From Germany to Guantanamo The Career of Prisoner No. 760
Part 3: 'Everyone Wanted a Piece of Slahi'
Unlike their US counterparts, German intelligence agents tend to take a more sober view of Slahi. A classified report states: "According to the outcome of the investigations, there is not only no evidence of any involvement by Ould Slahi in the planning and preparation of the attacks, but also no indication that Ressam and Ould Slahi knew each other."
Apparently the American and Canadian authorities had also failed to collect enough incriminating evidence against Slahi by early 2000. Astonishingly, after Ressam's arrest Slahi was permitted to leave Canada without further ado. However, he was taken into custody during a stopover in Senegal, where he was questioned about the thwarted Los Angeles attack and then released. He told his wife that he wanted her to know that he had never had and would never have anything to do with attacks in which women or children could be killed.
It sounded like a decision that had been reached after careful deliberation.
In May 2000, Slahi and his wife left Duisburg and returned to Mauritania, where he took a job with an Internet company, and where they lived with his family. But he remained in contact with friends in Germany, as evidenced by e-mails found on the hard drive of his computer that SPIEGEL has obtained.
On Dec. 31, 2000, a "Brother Ibrahim" from Germany wrote to him: "May Allah forgive us." Ibrahim's real name is Christian Ganczarski, a Muslim convert. Ganczarski, together with Mehdi, the Moroccan, and Slahi, the Mauritanian, formed the core of the Duisburg group.
Ganczarski is the man who received a call from Djerba in April 2002. The man calling him was the assassin who, a short time later, would use 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of liquid gas to incinerate a synagogue on the Tunisian island. He asked the German for his blessing. "Go in peace, and may God's mercy and blessing be with you," Ganczarski told him. Seventy-seven minutes later, 21 people died on Djerba, including 14 German tourists.
In May 2001, shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, there was a spike in traffic on Slahi's Web site. "It is possible that he used it as a message board, although we cannot say this with certainty," says Guido Rudolphi of Netmon, a Swiss Internet monitoring service, which analyzed the Web site.
Slahi was knowledgeable when it came to software and hardware. His job was to install Internet lines in many Mauritanian towns and villages. He even installed an Internet connection in the presidential palace in Nouakchott.
Then his marriage with Wafa fell apart, and she obtained a divorce in April 2001. Two months later, Slahi married his cousin Zara, a dark-haired, 17-year-old girl with soft features and a fondness for large amounts of jewelry. Sitting in a living room with thick, red carpets Zara, who lives with her parents today, says: "My husband is no terrorist. He never indicated to me that he had anything to do with these people." She says that on Sept. 11, her husband spent hours glued to the TV with her, unable to look away. "But he said nothing to me then, nothing at all," she explains.
Abducted and Tortured
Slahi was in the shower when the Mauritanian police came to his house at 5 p.m. on Nov. 20, 2001. It was Ramadan, and Slahi had just returned home from work. The policemen asked him to go to the station with them. Slahi left his house wearing a darrah, the traditional Mauritania robe, and holding his reading glasses in his hand. "Don't worry," he said to his mother, "I'll be right back." But he never returned.
He got into his gray Nissan and followed the officers' car. He was even not arrested, the police had been questioning him several times before already. But this time it was serious.
Slahi was questioned for seven days, by Mauritanian officers and by the FBI. On the eighth day, the Americans flew the prisoner to Jordan with the consent of the Mauritanian government. Jordan is notorious for torturing prisoners on behalf of the CIA, allowing American agents to keep their hands clean.
On July 19, 2002, Slahi was flown from Jordan to Afghanistan on a Gulfstream jet with the tail number N379P, an aircraft that was routinely used as a "torture taxi." In August 2002, the military took him to Guantanamo. As he was being driven to the detainee camp there, he saw concrete bollards inscribed, in capital letters, with the phrase: "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom."
The Mauritanian was tight-lipped, self-confident and incorrigible. He seemed like a fanatic.
