Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Report: Parliamentary Briefing on Case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi: 19 April 2016

A well-attended and informative meeting was held at the Houses of Parliament on 19 April to provide information and an update on the case of best-selling author and Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been held without charge or trial since November 2001, when he was kidnapped from his native Mauritania by the CIA. From there, he was taken to Jordan and tortured before being taken to Bagram, Afghanistan, where he faced further abuse before he was taken to Guantánamo in November 2002. For several years, his whereabouts were unknown to his family; he had simply “disappeared”.
(L-R) Jamie Byng, Jo Glanville, Nancy Hollander, Yahdih Ould Slahi
The meeting was hosted by Tom Brake MP (Lib Dem, Carshalton and Wallington), who stated that “as long as Guantánamo is open it remains a blot on US justice.” As part of the meeting, a letter was announced, for MPs and peers to sign (please see below), to be sent to the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter demanding that he “Immediately certify to Congress that Mr. Slahi will be released” and “Ensure that Mr. Slahi is quickly transferred out of Guantánamo Bay so he can restart his life as a free man.”

The meeting was started and concluded with readings from Guantánamo Diary, as well as before the Q&A session. The readings were provided skilfully by actors Sanjeev Bhaskar and Toby Jones; they were to be joined by actor Jude Law who was unable to make it to the meeting.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander spoke about his case. She took up the case in 2005 after having being contacted by a lawyer in France who via a lawyer in Mauritania had learned that his family thought he might be held at Guantánamo Bay and wanted to find out if it was true. Ms Hollander applied through the courts to find out from the US government. Once it was ascertained that he was being held at Guantánamo, she went to meet him with fellow lawyer Sylvia Royce. When they met him for the first time, they were bemused to find him smiling and with his arms out to welcome them but he did not come towards them; he stood where he was. They later realised that was because he was shackled. So they went towards him and embraced him. 

He had asked the guards to give him paper and wrote 90 pages about his life, kidnap and torture. At that point, his lawyers did not know if his story was true, but that turned out to be the case. His writings show that throughout he has maintained his dignity and humanity. Incredibly, Mr Ould Slahi wrote in English, a language he largely picked up after his imprisonment and through talking to guards, many of whom developed a friendly and warm relationship with him.

In 2010, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was granted a hearing in the US federal court. Judge Robertson, at the time, ordered his immediate release as there was no evidence to support his continued detention. As in many other cases, the Obama administration appealed the case. The court of appeal asked for the case to be reheard but it never happened. In 2011, Barack Obama issued an executive order setting up the Prisoner Review Board to consider all cases such as Mr Ould Slahi’s of prisoners who have not been cleared for release but potentially could be. The Board was to conclude its work within one year but did not even start until 2013, and has to date not considered each of the several dozen cases before it. It is only now, on 2 June, that Mohamedou Ould Slahi will go before the board for the first time.

Ms Hollander said that it is important that everyone should read his book and learn his story and ultimately help in the effort to free Mohamedou Ould Slahi and close Guantánamo. 
Yahdih Ould Slahi and Nancy Hollander
Speaking through a German interpreter, Yahdih Ould Slahi, Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s younger brother, said that if he was to talk about his brother’s case and the impact it has had on his family, he would probably be there all night and the next day, but that his family had forgiven those who had harmed his brother and they just wish that he can go home. He thanked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and everyone involved in the campaign for justice for his brother.

He said that on the day Mohamedou Ould Slahi was arrested, he was at home with his mother. They were both reassured that he would only be held in Mauritania. Instead he was taken to Jordan. Not knowing where her son was, his mother would take clothes and food to the police to give to Mohamedou Ould Slahi thinking that they were giving it to him. Yahdih Ould Slahi said that he was not surprised by the corrupt actions of Mauritanian officials but was surprised that the US would behave the way it did. He said that he wanted the American people to know that “The pain caused on and after 9/11 isn’t only the US’s pain, it’s our pain too.”

Yahdih Ould Slahi said, “We hope and we live in hope that Guantánamo will be closed one day as President Obama said. I don’t know why it isn’t.”

