania.

This was significant, because former Guantánamo prisoners are not allowed to visit the US, a prohibition that, not accidentally, helps to preserve the notion that those held at the prison were “the worst of the worst”, a piece of enduring black propaganda that has never been even remotely true, as independent assessments, including my own, have established that only a few percent of the 779 men held by the US military at the prison since it opened have had any significant connection to either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Read the rest of this entry »

Mohamedou Ould Slahi: One Year of Freedom, and the Uncensored Version of “Guantánamo Diary”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi (aka Salahi) as he appears on his Twitter account.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Just over a year ago, one of Guantánamo’s most celebrated prisoners, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, was released from the prison and sent back to his home country, Mauritania, after a review process at Guantánamo — a Periodic Review Board — recommended his release in July 2016.

Shamefully, this was over six years after a US federal court judge ordered his release, after Slahi’s lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition on his behalf. In April 2010, Judge James Robertson found that the government “had failed to establish that what looked suspicious in his case — primarily, the fact that he was related to senior Al-Qaeda member Abu Hafs, and, while living in Germany, had met some of the 9/11 hijackers and had helped them to visit Afghanistan for military training — was actually evidence of involvement with Al-Qaeda.”

The government, however, refused to accept Judge Robertson’s ruling, and appealed, and in November 2010 the D.C. Circuit Court vacated that ruling, sending it back to the lower court to be reconsidered, where, as I described it in an article about Slahi’s case in April 2016, “it has languished ever since, mocking all notions of justice every day it has remained unaddressed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mauritanian, Cleared for Release Since 2009, Finally Repatriated from Guantánamo

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, in a screenshot from a video taken in Mauritania after his release from Guantanamo after over 13 years of imprisonment without charge or trial.The news about the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has been so all-consuming that I’ve had no time to report about another prisoner release last week — of Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian who, like 41 other men still held, was approved for release six years ago by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

112 men are still held at Guantánamo, and 12 other men have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards, making 53 men altogether who have been approved for release but are still held.

Ahmed, 45, is a cultured man, seized by mistake in a house raid in Pakistan over 13 years ago, who wanted only to be reunited with his family. As three of his lawyers, John Holland, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, stated in an article for Close Guantánamo, the website I co-founded with the US lawyer Tom Wilner, in June 2013: Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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 (The State of London).
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