In August 2002, an investigator with the Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), a Pentagon investigation unit set up specifically for Camp Delta, received orders to question Slahi and prepare an indictment against him. "We were told that Slahi was one of our most important cases," Britt Mallow, the former head of the CITF, told SPIEGEL. Mallow assembled a team and examined the evidence. "In the end, the only stuff we had was material from intelligence agencies -- and that stuff couldn't be used in court," says the former chief investigator.
In September 2002, two members of the BND and one member of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, were granted access to Slahi. They gave up after 90 minutes. According to the classified BND interrogation report, Slahi "attempted to provoke the interrogators with critical comments." The Office for the Protection of the Constitution agent coolly remarked that Slahi "said nothing that we didn't already know."
The American military and intelligence teams have a different interrogation system, in which detainees face questioning by various teams. These include, in addition to Pentagon investigators, FBI agents and members of the Joint Task Force, the hard-boiled military intelligence unit. "Everyone wanted a piece of Slahi," says Mallow.
The various investigators' powers and responsibilities are clearly delineated, at least in theory. The military police and FBI agents perform straightforward criminal investigation work, the basis for any indictment. The Joint Task Force, on the other hand, is responsible for obtaining intelligence-related information. The head of the unit, at the time, was General Geoffrey Miller -- the man who, a short time later, would be allowed to apply his inhumane methods at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, until the now-infamous images of naked prisoners on leashes triggered a worldwide scandal.
The FBI agents used a good cop, bad cop approach when questioning Slahi. One agent, a man with shoulder-length hair who had memorized the first few verses of the Koran, managed to gain Slahi's confidence. But then the FBI was taken off the case and it was turned over to the Joint Task Force agents.
Mallow, the former CITF chief, discovered, in a roundabout way, that "special interrogation methods" were about to be applied with Slahi. He knew what this meant, and he knew that the information extracted from prisoners using these methods is considered unreliable. "We were concerned that we would forfeit all chances of prosecuting Slahi if they used those tactics on him," says Mallow, who immediately told his supervisor about his concerns.
What happened next is worth noting. Members of the military police sent an e-mail to William Haynes, one of the closest advisors to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in the Defense Department. They warned that torture could jeopardize an indictment against Slahi, because courts can throw out evidence extracted under torture.
But their concerns were ignored, and on May 22, 2003, the case was handed over to the intelligence agents. On July 1, General Miller approved an interrogation plan intended to put the obstinate prisoner in his place. This included placing a hood over Slahi's head and forcing him to board a helicopter, so that he would believe that he was being taken to a different, even more horrible place where, as agents whispered darkly, "the rules are different."
Miller's plan also included 15-hour interrogation sessions with sleep deprivation, followed by a four-hour rest period. Another method described in a report released by the US Justice Department in June 2008 was to subject the prisoner to constant loud noise, to "destroy Slahi's concentration and make him afraid."
On July 17, the soldiers forced Slahi to strip down to his underwear. They mocked him for not having produced any children despite his two marriages, insinuating that he was lacking in sexual prowess, and they showed him pictures of naked women. When US officials later questioned him about detention conditions, Slahi told them two female soldiers had stimulated him sexually.
Camp officials sent a man to Slahi's cell who identified himself as "Navy Captain Collins" from the White House. In reality, the man headed a team at Guantanamo that specialized in "highly valuable prisoners." The bogus captain showed Slahi a fake letter with the words "Director of Intelligence of the US Army" on the letterhead. According to the letter, Slahi's mother was questioned because her son had been so uncooperative, and there was a chance that she too would be sent to Guantanamo. Collins also told Slahi that if he continued to refuse to cooperate, he would "disappear into a dark hole."
- Part 1: The Career of Prisoner No. 760
- Part 2: Slahi Denies Prior Knowledge of Sept. 11 Plans
- Part 3: 'Everyone Wanted a Piece of Slahi'
- Part 4: 'The Man with the Most Blood on His Hands'