Guantanamo Diary

On Friday, 17th of April, ‘Guantanamo diary’ was presented ‒ the book written by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantanamo detainee, edited by Larry Siems, an American writer and human rights specialist.

The presentation of the book opened with a short recount of Mohamedou ‘s story, who arrived to Guantanamo in 2002 from Mauritania, and was one of the several people who went through one of the most meticulous torture programmes created by the CIA. Mohamedou  was a 9th child in a farmer family from Mauritania, and, being a successful student, got a scholarship to study engineering in Germany in the end of 80’s. After living some time in Europe, he, as many other young Muslims at that time, went to Afghanistan to fight the Communist regime with the Mujaheddin, and was trained in an al-Qaeda camp (al-Qaeda being an ally of the US at the time). After spending some time in Afghanistan, Mohamedou  returned to Germany, where he worked as an engineer. His first contact with the authorities happened in 2000, when he was in Canada, where he happened to go to the same mosque with the man behind the Millennium plot. The first investigation proved him innocent, and he was released. The US authorities being not happy with the results of the investigation, he was detained for the second time in Mauritania, where he moved to start his own business, in 2001, this time ending up in Guantanamo. In there, he was tortured, sexually abused, and forced to confess in crimes he never committed.

Guantanamo prisoners are not allowed to see anybody except for their attorneys, and all the information produced by them is classified material,  Siems explains. It took the writer and the prisoner’s attorneys seven years to declassify the diary Mohamedou wrote in 2005, after the tortures ended. He wrote it in English ‒ the language he learned in prison ‒ something that surprised Siems, as English was the language of his torturers. In the declassified manuscript, whole pages were blacked out ‒ and they are left this way in the printed version of the book. One of the subjects often censored by the authorities are mentions of female prison guards and interrogators, who, according to Siems, were often ordered to sexually abuse the prisoners.

Siems doesn’t hesitate to describe Mohamedou as a writer: ‘He experiences the world through all the senses, he has a great sense of irony and beauty’. One of the hurdles Siems had to overcome when working on the book was learning to trust his subject ‒ but as he worked on his diary and compared his record to that of the prison authorities, he came to a conclusion that he was a very reliable narrator. Another challenge for the writer was to find his own place in this story, as he couldn’t associate neither with the prisoners, nor with the guards, or interrogators.

The presentation of the book ended with a short description of Mohamedou’s life today: he’s still in custody in Guantanamo, but allowed to communicate with his family in Germany and Mauritania. His attorney was able to pass through a note: he holds no grudge against his torturers, and his dream is to have a cup of tea with them and understand what they have learned from one another.

Only this week, he was allowed to read the book ‒ a censored version of it, excluding author’s remarks and footnotes based on prison documents.

Daria Sukharchuk