Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Message to the Trump Administration: Close Guantánamo Now!

27.1.19

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, in a photo he posted on his Twitter account on December 31, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

It’s now over two weeks since the 17th anniversary of the opening of the US’s post-9/11 “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which, disgracefully, is still open, holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of all international norms, and in some cases in endless pre-trial hearings in the military commissions, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice.

As has been the case since 2011, I was in the US earlier this month to call for its closure, including at a vigil outside the White House and at a panel discussion in the New America think-tank on the anniversary itself. Earlier that day, a Congressional briefing had been held on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by Amnesty International USA and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at which former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi spoke by video link from Mauritania.

This was significant, because former Guantánamo prisoners are not allowed to visit the US, a prohibition that, not accidentally, helps to preserve the notion that those held at the prison were “the worst of the worst”, a piece of enduring black propaganda that has never been even remotely true, as independent assessments, including my own, have established that only a few percent of the 779 men held by the US military at the prison since it opened have had any significant connection to either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Mohamedou — who spoke by video link accompanied by his former guard Steve Wood, who had traveled to Mauritania to visit him — is one of Guantánamo’s better-known former prisoners. A case of mistaken identity, he was subjected to a torture program designed especially for him, but ended up writing a memoir of his experiences that, after a protracted legal struggle, was published as ‘Guantánamo Diary’ and became an international best-seller, its humor and its humanity an extraordinary counterpoint to America’s lack of both at Guantánamo and everywhere else in its brutal and pointless post-9/11 ”war on terror.”

For the 17th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Slahi also wrote a perceptive and compassionate article for Amnesty International, which I’m cross-posting below. In it, he calls on all decent Americans to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and states, “It was never, and it still isn’t, popular to stand up for human rights if the accused is considered an ‘other,’ and much less if the accusation is terrorism-related. However, I would say that precisely for that reason, government violence should not be given free reign just because of the nature of the accusation and the background of the accused.”

I hope you have time to read Mohamedou’s call for justice, and that you will share it if it resonates with you.

Gitmo: Time to close the damn thing
By Mohamedou Slahi, Amnesty International, January 11, 2019

I remember that ever-present day that is seared in my memory forever as if it was yesterday. It was more than 17 years ago when secret police officers led me to my old car parked outside my mother’s house in Mauritania, and asked me to follow them in their unmarked, inconspicuous vehicle. There was a visibly ashamed agent waiting to sit beside me in my car.

As I emerged from my mother’s door, she stopped me. She suspected these were agents just from the way they looked. She was afraid for me. Even an apolitical person like my mother could spot them every time.

“I didn’t want them to find you,” said the young agent beside me in the car. I’d met him before. In 2000 on my way home to Mauritania from a trip to Canada, I was arrested in Senegal for baseless suspicions at the request of the US government. When I was rendered from Senegal to Mauritania, this young agent had acted as my prison guard. He had shared with me some of the hardship he was facing because his job wouldn’t pay his bills. I had promised to help him if I ever got out of prison. He told me that he could fix TVs and set up the channels, and I planned to find him clients and improve his knowledge. The night before my kidnapping from my mother’s house, I had hired him to fix my own TV.

As we drove off, I could see in the rear-view mirror the fingers of my mother raised to the sky and counting prayers. I would never see my mother again, nor my older brother because they passed away before my release.

Back then, there wasn’t yet Guantánamo prison as we know it today. I was rendered to Jordan and later onto Bagram Air Base before I was delivered to the Guantánamo detention center.

In an attempt to get a confession from me, US agents subjected me to torture and to other cruel and inhuman treatment. As if losing my freedom, my livelihood and forcibly being separated from my loved ones wasn’t cruel enough.

It would take years of deprivation, pain and suffering until I finally joined my family at the end of 2016. And more than two years after my release I am still a prisoner in my own country, forbidden from seeking the medical treatment I badly need abroad because the U.S. government has instructed the Mauritanian government not to issue a passport to me.

All the above happened in the name of democracy.

In the name of security.

In the name of the American people.

With the premise that only very few people deserve due process, dignity and human rights and the rest of humanity is fair game for the most powerful democracy in the world.

I believe that the U.S. has the right and duty to protect its citizens but that it should never do it outside of the rule of law that it promised to uphold.

I can safely say that I am a living example that a government’s suspicion can never be the reason for undermining the rule of law, for which generations upon generations in the U.S. have fought for. I am an example because the government’s suspicion that I was a criminal was totally and one hundred percent wrong. I was never charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. The only independent judge I ever faced during my ordeal had ordered my release after seeing the secret evidence that even I wasn’t allowed to see.

Brave activists with Amnesty International recognized that non-Americans, too, have the right to be treated with dignity and benefit from the rule of law. They have actively been helping me, to this day. They helped give the world access to my side of the story when I remained imprisoned year after year, stifled and shouting in the dark. And for that I am forever thankful!

It was never, and it still isn’t, popular to stand up for human rights if the accused is considered an ‘other,’ and much less if the accusation is terrorism-related. However, I would say that precisely for that reason, government violence should not be given free reign just because of the nature of the accusation and the background of the accused. Lynching was condemned and eventually abandoned for a reason.

It’s now been 17 years since the opening of that infamous hell that is Guantánamo Bay. The decency of good American people requires their government to close that damn thing.

Please close that prison and treat people within the rule of law!

God Bless you all!

* * * * *

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a cross-post, with my own introduction, of an article written for Amnesty International, to mark the 17th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, by one of its most famous ex-prisoners, Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

    Slahi was mistakenly regarded as a significant terrorist and subjected to a horrendous torture program, and he later wrote a memoir, ‘Guantanamo Diary’, that became an international bestseller. He calls on all decent American people to call for the closure of Guantanamo, and states, perceptively, “It was never, and it still isn’t, popular to stand up for human rights if the accused is considered an ‘other,’ and much less if the accusation is terrorism-related. However, I would say that precisely for that reason, government violence should not be given free reign just because of the nature of the accusation and the background of the accused.”

    I hope you have time to read it, and will share it if it resonates with you.

  2. Tom says...

    Andy:
    Not to take anything away from the important work you do here. But as a torture survivor myself I have to be really careful w/potentially triggering stuff. Every trauma survivor’s story is different. But the pain never goes away. The longer you go without having a relapse, the worse the pain gets. I’ve heard this from other trauma survivors.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your thoughts, Tom, and for being so open about issues relating to trauma.

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Andy Worthington

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.
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