In January 2015, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a prisoner at Guantánamo, will become the first prisoner still held to have his memoir published. Guantánamo Diary, which he wrote by hand as a 466-page manuscript, beginning in 2005, will be published in the US by Little, Brown and Company and in the UK by Canongate, and the date of publication is January 20, 2015. His lawyers tenaciously fought for seven years to have his diary declassified, and were ultimately successful, although parts of it remain classified. The publishers describe it as “not merely a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir — terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious”, and “a document of immense historical importance”.
A Mauritanian, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a cousin of Abu Hafs al-Mauritani (real name Mahfouz Ould al-Walid), a spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda, who disagreed with the 9/11 attacks, and he also briefly communicated with the 9/11 attackers while living in Germany. These connections led Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, to describe him as a “Forrest Gump” character, “in the sense that there were a lot of noteworthy events in the history of al-Qaida and terrorism, and there was Slahi, lurking somewhere in the background,” although, as Col. Davis stressed, in early 2007 “we had a big meeting with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice, and we got a briefing from the investigators who worked on the Slahi case, and their conclusion was there’s a lot of smoke and no fire.”
Ironically, Abu Hafs is now a free man, while Slahi is still held. Slahi handed himself in to the Mauritanian authorities on November 2001, and was then rendered to a secret torture prison in Jordan by the CIA, where he was interrogated for eight months until the Jordanians concluded that he was an innocent man. Nevertheless, the US then flew him to to Bagram in Afghanistan, and then on to Guantánamo, where “he was designated a ‘special project’ and subjected to isolation, beatings, sexual humiliation, death threats, and a mock kidnapping and rendition,” as his publishers explained — and as was mentioned in an article in the Guardian.
Abu Hafs, on the other hand, who had been on al-Qaeda’s shura council and had been the head of the sharia committee, fled to Iran after the 9/11 attacks, where he was held under house arrest from 2003 until April 2012. At that point, the Iranian government deported him to Mauritania. He was released on July 7, 2012 “after renouncing his ties to [al-Qaeda] and condemning the September 11 attacks.”
As for Slahi, in March 2010 US District Judge James Robertson granted his habeas corpus petition, and ordered his release, as I explained at the time, and in a subsequent article based on a detailed analysis of the judge’s opinion, “Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims,” but the government appealed, and the appeals court in Washington D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — vacated Judge Robertson’s ruling, and sent the case back to the District Court to reconsider.
Shamefully, Slahi’s case has not been reconsidered, even though the appeals court ruling took place nearly five years ago, in November 2010.
Three extracts from Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary were published by Slate last year, and, as the Guardian put it, they reveal “harrowing details of Slahi’s ordeals, from sexual humiliation to the freezing cold cell in which he was imprisoned.”
In one section, Slahi wrote:
The cell — better, the box — was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time. I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec[reation] time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off.
Larry Siems, who is the editor of Slahi’s diary and was previously the lead writer and researcher on The Torture Report, which provides a detailed analysis of the Bush administration’s torture program (and which I wrote about here), told the Guardian that Slahi’s ordeal “almost defies the imagination,” and that he “endured one of the most stubborn, brutal, and deliberate interrogations on record.”
Siems also said that the book “really shatters that secrecy that surrounds Guantánamo,” which “was devised in and for secrecy; secrecy was essential in order that the abuses that took place there could happen, and it was even more essential to conceal those abuses, and the many grave mistakes and bad decisions that accompanied those abuses, from public view. To maintain that secrecy, two groups of voices have been almost completely suppressed: the voices of the men and women who served in the facility, and found themselves in the middle of these terrible policies, and the voices of the prisoners themselves. Guantánamo Diary gives us both — which has something to do with why it remained classified for so long, I’m sure.”
Siems also said that, as a writer, Slahi “manages to do something that I think very few of us could do: he treats everyone he writes about as individuals, trying, as he puts it, ‘to be as fair as possible to the US government, to my brothers, and to myself’. In doing that, he renders an account of Guantánamo that is unlike anything we have seen before, one where humour and unexpected kindnesses exist alongside dumbfounding degradations and brutalities.”
Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander, called the book “a window into the prison in Guantánamo Bay, written by a young man who suffered physical and psychological torture but who can still separate the good from the bad and the truth from the lies and present it all in a language he learned from his guards … The reader will learn what the United States government has tried to keep secret.”
Hollander said that she saw Slahi at the start of the month, and he reported that he was “pleased” about the publishing deal, and “grateful to all the people who have made this book a reality.” She added, “He is well considering that he has been imprisoned for 14 years. His spirit remains strong and he is continuing to study. He can now read and speak in Spanish — his fifth language.”