Mohamedou Takes Tea with his Torturers: A Guantánamo Fantasy

Mohamedou Takes Tea with his Torturers: A Guantánamo Fantasy
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President Obama is still trying to close Guantánamo. And Mohamedou Slahi, author of Guantánamo Diary, is still there.

Which reminds me, I have a message from Mohamedou. If you are among the dozens of people who interrogated, brutalized, and tortured him in Senegal, Mauritania, Jordan, Bagram Air Base (Afghanistan), and finally Guantánamo (Cuba) during the period 2000-2004, he would like you to read his book, correct any errors, and join him for a cup of tea, whenever that becomes possible.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was born in Mauritania in 1970. An excellent student, he won a scholarship in 1988 to study in Germany, where he earned an engineering degree. He stayed until 1999, when he moved to Canada, and finally returned to Mauritania in 2000. In 1991-92, he went twice to Afghanistan to train with al-Qaeda and fight the communist government, an effort supported by the United States.

Later suspecting ongoing al-Qaeda links and activities, the United States pressed German and Canadian authorities to investigate Mohamedou but both found the U.S. concerns unjustified. Subsequent interrogations in Senegal and Mauritania led to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, in November 2001, the United States arranged for his extraordinary rendition to a black site in Jordan, then to Bagram Air Base, and finally to Guantánamo, where he arrived in August 2002.

The increasingly severe interrogations ultimately led to a period of months in 2003-2004 during which he was kept in an isolation cell without his Koran or other personal items and was persistently deprived of sleep. He suffered shackling, hooding, beatings, sexual harassment, extreme cold, relentless loud music, death threats, and threats to kidnap and rape his mother. Throughout, Mohamedou told everything he knew and maintained he had no additional information.

Finally, suffering hallucinations and on the edge of losing himself, he reversed course. Over the next few months, he named everyone he could think of and made up stories to satisfy his interrogators.

In the summer of 2005, still in isolation but no longer being actively tortured, he wrote the manuscript of Guantánamo Diary. Though everything he wrote was initially deemed classified, his lawyers finally succeeded in getting the book published in 2015. It was edited by Larry Siems, former director of the Freedom to Write program at PEN American Center and author of The Torture Report.

Meanwhile, despite being held in Guantánamo since 2002, Mohamedou has never been charged with any crime. In 2010 a federal judge granted his petition for habeas corpus and ordered his release. The Obama administration appealed this decision and a circuit court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings. It remains unresolved.

One important feature of Guantánamo Diary is that the editor has provided detailed footnotes corroborating Mohamedou's story. These notes are often based on legal proceedings and government records made public through freedom-of-information-act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union.

A unique and remarkable feature of the book is that you can watch the military censors at work as you read. The editor received the manuscript with extensive redactions and has elected to include all of these black rectangles in the published book. Most pages have multiple redactions and some are blacked out entirely. Footnotes by the editor often identify or suggest what is missing.

At the end of the book is this brief author's note, apparently written by the editor, who was never permitted to communicate with the author:

In a recent conversation with one of his lawyers, Mohamedou said that he holds no grudge against any of the people he mentions in this 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.

I hope Mohamedou will not mind if I join him and invite a few guests of my own. I'd like to invite the psychologists who devised the program of torture Mohamedou experienced and the top officials of the American Psychological Association who saw no ethical problem with this (the APA reversed course in 2015). I'm sure they and Mohamedou could learn much from each other.

But this remains a fantasy. In the real world of 2016, Guantánamo is still there, and so is Mohamedou. And so are those who would rather interrogate him forever than face him over a cup of tea.

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