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Canada's Gitmo Dilemma

Six detainees seek refugee status north of the border.

11:00 PM, Feb 4, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Over the past several weeks, the Canadian press has reported that at least six detainees currently held at Guantanamo are interested in seeking refugee status north of America's border. But the Canadian government should be wary of accepting them. Canadian officials should carefully evaluate their cases, including the unclassified files the U.S. government has released for each of them. Three of the six detainees have especially troubling ties to al Qaeda. And there is no question that one of them is an exceptionally dangerous threat.

Consider the case of a Mauritanian named Mohamedou Slahi, who spent only a few months of his pre-Guantanamo life in Canada. During his hearings at Guantanamo, Slahi expressed an interest in returning to Canada. It would be surprising, however, if the Obama administration set him free. There is little doubt that Slahi was an important al Qaeda recruiter, who operated in the West for the better part of a decade.

Among Slahi's most notorious recruits were four of the September 11 conspirators, all of whom were members of the infamous Hamburg cell. According to the U.S. government's unclassified files and the 9-11 Commission's report, Slahi arranged for Ramzi Binalshibh, al Qaeda's point man for the September 11 operation, and three of his cohorts to travel from Germany to Afghanistan so that they could train in al Qaeda's camps and swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Binalshibh's three friends were Mohammed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah--the suicide pilots of American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, and United Airlines Flight 93, respectively.

Along with Binalshibh, Shehhi and Jarrah met with Slahi in late 1999. They followed Slahi's instructions on how to get to Afghanistan for training and who to meet with along the way. Atta followed Slahi's instructions as well, and all four the future hijackers left for Afghanistan in November of 1999.

The rest is, unfortunately, history.

After recruiting the Hamburg cell, Slahi left for Montreal the next month, in December of 1999. There, he began attending a local mosque where he was tasked with reciting the daily prayers and met an Algerian immigrant named Ahmed Ressam. Within weeks of Slahi's arrival, Ressam was arrested on the Canadian-U.S. border in a car packed with explosives. Ressam was en route to the LAX airport, where he hoped to take part in al Qaeda's planned millennium bombings.

The U.S. government has long suspected that Slahi activated Ressam's cell for the millennium plot. The government's unclassified files note that Slahi is "a suspected facilitator of the failed millennium bombing conspiracy." Shortly after Ressam was detained, Canadian and U.S. authorities began investigating Slahi, but they did not have enough evidence to arrest him. Feeling the heat of the investigation, Slahi left Montreal in January of 2000--just a short time after arriving there. He was later questioned by various governments and eventually detained in Mauritania in November of 2001.

Slahi's detention at Guantanamo has been controversial because of the interrogation techniques used on him. Lt. Col. Stuart Crouch, the prosecutor who was charged with seeking Slahi's conviction by a military commission, decided he could not move forward with Slahi's prosecution because the evidence was tainted by these techniques. But this does not mean that Slahi is an innocent. Crouch himself told the Wall Street Journal in 2007, "Of the cases I had seen, [Slahi] was the one with the most blood on his hands."

And while Slahi denied many of the allegations against him during his hearings at Guantanamo, he made some important admissions as well. Slahi admitted that he swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden, and was trained in al Qaeda's notorious al Farouq camp.

Slahi's denials at Guantanamo are also not credible. For example, Slahi admitted that he transferred a large sum of money that was linked to al Qaeda, but claimed he did not know it was for terrorist purposes. Slahi claimed he moved the money for a cousin who called him from a satellite phone linked to Osama bin Laden, but Slahi says he did not know bin Laden was involved. Slahi's cousin is Abu Hafs the Mauritanian--a senior al Qaeda theologian and long-time spiritual advisor to bin Laden.