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:

Ahmed is an educated and cultured man. He speaks several languages fluently including French, English and Arabic. He is very engaging, likable and has a very sharp wit. He is also an inveterate reader with widespread interests ranging from literature, to physics, to all forms of religious thought, to developments in space, politics, inventions and nature.

One of the lawyers “asked him how he persevered with all he has suffered while imprisoned. He said in response that he endures because he ‘resides in the immortality of my soul.'”

His lawyers also explained:

As a young man he made his living in Kandahar by teaching Arabic and Islam to children. He has still never seen or spoken to his son, as his wife was pregnant at the time of his arrest and sale for a bounty. In fact, we brought the first pictures of his son to him. More than anything on earth, Ahmed wants to be with his wife and his son. He wants to help her raise him during the remaining formative years of his life.

Speaking to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald after his release, another of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, said he “would be reunited with his wife and now 15-year-old son” in Mauritania, and that he “plans to work as a copy editor at a newspaper run by his brother-in-law,” as the Miami Herald put it.

“While it’s great that Ahmed is home with his family, it’s 14 years late, and long after he was cleared,” Stafford Smith said. “His release was only delayed because he, an innocent man, routinely protested his mistreatment.”

Another lawyer who worked on Abdel Aziz’s case, and deserves thanks, is Agnieszka Fryszman, a Partner in Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, PLLC, a law firm in Washington, D.C., who “was recently recognized as leading one of the best private international human rights practices in the world.” She also worked with the Hollands on another case of theirs, that of Mohamed al-Amin, another Mauritanian, who was repatriated in September 2007. Her account of that case is here, and see here for my report about Mohammed al-Amin, following his release.

As Carol Rosenberg described it, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz’s release “was repeatedly delayed at the Pentagon by officials wary about letting him go, most recently in April after the detention center notified the Pentagon that Aziz had declared his intent to join ISIS once repatriated.” His lawyers, in contrast, “argued that menacing mouthiness should not be a factor on whether a detainee gets out of Guantánamo,” something that, it seems to me, is far too often overlooked when men abused and deprived of justice for years lash out verbally at their captors.

Ask yourself: wouldn’t you?

The Miami Herald also noted that sources with knowledge of Abdel Aziz’s release said that, “while former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would not sign off on the transfer, the current Pentagon chief, Ash Carter, did — more than 30 days ago — and then notified Congress of the pending release.” The Washington Post reported back in April that his release was imminent, as I explained here.

John Holland, based in Denver, called the release “far too long in coming,” adding that Abdel Aziz “spent six long years in detention after being unanimously approved for release. The delay has been agonizing for him and his family. Fortunately, his family has a strong support network in place and ready in Mauritania to help Mr. Aziz reintegrate into normal life.”

For Al-Jazeera America, Jenifer Fenton spoke to Nasser Weddady, a Mauritanian-American activist and expert on Mauritania, who said that, under President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the West African country “highly regards its relationship with the US, and it is virtually guaranteed ‘they will abide by the letter of the [prisoner] transfer agreement’ with the US.”

Weddady also said he believes Abdel Aziz “will be under mild surveillance and generally treated well as long as he keeps a relatively low profile.”

He added that “no one in Mauritania believes Aziz was or is Al-Qaeda,” and pointed out that “civil society groups in Mauritania have been supportive of the prisoners,” and, as he put it, there is “popular anger about Guantánamo. They believe these men have been unjustly locked up” by the US and successive Mauritanian governments “did zilch to help them.”

Fenton also noted how the former prisoner Moazzam Begg, a British national who was held at Bagram with Abdel Aziz back in 2002, said he “was very concerned about his wife,” who is an Indian national. Begg said that “the violent past and tense relationship between Pakistan and her country ‘added another layer of fear'” for him.

Fenton added, “Talking was forbidden, but the two were able at times to have whispered conversations at Bagram. Once Aziz wrote a simple phrase in French on a piece of paper, ‘I am very sad these days and I miss my family,’ Begg recalled.”

His lawyers also recalled presenting Abdel Aziz with a letter telling him he had been approved for release, which must have been around six years ago. “He was so grateful. He was so hopeful,” they said.

Six years later, that hope has finally turned into reality.

See here for a video, in Arabic, of Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz’s return home.

His release leaves just one Mauritanian at the prison, Mohamedou Ould Slahi. As I mentioned in a recent article, following a BBC World Service show that also featured his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, Slahi “is still held, despite a judge ordering his release in 2010, and despite being a best-selling, award-winning author, whose book Guantánamo Diary was published at the start of this year. Hollander spent six years wrangling with the US authorities to allow its publication, and spoke about how, sadly, Slahi is becoming increasingly desperate, as his long and unjustifiable imprisonment continues, seemingly without end.”

The same must, sadly, be true of many of the men still held — not just the 53 men approved for release, but the 59 others, either awaiting reviews that are moving with glacial slowness, or, in just ten cases, awaiting trials that never seem to happen.

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,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, 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.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

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 125 prisoners released from February 2009 to October 2015 (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 Filesand 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 (herehere and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians1 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 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 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 Algerian1 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 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 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, a Palestinian and a Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 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).

15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    I’ve been so busy – with the release of Shaker Aamer from ‪Guantanamo‬ – that I haven’t had time, until now, to write about the other prisoner released last week – Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian teacher seized in an idiotic house raid in Pakistan 13 long years ago. Here’s the news, and a great photo of Ahmed on his return, finally reunited with his family.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Javier Rodriguez wrote:

    Great photo………. and what a waste……..

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, really, Javier. So many years of his life lost, so pointlessly.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. My updated list of who’s still held at Guantanamo, after the release of Ahmed, and of Shaker Aamer, is here:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Cayton Holland Edwards wrote:

    Andy thanks for all your work for Ahmed and all the others. We are so happy he is home.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna. Any word from Ahmed?

  7. John Holland says...

    Andy, I did and he is doing well. The video you re-posted moved us all to tears and joy. Your reporting throughout this ordeal for Ahmed, and again here, is an inspiration. Thanks for caring so much and for always being a beacon. John

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, John. Great to hear from you, and thanks for the kind and supportive words.
    Do send Ahmed my best wishes. Like so many of the men held, it is obvious that there was no reason for him to have been held in the first place.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Cayton Holland Edwards wrote:

    He is home with his family and doing well

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s great to hear, Anna. Thanks.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamal Ajouaou wrote:

    Andy , all I can say that You are blessed to take all the rewad from the almighty hig the judge of the day of Judgement , if only they can listen to you the government and the british people will be blessed with bounties without counts ,

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Jamal, for the kind and supportive words.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Franci Lennartz Fryberger wrote:

    I am still thinking about Mohamedou Ould Slahi and others left behind — as I REJOICE in other releases. Thank you, Andy, for keeping us up to date. 🙂

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Franci. It is disgraceful, of course, that Mohamedou Ould Slahi is still held. The ACLU’s action page, with a petition signed by nearly 50,000 people to date, is here:

  15. – Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases From Guantánamo Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker – OpEd says...

    […] to Kazakhstan (in December 2014) and of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian (in October 2015), “were delayed for months or years by Pentagon resistance or […]

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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