WASHINGTON — Appeals court judges deciding whether to release a Guantanamo Bay detainee asked yesterday: If once an Al Qaeda member, always an Al Qaeda member?
The Obama administration has appealed an order for the release of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who has been accused of helping recruit Sept. 11 hijackers. A lower court judge said Salahi should be freed because he was abused by interrogators at the naval-run prison in Cuba and later retracted his confession to arranging travel for two hijackers.
Salahi admits he joined Al Qaeda in the early 1990s to fight communists in Afghanistan. But he says he stopped fighting for the organization before it turned against the United States.
However, the 9/11 commission report described Salahi as a significant Al Qaeda operative who instructed hijackers how to reach Afghanistan to train for jihad.
Salahi was arrested in his home country of Mauritania 18 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
His lawyers say he was sent to Jordan and abused for eight months before being moved to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and finally to Guantanamo in 2002.
US District Judge James Robertson ruled in the spring that the evidence against Salahi was “tainted by coercion and mistreatment’’ and based on classified material that could not support a criminal prosecution.