The Guantánamo Memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi
On the difficult business of writing, people of letters often like to quote a maxim attributed to Ernest Hemmingway: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Yet, we are not all so fortunate as to bleed metaphorically. You could call Mohamedou Ould Slahi one of the unlucky few for whom the bell tolls.
Slahi has been detained at Guantánamo since August 2002 under the authority of AUMF. After largely growing up in Germany, the native Mauritanian traveled to Afghanistan in late 1990 to train in an Al Qaeda camp and support the mujahedeen, whom the United States/CIA was covertly supporting at the time against Soviet invasion. After the conflict ended in 1992, Slahi severed ties with Al Qaeda and returned to Germany for studies—with a brief stint in Canada for a job—eventually returning home to Mauritania in 2000.
At the request of the U.S. government in 2001, Slahi was summoned for questioning by Mauritanian police and willingly complied, even driving himself to the police station. Despite Mauritanian officials publicly declaring his innocence, the United States requested that he be sent to Jordan for further questioning under the pretense that they believed him involved in the 2000 Millennium Plot. The reasoning was that a member of Slahi’s mosque was caught with plot-related explosives; ipso facto it was thought that Slahi must have indoctrinated this individual despite disavowing AQ in 1992. The Jordanians questioned Slahi under torture for seven months and concluded he was not involved in Millennium, but, unsatisfied, the CIA sent Slahi to Bagram then Gitmo for further torture and questioning. After being held at Guantánamo for eight years despite never being charged with a crime, a writ of habeas corpus granted Slahi's release on March 22, 2010. The Obama administration filed a notice of appeal days later. It’s yet to be announced when a U.S. District Court will rehear Slahi’s petition, but until then, he remains at Guantánamo. A more comprehensive timeline of Slahi's "endless world tour" of interrogation and detention can be found here.
This week Slate published select excerpts from a 466-page handwritten memoir Slahi wrote in prison from 2005-2006 that has just become unclassified. It is intensely disturbing. Providing an unprecedented window into a life of indefinite detention and torture, the sheer volume of manuscript pages underscores one person's attempt to comprehend a new life beyond comprehension. Foreign Policy called it the piece the U.S. government does not want you to read.
While the politics of the facility that CIA veteran Paul Pillar calls a "disgrace" are hotly contested, it's worth noting that however compelling this memoir, six prisoners at Gitmo do face formal charges relating to the September 11th attacks. So while Slahi's experience of a life suspended with no criminal charges is abhorrent, it is not the only story here, something that Slate largely glosses over. That said, six people are hardly a reason to spend $800,000 per prisoner a year (and our international credibility) to keep the place open. Read this now.