WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge ordered on Monday that a man accused of having ties to some of the hijackers in the September 11, 2001, attacks, be released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi of Mauritania was described in the report of the 9/11 Commission that investigated the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as “a significant al Qaeda operative” who helped arrange for the Hamburg cell members to travel to Afghanistan for training.
The ruling by Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordering Slahi’s release from the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects, was classified.
A declassified version, with details of the judge’s decision, is expected to be released later. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency “was reviewing the decision.”
The ruling came as President Barack Obama’s administration has been struggling to close the Guantanamo prison. Obama has argued that anti-American militants have used it as a recruiting tool for their causes.
Some detainees are expected to be prosecuted, while others have been cleared for release, although the administration has had some trouble finding places to send them.
Obama officials have said that detainees who still pose a threat but win release through the courts could still be held under the Authorization of Use of Military Force that the U.S. Congress approved in 2001. The administration could also appeal the ruling.
In his habeas corpus petition in 2008 seeking release from the Guantanamo prison, his lawyers argued Slahi had been subject to harsh interrogation techniques authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In 1999, Slahi was well known to U.S. and German intelligence officials, although they did not know he was in Germany at the time, according to the 9/11 report.
He was approached by a few individuals interested in fighting in Chechnya, including two of the hijackers on September 11, and Ramzi Binalshibh, the roommate of a third hijacker, Mohamed Atta, the report said.
Instead, Slahi recommended they go to Afghanistan for training. They took his advice, met various al Qaeda members there and the plot began to take shape, the report said, citing intelligence and interrogations.
Slahi said he turned himself in to authorities in Mauritania weeks after the 2001 attacks and was taken to Jordan where he was interrogated for several months before being sent to Afghanistan and then to the U.S. prison in Cuba, according to transcripts of his American military tribunal proceedings.
During those proceedings, he also said he had been to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, received weapons training, and had been a member of al Qaeda, although he said he broke ties when he left the country in 1992, according to the transcript.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Peter Cooney