March 22, 2010
by Stephen C. Webster
A terror war prisoner, once considered of such high value by the Bush administration that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered he be tortured, has taken his first step toward freedom thanks to a federal district court judge, who ordered the government to free him after nearly 10 years of imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay.
Though 39-year-old Mohamedou Slahi, an alleged 9/11 conspirator, won his habeas corpus appeal before U.S. District Judge James Robertson on Monday, he likely does not know it yet. That’s because the judge’s decision was classified, according to published reports.
“After the [9/11] attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower,” The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007.
After being captured and imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay, he was repeatedly subjected to torture by his American captors, with Rumsfeld himself ordering “special” interrogation tactics be set aside for Slahi.
“For a sampling of what Slahi experienced at Guantánamo, check out page 139 of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 2008 report into the abuse of detainees in the custody of the Department of Defense,” Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman noted.
The Senate report reads:
The memoranda indicate that, on several occasions from July 8 through July 17, Slahi was interrogated by a masked interrogator called “Mr. X.” On July 8, 2003 Slahi was interrogated by Mr. X and was “exposed to various lighting patterns and rock music, to the tune of Drowning Pool’s ‘Let The Bodies Hit [the] Floor.’” On July 10, 2003 Slahi was placed in an interrogation room handcuffed and standing while the air conditioning was turned off until the room became “quite warm.” The next day, Slahi was brought into the interrogation booth and again remained standing and handcuffed while the air conditioning was again turned off. After allowing Slahi to sit, the interrogator later “took [Slahi’s] chair and left him standing for several hours.” According to the memo, Slahi was “visibly uncomfortable and showed signs of fatigue. This was 4th day of long duration interrogations.”
On July 17, 2003, the masked interrogator told Slahi about a dream he had where he saw “four detainees that were chained together at the feet. They dug a hole that was six feet long, six feet deep, and four feet wide. Then he observed the detainees throw a plain, unpainted, pine casket with the number 760 [Slahi’s internment serial number (ISN)] painted on it in orange on the ground.”
On August 2, 2003 an interrogator told Slahi “to use his imagination and think up the worst possible thing that could happen to him” and asked him “what scares him more than anything else.”
“He’s been incarcerated, tortured and interrogated and rendered illegally,” attorney Nancy Hollander told The Miami Herald. “After almost 10 years the government has not been able to meet the minimal burden to detain him that’s required under habeas. He should be free.”
However, the government will not be freeing Slahi any time soon. First, government attorneys must decide whether they will appeal Judge Robertson’s secret decision.
Slahi’s case is made more notable by the involvement of a key Bush administration whistleblower, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, a government prosecutor who refused to bring charges against Slahi after learning of his torture.
“I felt like what had been done to Slahi just reprehensible,” Couch said during a Sept. 2009 interview with PBS. “For that reason alone, I refused to have any further participation in this case.”
“Slahi faces no criminal charges,” McClatchy Newspapers reported. “He arrived at Guantánamo in August 2002, nearly a year after he turned himself in for questioning in his native Mauritania in late September 2001 and found himself handed over first to Jordan for interrogation and then to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“He filed his petition for habeas corpus himself in handwritten English on March 3, 2005, on a form provided by prison camp staff.”