13. Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

9 Feb

Guantanamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi

First up, this book is not depressing, and is fun to read. I realize that’s a weird thing to say about a torture chronicle written by a current Guantanamo detainee, but I lead with it because I bought it only from a sense of duty to know, as an American, what my government is doing. I cracked the spine with dread, and then was amazed to find myself uplifted, not by the crimes and injustices of the American government, of course, but by the ability of the author to remain human and humane in the telling of his ordeal. Guantanamo Diary is a page-turner and a classic of war literature and I beg everyone who reads my blog to buy it and, ideally, go sign the ACLU petition for Slahi’s release.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian citizen who has been held in Guantanamo for 13 years, without charges, and who has experienced some of the most brutal interrogation performed at the facility—he has been tortured. He makes a compelling and seemingly open case for his complete innocence (and was cleared by Mauritania and Jordan before being extradited to the U.S. in 2002). A U.S. District Court judge ordered him released in 2010, but the Obama administration has appealed and he remains in Guantanamo to this day. At least one military interrogator resigned over his treatment. The book was written in 2005 and has been classified ever since, while the Slahi’s pro-bono lawyers fought to gain access to it. It was finally redacted and published January 2015. The volume’s editor, human-rights activist Larry Siems, writes of Slahi:

He has the qualities I value most in a writer: a moving sense of beauty and a sharp sense of irony. He has a fantastic sense of humor. He manages all of this in English, his fourth language, a language he was in the process of learning even as he wrote the manuscript.

All of these excellent qualities are harnessed in service of giving a precise, damning, humorously rendered detainee’s-eye view of American intelligence proceedings. Slahi often makes points “to be fair” to his interrogators or guards, puts himself in their position, tries to understand how they’ve ended up where they are, mentions good treatment as well as bad, etc. He writes:

If there’s anything good at all in a war, it’s that it brings the best and the worst out of people: some people try to use the lawlessness to hurt others, and some try to reduce the suffering to the minimum.

After being interrogated in Jordan for 9 months he reports being happy to be in American custody because, “I wrongly believed the worst was over, and so I cared less about the time it would take the Americans to figure out that I was not the guy they were looking for.”

Slahi learned English in detention, from his guards and interrogators. There’s a wonderful/horrible moment where he’s being dragged along with a bag over his head noting some of the finer points of spoken English: “…at the same time I was thinking about how they gave the same order two different ways: ‘Do not talk’ and ‘No Talking.’ That was interesting”

Over time, he says, “those responsible for GTMO broke all the principles upon which the U.S. was built and compromised every great principal such as Ben Franklin’s ‘They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'” The abuses he writes about are chilling, from being forced to drink 22 ounces of water every hour for weeks at a time, sleep deprivation, beatings, stress positions, forced ingestion of seawater, isolation, enduring extreme cold, ice-torture, sexual assault and much more. One of the most surprising to me was that female interrogators seem to be routinely used to sexually harass, molest and humiliate the devout Muslim prisoners. What a great use of women in the military! The people responsible for coming up with these tortures shame and degrade American service-people.

Slahi eventually cracks under torture and confesses to anything and everything.

It’s probably stating the obvious to say that I don’t believe honorable people treat other human beings like this, whatever the ends may be.

I’ll end with one of his closing statements:

I have only written what I experienced, what I saw, and what I learned first-hand. I have tried not to exaggerate, nor to understate. I have tried to be as fair as possible, to the U.S. government, to my brothers, and to myself. I don’t expect people who don’t know me to believe me, but I expect them, at least, to give me the benefit of the doubt. And if Americans are willing to stand for what they believe in, I also expect public opinion to compel the U.S. government to open a torture and war crimes investigation. I am more than confident that I can prove every single thing I have written in this book if I am ever given an opportunity to call witnesses in a proper judicial procedure….

Please everyone, buy the book and sign the petition. It is the least we can do.





4 Responses to “13. Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi”

  1. Grab the Lapels February 18, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    Did he say more in the book (or did you read anywhere) how he was able to write his story? (Like, did the guards give him paper and pencil, and, if they did, were they reading his stuff?) Of course, I’m always picturing being held captive much like I see in James Bond movies, so I’m curious. It’s a fascinating story, so thanks for reviewing the book!

    • Valerie Stivers-Isakova February 19, 2015 at 1:06 am #

      After he gave up and confessed to everything his treatment became much better at GTMO. I’ve read that he lives in some comfort now and has a little garden, so possibly it was not so difficult to get the pen and paper. The wild thing to me is that the government, which was not constrained from abducting and torturing people, was somehow constrained from destroying the manuscript.

      I feel you are unlikely to ever be held captive! Let’s hope.

      • Grab the Lapels February 19, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

        I recently heard on NPR about a photojournalist named Lynsey Addario who was held captive. She just came out with a book about it this year (It’s What I Do). She described some torture on the NPR show, but also described some kindness, depending on the guards. The whole concept of capture/torture is just bizarre to me.

  2. isoldejpeg March 3, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    Reblogged this on mild und leise.

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