End 20 Years Of Injustice

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz: A Profile of the Mauritanian Teacher Still Awaiting Release from Guantánamo

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, as seen in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.

On Friday, the hopes of those of us campaigning for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba were briefly raised when it was reported that the last two Mauritanian prisoners at Guantánamo had been released, along with another Mauritanian held in Afghanistan. It later turned out that only the latter was returned to his home country.

This is, of course, distressing news for the families of the two men still in Guantánamo -- and especially for the family of one of the men, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, because he is one of 56 prisoners told in January 2010, after deliberations by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama, that the U.S. no longer wanted to continue holding him, and would be arranging for his return to his home country.

That document told him he had been “cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo,” and informed him, “The U.S. government intends to transfer you as soon as possible.”

While we wait for President Obama to fulfill the promise he made on May 23 to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo -- a promise that he made in a major speech on national security at the National Defense University at Fort McNair -- we would like to share with you some comments we have just received about Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz from his Denver legal team, John Holland, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, which, we believe, provides a powerful insight into this cultured and intelligent man, who, like many of the prisoners at Guantánamo, has a son he has never seen, who was born after his capture, in a house raid in Pakistan in June 2002.

We very much hope that, as the President and his administration resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as promised, Ahmed will be returned home in the near future, to be reunited with his wife, and, finally, to be able to be a father to his son.
- Andy Worthington, June 5, 2013

A profile of Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz
By John Holland, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman

I vividly remember seeing Ahmed holding the letter notifying him of his clearance. He was so grateful. He was so hopeful. That clearance is approaching 4 years old now.

Ahmed has not been accused of committing any crime. He has never been accused of hurting anyone. As a young man he made his living in Kandahar by teaching Arabic and Islam to children. He has still never seen or spoken to his son, as his wife was pregnant at the time of his arrest and sale for a bounty. In fact, we brought the first pictures of his son to him.

More than anything on earth, Ahmed wants to be with his wife and his son. He wants to help her raise him during the remaining formative years of his life.

In our encounters, Ahmed has been a man of conscience and religious principle. As a younger intelligent person who was in Afghanistan to teach the Koran and Arabic, he had the curiosities of youth. But he was not connected to 9/11. He is not a violent man nor one who believes in blind obedience or fealty. He has been cleared for release by the Presidential Inter Agency Review Team.

Ahmed is an educated and cultured man. He speaks several languages fluently including French, English and Arabic. He is very engaging, likable and has a very sharp wit. He is also an inveterate reader with widespread interests ranging from literature, to physics, to all forms of religious thought, to developments in space, politics, inventions and nature.

I asked him how he persevered with all he has suffered while imprisoned. He said in response that he endures because he “resides in the immortality of my soul.”

In one of our earliest visits he remarkably told us there was an unrepresented young man, Mohammed Al Amin, who, whatever else we did, we must help. This young man was released in 2007 with the joint help and cooperation of both our and the Mauritanian government.

We were briefly thrilled this weekend at the prospect that our client who has been cleared for release for years had actually been released.

That unfortunately proved to not yet be the case. Ahmed unjustly remains held without charge despite having been cleared. As he has long observed about this continuing situation: "We are living in a grave here."

The United States obviously can readily arrange to return detainees back to Mauritania and anywhere else if it wants to -- as it has just shown by reportedly sending a military plane with a detainee from Bagram back to Mauritania. Ahmed has been held many years longer than the man just sent back to Mauritania for legal proceedings. We are sad that though cleared for release for years he was not the one who was transferred. He remains in Guantánamo, still never having met his son.

We remain hopeful that President Obama's speech will translate into just transfer actions soon, and that Mr. Aziz will soon be reunited with his family, along with the many others who have also been cleared.