When He Didn’t Talk, His Captors Took Him on a Torture Cruise

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May 1 2013 6:30 AM

The Guantánamo Memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi

When Slahi wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, his captors took him on a torture cruise. They would make him disappear.

U.S. Military Police guard Taliban and al Qaeda detainees in orange jumpsuits January 11, 2002 in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during in-processing to the temporary detention facility.
This file photo shows in-processing at Camp X-Ray in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002.

Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

PART TWO: DISAPPEARED

In July 2003, as Slahi’s “special interrogation” continued, Guantánamo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller added another brutal ruse to Slahi’s interrogation plan. Following days of intensive questioning, Slahi was to be forcibly removed from his cell by a team of military police in riot gear, escorted past menacing dogs, and loaded onto a helicopter, where he would be flown out over the ocean and threatened with death or rendition to a Middle Eastern country—a threat to be made all the more real by the presence of Egyptian and Jordanian interrogators on the flight. The general’s plan was subsequently revised because, as his intelligence chief later told Justice Department investigators, “Miller had decided that [the helicopter] was too difficult logistically to pull off, and that too many people on the base would have to know about it to get it done.” Instead, on Aug. 24, 2003, in accordance with the plan that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ultimately signed, Slahi was abducted from his cell and taken on a three-hour boat trip into the Caribbean, where he was beaten and threatened by U.S. military personnel and two Arab interrogators.

I barely finished my meal, when all of a sudden [ ? ? ? ? ?] and I heard a commotion, guards cursing loudly, “I told you, motherfucker …,” people banging the floor violently with heavy boots, dog barking, doors closed loudly. I froze in my seat. [ ? ? ? ? ?] went speechless. We were staring at each other, not knowing what was going on. My heart was pounding because I knew a detainee was going to be hurt. Yes, and the detainee was me.

Suddenly a commando team of three soldiers and a German shepherd broke into our interrogation room. [ ? ? ? ? ?] punched me violently, which made me fall face down on the floor, and the second guy kept punching me everywhere, mainly on my face and my ribs. Both were masked from head to toe.

“Motherfucker, I told you, you’re gone!” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. His partner kept punching me without saying a word; he didn’t want to be recognized. The third man was not masked, he stayed at the door holding the dog collar, ready to release it on me.

“Who told you to do that? You’re hurting the detainee,” screamed [ ? ? ? ? ?], who was no less terrified than I was.

As to me, I couldn’t digest the situation. My first thought was, they mistook me for somebody else. My second thought was to try to look around, but one of the guards was squeezing my face against the floor. I saw the dog fighting to get loose. I saw [ ? ? ? ? ?] standing up, looking helpless at the guards working on me.

“Blindfold the motherfucker! He’s trying to look—” One of them hit me hard across the face and quickly put goggles on my eyes, earmuffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterward I started to bleed. All I could hear was [ ? ? ? ? ?] cursing, “F-ing this and F-ing that.” I thought they were going to execute me.

The other guard dragged me out with my toes tracing the way, and threw me in a truck, which immediately took off. The beating party would last for the next three to four hours, before they turned me over to another team that would use different torture techniques.

“Stop praying, motherfucker. You’re killing people,” [ ? ? ? ? ?] said, and punched me hard on my mouth. My mouth and nose started to bleed, and my lips grew so big that I technically could not speak anymore. The colleague of [ ? ? ? ? ?] turned out to be one of my guards; [ ? ? ? ? ?] and [ ? ? ? ? ?] each took one of my sides and started to punch me and smash me against the metal of the truck. One of the guys hit me so that my breath stopped and I was choking. I felt like I was breathing through my ribs.

Did I pass out? Maybe not. All I know is that I kept noticing [ ? ? ? ? ?] several times spraying ammonia in my nose. The funny thing was, Mr. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was at the same time a “lifesaver,” as were the guards I would be dealing with for the year to come; all of them were allowed to give me medication and first aid.

