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Guantánamo Diary Hardcover – Jan 20 2015
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"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
"A vision of hell, beyond Orwell, beyond Kafka: perpetual torture prescribed by the mad doctors of Washington."―John le Carré
"This is an incredible document, and a hell of a story."―Steve Kroft, correspondent for 60 Minutes
"Anyone who reads Guantanamo Diary---and every American with a shred of conscience should do so, now---will be ashamed and appalled. Mohamedou Ould Slahi's demand for simple justice should be our call to action. Because what's at stake in this case is not just the fate of one man who managed, against all odds, to tell his story, but the future of our democracy."―Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
"Here, finally, is the disturbing and stirring story the United States government tried for years to conceal. Mohamedou Ould Slahi's ordeal shocks the conscience, to be sure. But on display in these pages is something much deeper as well: an enduring faith in our common humanity, and in the power of truth to leap prison walls and bridge divides. With devastating clarity and considerable wit, Guantánamo Diary reminds us why we call certain things human rights."―Anthony Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
"Once considered such a high-value detainee that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld designated him for 'special interrogation techniques'....Slahi had been subjected to sleep deprivation, exposed to extremes of heat and cold, moved around the base blindfolded, and at one point taken into the bay on a boat and threatened with death....Slahi faces no criminal charges."―Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald
About the Author
Mohamedou Slahi was born in a small town in Mauritania in 1970. He won a scholarship to attend college in Germany and worked there for several years as an engineer. He returned to Mauritania in 2000. The following year, at the behest of the United States, he was detained by Mauritanian authorities and rendered to a prison in Jordan; later he was rendered again, first to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and finally, on August 5, 2002, to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was subjected to severe torture. In 2010, a federal judge ordered him immediately released, but the government appealed that decision. The U.S. government has never charged him with a crime. He remains imprisoned in Guantánamo.
Larry Siems is a writer and human rights activist and for many years directed the Freedom to Write program at PEN American Center. He is the author, most recently, of The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America's Post-9/11 Torture Program. He lives in New York.
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Top Customer Reviews
During his detention Mohamedou learned to speak and write in English, his fourth language. He took pains to learn an educated, professional form of English, not the crude curse-words of many of his captors. He hand wrote what may be one of the most difficult books to read, his "Guantanamo Diary". The original handwritten text is available at http://guantanamodiary.com/, which also has audio readings of extracts from the published book, which is available from Amazon.
He writes incredibly well, with humanity and understanding. Much of the book has been redacted, so it is full of black stripes, but it is amazing that this book exists at all, and represents an enormous amount of work on the part of his editor, Larry Siems, and a team of lawyers.
But the thing that makes it so difficult to read is that he was tortured so often and for so long that it becomes banal and repetitive. He was beaten up for praying. He was beaten up because he was not standing when a soldier entered the room, He was forced to drink salt water. He was taken for interrogation at the time he was meant to get his medicine, so he missed out. He was told that he had to keep his blanket neatly folded, which meant he could not use it to keep warm. His told that his family was threatened. He was humiliated, He was sexually assaulted. He was not fed.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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.
In 2001, at the behest of U.S. authorities, he was arrested --or kidnapped, depending on how you see it--in his native Mauritania, on the West coast of Africa, and secretly taken to a "black site" in Jordon where he was interrogated for eight months, then flown to Cuba.
At Guantanamo, military intelligence officers and guards subjected him to "special treatment," a protocol personally approved by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. This included 24-hour-a-day interrogation, beatings, sexual abuse, extended periods of sleep deprivation and enforced stress positions, withholding of food and medical care, and isolation so complete he did not know if it were day or night. His guards wore masks and the International Red Cross was prevented from meeting with him.
U.S. authorities were unable to find any crime with which they could charge him. In 2010, a federal judge ordered Slahi released.
Our government appealed this decision and Slahi remains, to this day, incarcerated at Gitmo.
You are excused for imagining Slahi's memoir would be filled with bitterness and invective. It is not.
In remarkably readable colloquial English--Slahi's fourth language, which he taught himself in prison--this young, pious Muslim details his treatment with poignancy and dark humor.
