Diary from Hell

Guantanamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould SLahi, Edited by Larry Siems, 2015

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An ant’s eye view of the US rendition and torture program by a “high-value” (number one actually) detainee who still resides in GTMO. The only work of comparable depth and insight are the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the Soviet Gulags. How far the US has fallen. Most detainees were captured or handed over to the US for pitiful bounties in Afghanistan and Pakistan and tortured and even killed at Bagram Force Air Base in Afghanistan Many were then rendered to GTMO. Taxi to the Dark Side documents the torture death of an Afghan taxi driver at US hands.

Slahi’s story is quite different. As a young man, Slahi decided to join the Mujahdeen fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He was trained at an al Qaeda camp and joined the fighting briefly in 1992. This was the time that the Mujahdeen were supported and trained by the US in their fight against the Soviet occupiers. Slahi returned to Germany where he was studying for an engineering degree. A cousin of Slahi is Mahfouz Ould al-Walid who was spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks. Both Slahi and al-Walid severed their ties to al Qaeda. After completing his degree, Slahi worked for a small privately held German company. When Germany would no longer issue Slahi a visa, he moved to Canada for work. In Germany, Slahi attended the same Mosque as the 9/11 hijackers, and in Canada, he attended the same Mosque as the Millennium Bomber who planned to blow up LAX. One military officer briefly associated with the Slahi interrogation at GTMO called him a Forest Gump character, always present on the periphery of any significant terror activity.

The US asked a Canadian intelligence officer to investigate and interview Slahi and he so frightened Slahi that Slahi decided it was time to return home to Mauritania in January 2000. He was detained in Senegal at US request and questioned about the Millennium Bomb plot. He was cleared but the US had him rendered to Mauritania for further questioning. Mauritania cleared him and he finally returned home Feb. 18, 2000. On Sept. 29, 2001 the US had Slahi detained and questioned for two weeks while the FBI questioned him further about the Millennium Bomb plot. He was released but asked to come in for further questions on Nov. 20, 2001. He drove his own car to the station from which the US rendered him to Amman Jordan. He has been in US custody since.

Slahi grew up in Mauritania, a former French colony, so learned both Arabic and French at an early age. He has an ear for language and has traveled extensively. He can immediately identify the origin of any Arabic speaker which allowed him instantly to know he had been rendered to Jordan. Later at GTMO he was able to identify visiting torturers (“interrogators”) as being from Egypt or from Jordan. While studying in Germany, he quickly picked up German and became fluent. A computer he was carrying home was the one he used in Germany and while working for the private German company. The FBI seized it and had its contents translated from German to English. The resulting “English” was then translated into Arabic for the Jordanian “interrogators”. The resulting consecutive bad translations resulted in complete gibberish, nonsensical rubbish. Slahi found the incompetence amusing. He learned English at GMTO and constantly questioned willing guards about grammar and vocabulary. He says most guards used incorrect grammar and swore a lot, so learning correct English was a challenge. He persisted and started writing this diary in English in 2005.

Slahi also is gifted with a remarkable memory. He memorized the entire Koran at an early age, and when his personal Koran was taken from him at GTMO, he kept his mind sharp be repeatedly reciting the entire Koran to himself line by line over and over again. This memory extends to events, voices, and faces and he would be able to recall in great detail his experiences and the people involved at each step of his detention and interrogation. If there ever were a war crimes investigation his remarkable memory would contain a wealth of information, an ant’s view of the whole process.

Slahi thinks he was rendered to Jordan because the US was squeamish about torture immediately after 9/11. They quickly got over the squeamishness and found plenty of US sadists to perform their own torture. Slahi was rendered next to Bagram in Afghanistan and from there was rendered to GTMO. In each case, his captors tried to conceal his location but he always knew immediately where he was because of accents and other clues. He at first welcomed being brought to the US because he assumed the US would have to follow the law and he would have legal rights. He quickly learned how wrong this assumption was. He was further shocked to learn that the US considered him high-value detainee number one.

On the US use of Arabs for torturing detainees:

I felt ashamed that my people were being used for this horrible job by a government that claims to be the leader of the democratic free world, a government that preaches against dictatorship and “fights” for human rights and sends its children to die for that purpose: What a joke this government makes of its own people!

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Slahi’s torture at GTMO in 2002-2003 was personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld. It is well known that torture does not produce reliable intelligence. But at some point, torture victims will do and say anything to get the pain to stop. This moment arrived for Slahi when his prays had failed him and he knew he would either lose his mind or his life or both if the torture continued. So he made up a confession. His interrogators were also under enormous pressure to produce something for their superiors and so a kind of bargain was struck. Slahi puts this bargain beautifully:

If you’re ready to buy, I am selling.

Slahi confesses that he came to Canada with a plan to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto. Slahi had never even heard of this tower. The Interrogators were delighted and his conditions immediately improved. Interrogators told Slahi he had given them 85% and they needed the remaining 15%. This involved an incident in Germany when a 9/11 hijacker asked Slahi how to travel from Germany to Chechnya and Slahi told him he would look like a Mujahdeen if he traveled through any former Soviet state so he should travel through Afghanistan where he would fit right in. Interrogators wanted Slahi to confess to being a central al Qaeda recruiter for the 9/11 plot and for the Millennium bomb plot. The dates made no sense and Slahi knew such a confession would unravel. Instead he accused another guy in a Florida jail of being a drug smuggler. Slahi while making these “confessions” simultaneously is telling the interrogators they are not true. The interrogators are confused and suggest Slahi take a polygraph test. Slahi’s entire seven page description of this test is redacted. We gather the result were to convince the interrogators that he did not lie in the confession.

So you have interrogators who are prepared, schooled, trained, and pitted to meet their worst enemies. And you have detainees who typically were captured and turned over to US forces without any proper judicial process. After that, they experience heavy mistreatment and found themselves incarcerated in another hemisphere, in GTMO Bay, by a country that claims to safeguard human rights all over the world — but a country that many Muslims suspect is conspiring to wipe the Islamic religion off the face of the earth.

In 2005 Slahi wrote this diary and a petition for habeas corpus. In 2008 the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees have a right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus. In 2010 a judge granted Slahi’s habeas corpus petition and ordered his release. The government appealed and the case is still pending.

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This book is heavily redacted throughout in one of the clearest possible examples of the misuse of classification sited in Lords of Secrecy that classification should never be used to cover up illegality, war crimes, or war criminals. There is no other reason than to protect the identity of war criminals and their crimes than the redactions in this book. It took the government all these years to clear the diary, first written in 2005 for publication. This is shameful and inexcusable.

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