The Mauritanian and the renewed push to Close Guantánamo

“I am an example because the government’s suspicion that I was a criminal was totally and one hundred percent wrong. I was never charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. The only independent judge I ever faced during my ordeal had ordered my release after seeing the secret evidence that even I wasn’t allowed to see.”
Former Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Slahi, referred to as “The Mauritanian” by intelligence officials

In early February 2021, the Biden administration launched a formal review of the future of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Will there be a genuine commitment to truth, accountability and remedy?

Almost 800 men have passed through the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. As the facility enters its 20th year, 40 Muslim men remain there facing indefinite detention. Two of them have been there since the facility opened on January 11, 2020, and fifteen since that first year. All 40 men have been held for over 12 years. At least 24 of them were held in secret CIA custody prior to their transfer to Guantánamo, some for over four years.

Six men have been approved for transfer, but no efforts are being made to relocate them to a country where their human rights are not at risk. The last detainee to leave Guantánamo did so in 2018, based on a plea agreement from 2014. The slow moving Military Commissions set up to bring detainees to trial have only dealt with about a dozen cases and offer no actual justice to anyone involved: they are inherently unfair and deny detainees fair trial rights.

But if we are looking at the statistics, this is perhaps the starkest one: the number of people held accountable for torture or enforced disappearance – crimes under international law – committed by US personnel against detainees? Zero.

If anyone still needs persuasion that Guantánamo Bay should be shut down once and for all, the release of The Mauritanian is a timely reminder.

Mohamedou Slahi was arrested in Mauritania in November 2001, then subjected to rendition to Jordan, where he was held for eight months.  He was transferred to Bagram in Afghanistan in July 2002, then finally to Guantánamo on August 4, 2002.

In Guantánamo during 2003, Mohamedou Slahi was allegedly deprived of sleep for some 70 days straight, subjected to strobe lighting and continuous loud heavy metal music, threats against him and his family, intimidation by dog, cold temperatures, dousing with cold water, physical assaults, and food deprivation. He was also allegedly subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in Jordan, Bagram, and during his transfers. In April 2010, a federal judge ordered his release, noting that there is “ample evidence” that Mohamedou Slahi was subjected to “extensive and severe mistreatment at Guantánamo”. It would be six more years before Mohamedou Slahi would return to Mauritania, where he continues to face restrictions on his freedom of movement and ongoing demonization by the US government.

In 1999, Mohamedou Slahi moved from Germany to Canada, but left in January 2000 to return to Mauritania after what he describes as repeated harassment and interrogation by the Canadian officials. Throughout the following years, he would repeatedly be told that inaccurate information and questions provided by Canadian officials played a role in his interrogations and ongoing detention. He believes he was interrogated in 2003 by officials posing as RCMP officers — something that was known to have happened to Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at around the same time. The role of Canadian officials has never been investigated.


Read Amnesty’s new research on the ongoing human rights violations at Guantánamo Bay.


Let’s make sure the detention facility at Guantánamo never sees another anniversary.

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