January 21, 2015

Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s book released


Guantanamo via Shutterstock.

Guantanamo via Shutterstock.

After six years and 2,500 redactionsthe first book by an imprisoned detainee is in print. Mohamedou Ould Slahi, also known as prisoner number 760, has unveiled the details of his experience after more than thirteen years in detention.

Guantanamo Diary was written in English–the author’s fourth language–beginning in 2005, the first year he was allowed pen and paper. A grueling six-year legal battle between Slahi and the U.S. passed before the text could be declassified. It was published yesterday by Little, Brown in the U.S. and Canongate in the UK. (Also recently declassified: Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Torture.)

Slahi was initially imprisoned in Mauritania, his native country, eighteen days after the September 11 attacks. He was transferred to black sites in Jordan and Afghanistan before ending up in Guantanamo. Though Slahi was cleared for release in 2010, Spencer Ackerman and Ian Cobain of The Guardian  report that he probably won’t be out for another year.

A full handwritten account of his first draft has been declassified and released to the public. It begins:

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He chronicles episodes of torture, from cleaning his toilet with his only uniform to being beaten while submerged in ice, to prevent bruising. Also: sleep deprivation, sexual assault, being forced to drink salt water, and being exposed to extreme temperatures. He’s reminded continuously that he fits the exact profile of any suspected terrorist, considering his education, his loyalty to al-Queida (in a time the U.S. indirectly supported it), his religion and his travel.

At one point an officer points to a sheet of paper that says Slahi is the #1 “worst person” at Guantanamo. “Slahi’s memoirs are filled with numbingly absurd exchanges that could have been lifted whole cloth from ‘The Trial,'” writes Mark Danner in a review for the New York Times.

Lucy Popescu of The Independent praises the author’s poise and his sense of humor. She writes:

His turn of phrase, obviously picked up from his jailers, “for Pete’s sake”, “dead right”, “that’s very convenient” and “if you’re buying, I’m selling”, are strangely endearing. They remind us of Slahi’s humanity and his sense of kinship with his abusers. Despite the cruelty of solitary confinement, Slahi finds solace in unexpected places. Deprived of any sensory material, he reads again and again the tag on his pillow. Slahi’s humour also shines through. When the guards decide Slahi is to be nicknamed “Pillow” and he has to give them names of characters from Star Wars, Slahi comments wryly, “I was forced to represent the forces of Evil, and the guards the Good Guys.”


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.