If anything, he under-reports the brutality, providing a just-the-facts description. Even so, readers will get a good sense of the day-to-day brutality, the nitty-gritty that news reporting cannot convey.
Where guards are kind, he says so. And where the U.S., CIA and FBI are stupid and cruel, he also says so.
Reading Guantanamo Diary, you realize that you are in the presence of an extraordinarily decent human being.
Slahi finished his hand-written manuscript in 2005. We have the published form--redacted, often clumsily, by military censors--because Slahi's attorneys fought for seven years to have it released. Larry Siems, author and human rights activist, edited the manuscript with a light hand, preferring direct impressions of Slahi to a tidy chronological tale. He did yeoman's work digging through public records and news reports in order to augment redacted passages with copious footnotes.
The ACLU is leading a campaign to free Mohamedou Slahi. You can find out more at [...]
Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian citizen who has been held in Guantanamo for 13 years, without charges, and who has experienced some of the most brutal interrogation performed at the facility—he has been tortured. He makes a compelling and seemingly open case for his complete innocence (and was cleared by Mauritania and Jordan before being extradited to the U.S. in 2002). A U.S. District Court judge ordered him released in 2010, but the Obama administration has appealed and he remains in Guantanamo to this day. At least one military interrogator resigned over his treatment. The book was written in 2005 and has been classified ever since, while the Slahi's pro-bono lawyers fought to gain access to it. It was finally redacted and published January 2015. The volume's editor, human-rights activist Larry Siems, writes of Slahi:
"He has the qualities I value most in a writer: a moving sense of beauty and a sharp sense of irony. He has a fantastic sense of humor. He manages all of this in English, his fourth language, a language he was in the process of learning even as he wrote the manuscript."
And all of these excellent qualities are harnessed in service of giving a precise, damning, humorously rendered detainee's-eye view of American intelligence proceedings. Slahi often makes points "to be fair" to his interrogators or guards, puts himself in their position, tries to understand how they've ended up where they are, mentions good treatment as well as bad, etc. He writes:
"If there's anything good at all in a war, it's that it brings the best and the worst out of people: some people try to use the lawlessness to hurt others, and some try to reduce the suffering to the minimum."
At first after being extradited to Jordan (per U.S. request) and interrogated there for 9 months, he reports being happy to be in American custody because, "I wrongly believed the worst was over, and so I cared less about the time it would take the Americans to figure out that I was not the guy they were looking for."
Slahi learned English in detention, from his guards and interrogators. There's a wonderful/horrible moment where he's being dragged along with a bag over his head noting some of the finer points of spoken English: "...at the same time I was thinking about how they gave the same order two different ways: 'Do not talk' and 'No Talking.' That was interesting"
Over time, he says, "those responsible for GTMO broke all the principles upon which the U.S. was built and compromised every great principal such as Ben Franklin's 'They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'" The abuses he writes about are chilling, from being forced to drink 22 ounces of water every hour for weeks at a time, sleep deprivation, beatings, stress positions, forced ingestion of seawater, isolation, enduring extreme cold, ice-torture, sexual assault and much more. One of the most surprising to me was that female interrogators seem to be routinely used to sexually harass, molest and humiliate the devout Muslim prisoners. What a great use of women in the military! The people responsible for coming up with these tortures shame and degrade American service-people.
Slahi eventually cracks under torture and confesses to anything and everything.
It's probably stating the obvious to say that I don't believe honorable people treat other human beings like this, whatever the ends may be.
I'll end with one of his closing statements:
"I have only written what I experienced, what I saw, and what I learned first-hand. I have tried not to exaggerate, nor to understate. I have tried to be as fair as possible, to the U.S. government, to my brothers, and to myself. I don't expect people who don't know me to believe me, but I expect them, at least, to give me the benefit of the doubt. And if Americans are willing to stand for what they believe in, I also expect public opinion to compel the U.S. government to open a torture and war crimes investigation. I am more than confident that I can prove every single thing I have written in this book if I am ever given an opportunity to call witnesses in a proper judicial procedure...."
Please everyone, buy the book and sign the petition. It is the least we can do.
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