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:


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