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Guantánamo Diary Paperback – December 1, 2015
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A New York Times Notable Book of 2015
"A longtime captive has written the most profound and disturbing account yet of what it's like to be collateral damage in the war against terror."―Mark Danner, NYTBR, & Editors' Choice
"Slahi is a fluent, engaging and at times eloquent writer, even in his fourth language, English....Slahi's book offers a first-person account of the experience of torture. For that reason alone, the book is necessary reading for those seeking to understand the dangers that Guantánamo's continued existence poses to Americans in the world."
―Deborah Pearlstein, Washington Post
"A riveting new book has emerged from one of the most contentious places in the world, and the U.S. government doesn't want you to read it....You don't have to be convinced of Slahi's innocence to be appalled by the incidents he describes."―Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle
"Guantánamo Diary will leave you shell-shocked."
"Slahi emerges from the pages of his diary...as a curious and generous personality, observant, witty and devout, but by no means fanatical....Guantánamo Diary forces us to consider why the United States has set aside the cherished idea that a timely trial is the best way to determine who deserves to be in prison."―Scott Shane, New York Times
"An historical watershed and a literary triumph....The diary is as close as most of us will ever get to understanding the living hell this man--who has never been charged with a crime, and whom a judge ordered released in 2010--continues to suffer."―Elias Isquith, Salon
"Everyone should read Guantánamo Diary....Just by virtue of having been written inside Guantánamo, Slahi's book would be a triumph of humanity over chaos. But Guantánamo Diary turns out to be especially human. Slahi doesn't just humanize himself; he also humanizes his guards and interrogators. That's not to say that he excuses them. Just the opposite: he presents them as complex individuals who know kindness from cruelty and right from wrong."
―Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker
"The tragedy of Slahi's memoir is not just his grave abuse at the hands of U.S. officials. It is that....Slahi's account of life--if it can be called that--at Guantánamo is not the exception. It is the rule, and it continues today."
―Alka Pradhan, Reuters
"Guantánamo Diary stands as perhaps the most human depiction of an entire post-9/11 system."
―Omar El Akkad, Globe and Mail
"Literary history was made today with the publication of the first-ever book by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee....As astonishing as the scope of the abuse is Slahi's enduring warmth, even for his torturers and jailers."―Noa Yachot, Huffington Post
About the Author
Mohamedou Slahi was born in Mauritania in 1970. He has been detained at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. In 2010, a federal judge ordered him released--a decision the government appealed. The U.S. government has never charged him with a crime. He remains imprisoned in Guantánamo.
Larry Siems is a writer, human rights activist, and former director of the Freedom to Write program at PEN American Center.
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Again, I am not so naive that I don't think torture is going on for the sake of garnering information to protect our citizens. Some is expected and we tend to look the other way, the same way that we don't want to know about how our animals are slaughtered for consumption. I don't necessarily agree with it and it goes against the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of war. As quoted in the introduction, "Prisoners must at all times be humanly treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in custody will be prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention..."
The Geneva Convention is violated almost daily with Mohamedou and many of his fellow prisoners. While I can't comment on the innocence of the others since they are not sharing their story, I can say that Mohamedou was granted a release by a federal judge 5 years ago and has yet to be released or even charged with a crime.
So getting on to the story. Larry Siems has written a nice introduction. He has tried very hard to organize the information so that we have as much history and detail as possible. Mohamedou has also done a wonderful job of recounting the events of his life, sometimes in gruesome but not gratuitous detail. But the story is redacted, sometimes for three pages at a time, which makes for some stilted reading. Additionally, it jumps around in the timeline. After reading for a bit, it does get a little easier to stay on top of it but the redactions can be really frustrating at times.
Mohamedou has a wonderful way of looking at things. He is a prisoner for no apparent reason. He is beaten, subjected to extreme temperatures, restraints,deprivation, seclusion and extreme isolation, interrogated for days, months, and years, and had other atrocities beyond imagination. But he looks for the positive things in his days. Being forced to sit blindfolded next to another prisoner which was comforting just because he was touching another human being. The occasional guard or interrogator with a bit more of a conscience, ones who treat him with a little more respect and humanity. The ability to have a conversation with anyone. He is, by his account, a decent, intelligent man who was just trying to live a normal life when he was suspected of being involved in the Millennium Plot.
This is a hard read at times but Mohamedou presents it in such a way that he does not glorify or exaggerate. It is worth a read for us to open our eyes to the horrors of Guantanamo and probably many other prisons, including some housing Americans, under our care. We should be ashamed of the treatment of Mohamedou.
A little of Slahi’s story: he’s from Mauritania and when he was 18 went to college in Germany on a scholarship. In the early 1990s, he interrupted his studies to fight with al-Qaeda units against the communist government in Afghanistan (the U.S. supported anti-communist forces). He returned to Germany a few years later and got his degree. In November 2001 he went to his local police station in Mauritania to answer questions about suspected involvement in a terrorist plot – he’s been a prisoner ever since but never charged with a crime. He was rendered by the CIA to Jordan and Afghanistan for more interrogation before being sent to Guantanamo in 2002.
Slahi was one of two so-called “Special Projects” whose treatment Donald Rumsfeld personally approved – treatment that included extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation, frigid rooms, stress positions, and death threats against both Slahi and his mother. Military prosecutors have said that they declined to prosecute him because he was tortured or because they could simply not find anything to charge him with.
In 2010, a federal district court judge ordered him released, but the Obama administration successfully appealed and the case was sent back to the district court with instructions to use looser standards to decide whether someone can be held. And so Slahi remains locked up indefinitely, 13 years and counting -- for doing NOTHING.
If you want to try to do something about it, there's a petition to send him home at https://www.aclu.org/free-slahi
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I'd recommend this book to anyone wishing to be better informed on the U.S.Read more