Daily Archives: 1 February 2015

Guantanamo Diaries

I’m listening to the Guardian Books podcast of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diaries. Slahi was taken prisoner at his home in Mauritania in 2001 and has been held without charge ever since, for most of that time in Camp Echo at Guantanamo Bay. By some kind of miracle his account of torture, interrogation, endless violation of US and international law, and stark inhumanity has been allowed to be published, with 2500 redactions.

In the podcast a number of famous Britishers and USers, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Stanley Tucci, read excerpts of about 10 minutes each.

No one seems to dispute the document’s authenticity, but there’s a lot that’s mysterious about the book. Slahi spoke very little English in 2001, but this is very well written – he talks about his efforts to learn from the guards, but I don’t know how much editorial and translation help he had, and from where. Same for the occasional telling quote from, for example, Benjamin Franklin. The detailed recall of many of the interrogation sessions must include at least some invention, as I can’t imagine he was given pencil and paper, let alone opportunity, to write notes close to the time of the events. And there’s the question of how the manuscript got out: evidently it’s been in the US courts for eight years, but how did it even reach the courts?

As a citizen of the comfortable West, I think it’s pretty much a civic duty to engage with this extraordinary text, to learn at first hand what has been done and continues to be done in the name of freedom.

Mark Danner has an excellent review article in the New York Times.