A Tale of Two Guantánamos: Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s World of Torture vs. the Senate’s Terrorist Fantasies

The cover of "Guantanamo Diary" by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, published in January 2015.

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

When it comes to Guantánamo, there are, sadly, two worlds of opinion, and the 122 men still held are, for the most part, caught in the struggle between the two.

In the first world, it is recognized that Guantánamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the prisoners held — 779 in total — were subjected to a series of ghastly experiments involving imprisonment without charge or trial, torture, and various forms of medical and psychological experimentation.

One man who endured particularly brutal torture at Guantánamo is Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of Guantánamo Diary, published last month and serialized in the Guardian, which has become a New York Times bestseller, even though Slahi is still held at Guantánamo. He wrote it in the prison as a hand-written manuscript in 2005, but it took until 2012 for it to be approved for release by the US authorities — albeit with over 2,500 redactions. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker on KBOO FM in Portland and Radio Islam in Chicago

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).I’m happy to make available two recent interviews I undertook with radio stations in Chicago, and in Portland, Oregon.

The first was with an old friend, Linda Olson-Osterlund, for KBOO FM, a community station in Portland, Oregon, and our 27-minute interview is available here, as an MP3, starting at 4:38, after adverts for the radio station.

Linda and I have spoken many, many times before, and it was a pleasure to talk to her again. I was delighted that she opened the show with “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the campaign song I wrote and played with my band The Four Fathers for We Stand With Shaker.

We Stand With Shaker is the campaign I launched two and a half months ago with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

This is how Linda described the show: “Host Linda Olson-Osterlund talks with British author and film-maker Andy Worthington about the news coming out of the illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay and the international protest movement against it. You will hear both good news and bad from prisoner releases to revelations about torture experimentation and murder at the facility. You will also hear about the January 10th protest on Dick Cheney’s lawn and January 11th at the White House.” Read the rest of this entry »

Progress Towards Closing Guantánamo, As Periodic Review Boards Resume with the Case of a Seriously Ill Egyptian

Guantanamo prisoner Tariq al-Sawah as a young man, prior to his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, where his weight has ballooned. Photo made available by his family.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

The last three months have been a period of commendable progress at Guantánamo, as 27 prisoners have been released, reducing the prison’s population to just 122 men. On December 30, two Tunisians and three Yemenis were given new homes in Kazakhstan, and on January 14 five more Yemenis were given new homes — four in Oman, in the Gulf, and one in Estonia. All of these men had long been approved for release, having had their cases reviewed in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its final report in January 2010.

Obstacles raised by Congress — and the president’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles — had led to these men being held for so long after the task force unanimously approved them for release, as well as a particular fear throughout the US establishment of repatriating Yemenis, because of unrest in their home country.

Two years ago, 86 of the men still held had been approved for release by the task force but were still held. That number is now down to 50, of whom 43 are Yemenis, and just seven are from other nations, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Torture Victim Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Harrowing Memoir to be Published in January 2015

In January 2015, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a prisoner at Guantánamo, will become the first prisoner still held to have his memoir published. Guantánamo Diary, which he wrote by hand as a 466-page manuscript, beginning in 2005, will be published in the US by Little, Brown and Company and in the UK by Canongate, and the date of publication is January 20, 2015. His lawyers tenaciously fought for seven years to have his diary declassified, and were ultimately successful, although parts of it remain classified. The publishers describe it as “not merely a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir — terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious”, and “a document of immense historical importance”.

A Mauritanian, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a cousin of Abu Hafs al-Mauritani (real name Mahfouz Ould al-Walid), a spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda, who disagreed with the 9/11 attacks, and he also briefly communicated with the 9/11 attackers while living in Germany. These connections led Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, to describe him as a “Forrest Gump” character, “in the sense that there were a lot of noteworthy events in the history of al-Qaida and terrorism, and there was Slahi, lurking somewhere in the background,” although, as Col. Davis stressed, in early 2007 “we had a big meeting with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice, and we got a briefing from the investigators who worked on the Slahi case, and their conclusion was there’s a lot of smoke and no fire.”

