‘Guantánamo Diary’ author seeks parole hearing, return of belongings

Mohamedou Ould Slahi posing for the International Red Cross at Guantánamo, probably in 2009.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi posing for the International Red Cross at Guantánamo, probably in 2009. COURTESY NANCY HOLLANDER

U.S. troops at Guantánamo seized long-held, cherished belongings and legal papers of the prison-camp diarist Mohamedou Ould Slahi months before publication of his bestselling memoir, Guantánamo Diary, lawyers wrote in a federal court filing Wednesday that seeks return of the property and a speedy parole hearing.

Items taken and not returned, the attorneys wrote, include privileged legal papers, family photos, and a non-networked laptop computer provided to the 44-year-old captive years ago that has helped Slahi “keep his mind active and recover from the torture he suffered in U.S. custody,” according to the filing.

The confiscated items included gifts Slahi got during his more than a decade in detention from guards who had befriended him, the filing said — “adding to his feelings of depression and his growing despair.”

A Pentagon spokesman said lawyers would respond to the 24-page filing at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in Slahi’s unlawful-detention litigation. It names President Barack Obama as the defendant.

At the prison, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback declined to discuss why the material was confiscated and whether it was somehow connected to the publication of the book. “We will not comment on pending litigation, nor will we comment on issues relating to a specific detainee,” he said by email Wednesday afternoon from Guantánamo.

Slahi has spent years in segregation in a special detention site called Camp Echo, apart from nearly all of the other 121 captives currently at the Navy base’s sprawling prison complex. He has never been charged with a crime and at one point won an unlawful-detention suit that was subsequently overturned on appeal and returned to federal court for a rehearing that has not been held.

“During his long years of imprisonment at Guantánamo,” the filing also stated, “Mr. Slahi has never had a single disciplinary infraction.” He got to Guantánamo in August 2002 after detention and interrogation in Afghanistan, Jordan, and his native Mauritania.

A 2010 Obama task force classified Slahi as a possible candidate for trial. To change that status he needs to go before a Periodic Review Board, which Obama set up in 2011. But his attorney, Nancy Hollander of Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote in a declaration, he has never been given a military advocate — called a “personal representative” — to navigate him through the hearing process of the inter-agency, parole-style panel.

Hollander and Hina Shamsi, of the American Civil Liberties Union. wrote in Wednesday’s federal court petition that Slahi “poses no threat to the security of the United States” and wants a Periodic Review Board hearing to “demonstrate that he can safely return to Mauritania and resume his life there.”

The Defense Department has only four Periodic Review Board hearings scheduled this summer for Guantánamo detainees, starting with a Libyan “forever prisoner” on June 23. Slahi is not among them, and he is not listed as an active case on the Pentagon website that tracks the board’s progress.

At the Pentagon, however, Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III said for the Periodic Review Secretariat that the Mauritanian “remains in the pool of detainees eligible for review.”

The attorneys filed the petition in court about a week after Lloyd Levin, a Hollywood producer, said he had optioned Slahi’s book and was seeking to fast-track a film onto the screen in about a year.

The book, which describes both warm and terrifying encounters with U.S. troops and interrogators at the prison camps, is based on 466 pages of prison-camp memoirs that Slahi wrote in 2005 for his lawyers to prepare his case in court. Prison staff originally marked the pages “Top Secret,” and his lawyers only had access to them in a classified setting. Through the years, however, U.S. censors declassified a large portion of the material.

Slahi’s possessions were seized in October, according to his lawyers. The book was not released until January, but the publication of excerpts in the online magazine Slate in 2013 generated considerable interest in the book.

In one curious allegation, Hollander said in the filing that the Pentagon’s goal in refusing to start the parole-board process is “prolonging Mr. Slahi’s detention for the purpose of interrogation.” She does not elaborate but says the explanation is included in a classified filing to the judge — an April 17, 2014 letter she got from Slahi that U.S. officials have classified as “For Official Use Only.”

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Royce Lamberth has Slahi’s case. In 2009, a judge — James Robertson, who found Slahi’s detention unlawful — forbade further interrogation of Slahi by the U.S. government, “Defense Department, CIA, FBI, anybody, while these proceedings are going forward.” His lawyers say the Pentagon is still bound by that order because the habeas corpus proceedings are still active even though they are not currently being heard at the federal court.

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