Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 45, had been held at the detention center in Cuba for 14 years without being charged with a crime or facing trial.
GUANTÁNAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba – The Guantánamo detainee who wrote the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” has been released to his home country of Mauritania, his lawyers and the U.S. Defense Department said Monday.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 45, had been held at the detention center in Cuba for 14 years without being charged with a crime or facing trial. He wrote the memoir by hand at the prison in 2005, and it was published in 2015 after years of fighting between the government and his lawyers.
“We are thrilled that our client’s nightmare is finally ending,” Nancy Hollander, one of Slahi’s lawyers, said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which helped represent Slahi. “After all these years, he wants nothing more than to be with his family and rebuild his life. We’re so grateful to everyone who helped make this day a reality.”
In the early 1990s, Slahi traveled from Germany, where he studied engineering and worked, to Afghanistan to fight with al Qaeda when it was part of the Afghan anti-communist resistance supported by the United States, according to a detainee profile released by the Defense Department.
He later returned to Mauritania and was taken into custody because of his connections to al Qaeda members Ahmed Ressam and Abu Hafs al Mauritani. Slahi was subsequently released. Two months later, he was arrested again by Mauritanian authorities and sent to Jordan, which later transferred him to the United States.
He had been held at Guantánamo since 2003, and was subjected to a “special interrogation plan” approved by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Slahi wrote in his memoir that he endured beatings, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, frigid rooms, shackling in stress positions, and threats against himself and his mother.
In June, Slahi appeared before the parole-like board composed of military, national security and law-enforcement officials that reviews detainee cases. The board, known as the Periodic Review Board (PRB), made public on Wednesday a July 14 memo that “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.”
“The board also noted the detainee’s candid responses to the board’s questions, to include recognition of his past activities, clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mind-set,” the board wrote. “Furthermore, the board considered the extensive support network available to the detainee from multiple sources, including strong family connections, and the detainee’s robust and realistic plan for the future.”
Another one of Slahi’s lawyers, Theresa Duncan, told the PRB during the review that he plans to write and work, establish a charity and care for his family.
“I feel grateful and indebted to the people who have stood by me. I have come to learn that goodness is transnational, transcultural, and trans-ethnic. I’m thrilled to reunite with my family,” Slahi said in a statement carried by the ACLU.
In 2010, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. found that the government did not provide enough evidence to justify Slahi’s continued detention. An appeals case sent the case back to the court for reconsideration, and it was still pending when Slahi was repatriated to Mauritania.
“In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States’ intent to transfer this individual and of the secretary’s determination that this transfer meets the statutory standard,” the Defense Department said in a statement announcing his release Monday.
There are 60 detainees remaining in the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, 20 of whom have been referred by the PRB for release.
The PRB also announced Monday that Afghan national Abdul Zahir, 44, has been cleared for release from the detention center.
Zahir was accused of working in the “production and distribution of chemical or biological weapons” for al Qaeda, according to a detainee profile released by the Defense Department, but the board wrote in the July memo that he “was probably misidentified.” He is also said to have had ties to the Taliban.