Ironically, Abu Hafs is now a free man, while Slahi is still held. Slahi handed himself in to the Mauritanian authorities on November 2001, and was then rendered to a secret torture prison in Jordan by the CIA, where he was interrogated for eight months until the Jordanians concluded that he was an innocent man. Nevertheless, the US then flew him to to Bagram in Afghanistan, and then on to Guantánamo, where “he was designated a ‘special project’ and subjected to isolation, beatings, sexual humiliation, death threats, and a mock kidnapping and rendition,” as his publishers explained — and as was mentioned in an article in the Guardian. Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Seek Release from Guantánamo of Tariq Al-Sawah, an Egyptian Prisoner Who is Very Ill

Two weeks ago, when lawyers in the US Justice Department decided — for the first time — not to contest the habeas corpus petition of a prisoner in Guantánamo, it was a cause for celebration. The man in question, Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese man in his early 50s, is severely mentally ill, as he suffers from schizophrenia, and is also morbidly obese. As his lawyer Jennifer Cowan explained, “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated.”

As I explained in my most recent article, “Some Progress on Guantánamo: The Envoy, the Habeas Case and the Periodic Reviews,” it is disgraceful that the Justice Department lawyers responsible for dealing with the Guantánamo prisoners’ cases have “vigorously contested every petition as though the fate of the United States depended on it.” I have long been outraged that, in particular, “petitions have been fought even when the men in question have been cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force,” as I described it.

I added:

I am unable to explain why there has been no cross-referencing of cases between the task force (which involved officials from the Justice Department) and the Civil Division of the DoJ, or why Attorney General Eric Holder has maintained the status quo, and no other senior official, up to and including the President, has acted to address this troubling lack of joined-up thinking. However, it is to be hoped that it signals the possibility for further successful challenges by prisoners who are ill — as well as opening up the possibility for cleared prisoners to call for their release through the habeas process. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Denies Reports That Two Guantánamo Prisoners Were Released to Mauritania

I’m sorry to report that claims that two prisoners were released from Guantánamo to Mauritania on Friday have apparently proved to be false. I was alerted to the story by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook on Friday night, and checked out two Arabic news sources that were cited — here and here. These seemed plausible, and so I wrote the first English language report and published it at 4am GMT.

I then found out that the purported release of the men had been announced in a French language news report at 1.11am GMT, and had also been discussed, at 9.33 am, by AFP. The Associated Press ran with the story at around 4pm, under the heading, “Mauritania receives 2 prisoners from Guantánamo, according to support group,” and stated that Hamoud Ould Nabagha, chairman of the Support Committee for Guantánamo prisoners said that Mohamedou Ould Slahi and Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, both held at Guantánamo, had been returned, along with El Haj Ould Cheikh El Houssein Youness, who had been held at Bagram in Afghanistan.

Within an hour of that report being published, a revised version appeared, quoting Army Lt. Col. Joseph Todd Breasseale, a US Defense Department spokesman, stating that, as the AP put it, “No detainees have been transferred from Guantánamo since October last year.”

I am extremely saddened to hear that the news has turned out to be untrue, as we need to hear about President Obama fulfilling the promises he made last week to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo. The reported release of Mohamedou Ould Slahi was surprising news, as he was not included in the 86 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, and some Republicans believe him to be significant terror suspect, even though that theory ought to have been laid to rest when Slahi had his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge in 2010. Slahi’s successful habeas petition was later vacated on appeal by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., but they had their own agenda designed not to deliver justice but to prevent prisoners from ever having their habeas corpus petitions granted. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Mauritania

Note: Please read the comments below for updates. As at 3pm GMT on June 1, there has been no confirmation of the releases. Sources in Mauritania are still saying the men have been freed, but are not yet reunited with their families, while the US authorities are denying it. Some reports claim that only the man from Bagram has been returned home.

