U.S. Fights Order to Release Guantanamo Detainee

September 17, 2010 - 4:51 AM

Gitmo, Guantanamo

Mohamedou Ould Salahihas been held without charge for eight years at the Navy-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lawyers will argue for his release before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday, Sept. 17, 2010. (AP File Photo)

Washington (AP) - The government is asking an appeals court to throw out a judge's order to release a Guantanamo Bay prisoner accused of recruiting Sept. 11 hijackers.

The 9/11 commission report described Mohamedou Ould Salahi as a significant al-Qaida operative who instructed hijackers how to reach Afghanistan to train for jihad. Salahi says he falsely admitted under abusive interrogation to arranging travel for some of the hijackers.

Salahi has been held without charge for eight years at the Navy-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and remains there as lawyers prepare to argue over his release before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled this spring that the evidence against Salahi was "tainted by coercion and mistreatment" and based on classified material that could not support a criminal prosecution.

"The government's case relies heavily on statements made by Salahi himself, but the reliability of those statements -- most of them now retracted by Salahi -- is open to question," the judge wrote in his order.

Justice Department attorneys argue that Salahi was a recruiter for al-Qaida who in October 1999 encouraged Ramzi bin al Shibh, Marwan al Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah to join. Al Shehhi and Jarrah became two of the hijackers and Bin al Shibh helped coordinate the 9/11 plot.

Salahi, born in 1970, admitted that while he was an electrical engineering student at the University of Duisberg in Germany in 1990, he traveled to Afghanistan and trained to fight jihad against communists. But he argued that he stopped fighting for al-Qaida in 1992 before the organization turned against the United States.

He was arrested in his home country of Mauritania 18 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. His lawyers say he was sent to Jordan and abused for eight months before being moved to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and finally to Guantanamo in 2002.

Robertson said Salahi was subjected to "extensive and severe mistreatment" at Guantanamo from mid-June 2003 to September 2003.

Robertson said that under coercive interrogation, Salahi confessed to arranging travel for several of the 9/11 hijackers and justified his assistance as "just" jihad. But he later said he did nothing more than give bin al Shibh and his friends -- not the hijackers -- lodging for one night two years before the attacks.

Salahi admits that he stayed in touch with friends who continued to support al-Qaida, including his brother-in-law, who was a high-ranking spiritual adviser to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Robertson said that although the evidence shows Salahi was an al-Qaida sympathizer who gave sporadic support to its members, he would not allow Salahi to be imprisoned indefinitely on suspicion that he could become a terrorist upon his release.