Inmate’s ‘Guantánamo Diary’ tells of captivity, interrogation and torture

Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Mohamedou Ould Slahi

A Mauritanian folktale tells us about a rooster-phobe who would almost lose his mind whenever he encountered a rooster.

“Why are you so afraid of the rooster?” the psychiatrist asks him.

“The rooster thinks I’m corn.”

“You’re not corn. You are a very big man. Nobody can mistake you for a tiny ear of corn.” the psychiatrist said.

“I know that, Doctor. But the rooster doesn’t. Your job is to go to him and convince him that I am not corn.”

The man was never healed, since talking to a rooster is impossible. End of story.

For years I’ve been trying to convince the U.S. government that I am not corn.

*******

These are words from the book “Guantánamo Diary” published in January by Mohamadou Ould Slahi, who has been imprisoned at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for over 12 years.

He has never been charged with a crime.

Despite President Obama’s vow in 2009 to close the prison, 122 men still remain of the total 779 that have been brought to Guantánamo since its opening in January 2002. Of these 122 men, 54 are scheduled for release, 35 face continued detention, 23 have been referred for prosecution, and 10 are facing criminal charges.

Although many stories are emerging from detainees that have been released and “resettled” back into society, “Guantánamo Diary” is the first book to come from a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. It tells an unsettling dark chapter in America’s “war on terror”—one of imprisonment, interrogation and torture.

Slahi’s “journey” began on Nov. 20, 2001, when Mauritanian police questioned him about the “millennium plot”—a foiled plan to bomb LAX airport. Since he had been detained, interrogated and released numerous times before, Slahi was used to the routine. He even drove himself to the police station.

Slahi fit the terrorist profile: He was young, Muslim, multilingual and well-educated. He fought in Afghanistan in the early ’90s, joining Al Qaeda’s jihad against the Soviet-backed communist regime.

According to an article in the New York Times, Slahi’s distant cousin and brother-in-law was an aide to Osama Bin Laden. While living in Montreal, Slahi prayed at the same mosque as Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested for attempting to bring explosives into the U.S. for the failed “millennium plot.”

So, it’s no surprise that Slahi ended up on the radar. Based on his history, the U.S. concluded that Slahi was a “senior recruiter” for Al Qaeda, even though Slahi claims to have cut ties with Al Qaeda in 1992.

Mauritanian authorities held and questioned Slahi for a week, but this time did not release him. He was boarded onto a CIA rendition plane and transferred to a prison in Amman, Jordan where he was held and interrogated for seven and a half months.

Then, on July 19, 2002, Slahi was stripped, shackled, diapered and blindfolded and put onto a plane for transfer to Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. He was held and interrogated at Bagram for two weeks.

On Aug. 4, Slahi and 34 other prisoners were boarded onto a military transport plane headed to Guantánamo. They arrived at the detention center on Aug. 5, 2002.

Once at Guantánamo, Slahi underwent the U.S. military’s “special interrogation plan,” which was personally approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Slahi was subjected to a number of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including extended isolation, often shackled to the floor in agonizing stress positions, beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, sexual abuse, harassment and humiliation, death threats to family members, and a simulated kidnapping-execution.

Guantanamo Diary book coverEXCERPT FROM THE BOOK (BLANKS ARE REDACTED WORDS AND SENTENCES):

Suddenly a commando team consisting of three soldiers and a German shepherd broke into our interrogation room. Everything happened quicker than you could think about it. __________ punched me violently, which made me fall face down on the floor.

“Motherfucker, I told you, you’re gone!” said _____. His partner kept punching me everywhere, mainly on my face and my ribs. He, too, was masked from head to toe; he punched me the whole time without saying a word, because he didn’t want to be recognized. The third man was not masked; he stayed at the door holding the dog’s collar, ready to release it on me.