Update June 2: It now appears clear that only the man in Bagram was returned, and that the human rights representative in Mauritania was mistaken about the releases from Guantánamo. This is very sad news, particularly for Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is one of the 86 prisoners still in Guantánamo who were cleared for release over three years ago by President Obama’s inter-agency task force, and who emphatically should have been freed. Further commentary to follow soon.

In news that has so far only been available in Arabic, and which I was informed about by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook, I can confirm that two prisoners from Guantánamo have been released, and returned to their home country of Mauritania. The links are here and here.

The two men are Ahmed Ould Abdul Aziz and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and they were accompanied by a third man, Hajj Ould Cheikh Hussein, who was apparently captured in Pakistan and held at Bagram in Afghanistan, which later became known as the Parwan Detention Facility.

According to one of the Arabic news sources, US officials handed the men to the Mauritanian security services who took them to an unknown destination. They have also reportedly met with their families.

I have no further information for now, but this appears to be confirmation that President Obama’s promise to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo was not as hollow as many of his promises have turned out to be. It also follows hints, in the Wall Street Journal (which I wrote about here), indicating that he would begin not with any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners out of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the inter-agency task force that he established in 2009, but with some of the 30 others. Read the rest of this entry »

For the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo, US Relies on Unreliable Witnesses and Experts Find Evidence Unconvincing

171 men are still held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, even though an interagency task force established by President Obama concluded over two years ago that 89 of them should be released. However, it is now 15 months since the last prisoner left Guantánamo alive, and as the long struggle to resume the release of prisoners from the prison continues, attention has focused on a number of specific cases: on Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (please sign the UK petition and/or the international petition); on five Taliban leaders and the negotiations to release them as part of the Afghan peace process (or part of a prisoner swap); on Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner who was supposed to be released last November according to a plea deal he agreed the year before; and on the last two Kuwaitis, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah.

I have written extensively about Fayiz and Fawzi at various times in the last five years, and in February was delighted to be invited to Kuwait to step up the campaign to secure their release, which I wrote about here and here. I also posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for Fayiz and Fawzi. I was also there with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, and I met Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, and Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project.

I was also delighted to meet Jenifer Fenton, a journalist who has become fascinated by the Kuwaitis’ story in the last year or so, and has been undertaking the kind of research and investigations that, in general, have been sorely lacking in the mainstream media. Last week, I cross-posted the first of two articles that she wrote following our visit, based on interviews with former prisoners, and published on Al-Jazeera’s website, and I’m now cross-posting the second article, analyzing the weakness of the supposed evidence against Fayiz and Fawzi. Read the rest of this entry »

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights’ “Faces of Guantánamo” Reports

In December, I was privileged to work with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights on three reports about Guantánamo that were published to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, 2012, and released at a press conference in Washington D.C. that I reported here. The three reports are entitled, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” “Faces of Guantánamo: Indefinite Detention,” and “Faces of Guantánamo: Torture” (also available via this page) and they present a comprehensive analysis of Guantánamo’s history, President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised, and profiles of 20 of the 171 prisoners still held.

The first report, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” focuses on the 89 prisoners still held who were cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, but who are still held either because they cannot be safely repatriated, and no country has volunteered to offer them a new home, or because they are Yemenis, and both the President and Congress have acted to prevent the release of any cleared Yemeni prisoners, even though this constitutes guilt by nationality, which is an indefensible generalization, and ought to be regarded as a profound shame.

The article explains in detail President Obama’s failures, including his refusal to allow any innocent prisoners (the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) to be settled in the US, and also describes how Congress has intervened to prevent the release of prisoners for nakedly political reasons. Included are recommendations for the Obama administration, and calls for other countries to help with the resettlement of those who cannot be safely repatriated. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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