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.

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.

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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Seven Years Since He Left Guantánamo, Judge Rules That Omar Khadr’s Sentence Is Over, and He Is A Free Man

Some rare good news regarding Guantánamo, as former child prisoner Omar Khadr finally receives confirmation from a Canadian judge that his Guantánamo-related sentence is over. For other ex-prisoners, however, the stigma of being an "enemy combatant" - and their complete lack of rights - continues.
Former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr with his lawyer, Nate Whitling, outside court in Edmonton on March 25, 2019, after a judge ruled that his Guantánamo- related sentence was finally over (Photo: Terry Reith/CBC).

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.




 

Some great news from Canada, where a judge has ruled that former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr’s sentence is finally over.

Back in December, I reported how, although Khadr was given an eight-year sentence after agreeing to a plea deal in his military commission trial at Guantánamo on October 31, 2010, the Canadian government continued to impose restrictions on his freedom — disregarding the fact that their ability to do so should have come to an end with the end of his sentence on October 31, 2018.  

As I explained in December, Khadr had been in court seeking “changes to his bail conditions, requesting to be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj (which would require him to be given a passport), and to speak unsupervised with his sister, who is now living in Georgia.” However, the judge, Justice June Ross of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, refused to end the restrictions on his freedom to travel, or to communicate with his sister Zainab, who I described as “a controversial figure who, in the past, had expressed support for al-Qaeda.”

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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 »

It’s Ten Years Since the Supreme Court Granted Habeas Corpus Rights to the Guantánamo Prisoners, a Legal Triumph Until a Lower Court Took Them Away

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court calling for the closure of Guantanamo on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the prison's opening (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.




 

Exactly ten years ago, I was briefly working for the human rights organization Reprieve, when a wonderful ruling came out of the US Supreme Court. In Boumediene v. Bush, the Court held that efforts by Congress to quash the habeas corpus rights that they had granted the prisoners in 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, had been unconstitutional, and asserted that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

We were overjoyed with the result, and for good reason. Although the Rasul ruling had allowed lawyers into Guantánamo, a derisory response by the Bush administration — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, administrative military reviews designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ blanket designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants” — and Congress’s obstructions, via the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, had prevented habeas cases from proceeding to the courts, as I explained at the time in my article, The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean?

In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, delivering the Court’s majority opinion, ruled that the “procedures for review of the detainees’ status” in the DTA “are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus,” and that therefore the habeas-stripping component of the MCA “operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Writer Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Devastating Criticism of US Claims That It Owns and Can Destroy Prisoners’ Art

Mohamedou Ould Slahi in a photo that accompanied an interview with him on the Warscapes website in December 2016.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.





 

A month ago, following a report in the Miami Herald about the US authorities at Guantánamo claiming that they own prisoners’ art and can destroy it — a position apparently taken in response to an art exhibition that had rattled the Pentagon — I wrote an article explaining why this was both disgraceful and also typical of the US authorities, who have always behaved at Guantánamo as though every aspect of the prisoners’ lives — even their memories — are owned by them.

That article was entitled, Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture, and I followed it with two cross-posts of powerful and eloquent articles written by Erin Thompson, one of the curators of the exhibition, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York — here and here.

Last week, in the Washington Post, another witness to the power of creativity and the distressing censorship and control exercised by the US authorities stepped forward with another powerful and eloquent analysis — Mohamedou Ould Slahi, from Mauritania, who was tortured in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo on the mistaken basis that he was a member of Al-Qaeda, and who, after the torture at Guantánamo “broke” him, was regarded, again mistakenly, as such a useful informant that he was moved from out of the general population of the prison, and allowed to write a memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” that, ironically, eventually ended up being published and becoming a best-seller. 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 »

Video: On CBS’s 60 Minutes, Former Guantánamo Prisoner, Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Tells His Story

A screenshot from "Prisoner 760," 60 Minutes' interview with Mohamedou Ould Slahi.Please support my work! 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 haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch the first full-length, post-release interview with former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, freed last October, which was shown on CBS’s 60 Minutes show on Sunday. A transcript is here.

Slahi was handed over to the CIA in November 2001, on the mistaken basis that he possessed important information about al-Qaeda, and was then tortured in Guantánamo, in a special program approved by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, until, after being taken out on a boat and beaten for hours while freezing from ice packed into his clothing, and after being told that his mother was being brought to Guantánamo, he was “broken” and began telling his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear — lies, but lies that were somehow regarded as credible.

Moved into separate housing with another perceived informant, he was then allowed to write the memoir that was eventually published as Guantánamo Diary in 2015, a devastating account of US torture and incompetence that was profoundly shocking despite its many redactions, and that also revealed Slahi as a witty, perceptive and thoroughly likeable human being. I should note also that I find it ironic that Slahi was only allowed to write a memoir in the first place because of his torture and his subsequent cooperation. Read the rest of this entry »

Great New York Times Exposé of How Torture, Abuse and Command Indifference Compromised Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

A prisoner, in the early days of Guantanamo, being moved on a gurney, as prisoners were in the prison's early years.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.

The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”

The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. Read the rest of this entry »

Mohamedou Ould Slahi Released from Guantánamo, Thanks Those Who Stood By Him

Mohamedou Ould Slahi and the cover of "Guantanamo Diary"

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

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. 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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