‘Guantánamo Diary’ author cleared for release

Mohamedou Ould Slahi poses for the International Red Cross at Guantánamo
Mohamedou Ould Slahi poses for the International Red Cross at Guantánamo

The multi-agency U.S. federal parole board has cleared “Guantánamo Diary” author Mohamedou Ould Slahi for release, in part, because of his “highly compliant behavior” during nearly 14 years of detention without charge.

Slahi, 45, got to Guantánamo in August 2002 after detention and interrogation in Afghanistan, Jordan, and his native Mauritania in West Africa. He went before the inter-agency Periodic Review Board on June 2 with a letter of support from a former prison guard.

“Of course he’s thrilled,” said one of his long-serving attorneys, Theresa Duncan, who gave him the news at the prison camps around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Duncan and two U.S. military officers who helped Slahi make his case for freedom handed him the decision. “It was really wonderful to watch him read it,” she said. “He’d read a line and smile. Then he’d read another line and smile. Having read the whole thing he gave us a huge, big smile — and hugs.”

Slahi has spent years in segregation in a special detention site called Camp Echo, apart from nearly all of the other 75 captives currently at the Navy base’s sprawling prison complex. He has never been charged with a crime and won an unlawful-detention suit. That ruling was overturned, and the case was returned to federal court for a rehearing that has not been held.

“The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” said the decision dated July 14. It was released Wednesday afternoon, after his lawyers disclosed the favorable finding.

It said, besides his good behavior in custody, the board considered Slahi’s strong family ties and “extensive support network.” It also mentioned the Mauritanian’s “candid responses” to board questions, “to include recognition of his past activities, clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset.”

For his June 2 hearing, he had a letter of support from a former guard who spent 10 months at Guantánamo, sometime before April 2010, including “hours and hours, face to face” with Slahi, “getting to know each other.” The guard, whose name is shielded in the letter, said he told Slahi about the birth of his daughter and the captive expressed “compassion and empathy.”

“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.”

Slahi’s decision means that 31 of the 76 captives at Guantánamo are cleared for release.

The board said separately that a one-time, war-crimes-trial candidate, Abdul Zahir of Afghanistan, was also deemed safe to go with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. It said an earlier U.S. intelligence assessment of the 44-year-old Afghan detainee with two wives “probably misidentified” him as “the individual who had ties to al-Qaida weapons facilitation.”

Slahi’s February 2016 U.S. intelligence threat assessment said he went to Afghanistan in 1991 and 1992, joined with al-Qaida and trained to “fight against the Afghan communist regime.” It described him, before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as living mostly in Germany and recruiting for the Bosnian and Chechen jihads.

It also said he helped accused 9/11 plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh and two of the plot hijackers travel to Chechnya via Afghanistan in 1999.

“Throughout his detention,” it said, Slahi “has maintained his support for jihad, but clarifies that his notion of jihad neither condones the killing of innocent people nor supports [Osama] Bin Laden’s version of justice.”

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 — beaten, deprived of sleep, exposed to extreme heat and cold, and threatened with the arrest of his mother — that a Marine colonel assigned to prosecute his case quit.

The 2016 profile 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, ‘Guantanamo Diary,’ which was released in January 2015,” the U.S. intelligence estimate said.

The book describes both warm and terrifying encounters with U.S. troops and interrogators.

It is based on 466 handwritten 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.

“We’re delighted for Mohamedou and his family, but the new chapter in his life won’t start until the Pentagon actually transfers him, and it should begin that process immediately,” said Hina Shamsi, one of Slahi’s attorneys and director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

A statement from the ACLU said “the government of his native Mauritania has said that it would welcome him home.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg