A former al-Qaida militant who gained fame with the publication of a diary about life at Guantanamo has been approved for release from the detention center at the US base in Cuba, his lawyers said Wednesday.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a native of Mauritania who has been in custody without charge for nearly 14 years, was cleared by the Periodic Review Board set up by the Obama administration.
The decision was initially announced by his legal team, which included the American Civil Liberties Union, and was later confirmed by the Pentagon. He appeared before the board, which conducts parole-like hearings, in June.
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A statement published on the board’s website said it determined Slahi’s detention “is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
Factors cited in the brief statement included his “highly compliant behavior in detention” and “clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset,” as well as family and other support available to him upon release.
The board did not say when he would be freed from Guantanamo, where he is among 31 prisoners approved for release, or whether he would be sent back to Mauritania.
“We will now work toward his quick release and return to the waiting arms of his loving family,” said Nancy Hollander, a New Mexico-based lawyer for Slahi. “This is long overdue.”
The board, comprised of representatives from six government agencies, also cleared Abdul Zahir, a prisoner from Afghanistan, for release.
He was suspected of being an Afghan insurgent when he was captured by US forces in July 2002. But authorities later determined that while he had worked for members of al-Qaida and the Taliban as a translator and bookkeeper, he had only limited ties to significant figures in either organization.
Air Force Lt Col Sterling Thomas, a military lawyer appointed to represent Zahir, said the prisoner has become a poet at Guantanamo, “despite the onset of several mental and physical ailments stemming from his detention.”
Slahi, who is about 46, received international acclaim for his “Guantanamo Diary,” a memoir of captivity including accounts of harsh interrogations at the base and overseas. It was published in January 2015.
US officials have said in military and court files that Slahi traveled in the early 1990s from Germany, where he was attending college, to Afghanistan to fight with Islamic rebels against a Communist government supported by the Soviet Union. He later trained with and swore allegiance to al-Qaida and had close contacts over the years with significant figures in the organization, including two men who became hijackers in the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the US.
Slahi was detained in Mauritania in November 2001 and questioned by the FBI in connection with, among other things, the millennium bomb plot, which included a thwarted plan to set off explosives at the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999.
Authorities sent him to Jordan and Guantanamo, where his alleged brutal interrogation prompted a prosecutor to resign from his case. For most of his years at the base in Cuba he has been held with another man in their own section of the prison with special perks and privileges.
The publication of “Guantanamo Diary” prompted an international campaign by human rights groups calling for Slahi’s release along with the closure of the detention center in Cuba, where the U.S. now holds 76 men.
“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, a member of his legal team and director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.