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Last Mauritanian prisoner in Gitmo pleads for a case review

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, author of ‘Guantánamo Diary,’ wants the hearing he was promised

Lawyers for the last Mauritanian prisoner in the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba asked a federal judge on Tuesday to order the Defense Department to grant their client a parole-like hearing to determine if his ongoing detention without charge should continue.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary,” hasn’t yet been allowed to plead his case in front of a U.S. government interagency Periodic Review Board (PRB), which could clear him for release or transfer from the prison.

“Despite years of asking for that PRB to be held, Mr. Slahi still hasn’t received it,” said the prisoner’s lead counsel Hina Shamsi, who argued the case Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

In theory, his case should have already been heard. The PRB was established by an executive order in 2011 to review cases of Guantánamo prisoners and determine whether they pose a “continuing significant threat” to U.S. security.

All prisoners were supposed to have their cases reviewed within a year. To date, only 19 out of dozens have been heard to conclusion, with prisoners being cleared for transfer in 16 of them.

The majority of prisoners who haven’t been charged and are not cleared for transfer are still waiting for their hearings. “It’s really a black box,” said Shamsi, who is also the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. “We’ve asked repeatedly, ‘Can you tell us even when we might get notice of when [Slahi’s] hearing will be held?’ and we’ve been told, ‘No, we can’t even tell you that information,’ and that is why we are going to court. This has gone on long enough.”

They PRB differs from the Guantánamo habeas corpus proceedings, which are meant to assess if an individual is lawfully detained according to the authorization for use of military force (AUMF), passed by Congress in 2001.

In Slahi’s habeas case, a district judge in Washington, D.C., sided with him in 2010 and ruled that he was not lawfully held because he was not — as the United States alleged — “part of” Al-Qaeda. The following year, however, the D.C. circuit court vacated the case, citing in part the need for additional fact finding.

That habeas case is lingering in the courts.

Slahi and his lawyers said there is reason to believe that the “Defense Department’s ongoing refusal to comply with the PRB requirements is aimed at prolonging Mr. Slahi’s detention for the purpose of interrogation — in violation of the AUMF, the Constitution and international law,” according to a court filing in the case. 

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said the scheduling of PRB hearings is subject to many factors.

"The timing of a periodic review board for a particular detainee is a function of many variables including, but not limited to, the quantity and type of information available about a detainee and the length of time a detainee, his personal representative and private counsel, if any, need to prepare for the board," Ross said.

Mauritania has said it would take Slahi back, as it did last month with Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who had long been cleared for transfer from Guantánamo.

Slahi was rendered by the CIA from Mauritania in 2001 — far from any battlefield — and sent to Jordan, Afghanistan and then Guantánamo. He was tortured.

Then–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is said to have approved “special interrogation techniques” used on Slahi, because he was considered a high-value detainee.

“This is a man who never should have been picked up and held at Guantánamo, and yet he’s still there 14 years later,” Shamsi said. “The U.S. government never had a legal basis to detain Slahi. It subjected him to terrible torture regimes, some of the worst torture that was authorized at Guantánamo. It kept him locked up without giving him a meaningful process to show why his detention is unlawful — and that really is the bottom line.”

It has been more than 10 years since Slahi completed “Guantánamo Diary.” The manuscript’s last page is dated Sept. 28, 2005.

In the memoir, he asks, “What do the American people think? I am eager to know. I would like to believe the majority of Americans want to see justice done, and they are not interested in financing the detention of innocent people.”

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