Mohamedou Ould Slahi has never been charged him with a crime by the United States government, yet he has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. Three years into his captivity, Slahi began writing a diary, recounting life before and after this terrible miscarriage of justice befell him. Guantánamo Diary is a tremendously important book, and it can be yours to own by making a donation to Truthout today.
The CIA and US military has led Slahi on a horrific journey of torture from Mauritania to Jordan, to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan to where he is currently imprisoned in Guantánamo. The following excerpt, in Slahi’s own words, is redacted by the US government – as is the entire book. It focuses on Slahi’s first few days in Bagram before his transfer to Guantánamo.
[Editor’s note: In this excerpt, dashes represent government redactions of the diary.]
The second or the third night ————- pulled me out of my cell himself and led me to an interrogation, where the same ——————— Arabic already had taken a seat. ——————————————————————————————————————————-. You could tell he was the right man for the job: he was the kind of man who wouldn’t mind doing the dirty work. The detainees back in Bagram used to call him ————————; he reportedly was responsible for torturing even innocent individuals the government released.
————- didn’t need to shackle me because I was in shackles 24 hours a day. I slept, ate, used the bathroom while completely shackled, hand to feet. ————- opened a file in his hand ——————————————————— and started by means of the interpreter. ————- was asking me general questions about my life and my background. When he asked me, “What languages do you speak?” he didn’t believe me; he laughed along with the interpreter, saying, “Haha, you speak German? Wait, we’re gonna check.”
Suddenly —————————————— the room ————————————————————————-. There was no mistaking it, he was ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————.
“Ja Wohl,” I replied. —————- was not ——————-but his German was fairly acceptable, given that he spent ————————————————————————————————————————-. He confirmed to his colleague that my German was “—————.”
Both looked at me with some respect after that, though the respect was not enough to save me from ————- wrath. ————- asked me where I learned to speak German, and said that he was going to interrogate me again later. ————————————-, “Wahrheit macht frei, the truth sets you free.”
When I heard him say that, I knew the truth wouldn’t set me free, because “Arbeit” didn’t set the Jews free. Hitler’s propaganda machinery used to lure Jewish detainees with the slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” Work sets you free. But work set nobody free.
————- took a note in his small notebook and left the room. ———— sent me back to my room and apologized —————————-.
“I am sorry for keeping you awake for so long,”
“No problem!” —- replied.
After several days in isolation I was transferred to the general population, but I could only look at them because I was put in the narrow barbed-wire corridor between the cells. I felt like I was out of jail, though, and I cried and thanked God. After eight months of total isolation, I saw fellow detainees more or less in my situation. “Bad” detainees like me were shackled 24 hours a day and put in the corridor, where every passing guard or detainee stepped on them. The place was so narrow that the barbed wire kept pinching me for the next ten days. I saw ——————————- being force-fed; he was on a forty-five day hunger strike. The guards were yelling at him, and he was bouncing a dry piece of bread between his hands. All the detainees looked so worn out, as if they had been buried and after several days resurrected, but —————————- was a completely different story: he was bones without meat. It reminded me of the pictures you see in documentaries about WWII prisoners.
Detainees were not allowed to talk to each other, but we enjoyed looking at each other. The punishment for talking was hanging the detainee by the hands with his feet barely touching the ground. I saw an Afghani detainee who passed out a couple of times while hanging from his hands. The medics “fixed” him and hung him back up. Other detainees were luckier: they were hung for a certain time and then released. Most of the detainees tried to talk while they were hanging, which made the guards double their punishment. There was a very old Afghani fellow who reportedly was arrested to turn over his son. The guy was mentally sick; he couldn’t stop talking because he didn’t know where he was, nor why. I don’t think he understood his environment, but the guards kept dutifully hanging him. It was so pitiful. One day one of the guards threw him on his face, and he was crying like a baby.
We were put in about six or seven big barbed- wire cells named after operations performed against the U.S: Nairobi, U.S.S. Cole, Dar-Es-Salaam, and so on. In each cell there was a detainee called English, who benevolently served as an interpreter to translate the orders to his co-detainees. Our English was a gentleman from Sudan named —————————. His English was very basic, and so he asked me secretly whether I spoke English. “No,” I replied— but as it turned out I was a Shakespeare compared to him. My brethren thought that I was denying them my services, but I just didn’t know how bad the situation was.
Now I was sitting in front of bunch of dead regular U.S. citizens. My first impression, when I saw them chewing without a break, was, What’s wrong with these guys, do they have to eat so much? Most of the guards were tall, and overweight. Some of them were friendly and some very hostile. Whenever I realized that a guard was mean I pretended that I understood no English. I remember one cowboy coming to me with an ugly frown on his face:
“You speak English?” he asked.
“No English,” I replied.
