A detainee shields his face as he peers out through the so-called "bean hole," which is used to pass food and other items into detainee cells, at Camp Delta detention center on the Guantanamo Bay U.S.
( Associated Press
BOB GARFIELD: For Siems, the Diary recounts a tragic human rights violation and makes a political plea. For Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the pages represent the darkest moments of his life. Mohamedou, welcome to the show.
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: Thank you for having me, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: This nightmare began a little more than 15 years ago with you going voluntarily to your local police station to answer a few questions. What were you thinking as you headed there?
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: I really wasn't afraid of the US government back then because my only information about the United States of America is what I learned through movies and TV shows like Married with Children or Murder She Wrote, Law and Order and stuff like that, so I see that America is a country of law. If you didn’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to be afraid of.
BOB GARFIELD: And what did they want?
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: He told me, look, we don't know why the American government is so adamant. They told us to arrest you and they will come and interrogate you. We don’t know why.
BOB GARFIELD: You got sucked into this system and you were eventually interrogated about the Millennium bomb plot that they suspected you may have had a connection with. It immediately became clear to them that you could not possibly have been involved in that plot because you didn't show up until the people had already been arrested for trying to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border. And yet, you were kept in custody.
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: This is the problem, what I call the securitad apparatus, very much hijacking the democracy in the United States of America. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t come and said, you know what, we’re sorry, we really thought you did it and we really apologize, then try to mend the wrong. That’s not how it operates, especially outside the mainland. So they say, ah, okay, maybe you didn't do it but you must have done something else. And who is going to ask a second question about an Arab African guy kidnapped from Africa because he was trying to harm honest Americans? No one.
BOB GARFIELD: As it turns out, there were people who cared about you. There is this crazy paradox that while you were hidden from the world for 14 years in Guantánamo Bay without a voice, you were given a voice by various surrogates, lawyers, activists, Larry Siems, in particular. I wonder how you even processed the idea of having so many allies fighting for you from within the very country that was depriving you of your basic liberty.
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: I don’t define humanity as American and non-American. It is about decent people who want justice for everyone who can look beyond your skin color or where you’re born and people who just hate themselves. No one helped me more than my good American brothers and sisters.
BOB GARFIELD: Mohamedou, anyone who has ever had psychotherapy knows the process of revisiting bad memories and how traumatic that can be. You endured not just bad memories [LAUGHS] but 14 years of, of hell on earth. How hellish was the process of reliving it line by line, page by page?
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: I was so scared, so afraid because, like you said, they say that subconscious does not know the difference between actual stuff and stuff that we think about. It’s not easy. I am not going to play the hero here. It was very painful work and a lot of, you know, thinking, spending night, what was this, what was -- what was I talking about here, and so. And with the help of my good friend and brother Larry, we got the product that you have now.
BOB GARFIELD: Many of the reviewers of Guantanamo Diary remarked on the spirit of your book, the tone, the absence of bitterness.
How can you [LAUGHS] not be weighted down with bitterness and resentment and rage, and even vindictiveness?
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: Because I want to win. I hate to lose to anyone. I figure if I am a bitter person, if I give space to someone with doesn't deserve it in my head, I let them win. I will not help you destroy me.
BOB GARFIELD: So you’re such a sore loser [LAUGHS] that you won't give them --
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: Yes, very, very sore.
BOB GARFIELD: -- the benefit of your rage.
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: Absolutely. I don't have guns. I don't have planes. I don't have dictators around the world on my payroll. I don’t have the media. All the above the US government has, so they define the narrative, they define who is good, who is bad. I don't have any of that. But I have one thing. I don't have to hate anyone. I don't have to vindicate what they say I am.
BOB GARFIELD: During the Obama administration, the fate of Guantánamo and those prisoners was the subject of an ongoing debate, handwringing in the Obama White House about the conflict between trying to keep the homeland protected and also to afford basic human rights to detainees. There is no such tension in the current administration. Guantánamo is off -- the -- radar. What is your greatest fear about that?
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: I always hope and pray that they close Guantánamo Bay because Guantánamo Bay is a travesty of justice. American people are better than that.
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And my fear -- I hope that I am wrong -- is that America carry on this tradition of kidnapping and torturing people without the rule of law and that they carry on the legacy of Guantánamo Bay, even expanding it because now people start to accept it, and that is very, very fearsome onto me.
BOB GARFIELD: Mohamedou, thank you very, very much.
MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: God bless you. Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Mohamedou Ould Slahi is the author of Guantanamo Diary, which was released last month in its unredacted form.
That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova—Burgess, Jesse Brenneman, Micah Loewinger and Leah Feder. We had more help from Monique Laborde, and our show was edited, this week, by our Executive Producer Katya Rogers. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Sam Bair and Terence Bernardo.
Jim Schachter is WNYC’s vice president for news. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I’m Bob Garfield.