“The Mauritanian” Perfectly Captures the Horrors of Guantánamo and the US Torture Program

The goody bag for the online screening of “The Mauritanian” that I was invited to attend last Friday, February 5, 2021.

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UPDATE MAR. 3, 2021: “The Mauritanian” is now available for streaming in the US, although UK viewers will have to wait until April 1.

Last Friday I was privileged to be invited to an online pre-release screening of “The Mauritanian,” the new feature film about former Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Slahi (aka Salahi), based on his best-selling memoir Guantánamo Diary, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

French actor Tahar Rahim shines as Mohamedou, capturing his nimble mind, and also capturing something of his gentle charisma, admirably supported by his attorneys Nancy Hollander (played by Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (actually a composite of two attorneys, played by Shailene Woodley), and with Benedict Cumberbatch appearing as Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, Mohamedou’s military prosecutor, who resigned after discovering his torture, and how the only evidence against him consisted of statements that he made as a result of his torture.

The screenplay was written by Michael Bronner (as M. B. Traven), working with the writing duo of Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, and the director was Kevin Macdonald, and all involved are to be commended for creating a film that does justice to Mohamedou’s story — and I’m grateful to Nancy Hollander for having specifically included a photo of herself holding up a “Close Guantánamo” poster in the end credits, which I took of her in April 2016 at a Parliamentary meeting for Mohamedou in London.

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Video: Mohamedou Ould Salahi and I Discuss the Closure of Guantánamo with Lewes Amnesty Group on Jan. 11, 2021

A screenshot of former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi speaking to Lewes Amnesty Group on January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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On January 11, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was pleased to take part in a couple of events, to make up for my inability, because of Covid, to visit the US to campaign for the prison’s closure, as I have been doing every year since 2011.

To mark the occasion, I was interviewed by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof, for a video that is available here, and earlier I had taken part in an online meeting organized by the Lewes Amnesty Group, a very active group, dating back to the days when campaigners across south east England, and beyond, including campaigners in Lewes, fought to secure the release from Guantánamo of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes (who was released in 2007), and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally released in 2015 after a huge campaign that involved MPs, the media, celebrities and two particular groups, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and We Stand With Shaker, which I set up with campaigner Joanne MacInnes in 2014, and which involved getting MPs and celebrities to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, to demand his release.

The featured guest of the Lewes Amnesty Group’s meeting was former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary (UK edition here), and a survivor of US torture in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, whose story has been adapted by Hollywood for a new feature film, ‘The Mauritanian,’ which will be released next month.

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Close Guantánamo: Online Events Marking the 19th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison on January 11, 2021

Campaigners from Witness Against Torture and other organizations call for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

For the last ten years, I have traveled to the US from London (since 2012 as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I co-founded that year with the US attorney Tom Wilner) to take part in events marking the anniversary, on January 11, of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, with a particular focus on a vigil outside the White House, with representatives of numerous NGOs including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Witness Against Torture.

This year, sadly, because of Covid, the vigil is only happening online, and my visit has been called off, although I am currently finalizing details of online replacements for events that I usually undertake in person — a panel discussion with our other co-founder Tom Wilner at New America in Washington, D.C., and another at Revolution Books in New York with Guantánamo lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis — as well as some other online discussions. See my post here about the Revolution Books event, which is on Sunday January 17, and begins at 4pm Eastern time. It will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook. I hope to have details about the New America event soon.

For this year’s anniversary, I urge you to join Close Guantánamo’s photo campaign, taking a photo with our poster marking how long Guantánamo has been open on January 11 — 6,941 days — and sending it to us at info@closeguantanamo.org. You can also take a photo with our follow-up poster for January 20, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, when the prison will have been open for 6,950 days. We’ll be posting the photos on our website, and sharing them on social media.

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Guantánamo Torture Victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi and the Extraordinary Power of Forgiveness

Former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi photographed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson for Middle East Eye.

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.





 

In the long and dispiriting history of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, few of the 729 men and boys released have become household names, but one who has is the Mauritanian citizen Mohamedou Ould Salahi, best known as the author of the acclaimed memoir Guantánamo Diary, written while he was at the prison.

A victim of the US’s global network of torture prisons, and subjected to a special torture program at Guantánamo that was approved by then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Salahi (generally identified at Guantánamo as Slahi) was mistakenly regarded as a significant player in Al-Qaeda, but was finally approved for release in July 2016, and was released in Mauritania three months later, almost 15 years since his own government, as he so memorably put it, “turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

Despite being freed, Salahi is trapped in Mauritania, as his government has broken a promise to return his passport to him after two years, a situation that I wrote about in March, when, as I also pointed out, everyone released from Guantánamo — all those men and boys described by the US as “enemy combatants” — are forever tainted by the experience, and continue to live fundamentally without rights.

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The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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.




 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

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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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