“We don’t like you to speak English. We want you to die slowly,” he said.
“No English,” I kept replying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that his message arrived. People with hatred always have something to get off their chests, but I wasn’t ready to be that drain.
Prayer in groups wasn’t allowed. Everybody prayed on his own, and so did I. Detainees had no clues about prayer time. We would just imitate: when a detainee started to pray, we assumed it was time and followed. The Koran was available to detainees who asked for one. I don’t remember asking myself, because the handling by the guards was just disrespectful; they threw it to each other like a water bottle when they passed the holy book through. I didn’t want to be a reason for humiliating God’s word. Moreover, thank God, I know the Koran by heart. As far as I recall, one of the detainees secretly passed me a copy that nobody was using in the cell.
After a couple of days, ——————————- pulled me to interrogate me. —————- acted as an interpreter.
“Tell me your story,” ————- asked.
“My name is, I graduated in 1988, I got a scholarship to Germany….” I replied in very boring detail, none of which seemed to interest or impress ————-. He grew tired and started to yawn. I knew exactly what he wanted to hear, but I couldn’t help him.
He interrupted me. “My country highly values the truth. Now I’m gonna ask you some questions, and if you answer truthfully, you’re gonna be released and sent safely to your family. But if you fail, you’re gonna be imprisoned indefinitely. A small note in my agenda book is enough to destroy your life. What terrorist organizations are you part of?”
“None,” I replied.
“You’re not a man, and you don’t deserve respect. Kneel, cross your hands, and put them behind your neck.”
I obeyed the rules and he put a bag over my head. My back was hurting bad lately and that position was so painful; ————- was working on my sciatic problem. ————- brought two projectors and adjusted them on my face. I couldn’t see, but the heat overwhelmed me and I started to sweat.
“You’re gonna be sent to a U.S. facility, where you’ll spend the rest of your life,” he threatened. “You’ll never see your family again. Your family will be f**cked by another man. In American jails, terrorists like you get raped by multiple men at the same time. The guards in my country do their job very well, but being raped is inevitable. But if you tell me the truth, you’re gonna be released immediately.”
I was old enough to know that he was a rotten liar and a man with no honor, but he was in charge, so I had to listen to his bullshit again and again. I just wished that the agencies would start to hire smart people. Did he really think that anybody would believe his nonsense? Somebody would have to be stupid: was he stupid, or did he think I was stupid? I would have respected him more had he told me, “Look, if you don’t tell me what I want to hear, I’m gonna torture you.”
Anyway, I said, “Of course I will be truthful!”
“What terrorist organizations are you part of?”
“None!” I replied. He put back the bag on my head and started a long discourse of humiliation, cursing, lies, and threats. I don’t really remember it all, nor am I ready to sift in my memory for such bullshit. I was so tired and hurt, and tried to sit but he forced me back. I cried from the pain. Yes, a man my age cried silently. I just couldn’t bear the agony.
————- after a couple of hours sent me back to my cell, promising me more torture. “This was only the start,” as he put it. I was returned to my cell, terrorized and worn out. I prayed to Allah to save me from him. I lived the days to follow in horror: whenever ————- went past our cell I looked away, avoiding seeing him so he wouldn’t “see” me, exactly like an ostrich. ————- was checking on everybody, day and night, and giving the guards the recipe for every detainee. I saw him torturing this other detainee. I don’t want to recount what I heard about him; I just want to tell what I saw with my eyes. It was an Afghani teenager, I would say 16 or 17. ————- made him stand for about three days, sleepless. I felt so bad for him. Whenever he fell down the guards came to him, shouting “no sleep for terrorists,” and made him stand again. I remember sleeping and waking up, and he stood there like a tree.
Whenever I saw ————- around, my heart started to pound, and he was often around. One day he sent a ———————— interpreter to me to pass me a message.
“————- is gonna kick your ass.”
1. At his December 15, 2005, Administrative Review Board (ARB) hearing, MOS described a U.S. interrogator in Bagram who was Japanese American and whom Bagram prisoners referred to as “William the Torturer.” ARB transcript, 23. The lead interrogator here could be that interrogator. MOS’s 2005 ARB hearing transcript is available at https://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/operation_and_plans/Detainee/csrt_arb/ARB_Transcript_Set_8_20751-21016.pdf, p. 23 transcript, p. 206 in link.
2. Context suggests the second interrogator addressed MOS in German.
3. Context suggests the apology is directed to the interpreter.
4. At his 2005 ARB hearing, MOS indicated that an interrogator nicknamed “William the Torturer” made him kneel for “very long hours” to aggravate his sciatic nerve pain and later threatened him. ARB transcript, 23.
Excerpted from Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Diary and annotated diary copyright © 2015 by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Introduction and notes copyright © 2015 by Larry Siems. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.