From inside Guantanamo Bay, diary of a detainee

An excerpt from a newly released memoir detailing the horrors of being a Guantanamo detainee.

U.S. military, a U.S. trooper stands in the turret of a vehicle with a machine gun, left, as a guard looks out from a tower at the detention facility of Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. [AP]
A guard looks out from a tower at the detention facility of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba [AP]

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian national, voluntarily turned himself in for questioning at the request of authorities in his home country in November 2001. The US then rendered him to Jordan, where he was interrogated for months. He was then shipped off to Bagram, Afghanistan and then on to Guantanamo in August 2002, where he has been held without charge ever since.

Slahi wrote about his torture in the US military’s island prison and the journey that led him there in his book, Guantanamo Diary, which is now out in paperback.

Human beings naturally hate to torture other human beings, and Americans are no different. Many of the soldiers were doing the job reluctantly and were very happy when they were ordered to stop. Of course, there are sick people everywhere in the world who enjoy seeing other people suffering.

But generally, human beings make use of torture when they get chaotic and confused. And Americans certainly got chaotic, vengeful, and confused after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

At the direction of President Bush, the US began a campaign against the Taliban government in Afghanistan. On September 18, 2001, a joint resolution of Congress authorised President Bush to use force against the “nations, organisations, or persons” that “planned, authorised, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or harboured such organisations or persons”.

Then the US government started a secret operation aimed at kidnapping, detaining, torturing, or killing terrorist suspects, an operation that has no legal basis.

Gitmo Gif guantanamo [Al Jazeera]
Gitmo Gif guantanamo [Al Jazeera]

I was the victim of such an operation, though I had done no such thing and have never been part of any such crimes. On September 19, 2001, I got a call on my cellphone and was asked to turn myself in, and I immediately did, sure I would be cleared. Instead, Americans interrogated me in my home country, and then the US reached a joint agreement with the Mauritanian government to send me to Jordan to squeeze the last bits of information out of me.

I was incarcerated and interrogated under horrible conditions in Jordan for eight months, and then the Americans flew me to Bagram Air Base for two weeks of interrogation, and finally on to the Guantanamo Navy Base … where I still am today.

So has the American democracy passed the test it was subjected to with the 2001 terrorist attacks? I leave this judgement to the reader. As I am writing this, though, the United States and its people are still facing the dilemma of the Cuban detainees.

In the beginning, the US government was happy with its secret operations, since it thought it had managed to gather all the evils of the world in GTMO, and had circumvented US law and international treaties so that it could perform its revenge. But then it realised, after a lot of painful work, that it had gathered a bunch of non-combatants. Now the US government is stuck with the problem, but it is not willing to be forthcoming and disclose the truth about the whole operation.

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Everybody makes mistakes. I believe the US government owes it to the American people to tell them the truth about what is happening in Guantanamo. So far, I have personally cost American taxpayers at least one million dollars, and the counter is ticking higher every day.

The other detainees are costing more or less the same. Under these circumstances, Americans need and have the right to know what the hell is going on.

Many of my brothers are losing their minds, especially the younger detainees, because of the conditions of detention. As I write these words, many brothers are hunger-striking and are determined to carry on, no matter what.* I am very worried about these brothers I am helplessly watching, who are practically dying and who are sure to suffer irreparable damage even if they eventually decide to eat.

It is not the first time we have had a hunger strike; I personally participated in the hunger strike in September 2002, but the government did not seem to be impressed. And so the brothers keep striking for the same old, and new, reasons. And there seems to be no solution in the air. The government expects the US forces in GTMO to pull magic solutions out of their sleeves. But the US forces in GTMO understand the situation here more than any bureaucrat in Washington DC, and they know that the only solution is for the government to be forthcoming and release people.

What do the American people think? I am eager to know. I would like to believe the majority of Americans want to see justice done, and they are not interested in financing the detention of innocent people. I know there is a small extremist minority that believes that everybody in this Cuban prison is evil, and that we are treated better than we deserve. But this opinion has no basis but ignorance. I am amazed that somebody can build such an incriminating opinion about people he or she doesn’t even know.

Author’s Note:

In a recent conversation with one of his lawyers, Ould Slahi said that he holds no grudge against any of the people he mentions in the book, that he appeals to them to read it and correct it if they think it contains any errors, and that he dreams to one day sit with all of them around a cup of tea, after having learned so much from one another.

Source: Al Jazeera