The Never-Before-Seen Memoir of a Guantánamo Detainee  

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April 30 2013 5:31 AM

The Guantánamo Memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi

He was tortured, beaten, and humiliated, and he remains in prison. Here is his story, in his own words.

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A "non-compliant" detainee is escorted by guards after showering inside the U.S. military prison for "enemy combatants" on October 27, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An unnamed "non-compliant" detainee is escorted by guards after showering, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2009.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

“You tell me, and we reduce your sentence to 30 years. Otherwise you will never see the light again. If you don’t cooperate we are going to put you in a hole and wipe your name out of our detainees database.” I was so terrified because I knew, even though he couldn’t make such decision on his own, he had the complete backup of the high government level. He didn’t speak from the air.

“I don’t care where you take me, just do it.”

When I failed to give him the answer he wanted to hear, he made me stand up, with my back bent because my hands were shackled with my feet and waist and locked to the floor. [ ? ? ? ? ?] turned the temp control all the way down, and made sure that the guards maintained me in that situation until he decided otherwise. He used to start a fuss before going to his lunch, so he kept me hurt during his lunch, which took at least two to three hours. [ ? ? ? ? ?] likes his food; he never missed his lunch. I was wondering, how could [ ? ? ? ? ?] have possibly passed the fitness test of the Army? But I realized he is in the Army for a reason.

The fact that I wasn’t allowed to see the light made me “enjoy” the short trip between my freakin’ cold cell and the interrogation room. It’s just a blessing when the warm GTMO sun hit me. I felt the life sneaking back into every inch of my body. I always had this fake happiness, though for a very short time. It’s like taking narcotics.

“How you been?” said one of the Puerto Rican escorting guards, with his weak English.

“I’m OK, thanks, and you?”

“No worry, you gonna back to your family,” he said. When he said so I couldn’t help breaking into [ ? ? ? ? ?]. Lately, I had become so vulnerable. What’s wrong with me? Just a soothing word in this ocean of agony was enough to make me cry.

[ ? ? ? ? ?] we had a complete Puerto Rican division. They were different than other Americans. They were not as vigilant and unfriendly. Sometimes they took detainees to shower [ ? ? ? ? ?]. Everybody liked them. Due to their friendly and humane approach to detainees, they got in trouble with those responsible for the camps. I can’t objectively speak about the people from Puerto Rico because I haven’t seen enough, but if you ask me have you ever seen a bad Puerto Rican? My answer would be no.

“We’re gonna talk today about [ ? ? ? ? ?],” [said] [ ? ? ? ? ?] after bribing me with a weathered metal chair.

“I have told what I know about [ ? ? ? ? ?].”

“No, that’s bullshit. Are you gonna tell us more?”

“No, I have no more to tell.” The new [ ? ? ? ? ?] pulled the metal chair away and left me on the floor.

“Talk about it, it wouldn’t hurt,” the new [ ? ? ? ? ?] said.

“No.”

“Today, we’re gonna teach you about great American sex. Get up,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?].

As soon as I stood up, the two [ ? ? ? ? ?] took off their blouses and started to talk all kinds of dirty stuff you can imagine. Both [ ? ? ? ? ?] stuck on me literally from the front, and the other older [ ? ? ? ? ?] stuck on my back, rubbing [ ? ? ? ? ?] whole body on mine. At the same time they were talking dirty to me, and playing with my sexual parts. I am saving you here from quoting the disgusting and degrading talk I had to listen to from noon or before until 10 p.m. when they turned me over to [ ? ? ? ? ?], the new character you’ll learn about later.

To be fair and honest, the [ ? ? ? ? ?] didn’t deprive me of my clothes at any time; everything happened with my uniform on. The senior [ ? ? ? ? ?] was watching everything [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I kept praying all the time.

“Stop the fuck praying. You’re having sex with American [ ? ? ? ? ?] and you’re praying? What a hypocrite you are!” said [ ? ? ? ? ?] angrily while entering the room. I refused to stop speaking my prayers. During this session I also refused to eat or to drink, although they offered me water every once in a while. I was just wishing to pass out so I didn’t have to suffer; and that was really the main reason for my hunger strike. I knew people like them don’t get impressed by a hunger strike. Of course they didn’t want me to die, but they understand there are many steps until one dies.

“You’re not gonna die, we’re gonna feed you up your ass,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?].

In July 2003, more than a month into his “special interrogation,” documents show that Slahi was interrogated for a week by a new, masked interrogator, kept in a refrigerated cell, and told he would be made to “disappear.” On Aug. 2, 2003, a military interrogator posing as an emissary from the White House visited Slahi carrying a letter saying that Slahi’s mother was in custody and would soon be transferred to Guantánamo, where the U.S government could not guarantee her safety.

“Get the motherfucker back,” shouted [ ? ? ? ? ?], a celebrity among the torture squad. He was about 6 feet tall, athletic-built, and [ ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?]. He was aware that he was committing heavy crimes of war, thus he was ordered by his bosses to cover himself. But if there is any kind of basic justice, he would be busted through his bosses. We know their names and their ranks.