Jo Glanville from English Pen described Guantánamo Diary as an extraordinary book “full of humanity”. Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote the book in English even though he had learned this language there simply by communicating with guards. She called it “the prison memoir of our times” and of particular importance as he was “’disappeared’ by a country that sees itself as a beacon of human rights”. Picking up on the issue of censorship – it took many years for the book to see the light of day – she mentioned that it contains 2600 redactions, including of whole pages and sections. Ms Glanville stated that censorship is integral to the post-9/11 US and the secrecy surrounding the US’s practices at Guantánamo and elsewhere needs to be broken down.

Jamie Byng, from Canongate, publisher of Guantánamo Diary said that in reading the manuscript he was “humbled, enraged but also moved by how Mohamedou Ould Slahi expressed himself so articulately.” The book has been translated and published in 24 languages and more are planned. He called it an important human document and a reminder of what still happens at Guantánamo. Mr Byng said there is a need to show solidarity in Britain to get Mohamedou Ould Slahi released.

There are currently plans to turn the book into a film produced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Unfortunately, only a handful of MPs were present at the otherwise well-attended event. The US ambassador to the UK declined an invitation to attend the meeting. The Mauritanian chargé d’affaires attended and said on behalf of his government that the Mauritanian authorities are willing to receive Mohamedou Ould Slahi and have him return home to his family. He pointed out that two other former Guantánamo prisoners have been released to the country and have been resettled. He said that his country is opposed to arbitrary detention and detention without trial.

The LGC thanks the organisers of this successful meeting

What can you do to help Mohamedou Ould Slahi?
1 – On the same day, the ACLU launched a new petition to US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter: add your name to it and share it on social media
2 – There is also a new petition on    Please sign and share  
3 – The following letter will be signed by British politicians and celebrities to be sent to US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter. Please send it to your MP (find them at and ask them to add their name to it – please let us know their response:
Dear Secretary Carter,
Mohamedou Slahi has been unlawfully imprisoned by the U.S. government for 14 years. Thirteen of those years have been at Guantánamo Bay prison, where he was subjected to gruesome torture.
Mr. Slahi has never been charged with a crime.  He has never taken part in any hostilities against the United States. A former chief military prosecutor in the Guantánamo military commissions, Colonel Morris Davis, has said he couldnt find any crime with which to charge Mr. Slahi.
At long last, Mr. Slahi has been granted the Periodic Review Board hearing he should have had five years ago. At this hearing he can prove hes not a threat to the United States and that there is no reason to continue to hold him.
Despite all his suffering, Mr. Slahi has repeatedly stated - including in his best-selling book - that he bears no ill will towards anyone.
Assuming a positive outcome in Mr. Slahis Periodic Review Board hearing, we the undersigned, call upon you to:
1. Immediately certify to Congress that Mr. Slahi will be released.
2. Ensure that Mr. Slahi is quickly transferred out of Guantánamo Bay so he can restart his life as a free man.

You can learn more and read extracts from Guantánamo Diary at:

