A harrowing prison memoir, the first to date by an inmate who is behind bars at the Cuban penitentiary that has become a byword for an American gulag.
Slahi was caught up early in the post-9/11 sweep, suspected of having played a role. As he admits, he did fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, “but then al Qaida didn’t wage Jihad against America….In the mid-90’s they wanted to wage Jihad against America, but I personally had nothing to do with that.” After turning himself in for questioning in his native Mauritania, Slahi was “rendered” to Jordan and interrogated for eight months before the Jordanians decided he was innocent. A Marine prosecutor recalls that the CIA, managing Slahi’s fate, “just kind of threw him over to U.S. military control in Bagram, Afghanistan,” from which he was sent to Guantánamo in 2002. There he has remained, yet to be charged with a crime apart from that he “fucked up.” Setting aside the question of complicity, it is shockingly clear from Slahi’s account that torture was routine: “I heard so many testimonies from detainees who didn’t know each other that they couldn’t be lies,” he writes, and his own experiences bear this out. For all we know, torture still is routine: This account dates to before 2005, when his manuscript entered into the realm of formally classified military material, and it is heavily redacted, so much so that one representative page is a sea of black strike-throughs, the surviving text reading “was accompanied by an Arabic interpreter….He was very weak in the language.” Elsewhere, the prison memoir is much like other books of its kind: The guards are infantile brutes, the inmates a cross-section of humanity, and the rules and laws bewildering.
Slahi may or may not be a reliable narrator; readers are called on to suspend disbelief. By his account, of course, he is not guilty. His memoir is essential reading for anyone concerned with human rights and the rule of law.