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

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.

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Videos of ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’, the Brighton University Online Conference on Nov. 12-13, 2021

A header from the website of the online conference, ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’, hosted by the University of Brighton, which took place on Nov. 12-13, 2021

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With just twelve days to go until the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, this would seem like a good time to make available some of the videos from ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’, the online conference on November 12 and 13, hosted by the University of Brighton, which I helped to organize.

The conference featured two keynote speakers (myself and former prisoner Shaker Aamer, standing in at the last minute for Mohamedou Ould Slahi), guest speakers Mansoor Adayfi (another former prisoner) and Antonio Aiello (who worked with Mansoor on his memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here, published this summer), ten academics delivering papers, and three panel discussions.

I posted a report about the conference just after it had taken place, although at the time videos of the presentations weren’t available, so I’m delighted to be able to present them now for those of you who weren’t able to attend the conference — or even for those of you who were, and will appreciate seeing them again.

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“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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Prior to Chelsea Manning’s Release on Wednesday, Here’s What She Wrote to President Obama

Free Chelsea Manning posters, via torbakhopper on Flickr.Please support my work! 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.




 

This Wednesday, May 17, Chelsea Manning — formerly known as Bradley Manning — will be released from prison, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she has been held for the last seven years. Her role as a whistleblower was immense. As a private, she was responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner. See my archive of articles based on those files here.

By that time, Manning was already in US custody in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, which I first wrote about in December 2010, in an article entitled, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”? I continued to follow her story closely into 2011 (see here and here), which included President Obama’s indifference to criticism by the United Nations, and when Manning’s trial finally took place, in 2013, I made a particular point of dealing with those parts of the trial in which the significance of the Guantánamo files was examined.

As I stated just before the trial began, “Bradley’s key statement on the Guantánamo files is when he says, ‘the more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would’ve been released if they were held in theater.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On CBS’s 60 Minutes, Former Guantánamo Prisoner, Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Tells His Story

A screenshot from "Prisoner 760," 60 Minutes' interview with Mohamedou Ould Slahi.Please support my work! 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 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA Press).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next two months.

 

Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.

Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence. Read the rest of this entry »

Mohamedou Ould Slahi Released from Guantánamo, Thanks Those Who Stood By Him

Mohamedou Ould Slahi and the cover of "Guantanamo Diary"

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Today, the population of the prison at Guantánamo Bay stands at just 60 men, after Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture victim and best-selling author, was released, and sent back home to Mauritania.

It is just under 15 years since the Mauritanian authorities seized Slahi, at the request of the US. As he later put it, in the English he learned with a particular relish during his captivity, “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

A Zelig-like figure, who had been around al-Qaeda, but only involved in it in the early 1990s, when he fought with al-Qaida against the Soviet-installed government of Afghanistan, Slahi (who later renounced al-Qaeda) was related to al-Qaeda’s spiritual advisor, Abu Hafs (a man who, it should be noted, did not approve of the 9/11 attacks), and, while living in Germany, had met some of the 9/11 hijackers. At the time, they had wanted to go to Chechnya to fight, but he advised them that it was better to go to Afghanistan to undertake training instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally! Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed before he was handed over to US authorities in Mauritania, and sent for torture in Jordan and Guantanamo, where he is still held. On July 14, 2016, a Periodic Review Board approved him for release.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.

Great news from Guantánamo, as the torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, as has an Afghan prisoner, Abdul Zahir, who was charged in the first version of Guantánamo’s military commissions in January 2006 — although those charges were then dropped and never revived. The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and, with these two decisions, 29 men have been approved for release and 13 for ongoing imprisonment, a success rate of 69%. See our definitive Periodic Review Board list here.

This is remarkable — and an indictment of the Obama administration’s caution — when it is recognized that, back in 2009, when President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess these men’s cases, these 42 men and 22 others either awaiting reviews or awaiting the results of reviews, were described as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, or were put forward for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny in 2012-13.

Slahi (ISN 760), a 45-year old Mauritanian, was one of those initially — and incomprehensibly — recommended for prosecution by the task force. As I explained at the time of his PRB on June 2, he “was subjected to a specially tailored torture program in Guantánamo, approved by Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and, though still imprisoned, is a best-selling author. While imprisoned, he wrote a memoir that, after a long struggle with the US government, was published in redacted form. Nevertheless, the power of Slahi’s account of his life, his rendition, his torture and his long years in Guantánamo, is such that the book, Guantánamo Diary, has become a best-seller.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: RT America’s One-Hour Special on Guantánamo Featuring Andy Worthington, Joe Hickman, Nancy Hollander and Tom Wilner

Gitmo 2016: a screen shot from RT America's one-hour special on Guantanamo in June 2016.Last week, I was delighted to take part in an hour-long Guantánamo special on RT America, presented by Simone del Rosario, who had recently visited the prison. Simone began by noting that it was the tenth anniversary of three deaths at Guantánamo — 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, and 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, another Saudi.

The deaths were described by the authorities as a triple suicide, but there have always been doubts about that being feasible — doubts that were particularly highlighted in 2010, when the law professor and journalist Scott Horton wrote an alternative account for Harper’s Magazine, “The Guantánamo Suicides,” that drew in particular on a compelling counter-narrative presented by Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who had been in the prison at the time of the men’s deaths, monitoring activities from the guard towers. Hickman’s book Murder in Camp Delta was published in January 2015, and he was also a contributor to RT America’s show.

After this opening, the show dealt in detail with the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Mauritanian national, torture victim and best-selling author (of Guantánamo Diary). Slahi is one of the prisoners still held who were designated for prosecution by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed after a number of critical appeals court rulings and he was, instead, put forward for a Periodic Review Board, the latest review process, which began at the end of 2013. Slahi’s PRB took place on June 2, and, in discussing his case, Simone del Rosario also spoke to one of his attorneys, Nancy Hollander. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos and Report: Parliamentary Meeting for Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, April 19, 2016

The actor Toby Jones reading from "Guantanamo Diary' by Mohamedou Ould Slahi at a Parliamentary briefing on April 19, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here.

On Tuesday evening, April 19, I attended a Parliamentary briefing, in the Grimond Room, in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a best-selling author who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for nearly 14 years.

A notorious torture victim, for whom a specific torture program was developed at Guantánamo, Slahi had previously been held in Jordan, for eight months, where he was also tortured. He was rendered to Jordan by US forces, after he had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities at the request of the US. In fact, he handed himself in willingly, not thinking for a moment that, as he later described it so memorably, he would be in a position where “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

This was Slahi’s description of how he was betrayed by his home country, as delivered at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without rights, and essentially, to rubber-stamp that designation. They were the words I first encountered when researching Slahi’s story in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and they reflect the Slahi who emerges from Guantánamo Diary, his extraordinary memoir, written at Guantánamo over a decade ago, but not published until January 2015, after the US government finally allowed a redacted copy to be published, which has since gone on to become a New York Times best-seller, and has been translated into numerous other languages. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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