If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch the first full-length, post-release interview with former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, freed last October, which was shown on CBS’s 60 Minutes show on Sunday. A transcript is here.
Slahi was handed over to the CIA in November 2001, on the mistaken basis that he possessed important information about al-Qaeda, and was then tortured in Guantánamo, in a special program approved by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, until, after being taken out on a boat and beaten for hours while freezing from ice packed into his clothing, and after being told that his mother was being brought to Guantánamo, he was “broken” and began telling his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear — lies, but lies that were somehow regarded as credible.
Moved into separate housing with another perceived informant, he was then allowed to write the memoir that was eventually published as Guantánamo Diary in 2015, a devastating account of US torture and incompetence that was profoundly shocking despite its many redactions, and that also revealed Slahi as a witty, perceptive and thoroughly likeable human being. I should note also that I find it ironic that Slahi was only allowed to write a memoir in the first place because of his torture and his subsequent cooperation.
At Guantánamo, despite his torture and his cooperation, the separate housing and the supply of writing materials, the Bush administration still intended to prosecute him in its broken military commission trial system, and when Obama took over there was little improvement for Slahi. As I explained at the time of his release, although “he had no involvement with terrorism, as a US judge concluded when ruling on his habeas corpus petition in 2010, [t]he government appealed, a politically biased appeals court backed that appeal, and Slahi slipped into a legal limbo that only came to an end in July , when a Periodic Review Board — the most recent of several review processes that have punctuated Guantánamo’s long and generally lawless history — approved him for release after a review in June.”
Slahi is wonderfully engaging in the 60 Minutes program, enthusiastic, warm and funny, exactly what is needed to demonstrate how the dark propaganda about Guantánamo being full of terrorists is such a dangerous exaggeration, hiding the truth — that very few people genuinely accused of terrorism have been held at the prison, which, instead, largely contained hapless foot soldiers for the Taliban, or civilians seized by mistake.
In the program, Slahi runs through much of the story described above, including his account of his torture, with Holly Williams, who is a sensitive host. His mother, unfortunately, died in 2013 without him being able to see her, of course, and there is a poignant moment when Slahi and Williams find his car, now wrecked, still parked outside the secret police building, where he left it on the day in November 2001 when, as he put it so memorably many years ago, “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”
Slahi also makes some poignant comments during the film, telling Williams that “pain and suffering is part of growing up, and I grew up,” and that “getting out of Guantánamo was like being born again.”
For me, however, his most poignant comment came soon after his release, when, in a video made for the ACLU, he said, “I wholeheartedly forgive everyone who wronged me during my detention, and I forgive because forgiveness is my inexhaustible resource.”
An extraordinary individual, I hope you agree, and as his editor, Larry Siems, recently explained, Slahi recently elaborated on his theory of forgiveness, explaining that, if people do not forgive those who have wronged them, then they cannot let go of their pain, and it will, essentially, eat away at them or drag them down, whereas he, as he said, is absolutely free.
Note: Please also see this short additional video, which includes Slahi’s lawyer Nancy Hollander and Larry Siems.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article, discussing and linking to a 30-minute interview with former #Guantanamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, broadcast on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Slahi is an astonishing person, generous, warm, witty and, perhaps most surprisingly, totally forgiving towards those who tortured and abused him. A lesson for Donald Trump and all those US officials who, over 15 years, have clung to violence, vengeance and brutality, losing their humanity as a result.
Angela Gipple wrote:
Thanks for this and for all you do, Andy.
You’re welcome, Angela. Thanks for your continued support!
Natalia R Scott wrote:
I think the book he wrote is so brave and I’m really happy to see him smile. He seems happy, hope he can heal all that was done to him.
He’s incredibly positive, Natalia, although I see a sadness deep in his eyes, and I recall him mentioning that, of course, he sometimes (often?) has nightmares. However, I genuinely get the feeling that his joyful spirit won’t fail him.
Mary Shepard wrote:
An extraordinary man. My heart breaks knowing there are still prisoners in Gitmo and with Trump in office, they have no chance of being freed.
Trump hasn’t yet followed up on his threats regarding Guantanamo, Mary. The Periodic Review Boards are ongoing, and the Algerian government was recently reported to be in talks about the return of Sufyian Barhoumi, one of the five men approved for release who were left in Guantanamo when Obama’s presidency ended: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/algeria-talks-trump-release-guantanamo-detainees-1267493181
However, Trump’s intention, obviously, is not to release anyone from Guantanamo, and it’s going to be an uphill struggle to deal with that. I hope NGOs are trying to get to Mattis, as he’s actually capable of coherent thought, and needs to be told that the whole Guantanamo situation really isn’t Geneva-compliant.
Mary Shepard wrote:
If Trump releases any of the prisoners he will do it in secret. But I have no hope.
I’m not optimistic, either, Mary, considering that three of the men approved for release had those decisions taken in 2009, and yet were still held when Obama left office. Nevertheless, in terms of criticism of the US government, endlessly holding prisoners approved for release invites censure, as would scrapping the Periodic Review Boards, which some of the most aggressive Republican lawmakers have urged Trump to do. We’ll just have to wait and see.
While being willing to forgive is a part of the healing process, you have to keep in mind that everybody’s different. I know that the military and politicians would love to have a one-healing-process-fits-all so they could keep sending troops back into Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no cure for PTSD. Which means that you have to face your trauma history head on. UNLESS it endangers you in some way.
Thanks, Tom. Yes, there is definitely no “one size fits all” category of those who have experienced trauma. Slahi is clearly quite an extraordinary person, and I have heard echoes of that positivity from other former prisoners, but of course it’s not the whole story, as Slahi himself alluded to in his reference to the nightmares he experiences.
Natalia R Scott wrote:
Yes, you can see the sadness, so clear too. I think that too, about his spirit 😊
If you have contact with him can you tell him “thank you for writing your story for us” from a Mexican fan?
He’s on Facebook, Natalia – Mohamedou Ould Salahi.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: