Country roads and dirt tracks lead to Mohamedou Ould Slahi's former home in a small village near the capital city of Nouakchott. Children play football in front of the house, using two empty cola bottles as makeshift goals. Goats rummage through the trash foraging for anything edible. There are no street names in these parts; the houses are simply numbered.
A 158 in Boudiane, Mauritania was Slahi's address until 14 years ago. Soon after that, he was assigned another number, when he became prisoner number 760 at Guantanamo, Cuba. Slahi has been held at the American prison for the past 12 years.
He was accused of having been acquainted with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and of having provided them with support and sending them to Afghanistan to receive training. He has also been accused of involvement in the Millennium Plot, the foiled terrorist attack targeting the Los Angeles International Airport. At least that's the claim made by Ahmed Ressam, the man arrested in late 1999 at the US-Canadian border with 60 kilograms of explosives in the trunk of his car.
More than a decade later, though, these allegations have essentially collapsed. Sufficient evidence has never turned up, proper charges haven't been filed and Slahi, now 44, has never been put on trial. US District Court Judge James Robertson, who had to review the lawfulness of his detention in 2010, likewise found no evidence of Slahi's guilt nor, he said, could it be proven that Slahi had supported the 9/11 perpetrators. He ordered Slahi's release.
Four days later, though, the American government appealed the decision and the case has since been remanded to a US District Court, where it is still pending. Neither Slahi, his family nor his lawyers know when and if he will ever be able to leave Guantanamo.
'Don't Worry Mom, I'll Be Back Soon'
There's a pavilion roof over the courtyard of the Slahi family's two-story house in Boudiane. Slahi's former bedroom is a bare room with windows facing the courtyard and mattresses that have been stacked up against the wall. Slahi's mother gave a SPIEGEL reporter a tour of the house in 2008.
"Mohamedou needs to finally come home," she said tearfully at the time. "He didn't do anything and he's my favorite son." Thanks to mediation efforts undertaken by the International Red Cross, she was able to speak to her son by phone twice a year. But Slahi's mother would never see him again. She died in March 2013.
"Don't worry mom, I'll be back soon," Slahi told her on Nov. 20, 2001 as police stood in front of the house to pick him up for questioning. He had just gotten out of the shower. He followed behind the officials, who had already interrogated him several times, in his gray Nissan.
Mauritanian and FBI officials questioned him for days. Ramzi Binalshibh, the coordinator of the 9/11 attacks, had allegedly incriminated Slahi, saying that he had had contact with the Hamburg terror cell while studying electrical engineering on a scholarship in Duisburg. Slahi had, in fact, promoted jihad in the early 1990s in small German mosques and travelled himself to a training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He had wanted to help the Mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviets, he later said. But he claimed he had had nothing to do with 9/11.
'A Lot of Smoke and No Fire'
After eight days, the Americans flew him to Jordan. In July 2002, they flew him from there to Afghanistan, and in August of the same year to Guantanamo. At the US prison camp, they considered him to be a big fish, a dangerous terrorist. The more insistent he became in refusing to confess, the greater the more suspicious his interlocuters became. Slahi, after all, had visited several suspect locations. Guantanamo's former chief prosecutor, Morris Davis, recalled ina 2013 interview with Slate: "In early 2007, we had a big meeting with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice, and we got a briefing from the investigators who worked on the Slahi case, and their conclusion was there's a lot of smoke and no fire."
In 2007, Davis resigned in protest over the methods used in handling prisoners at Guantanamo. US military lawyer Stuart Couch, who had been responsible for Slahi's prosecution, also withdrew from the team when he learned that the inmate had been tortured at Guantanamo. As a Christian, he wrote to his superiors at the time, he had the moral obligation to resign. In Slahi's case, he argued, the US had acted incorrectly in legal, ethical and moral terms.
Weeks of Torture
Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved Slahi's "special interrogation" program personally in August 2003. It included sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, extreme cold, a simulated kidnapping, a simulated execution on a boat and the threat that his mother would also be arrested and brought to Guantanamo.
After weeks of torture, Slahi decided to give his torturers what they wanted: He began talking, implicating people he didn't know and delivering one false statement after the other. He was rewarded for it as well. Even today, Slahi is a privileged prisoner at Guantanamo, with a television and computer, and he's even allowed to grow his own herb garden. During the summer of 2005, he completed a 460-page Guantanamo Diary that he had written by hand. From the beginning, his hope was to someday publish it. He waited a decade. But on Tuesday, his writings are being published in book form around the world for the first time.
The military administration had classified Slahi's notes as top secret, stamped with "noforn" ("no foreign nationals"), making them inaccessible to intelligence agencies in other countries. They remained stored at a secure site in Washington. For six years, Slahi's lawyers fought for their release on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act and in 2012, they finally succeeded. Names and other details had been blacked out, redactions that are reflected in the book as well.
The book is the first comprehensive report given by a prisoner who is still being held at Guantanamo. His lawyer Nancy Hollander says it is also the first to provide details about the torture practices at the military prison. "Slahi provides us with a glimpse of life there," she says. "I hope this book will change some things and that he will finally be released."
Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote the following excerpts from his "Guantanamo Diary" during the summer of 2003.
