Video: Q&A with Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Kevin Macdonald, Nancy Hollander and I at Screening of ‘The Mauritanian’ in Tunbridge Wells

24.4.22

A screenshot of the Q&A at Tunbridge Wells on March 20, 2022, following a screening of ‘The Mauritanian’ at the Trinity Theatre.

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Last month, I was privileged to take part in a number of events during the first ever UK speaking tour by former Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi (aka Slahi), which was arranged by my friend Bernard Sullivan and his niece Oriel, in which the author of the acclaimed memoir “Guantánamo Diary” brought his extraordinary message of forgiveness to Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Chatham House and the LSE in London, Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and a peace centre in Somerset. Mohamedou’s tour culminated in a visit to the Houses of Parliament, where he addressed a number of supportive MPs and peers, and had the distinction of being the first non-British former Guantánamo prisoner to be welcomed into the Palace of Westminster.

As I have previously reported, I met Mohamedou for the very first time at the Chatham House event. I had already taken part in a number of online events with him, so I knew of his charisma, his winning smile and his wicked sense of humour, but, meeting him in person, it was also impossible not to recognize how the torture to which he was subjected continues to haunt him. Like an unsettled day in which the sun breaks out, illuminating everything with warmth and radiance, only for dark clouds to then obscure it, suddenly bringing darkness and cold, Mohamedou alternates between extraordinary sociability and silent seriousness behind which the ghosts that continue to dog him are evidently still at play.

The Chatham House event, on March 10, was my first opportunity to see Mohamedou’s mesmerising effect on audiences, and it was followed, as were all his speaking events, by attendees queuing up to buy copies of  “Guantánamo Diary”, and to have them signed by Mohamedou, as he engaged with them and brought them directly into his world for a few moments.

A similar scenario played out at the LSE, on March 16, and the day after, on March 17, I got to spend the afternoon with Mohamedou, meeting him in Lewes, where he had stayed the night before, and where I had lunch with him and we got to discuss Guantánamo as only a former prisoner and Guantánamo’s most persistent researcher can.

I then travelled with him to the University of Brighton, where my friend Sara Birch, a law lecturer at the university, and a long-standing colleague of mine in the campaign to get Guantánamo closed, had arranged for a screening of “The Mauritanian”, the feature film about Mohamedou, directed by Kevin Macdonald, followed by a Q&A with Mohamedou and myself. Its was a powerful event, in a lecture room packed out with students (Sara has “crowd-gathering tendencies”, as someone once memorably said of Michael Eavis, the founder of Glastonbury Festival).

The Q&A session was very powerful, and an audio recording was made of it, although that hasn’t yet surfaced, but fortunately, for the next event, on Sunday March 20 at the Trinity Theatre, in a converted church in Tunbridge Wells, a filmmaker was present to record the Q&A with Mohamedou, Kevin Macdonald and myself, moderated by Sara, and with Mohamedou’s lawyer Nancy Hollander joining us by Zoom.

The video is below, via YouTube:

Sara began the Q&A session by directing a few pertinent questions to the panellists, asking Mohamedou what kept him going, which allowed him to explain how his long years of solitude enabled him to reach his conclusion that the only way to secure peace of mind was to forgive everyone who had wronged him, giving him, as he described it, “a kind of freedom that no one can take away.”

She then asked Kevin what drew him to want to tell Mohamedou’s story, and Kevin explained that he was initially interested in being able to provide a perspective on the “war on terror” from a prisoner’s perspective, but was then shocked to be told, by several US filmmakers, that ‘The Mauritanian’ was actually the first mainstream American movie to feature a sympathetic Muslim lead.

Sara then opened up the floor to the audience, and numerous fascinating questions were then directed at Mohamedou and Kevin, as well as to Nancy and myself.

I don’t want to give anything else away, as I hope you have time to watch the whole of the video, because, at the end, we all discussed how important it is for us all to recognize that we can all be involved in spreading the word about the continuing injustice of Guantánamo, and I also hope that you’ll share it if you find it useful. And if you do, then you may also appreciate the video of the Bristol event, available on YouTube here, and the video of the Somerset event, at the Ammerdown Centre, which is available on Facebook here.

Timing is everything, of course, and, when it came to securing mainstream media coverage, Mohamedou’s visit sadly coincided with the start of Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, which dominated headlines to such an extent that no broadcaster picked up on the significance of his visit. It’s worth noting, however, that the Press Association covered the start of Mohamedou’s speaking tour, and their article, ‘Guantánamo Bay should close, says former detainee’, can be found here.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s visit to Parliament on March 29, 2022. From L to R: Bernie and Susie Sullivan, Tom Brake, Layla Moran MP, Mohamedou, Andy Worthington and Suzie Gilbert.

It’s also worth mentioning Mohamedou’s visit to Parliament at the very end of his tour, on March 29, when, as I explained when I posted a photo on my Facebook page ‘The State of London’, he was met by Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who had organised a Parliamentary meeting for him, which was also attended by Helena Kennedy QC, Lord Dubs and Baroness Uddin, and where he also met Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Burgon. Also in attendance was former Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who held a Parliamentary meeting for Mohamedou back in 2016, when he was still imprisoned, Bernie and Susie Sullivan, who organised Mohamedou’s tour along with Bernie’s niece Ariel, activist Suzie Gilbert, and myself, and Layla’s tweet about Mohamedou’s visit can be found here.

In conclusion, I also want to mention “Guantánamo Diary Revisited”, a new documentary about Mohamedou, and the search for those who tortured him, directed by the journalist John Goetz, and just released in the US and Canada by Cinema Libre Studio (who last week made it available online for three days as a fundraiser for my work), and I can’t bring this roundup of Mohamedou’s tour to an end without mentioning that, yesterday, the Toronto Star reported that Mohamedou has just launched a $35 million lawsuit against the Canadian government, relating to his brief residence there in 1999 to 2000, which led to the Canadian intelligence services sharing unsubstantiated claims about him with the US government. As the court filing states, “Canadian authorities took statements made by Slahi out of context, then presented them to American authorities as definitive proof of wrongdoing, despite their knowledge (or reckless disregard or wilful blindness) that Slahi risked being mistreated as a result.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the 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, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — 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.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to and discussing the video of the powerful Q&A session that followed a screening of ‘The Mauritanian’ in Tunbridge Wells on March 20, 2022, featuring former #Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, whose story is told in the film, director Kevin Macdonald and myself, joined by Mohamedou’s lawyer Nancy Hollander on Zoom, and moderated by Sara Birch.

    It was the penultimate date of Mohamedou’s month-long UK speaking tour, which ended the week after with a visit to Parliament hosted by Layla Moran MP.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Thanks Andy, did you see this? https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/24/ex-guantanamo-prisoner-claim-canada-had-a-role-in-his-detention

    Here’s hoping he sees justice.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s an interesting development, Asiya, and it will be worth keeping an eye on to see how it plays out in the Canadian courts.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hilary Homes wrote:

    Andy, it’s a long process here in Canada at the best of times, and in previous similar cases, the government has used every stall tactic on the books. However, there is usually a settlement eventually (usually in the 10 million range). So it will indeed be interesting to see how this unfolds.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m hoping Mohamedou gets somewhere with the “tea and sugar” slander, Hilary, and I also think that an objective appraisal of Ahmed Ressam’s confessions, much of which he later recanted, is long overdue.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hilary Homes wrote:

    Andy, a few of us are looking at what sort of parallel campaigning we might be able to do. So many questions to raise!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s a good idea, Hilary!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanann Abu Brase wrote:

    Thanks for this Andy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Hanann. Thanks for your interest.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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