After 10 to 15 minutes, the truck stopped at the beach. My escort team dragged me out of the truck and put me in a high-speed boat. [ ? ? ? ? ?] never gave me a break; they kept hitting me.

“You’re killing people,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I believe he was thinking out loud: He knew he was committing the most cowardly crime in the world, torturing a helpless detainee who was completely submissive and turned himself in. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.

Inside the boat, [ ? ? ? ? ?] made me drink salt water, I believe it was direct from the ocean. It was so nasty I threw it up. They put an object in my mouth and shouted, “Swallow, motherfucker!” I decided inside not to swallow the organ-damaging salt water, which choked me as they kept pouring the water in my mouth. “Swallow, you idiot!” I contemplated quickly, and decided for the nasty, damaging water rather than death.

[ ? ? ? ? ?] and [ ? ? ? ? ?] had been escorting me for about three hours in the high-speed boat. The goal of such trip was, first, to torture the detainee and claim that the “detainee hurt himself during transport,” and second to make the detainee believe he is being transferred to some far faraway secret prison. We detainees knew all about this; we had detainees who reported flying four hours and finding themselves in the same jail where they started. I knew from the beginning that I was going to be transferred to [ ? ? ? ? ?].

When the boat [landed], [ ? ? ? ? ?] and his colleague dragged me out and made me sit cross-legged. I was moaning from the unbearable pain.

“Uh … Uh … ALLAH. ALLAH … I told you not to fuck with us, didn’t I?” said Mr. X, mimicking me. I hoped I could stop moaning because the gentleman kept mocking me and blaspheming the Lord; however the moaning was necessary so I could breathe. “We appreciate everybody who works with us, thanks gentlemen,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I recognized his voice. Although he was addressing his Arab guests, the message was addressed to me more than anybody.

It was nighttime. My blindfold didn’t keep me from feeling the bright lighting, some kind of high-watt projectors.

“We happy for zat. Maybe we take him to Egypt, he say everything,” said an Arab guy whose voice I’d never heard, with a thick Egyptian accent. I could tell the guy was in his late 20s or early 30s based on his voice, his speech, and later on his actions. His English was both poor and decidedly mispronounced.

Then I heard indistinct conversations here and there, after which the Egyptian and another guy approached. Now they’re talking directly to me in Arabic.

“What a coward! You guys ask for civil rights? You get none,” said the Egyptian.

“Somebody like this coward, it takes us only one hour in Jordan until he spits everything,” said the Jordanian. Obviously he didn’t know that I had spent eight months in Jordan and no miracle took place.

“We take him to Egypt,” said the Egyptian, addressing [ ? ? ? ? ?].

“Maybe later,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?].

When I heard Egypt, and a new rendition, my heart was pounding. I hated the endless world tour I was forcibly taking. I thought that rendition to Egypt on the spot was possible, because I knew how irritated and desperate the Americans were when it came to my case.

After all kinds of threats and degrading statements, I missed a lot of the trash talk between the Arabs and their American accomplices. At one point, I drowned in my thoughts. I felt ashamed that my people were being used for this horrible job by a government that claims to be the leader of the democratic free world, a government that preaches against dictatorship and “fights” for human rights and sends its children to die for that purpose. What a joke this government makes of its own people! What would the dead-average American think if he or she saw what his or her government is doing with someone who has done no crimes against anybody?

If people in the Arab world knew what is happening in this place, the hatred against the U.S. would be heavily watered, and the accusation that the U.S. helps and works together with dictators in our countries would be cemented. I had a feeling, or rather a hope, that these people would not go unpunished for their crimes. The situation didn’t make me hate either the Arabs or the Americans; I just felt bad for the Arabs.

After about 40 minutes, I couldn’t really tell, [ ? ? ? ? ?] instructed the Arabic team to take over. The two guys grabbed me roughly and since I couldn’t walk on my own, they dragged me on the tips of my toes to the boat. I must have been very near to the water because the trip to the boat was short. I don’t know, but either they put me in another boat or in a different seat. The seat was both hard and straight.

“Move!”

“I can’t move!”

