March 10, 2008 / 4:04 PM / in 11 years

Mauritanian was tortured in Guantanamo - lawyers

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Lawyers for a Mauritanian suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks and held at Guantanamo Bay have threatened to sue U.S., Jordanian and Mauritanian officials they accuse of responsibility for his torture.

Lawyers for Mohamed Ould Sillahi say the 38-year old Mauritanian engineer was arrested in November 2001 and sent to Jordan, where he was tortured for eight months before being transferred to Guantanamo and tortured again at the camp.

Sillahi’s legal team — three lawyers based in the United States, one in France and one in Mauritania — said he had been held for over six years without being notified of charges and refused access to his non-American lawyers.

“If our client is not freed, we will take all necessary action in the coming weeks,” Sillahi’s Mauritanian lawyer, Brahim Ould Ebetty, told Reuters in Nouakchott. “We will issue a legal case against the authors of his arrest in Mauritania and of his torture in Jordan and Guantanamo.”

They said he been subjected to “all forms of pressure and cruel and barbaric moral and physical torture.”

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Sillahi had been accused by a senior al Qaeda operative of helping assemble the cell which launched the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

But the newspaper said a senior U.S. military prosecutor had refused to proceed with the prosecution because he believed key incriminating statements from Sillahi had been obtained under torture.

Mauritania, an Islamic Republic straddling black and Arab Africa on the western edge of the Sahara desert, has long been an ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Sillahi’s lawyers say he is one of few detainees in Guantanamo to have been handed over by his home country. He was arrested while former President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, a strong U.S. ally overthrown in 2005, was still in power.

A senior judicial official in the former French colony said the government was talking with the U.S. embassy in Nouakchott about Sillahi’s case and had requested that he and another Mauritanian at Guantanamo be returned home.

“Since 2005 we have had our own anti-terrorist legislation which is capable of dealing with this dossier,” Daha Ould Teith, judicial affairs advisor at the foreign ministry, told Reuters.

“We want the families of these two Mauritanians to have open access to the prisoners and for they themselves to benefit from a fair trial,” he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he would like to close Guantanamo, which holds about 275 detainees, but which he has called a necessary tool in the war on terrorism.

Rights groups and some governments have said holding suspects for years without trial violates international law.

Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall

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