U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 36 mins

Guantanamo prison author arrives back in Mauritania

1 / 2

ince the September 11, 2001 attacks, about 780 inmates have been housed at Guantanamo Bay which President Barack Obama had vowed to close during his administration

ince the September 11, 2001 attacks, about 780 inmates have been housed at Guantanamo Bay which President Barack Obama had vowed to close during his administration (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards)

Nouakchott (AFP) - A Guantanamo Bay prisoner who wrote a best-selling book about his experiences in the military prison was reunited with his family in his native Mauritania after 14 years of detention, sources said.

The transfer of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, believed to be the last inmate from Mauritania held at the facility in Cuba, brings the prison's remaining population down to 60.

His case became a cause celebre after the publication last year of "Guantanamo Diary", in which he outlines his treatment at the notorious US naval base in Cuba and says he was subjected to torture.

Slahi, dressed in a traditional Mauritanian wide-sleeved robe known as a boubou, was greeted by his family and scores of friends as he arrived at his home in a working class neighbourhood of the capital Nouakchott.

In his first comments broadcast by national television, the former prisoner thanked the Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz for "his efforts to bring him home".

Appearing cheerful and in good health, he did not comment on the conditions he faced in detention, which featured heavily in his book.

Mauritania's official AMI news agency confirmed "the return by the American authorities to their Mauritanian counterparts of Mohamedou Ould Sellahy (or Slahi) after his release from Guantanamo".

AMI said the handover was the result of "diplomatic efforts over many years at the highest levels".

The US Defense Department announced his release in an earlier statement and said it was "grateful to the government of Mauritania for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility".

Rights group Amnesty International welcomed the release but said it was overdue.

"Mr. Slahi’s 14 years of unlawful detention and torture are unconscionable, and his transfer is long overdue," said Elizabeth Beavers, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA.

"His accounts of his treatment provided a chilling insight into the reality suffered by those unlawfully held for more than a decade without charge," she added in a statement.

- 'I started to hallucinate' -

Slahi, 45, was detained in his home country following the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, on suspicion of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to bomb Los Angeles in 1999.

He was taken to Guantanamo in August 2002 following interrogation in Jordan and Afghanistan.

In his book, Slahi described the toll of life inside the jail, saying: "I started to hallucinate and hear voices as clear as crystal. I heard my family in a casual familial conversation... I heard Koran readings in a heavenly voice."

He added: "I was on the edge of losing my mind."

A Mauritanian security source told AFP Slahi had arrived in the capital Nouakchott on Monday on a US military plane, and was met by the Mauritanian security services.

"He will not be free to move around immediately but has to be interviewed by the security services before being released," the source said.

US President Barack Obama wants to close the Guantanamo jail before he leaves office, but his efforts have faced stiff Republican opposition and time to shutter the prison is running out fast.

Still, the United States has in recent months accelerated the rate at which detainees who have been approved for transfer are released from the facility.

When Obama took office, there were 242 detainees at Guantanamo.

Amnesty in its statement said Obama "must close the prison at Guantanamo Bay during his term in office, and ensure accountability for the torture that many have suffered."