“Move, fucker!” They gave this order and knew that I was too hurt to be able to move. After all I was bleeding from my mouth, my ankles, my wrists, and maybe my nose, I could not tell for sure. But the team wanted to maintain the factor of fear and terror.

“Sit!” said the Egyptian guy, who did most of the talking, while both were pulling me down until I hit the metal. The Egyptian sat on my right side, and the Jordanian on my left. “What’s your fucking name?” asked the Egyptian. “M-O-OH-H-M-M-EE-D-D-O-O-O-O-U!” I answered. Technically, I couldn’t speak because of my swollen lips and hurting mouth. You could tell I was completely scared. Usually I wouldn’t talk when somebody started to hurt me. This is a milestone in my interrogation history. In Jordan, when the interrogator smashed my face, I refused to talk, ignoring all his threats.  You can tell I was hurt like never before, that it is not me anymore, and I will never be the same as before. A thick line was drawn between my past and my future with the first hit [ ? ? ? ? ?] did to me.

A side mounted SAW "machine gun" is at the ready at members of a US Coast Guard security detail, in a Viper fast boat, patrol the waters of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba 23 April 2007 at sunset.
A U.S. Coast Guard security detail patrols the waters of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in 2007.

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

“He is like a kid,” said the Egyptian, accurately addressing his Jordanian colleague. I felt warm between them, though not for long, because with the cooperation of the American, a long trip of torture was being prepared.

They put on a kind of thick jacket, which fastened me to the chair. It was a good feeling—however there was a destroying drawback to it. My chest was so tightened that I couldn’t breathe properly. Plus, the air circulation was worse than the first trip. I didn’t know what exactly but something was definitely going wrong. “I c…a…n…t br…e…a…the!”

“Suck the air,” said the Egyptian wryly. I was literally suffocating inside the bag around my head.

The order went as follows: They stuffed the air between my clothes and me with ice cubes from my neck to my ankles, and whenever the ice melted they put in new hard ice cubes. Moreover, every once in a while, one of the guards smashed me, most of the time in the face. The ice served both for pain and for wiping out the bruises I had from that afternoon. Everything seemed to be perfectly prepared. Historically, dictators during medieval and pre-medieval times used this method to let the victim die slowly. The other method of hitting the victim while blindfolded in inconsistent intervals of time was used by Nazis during WWII. There is nothing more terrorizing than making somebody expect a smash every single heartbeat.

“I am from Hasi Matruh, where are you from?” said the Egyptian, addressing his Jordanian colleague. He was speaking as if nothing was happening. You could tell he was used to torturing people.

“I am from the south,” answered the Jordanian.

What would it be like if I landed in Egypt after about 25 hours of torture? What would the interrogation look like? [ ? ? ? ? ?], a [ ? ? ? ? ?], described to me his unlucky trip from Pakistan to Egypt. Everything I was now experiencing—ice cubes and smashing—was consistent with [ ? ? ? ? ?]'s story. So I expected electric shocks in the pool. How much power can my body, especially my heart, handle? I know something about electricity and its devastating, irreversible damage. I saw [ ? ? ? ? ?] collapsing in the block a couple of times every week with blood gushing out of his nose until it soaked his clothes. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was a martial arts trainer and athletically built.

But what if they don’t believe me? No, they would believe me, because they understand the recipe of terrorism more than the Americans and have more experience. Americans tend to widen the circle of involvement to catch the most possible number of Muslims. They always speak about the big conspiracy against the U.S. I personally had been asked who practiced the basics of the religion and sympathized with Islamic movements; no matter how moderate the movement, I had been asked to prove every detail about it. That is very amazing in a country such as the U.S., where Christian terrorist organizations such as Nazis and white supremacists have the freedom to express themselves and recruit people openly and nobody can bother them, while as a Muslim if you sympathize with the political views of an Islamic organization you’re in big trouble. Even attending the same mosque as a suspect brings big trouble. I mean this fact is clear for everybody who understands the ABCs of American policy toward the so-called Islamic terrorism.