Ten things you need to know about Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Mohamedou Ould Slahi

1. He’s just published Guantánamo Diary (Little, Brown and Company, 2015), the only written account by a current detainee. John Le Carré calls it “a vision of hell, beyond Orwell, beyond Kafka: perpetual torture prescribed by the mad doctors in Washington.”

2. Slahi is a Mauritanian, born in 1970, who went to Afghanistan in 1990 to fight against Communists. He trained with Al Qaeda, but broke all ties with the group in 1992.

3. In 2001 he was called by the police at his mother’s house in Mauritania. He turned himself in. He was detained by the U.S. in Jordan for 8 months, then taken to an Air Force base in Afghanistan, then imprisoned in Guantánamo in August 2002. He is still there.

4. He was accused of aiding in several terrorist plots, but there was no evidence. The U.S. government eventually concluded that he probably didn’t even know about 9/11.

5. In 2005, he began the diary. He wrote it in English, his fourth language, which he largely picked up from his guards at Guantánamo. The diary was declassified in 2012.

Guantanamo Diaries

6. The diary describes his treatment at the hands of his captors. This treatment includes extended sleep deprivation, shackling for days in a freezing cell, sexual assaults, and beatings, but the worst thing is living in constant fear. He writes: “There is nothing more terrorising than making somebody expect a smash every single heartbeat.”

7. He somehow keeps his sanity and his sense of humor. When asked to recount what he told his interrogators over a period of seven years, he replies, “That’s like asking Charlie Sheen how many women he dated.”

8. He retains a Mandela-like capacity for forgiveness. A message at the end of the book reads: “he holds no grudge against any of the people mentioned in this book, … he appeals to them to read it and correct it if they think it contains any errors, and … he dreams to one day sit with all of them around a cup of tea, after having learned so much from one another.”

9. U.S. government censors got hold of the book before publication and added 2500 black-bar redactions. Much of the censorship is absurd, e.g. removal of female pronouns and the word ‘tears’ blacked out when the author describes being moved by a guard’s kindness.

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10. An online petition run by ACLU is attempting to get Slahi released. Go to aclu.org/secure/free-slahi.

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