“Who told you to do that? You’re hurting the detainee!” screamed _______, who was no less terrified than I was. _____ was the leader of the assailing guards, and he was executing _________________ orders. As to me, I couldn’t digest the situation. My first thought was, They mistook me for somebody else. My second thought was to try to recognize my environment by looking around while one of the guards was squeezing my face against the floor. I saw the dog fighting to get loose. I saw _______ standing up, looking helplessly at the guards working on me. “Blindfold the Motherfucker, if he tries to look –“

One of them hit me hard across the face, and quickly put the goggles on my eyes, ear muffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. I couldn’t tell who did what. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterwards, I started to bleed. All I could hear was _____ cursing, “F-this and F-that!” I didn’t say a word, I was overwhelmingly surprised, I thought they were going to execute me.

Thanks to the beating I wasn’t able to stand, so _____ and the other guard dragged me out with my toes tracing the way and threw me in a truck, which immediately took off. The beating party would go on for the next three or four hours before they turned me over to another team that was going to use different torture techniques. 

“Stop praying, Motherfucker, you’re killing people,” _____ said, and punched me hard on my mouth. My mouth and nose started to bleed, and my lips grew so big that I technically could not speak anymore. The colleague of _____ turned out to be one of my guards, ______________________________. _____ and __________ each took a side and started to punch me and smash me against the metal of the truck. One of the guys hit me so hard that my breath stopped and I was choking; I felt like I was breathing through my ribs.

I almost suffocated without their knowledge. I was having a hard time breathing due to the head cover anyway, plus they hit me so many times on my ribs that I stopped breathing for a moment.

Did I pass out? Maybe not; all I know is that I kept noticing _____ several times spraying Ammonia in my nose. The funny thing was that Mr. __ was at the same time my “lifesaver,” as were all the guards I would be dealing with for the next year, or most of them. All of them were allowed to give me medication and first aid.

*******

In 2005, three years into his captivity, Slahi filed for a writ of habeas corpus. He also began keeping a diary. Handwritten in English, his fourth language learned mostly from his time at Guantánamo, his diary recounted his life as he entered into U.S. custody—the rendition from his home country of Mauritania, his detention in Jordan and Afghanistan, and his imprisonment at Guantánamo.

Slahi’s 466-page manuscript, considered classified, was edited by the U.S. government, which added over 2,500 black bar redactions. Parts of the book have multiple pages completely blacked out. The Department of Defense claims the redactions protect U.S. personnel and national security.

Slahi’s attorneys pushed for a declassified version of the diary, which they gave to editor and human rights activist Larry Siems, who prepared it for print. The book contains footnotes by Siems obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and Slahi’s Administrative Review Board hearings.

On March 22, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson ordered Slahi’s release after reviewing the habeas corpus petition. He wrote, “The government’s problem is that its proof that Slahi gave material support to terrorists is so tainted by coercion and mistreatment, or so classified, that it cannot support a successful criminal prosecution.

“Nevertheless, the government wants to hold Slahi indefinitely, because of its concern that he might renew his oath to Al Qaeda and become a terrorist upon his release. That concern may indeed be well-founded….But a habeas court may not permit a man to be held indefinitely upon suspicion, or because of the government’s prediction that he may do unlawful acts in the future.”

The Obama administration filed an appeal, overturning Judge Robertson’s decision. The case was sent back for rehearing in 2010 and is still pending.

Slahi is currently being held under the authority of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF). He sits in the same cell where he wrote “Guantánamo Diary.”

The last page of Slahi’s manuscript is dated September 28, 2005: So has the American democracy passed the test it was subjected to with the 2001 terrorist attacks? I leave this judgement to the reader. As I am writing this, though, the United States and its people are still facing the dilemma of the Cuban detainees.

In the beginning, the U.S. government was happy with its secret operations, since it thought it had managed to gather all the evils of the world in GTMO, and had circumvented U.S. law and international treaties so that it could perform its revenge.

But then it realized, after a lot of painful work, that it had gathered a bunch of non-combatants. Now the U.S. government is stuck with the problem, but it is not willing to be forthcoming and disclose the truth about the whole operation.

Everybody makes mistakes. I believe the U.S. government owes it to the American people to tell them the truth about what is happening in Guantanamo.

So far, I have personally cost the American taxpayers at least one million dollars, and the counter is ticking higher every day. The other detainees are costing more or less the same. Under these circumstances, Americans need and have the right to know what the hell is going on.

by Jessica Crawford, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter