Guantanamo Diary (Book Review)


Written by Mohamedou Ould Slahi during his 14 year detainment at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, this groundbreaking memoir contains words and sometimes complete pages that are blacked out and censored by the US government. Yet, as I was reading it, I found it amazing in the first place that this manuscript was able to be released to the public, and I believe all people who call themselves American citizens have a responsibility to read it.

Slahi is from Mauritania, a country in Northwestern Africa with a population of 3.5 million people. Slahi writes that he “doesn’t blame the US so much as he does his own government,” who turned him over to the US in 2000 (before the September 11th attacks) without asking the US to provide any evidence of wrongdoing.

“To it’s everlasting shame, the Mauritanian government not only broke its constitution, which forbids the extradition of Mauritanian criminals to other countries, but also extradited an innocent citizen and exposed him to the random American Justice… between the time when I got the decision and the time the U.S. turned me over to the Jordanian Special Forces, I was treated like a UPS package.”

Upon being shipped to Jordan by his own government, Slahi spent a little under a year there until he was then placed under complete American control and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“In the beginning [of the Global War Against Terrorism] the Jordanians were seen as a potential associate for doing the dirty work; the fact that Jordanians widely use torture as a means to facilitate interrogation seemed to impress the American authorities. But there was a problem: the Jordanians don’t take anybody and torture him; they must have a reason to practice heavy physical torture. As Americans grew hardened in their sins, they started to take the dirty job in their own hands.”

Slahi was never formally charged with any crime, yet was tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment for well over a decade by the US government in the hopes that he could provide useful Intel for the War on Terror.

“So why was I scared? Because crime is something relative; it’s something the government defines and re-defines whenever it pleases. The majority of people don’t know, really, where the line is that separates breaking the law from not breaking it. If you get arrested, the situation worsens, because most people trust the government to have a good reason for the arrest.”

The reasoning behind the U.S. government’s allowance of Slahi’s autobiographical account of his time in Guantanamo to be published and shared with the world are still under wraps.What is known is that Slahi’s lawyers fought to get the manuscript declassified, and now anyone is able to go to the public library and read the book.

“I often compared myself with a slave. Slaves were taken forcibly from Africa, and so was I. Slaves were sold a couple of times on their way to their final destination, and so was I. Slaves suddenly were assigned to somebody they didn’t choose, and so was I. And when I looked at the history of slaves, I noticed that slaves sometimes ended up as an integral part of the master’s house.”

Though Slahi’s memoir is hard to read sometimes due not only to the intense experience he recounts but also the common redactions throughout the book forcing the reader fill in the blanks, it is worth picking up- if only to realize that this is a human life that we as American citizens had an impact on, however indirectly.

“The law of war is harsh. If there’s anything good at all in a war, it’s that it brings the best and the worst out of people: some people try to use the lawlessness to hurt others, and some try to reduce the suffering to the minimum,” Slahi writes.

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Originally published at on June 22, 2017.



midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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