What can I say… that I’m astounded at the cruelty of people who are willing to torture someone with no evidence that he had committed a crime? That I feel pity at the ignorance of people whose blind hatred made them feel that their cruelty is justified?
Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s ordeal started in 2000. He was detained twice at the behest of the US — first by the Senegalese police and later by the Mauritanian authorities — and questioned by FBI agents regarding his alleged involvement in the Millennium plot. They concluded that there was was no basis to believe he was involved and he was released. The Mauritanian authority told Slahi that the Americans kept saying that he was linked to the Millennium Plot but didn’t give any proof. The Mauritanian authorities affirmed his innocence.
In November 2001, the Mauritanian police went to Slahi’s home and asked him to accompany them for further questioning. He went voluntarily and drove his own car to the police station. It turned out, his government had agreed to turn him over to the US authorities (and hence, violated Mauritanian law) and a CIA rendition plane transported him to a prison in Jordan, where he was tortured and interrogated for 8 months by the Jordanian intelligence services. Slahi was actually informed by the Mauritanian police that he would be in Jordan for only a few days for questioning and then he would be sent home.
Another CIA rendition plane retrieves Slahi from Jordan. He was stripped, blindfolded, diapered, shackled and flown to the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. After two weeks, he was transferred to Guantanamo. The American interrogators subjected Slahi to a “special interrogation plan” that was personally approved by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was tortured for months — during this time he was subjected to physical, psychological and sexual humiliations, death threats and threats to his family.
After Slahi disappeared, the Mauritanian authority misled his family that he was under their detention. His family learned the truth only after his brother read in the Der Spiegel that Slahi has been detained in a Guantanamo prison camp.
In 2005, Slahi wrote his writ of habeas corpus and after hearing his petition in 2010, Judge James Robertson ordered his release, but the Obama administration filed a notice of appeal, and Slahi remains in Guantanamo to this day. Judge Robertson’s order include a footnote that states that Slahi probably didn’t even know about the 9/11 attack and his time in US custody didn’t begin with allegations that he was a 9/11 recruiter.
It was also in 2005 that Slahi started writing his 446-page diary that is later published as this book. His lawyer fought for years to be have his diary released by the authority and it was finally published albeit many redactions. The editor, Larry Siems, cross-checked Slahi’s diary with official documents and found him to be a reliable narrator of what took place since his incarceration.
In chronicling his journey, Slahi recognizes the larger context of fear and confusion in which all the characters involved interacted and is able to transform even the most dehumanizing situations into a series of individual, human exchanges.
The American interrogators in their desperation to find guilt when there is none, used their imagination to make up for the lack of evidence. Slahi related how the interrogators were magically stuck with two words for more than four years. “What do you mean by tea and sugar?“, they asked. “I mean tea and sugar“, answered Slahi. The interrogators convinced themselves that Slahi was communicating in codes and insisted that he revealed the meaning of the non-existent codes.
One thing history taught me is that we as a species are incapable of learning from history. Why else would we allow cruelty and injustice to prevail time and again? While I hope this book will help end the injustice against people who have been incarcerated and tortured in Guantanamo prison for more than a decade, my hope is probably in vain. Read this book and ask yourself why we still allow barbarity in the twenty-first century. Get it from this store or that store.