Book review: Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi - Tortured into lies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 11:47pm


Near the end of his hellish account of perpetual torture, Mohamedou Ould Slahi makes what appears to be a remarkable confession.

Slahi, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who wrote a 466-page memoir from his cell, admits to his captors that he planned to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto with explosives from Russia. The military interrogators who have been questioning him for four years "almost had a heart attack from happiness", Slahi writes.

The confession, however, is an elaborate lie. It is a desperate act by a man subjected to four years of terror, including regular beatings, sleep deprivation, death threats, starvation and sexual molestation. "I had to wear the suit the US Intel tailored for me, and that is exactly what I did," Slahi writes.

Guantanamo Diary is a unique and intimate view of what happens when due process is suspended and detainees (or, in this case, "enemy combatants") are cast into zones of non-being, where they are not even recognised as human. In these lawless zones, conjecture and hearsay provide the rationale for indefinite detention, and torture methods become almost limitless in their scope and sadism.

The manuscript raises a broader question about whether torture actually works. As Slahi demonstrates in his blow-by-blow account of his interrogation, the prisoners will say just about anything to stop the abuse.

Slahi, from Mauritania, gives us a rare window into the Kafkaesque dilemma faced by a detainee, who is assumed guilty by virtue of his very captivity. "The problem," he writes, "is that you cannot just admit to something you haven't done; you need to deliver the details, which you can't when you haven't done anything … You have to make up a complete story that makes sense to the dumbest dummies. One of the hardest things to do is to tell an untruthful story and maintain it, and that is exactly where I was stuck."

As Slahi begins to confess things that not even the US government believes he did, his captors give him a pillow - the first personal item of any kind he is allowed to have during his confinement. Slahi, deprived of sensory material, takes to reading the tag of the pillow over and over again in his isolated cell.

The shadowy reach of the US government can be felt throughout the book, in the form of more than 2,500 black-mark redactions by censors who pored over the text.

In 2010, a federal judge granted Slahi's habeas corpus petition for release after finding no evidentiary basis for his confinement. An appeals court overturned the order and Slahi, 44, remains in the same cell where he wrote his diary in 2005.

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Little, Brown)

Tribune News Service