Guantánamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Over the weekend I read Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s remarkable Guantánamo Diary, which tells the story of his “rendition,” interrogation, and torture & captivity at the U.S. torture camp at Guantánamo Bay.

Guantánamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Slahi has been imprisoned since 2001, and the U.S. government, unable to come up with any crimes to charge him with, has put him in the category of “too dangerous to release but not feasible for prosecution.”

The only real evidence against him seems to be confessions he made under torture, and several prosecutors have resigned rather than try to present such evidence in court. When even a prosecutor, even a military prosecutor, even a military prosecutor specially picked to preside over Guantánamo show trials, refuses to shame himself by collaborating with torture and rigged proceedings… and so does his successor… and his successor… Well, you’d have to be a pundit or a politician not to be ashamed and disgusted.

Slahi’s book is excellent. It will probably be enshrined as one of the best prison memoirs.

Slahi taught himself English, largely while in captivity, and what his writing lacks in vocabulary, it makes up for in wit. The author has an excellent memory, which helps him describe the various aspects of his imprisonment, interrogation, and torture vividly. And he has a warm, generous, humble, revealing nature, that has remarkably survived his years of captivity and brutal physical and psychological torture.

The book has been assembled by editor Larry Siems from a set of reminiscences that were written by Slahi and, after a difficult legal battle, were cleared for release to the public after being censored by agents of the U.S. government. Slahi and Siems were not permitted to communicate with each other directly, so Siems was forced to assemble the manuscripts according to his best instincts. The result is unpolished, as tone sometimes abruptly changes, chronology is sometimes difficult to follow, and some anecdotes are repeated.

The government redactions are preserved as black-boxes in the text, much as they are found in the original handwritten manuscript (images of some pages are included in the book). These redactions are often bizarre and contribute to the book something like a second author or character whose destructive and sometimes ridiculous censorship is, from a literary point of view, a valuable foil to Slahi’s open-heartedness.

Slahi is still imprisoned at Guantánamo, as are many others. His torturers are still collecting government paychecks or pensions, as are those who ordered the torture, and those who continue to cover it up.