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06/03/2013

Guantanamo, Afghanistan and the mysterious Mauritanian

GTMO-sunsetSm
Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta, October 24, 2010.  (MICHELLE SHEPHARD/TORONTO STAR )

When news first broke Friday that the U.S. had transfered detainees to Mauritania, the local Nouakchott press reported they were from Guantanamo.

One of the detainees, the report stated, was former Montreal imam, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian who has been in Guantanamo Bay since 2002. (Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin has a fascinating account of Slahi and a Guantanamo prosecutor in an Atlantic Monthly excerpt of his book The Terror Courts. Slate Magazine also recently featured a diary written by Slahi).

Was this U.S. President Barack Obama making good on his recent pledge to start closing Guantanamo? Well, Guantanamo-watchers were wary of the news, especially since Slahi is not one of the 86 detainees (out of 166 remaining) that the Pentagon has cleared for transfer. The report ended up being incorrect. Slahi's lawyer confirms her client is still in Gitmo.

A detainee had been transfered it seems, just not from Guantanamo. According to Reuters, Abderhamane Ould Mohammed Al-Hussein, better known as Younis Al Mauritani, had been transfered from Afghanistan. The story seemed to die there.

But the transfer raises a few interesting questions. Who is he, why was he transfered and is he in custody in Mauritania? Younis Al Mauritania was reportedly captured in a joint operation between Pakistan and the U.S. in September 2011. A White House spokesperson called him a "senior Al Qaeda operative."

Aside from the significance of the transfer, it is interesting to note the difference as to how things operate and the level of scrutiny (and politics) in Afghanistan, as opposed to Guantanamo. Andrea Prasow, Human Rights Watch's senior counterterrorism counsel, argues that this case highlights the double standard. Why, she asked in an email to the Star, does Congress restrict Guantanamo transfers, when commanders in Afghanistan are "exercising their traditional authority to decide to release someone?"

States Prasow: "The fact that Congress has attempted to limit that authority with respect to detainees, some of whom have been held for over a decade and who have no battlefield to return to, demonstrates how political and removed from reality Guantanamo has become."

Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of"Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm

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