Monday, April 04, 2016

LGC Newsletter – March 2016

Guantánamo Bay:
Former Guantánamo military commander, retired US General Geoffrey Miller, failed to appear at a court hearing in Paris on 1 March, after he was summoned in February to answer questions about the torture and arbitrary detention of three French nationals at Guantánamo Bay, where they were held from 2002 to 2005. The summons and hearing followed investigations that showed there are potential charges to answer related to the abuse and torture of these men. Lawyers from the US NGO Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights are now seeking a warrant for his arrest to compel him to appear. They issued a joint statement after his no-show, which says: “Miller’s absence speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s continued unwillingness to confront America’s torture legacy. The administration not only refuses to investigate U.S. officials like Miller for torture, it apparently remains unwilling to cooperate with international torture investigations like the one in France. Geoffrey Miller has much to answer for regarding the treatment of detainees during his tenure.”
The Obama administration is pressing ahead with its 4-point plan unveiled in February with respect to Guantánamo.
At the end of March, Pentagon officials stated that it plans to transfer around one dozen Guantánamo prisoners who have been cleared for release in April to two countries that have agreed to take them. This includes Yemeni hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah who, as a result of his long-term hunger strike, weighs less than 40kg. 37 prisoners are currently cleared for release.
Germany has said that it may consider taking some prisoners if asked by the US. It has already taken in two prisoners – a stateless Palestinian and a Syrian – in 2010 in addition to one German national.
In addition, a number of prisoners whose status has not been resolved have had dates set for them to appear before the administrative periodic review board, which decides whether prisoners can be cleared for released or must remain at Guantánamo. This procedure was introduced in 2011 and was supposed to have been completed for all prisoners whose status had not been resolved by the end of that year. Among those who will be brought before the review board is Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi who will have a review in June. As well as the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary, in 2015 he lost a court case to force the US military to give him a review of his status. According to lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “More than anything, Mohamedou wants to show the board that he poses no threat to the United States and should be allowed to return home to his family where he belongs.” The ACLU also states that “Slahi was one of two so-called “Special Projects” whose treatment then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally approved. The abuse included beatings, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation, frigid rooms, shackling in stress positions, death threats against him, and threats against his mother.

Three prisoners had hearings before the prisoner review board in March to consider their status and whether or not they can be cleared for release.
On 1 March, Yemeni Suhayl Abdul Anam al Sharab had his review. His lawyer submitted a statement of his behalf stating he wishes to be reunited with his family and get on with his own life:
On 8 March, 68-year old Saifullah Paracha, the oldest detainee at Guantánamo had his status reviewed. A businessman, Paracha was kidnapped in Bangkok in 2003 while on a business trip and is alleged to have links to Al Qaeda. His lawyers are fairly confident that he will be released given his age and his worsening health, which rule him out as a threat to the US.
Yemeni Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj also had his review hearing in March. The US has alleged that he has links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.
Over the past 14 years, none of these men have faced charges in spite of the allegations made against them, which have not been substantiated.
In addition, the review board rendered three decisions with respect to earlier hearings. It decided to continue the detention of Yemenis Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim  and Mohammed Al-Ansi The two men’s cases will be eligible for further review in 6 months’ time. The board cleared Yemeni Ayub Murshid Ali Salih

The Indonesian government has stated that it does not want Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali, an Indonesian national held at Guantánamo, back if the prison closes. Hambali was rendered in Thailand in 2003 and “disappeared” into secret CIA prisons before being taken to Guantánamo in 2006 as a high-value prisoner. Alleged to have links to the 9/11 hijackers and the mastermind behind the 2002 bombing in Bali, and described by former Australian prime minister John Howard as “almost certainly the ultimate mastermind” of the latter attack in 2003, he has never faced any charges at Guantánamo. He was named in the 2014 Senate report into CIA torture.
Although the Indonesian government alleges that his release to the country would give a boost to domestic terrorist organisations, it may also wish to avoid questions about its role in the rendition and torture of its own citizens.
One month after Barack Obama unveiled his 4-point plan on the future of Guantánamo Bay the issue was discussed for the first time with the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington by Paul M. Lewis, the US Department of Defense’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, and Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure. They stated that closing Guantánamo was a matter of national security. Lewis said that Obama’s 4-point plan will ““continue to transfer [detainees], accelerate the [Periodic Review Board] process, look for individual dispositions and, most importantly, work with Congress to find a location to transfer everybody from Guantanamo safely and securely.”

A two-week pre-trial hearing in the case of five men accused of involvement in 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001 due to start on 4 April was abruptly cancelled by the military judge just days before after receiving a secret filing in the case from the Defense department which may impact the hearing. There have been no hearings for the past two months due to cancellations. This case is due to be heard next in early June, although two other military tribunal cases are scheduled for hearing in May.

LGC Activities:
The March Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 3 March and was exceptionally held in the evening to protest Barack Obama’s 4-point plan on the future of Guantánamo which does not include an end to indefinite arbitrary detention. The April demonstration is on 7 April at the usual time of 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch
The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. The pastebin is available which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!