The hoopla over President Obama’s statements on the Guantanamo Bay prison yesterday have obscured the reality of the situation. Sometimes broad talk of policy questions get in the way of the truly revealing details.
But now we have an opportunity to get really specific. In 2006, Mohamedou Ould Slahi finished a memoir detailing his capture in 2001, his rendition flights to Jordan and Afghanistan, and finally his torture and mistreatment at the hands of US interrogators while serving time in Guantanamo Bay prison. After more than a decade in prison, he has never been charged with a crime.
For a time, Slahi’s memoir was kept a secret by the U.S., which refused to let him publish it. Now, it is being partially published, although with heavy redactions. Slate has posted a three-part series of excerpts from Slahi’s 466-page partially declassified manuscript.
What does this have to do with Obama’s sweeping criticisms yesterday of the indefinite detention center at Guantanamo?
When the Bush administration sent Slahi to Jordan to be tortured, investigators were trying to pin him for involvement in the so-called “Millennium Plot,” a terrorist plot hatched in Canada to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999. Years earlier, Canadian intelligence and Slahi’s own government in Mauritania had cleared him of any involvement, which obviously didn’t matter to the Bush administration. But then after eight months of interrogation, Jordanian authorities also concluded Slahi had nothing to do with the Millennium Plot. That’s when the US snagged him again, flew him to Bagram and then to Guantanamo.
“The man first assigned to prosecute [Slahi], Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, withdrew from the case when he discovered Slahi had been tortured,” writes Larry Siems in Slate‘s introduction to Slahi’s memoirs. “When Couch’s boss, former Guantánamo chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis, met with the CIA, the FBI, and military intelligence in 2007 to review Slahi’s case, the agencies conceded they could not link him to any acts of terrorism.”
Then, in 2010, U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson granted Slahi’s habeas corpus petition and ordered his release. The Obama administration appealed that ruling and to this day refuses to release Slahi, who has been cleared of any involvement in any terrorist plot by every imaginable government investigator that could conceivably be involved in his case.
And that’s why Obama’s statement that Guantanmo “needs to be closed,” is utterly meaningless.