When I got to know [ ? ? ? ? ?] more and heard him speaking, I wondered how could a man as smart as he was possibly accept such a degrading job, which surely is going to haunt him the rest of his life. I later on discussed with some of my guards why they executed the order of stopping me from praying, since it is an unlawful order. “I could have, but my boss would have given me a shitty job, or transferred me to a bad place. I know I can go to hell for what I have done to you,” he said. History repeats itself: after World War II, German soldiers were not excused when they argued that they received orders.

“You’ve been giving [ ? ? ? ? ?] a hard time,” continued [ ? ? ? ? ?], while dragging me into a dark room. With the help of the guards he dropped me on the dirty floor. The room was as dark as ebony. [ ? ? ? ? ?] started playing a track very loudly. I mean very loudly. The song was, “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor.” I might never forget that song. [ ? ? ? ? ?] at the same time turned on some colored blinkers that hurt the eyes. “If you fucking fall asleep, I’m gonna hurt you,” he said. I had to listen to the song over and over until the next morning.

“Welcome to hell,” said the [ ? ? ? ? ?] guard when I stepped inside the block. I didn’t answer, and [ ? ? ? ? ?] wasn’t worth it. But I was like, “I think you deserve hell more than I do, because you’re working dutifully to go to hell!” The guards on the block actively participated in the process of torture. The [ ? ? ? ? ?] tell them what to do with the detainee once he came back to the block. I had guards banging on my cell to prevent me from sleeping. They cursed me for no reason. They repeatedly woke me. I never complained to my interrogators about that issue because I knew they planned everything with the guards.

*

“I told you, I’m gonna bring some people to help me interrogate you,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?] sitting inches away in front of me. [ ? ? ? ? ?] offered me a metal chair. The guest sat almost sticking on my knee. [ ? ? ? ? ?] started to ask me some question I don’t remember.

“Yes or no?” shouted the guest, loud beyond belief, in a show to scare me, and maybe to impress [ ? ? ? ? ?], who knows? I found his method very childish and silly. I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Neither!” The guest violently drew the chair from beneath me. I fell on the chains. Oh, it hurt.

“Stand up, motherfucker,” shouted both, almost synchronous. Then a session of torture and humiliation started. They started to ask me the questions after they made me stand up, but it was too late, because I told them a million times, “Whenever you start to torture me, I’m not gonna say a single word.” And that was always accurate, for the rest of the day, they were the only ones to talk.

[ ? ? ? ? ?] turned the air conditioning all the way down to bring me to freezing. This method had been practiced in the camp at least since August ’02. I have seen people who were exposed to the frozen room day after day such as [ ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?], [who] told me of having suffered the same fate. [All the] Yemeni brothers had been suffering all kinds of humiliation including the frozen room. [ ? ? ? ? ?] the same way. And the list is long. The consequences of the cold room are devastating, such as [ ? ? ? ? ?], but they show up only later because it takes time until they work their way through the bones. Furthermore, the torture squad was so well trained that they had been performing perfect crimes, avoiding leaving any obvious evidence. Nothing was left to chance. They hit in predefined places. They practiced horrible methods, the aftermath of which only manifested later.

Technically, the interrogators turned the AC all the way down trying to reach 0 F, but obviously the AC is not designed to kill. In the well-isolated room the AC fought its way to 49 F, and if you are interested in math like me, that is 9.4 C—in other words very, very cold, especially for somebody who had to stay in it more than 12 hours, had no underwear, had a very thin uniform, and comes from a hot country. Somebody from Saudi Arabia cannot take as much cold as somebody from Sweden, and vice versa, when it comes to hot weather.

A U.S. military guard tower stands on the perimeter of a detainee camp at the U.S. detention center for "enemy combatants" on September 16, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A U.S. guard tower on the perimeter of the prison camp

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

You may ask me, “Where were the interrogators, after installing me in the frozen room?” Actually, it’s a good question, and the answer is: First, the interrogators didn’t stay in the room, they just come for humiliation, degradation, and discouragement, or another factor of torture; after that they left and went to the monitoring room next door. Second, interrogators were dressed adequately. For instance, [ ? ? ? ? ?] was dressed like somebody entering a meat locker. In spite of that, they didn’t stay a long time with the detainees. Third, interrogators kept moving in the room, which meant blood circulation, which meant keeping themselves warm while the detainee was [ ? ? ? ? ?] all the time, on the floor, standing up for the most part. All I could do was move my feet and rub my hands. But the Marine guy stopped me from rubbing my hands by ordering a special chain that shackled my hands on my opposite hips. If I get nervous I always start to rub my hands together and write on my body, and that drove my interrogators crazy.

“What are you writing?” shouted [ ? ? ? ? ?] “Either you tell me or you stop the fuck,” but I couldn’t stop anyway, it was unintentional.

