‘Guantánamo Diary’ author at home: Thank you, Mauritania

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, at home in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on Oct. 17, 2016, according to his lawyer Nancy Hollander.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, at home in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on Oct. 17, 2016, according to his lawyer Nancy Hollander. Courtesy Nancy Hollander

The prisoner who wrote “Guantánamo Diary,” a memoir of fear and forgiveness in the war on terror, was sent home Monday to his native Mauritania in West Africa.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 45, got to Guantánamo in August 2002. He was subjected to some of the worst Pentagon-approved interrogation techniques at Guantánamo — beatings, sleep deprivation, being packed in ice, and was threatened with the arrest of his mother.

He spent more than a decade in segregation in a special detention site called Camp Echo, apart from nearly all of the other captives at the Navy base’s sprawling prison complex, before he was spirited off the base before dawn in a U.S. military cargo plane.

By day’s end he could be seen on a Youtube video at a family home in Nouakchott, Mauritania, thanking God, his government and the Mauritanian people. “I got here, praise God, today. I got here safely,” he said in Arabic, attired in a traditional white robe.

On Monday, after the release, the downsizing detention center had 60 captives, the Pentagon said. Of them, 20 are approved for release, with security arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. No more prisoner transfers are expected before the Thanksgiving holiday.

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.

Mohamedou Slahi, in a

Slahi’s case garnered international sympathy, in no small measure because of the multilingual publication of his memoirs — a 2005 account of his early years of detention drawn from 466 handwritten pages he gave to his lawyers. They were initially classified, but his attorneys doggedly worked for the release of those accounts. Some, including a poem he wrote at Guantánamo prison, remains hidden under black redactions.

In the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union championed his cause, and publication of the book fueled an international, online petition campaign for his release that got more than 100,000 signatures, including Hollywood actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo.

His longest-serving lawyer, Nancy Hollander, was packing a sampling of his memoirs in a variety of languages to show him, possibly later this week. “I’m taking a few copies,” she said, “but I can’t take all 25.”

The ACLU quoted a free Slahi as saying the following: “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.”

Slahi became a war-on-terror person of interest to the United States soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the early 1990s, when the United States supported the cause, he had fought against Soviet-backed Afghan communists and then lived and worked in Germany prior to 9/11, causing U.S. intelligence to wonder whether he could shed light on the attack, sleeper cells or the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

He was back home in Mauritania during the 9/11 terror attacks, but he was still taken into custody at the behest of the United States — interrogated first in Jordan, and then at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan until his transfer to Guantánamo, his lawyers said. He was at one point targeted for possible war crimes prosecution, but was never charged in part because a military prosecutor became aware of harsh interrogation treatment that led to involuntary, since-retracted confessions.

The transfer left 60 detainees at the downsizing detention center — 20 cleared for release.

His ACLU attorney, Hina Shamsi, said his lawyers “are focused on ensuring he has a cushion of love, support, counseling and space to adjust after 14 long years in which he was denied his human rights. We already know how resilient Mohamedou is.”

He “plans to write and work, establish a charity and care for his family,” Shamsi said. “He now needs time and privacy, and we ask for respect for those needs.”

The interagency parole board — with representatives of the U.S. intelligence community, Pentagon and Department of Justice, among others — approved Slahi’s release this summer after he went before the board with, among other things, a letter of support from a U.S. soldier who at one time guarded him at Guantánamo.

“Based on my interactions with Mr. Slahi while in Guantánamo, I would be pleased to welcome him into my home,” the guard said. “Based on my interactions, I do not have safety concerns if I were to do so. I would like the opportunity to eventually see him again.”

The board that cleared the captive to go home this summer specifically mentioned his good behavior in custody, strong family ties and an “extensive support network” that awaited him in his native Mauritania.

In a statement disclosing the transfer on Monday afternoon, the Department of Defense said that the United States “is grateful to the Government of Mauritania for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

“The United States coordinated with the Government of Mauritania to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the Pentagon statement said.

Slahi was subjected to the so-called “special interrogation plans” approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in August 2003. Abuse investigations show that he was tortured so grievously that a Marine colonel assigned to prosecute his case quit.

A U.S. intelligence community profile prepared for Slahi’s Periodic Review Board hearing predicted that, if he were repatriated to Mauritania, Slahi “probably would reunite with his family, take care of his sisters, and start a business.”

If allowed to leave his homeland, “he probably would travel internationally to promote his book, ‘Guantánamo Diary,’ which was released in January 2015,” it added. The book describes both warm and terrifying encounters with U.S. troops and interrogators.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Additional Reading

▪ Guantánamo Diary’ goes Through the Looking Glass.

▪ Hours after the Mauritanian left, the Pentagon disclosed an Afghan captive had been approved for transfer. Story, here.

▪ Miami Herald Periodic Review Board tracker.