The man in [charge of] the show started to throw chairs around, and hit me with his forehead, and described me with all kinds of adjectives I don’t deserve, for no reason. The guy was nuts; he asked me about things I have no clue about, and names I never heard. “I have been in [ ? ? ? ? ?],” he said, “and you know who was our host? The president! We had a good time in the palace.”

The Marine guy asked questions and answered himself. When the man failed to impress me with all the talk and humiliation and the threat to arrest my family (since the [ ? ? ? ?] “was an obedient servant of the U.S.”), he started to hurt me more. He brought ice-cold water and soaked me all over my body. My clothes stuck on me. It was so awful, I kept shaking like a Parkinson’s patient. Technically I wasn’t able to talk anymore. The guy was stupid, he was literally executing me but in a slow way. [ ? ? ? ?] gestured to him to stop pouring water on me. I refused to eat anything; I couldn’t open my mouth anyway.

The guy was very hot, when [ ? ? ? ? ?] stopped him because he was afraid of the paperwork which would [result] in case of my death. He found another technique; namely, he brought a CD-player with booster and started to play some rap music. I didn’t really mind the music because it made me forget my pain; actually, the music was a blessing in disguise, I was trying to make sense of the words. All I understood was that the music was about love, can you believe it? Love! All I had experienced lately was hatred or the consequences thereof. “Listen to that, motherfucker!” said the guest, while closing the door violently behind him. “You’re gonna get the same shit day after day, and guess what? It’s getting worse. What you’re seeing is only the beginning,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I kept praying and ignoring what they were doing.

“Oh, ALLAH, help me. … Oh, Allah, have mercy on me,” [ ? ? ? ? ?] kept mimicking my prayers, “ALLAH … ALLAH … There is no Allah. He let you down!” I smiled at how ignorant [ ? ? ? ? ?] was by talking about the Lord like that.

Between 10 and 11 p.m. [ ? ? ? ? ?] handed me over to [ ? ? ? ? ?] and gave an order to the guards to move me to his specially prepared room. It was so cold and full of pictures showing the glories of the U.S.: weapons arsenal, planes, pictures of G. Bush. “Don’t pray, you insult my country if you pray during my national hymn. We are the greatest country in the free world, and we have the smartest president of the world,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. For the whole night I had to listen to the U.S. hymn. I hate hymns anyway. All I can remember was the beginning, “Oh say can you see …” over and over.

Between 4 and 5 a.m. [ ? ? ? ? ?] released me just to be taken a couple of hours later by [ ? ? ? ? ?] to start the same routine over and over. The hardest step is the first, the hardest days were the first days; with every day going by I grew stronger. Meanwhile, I was the main subject of talk in the camp, although many other detainees were suffering a similar fate; I was “Criminal No. 1,” and I was appropriately treated. Sometimes, when I was in the rec yard, detainees shouted, “Be patient. Remember Allah tries the people he loves the most.” Comments like that were my only solace beside my faith in the Lord.

[Then] [ ? ? ? ? ?] crawled from behind the scene and appeared in the picture: [ ? ? ? ? ?] had told me a couple of times before [ ? ? ? ? ?] visit about a very high level government person who was going to visit me and talk to me about my family. I personally didn’t take the information negatively; I thought he was going to bring me some messages from my family, but I was wrong. It was about hurting my family. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was escalating the situation relentlessly with me.

[ ? ? ? ? ?] came around 11 a.m., escorted by [ ? ? ? ? ?] and the new [ ? ? ? ? ?]. He was brief and direct.

“My name is [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I work for [ ? ? ? ? ?]. My government is desperate to get information out of you. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Can you read English?”

“Yes.”

[ ? ? ? ? ?] handed me a letter he obviously forged. The letter was from DoD and it said, basically, “Ould Slahi was involved in the Millennium attack and recruited three of the September 11 hijackers. Since Slahi has refused to cooperate, the U.S. government is going to arrest his mother and put her in a special facility.”

I read the letter. “Is that not harsh and unfair?” I said.

“I am not here to maintain justice. I am here to stop people from crashing planes into buildings in my country.”

“Then go and stop them. I have done nothing to your country,” I said.

“You have two options, either being a defendant or a witness.”

“I want neither.”

“You have no choice, and your life is going to change decidedly,” he said.

“Just do it, the sooner, the better!” I said.

---

The above is an excerpt from Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s handwritten 466-page memoir, composed during his detention at Guantánamo and declassified by the U.S. government. These excerpts were chosen by Larry Siems and edited by Slate. Since Slahi remains in custody and cannot freely communicate, we have limited our editorial changes to correcting grammar and clarifying idiomatic phrasing in order to preserve his unique voice. In the few instances where his meaning required additional context, we have inserted text marked off in brackets. Click here for more on the Guantánamo Memoirs.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba since Aug. 5, 2002. He wrote his prison memoirs between 2005 and 2006. Finally declassified by the U.S. government more than six years later, they are excerpted here for the first time.

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