I was deprived of my comfort items, except for a thin iso-mat and a very thin, small, worn-out blanket. I was deprived of my books, which I owned, I was deprived of my Koran, I was deprived of my soap. I was deprived of my toothpaste and of the roll of toilet paper I had. The cell -- better, the box -- was cooled down to the point that I was shaking most of the time. I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day; every once in a while they gave me a rec-time at night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. For the next 70 days, I wouldn't know the sweetness of sleeping: interrogation 24 hours a day, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off. I don't remember sleeping one night quietly. "If you start to cooperate you'll have some sleep and hot meals," _________________ used to tell me repeatedly.
Force Sex as a Torture Method
"Then today, we're gonna teach you about great American sex. Get up!" said ________. I stood up in the same painful position as I had every day for about 70 days. I would rather follow the orders and reduce the pain that would be caused when the guards come to play; the guards used every contact opportunity to beat the hell out of the detainee.
"Detainee tried to resist," was the "gospel truth" they came up with, and guess who was going to be believed? "You're very smart, because if you don't stand up it's gonna be ugly," ____________.
As soon as I stood up, the two _______ took off their blouses, and started to talk all kind of dirty stuff you can imagine, which I minded less. What hurt me most was them forcing me to take part in a sexual threesome in the most degrading manner. What many _______ don't realize is that men get hurt the same as women if they're forced to have sex, maybe more due to the traditional position of the man. Both _______ stuck on me, literally one on the front and the other older _______ stuck on my back rubbing ____ whole body on mine.
At the same time they were talking dirty to me, and playing with my sexual parts. I am saving you here from quoting the disgusting and degrading talk I had to listen to from noon or before until 10 p.m. when they turned me over to _______, the new character you'll soon meet.
To be fair and honest, the _______ didn't deprive me from my clothes at any time; everything happened with my uniform on. The senior _______________ was watching everything _____________________________________________________. I kept praying all the time.
"Stop the fuck praying! You're having sex with American _______ and you're praying? What a hypocrite you are!" said ______________ angrily, entering the room.
I refused to stop speaking my prayers, and after that, I was forbidden to perform my ritual prayers for about one year to come. I also was forbidden to fast during the sacred month of Ramadan October 2003, and fed by force. During this session I also refused to eat or to drink, although they offered me water every once in a while. "We must give you food and water; if you don't eat it's fine."
I was just wishing to pass out so I didn't have to suffer, and that was really the main reason for my hunger strike; I knew people like these don't get impressed by hunger strikes. Of course they didn't want me to die, but they understand there are many steps before one dies. "You're not gonna die, we're gonna feed you up your ass," said ____________.
I have never felt as violated in myself as I had since the DoD team started to torture me to get me admit to things I haven't done. (...)
Humiliation, sexual harassment, fear and starvation was the order of the day until around 10 p.m. Interrogators made sure that I had no clue about the time, but nobody is perfect; their watches always revealed it. I would be using this mistake later, when they put me in dark isolation.
"I'm gonna send you to your cell now, and tomorrow you'll experience even worse," said _______ after consulting with ____ colleagues. I was happy to be relieved; I just wanted to have a break and be left alone. I was so worn out, and only God knew how I looked. But _______ lied to me; ____ just organized a psychological trick to hurt me more. I was far from being relieved. The D.O.C., which was fully cooperating when it came to torture, sent another escort team. As soon as I reached the doorstep __________________________ I fell face down, my legs refused to carry me, and every inch in my body was conspiring against me. The guards failed to make me stand up, so they had to drag me on the tips of my toes.
The Boat Trip
Suddenly a commando team consisting of three soldiers and a German shepherd broke into our interrogation room. Everything happened quicker than you could think about it. __________ punched me violently, which made me fall face down on the floor.
"Motherfucker, I told you, you're gone!" said _____. His partner kept punching me everywhere, mainly on my face and my ribs. He, too, was masked from head to toe; he punched me the whole time without saying a word, because he didn't want to be recognized. The third man was not masked; he stayed at the door holding the dog's collar, ready to release it on me.
"Who told you to do that? You're hurting the detainee!" screamed _______, who was no less terrified than I was. _____ was the leader of the assailing guards, and he was executing _________________ orders. As to me, I couldn't digest the situation. My first thought was, They mistook me for somebody else. My second thought was to try to recognize my environment by looking around while one of the guards was squeezing my face against the floor. I saw the dog fighting to get loose. I saw _______ standing up, looking helplessly at the guards working on me. "Blindfold the Motherfucker, if he tries to look --"
One of them hit me hard across the face, and quickly put the goggles on my eyes, ear muffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. I couldn't tell who did what. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterwards, I started to bleed. All I could hear was _____ cursing, "F-this and F-that!" I didn't say a word, I was overwhelmingly surprised, I thought they were going to execute me.
Thanks to the beating I wasn't able to stand, so _____ and the other guard dragged me out with my toes tracing the way and threw me in a truck, which immediately took off. The beating party would go on for the next three or four hours before they turned me over to another team that was going to use different torture techniques.
"Stop praying, Motherfucker, you're killing people," _____ said, and punched me hard on my mouth. My mouth and nose started to bleed, and my lips grew so big that I technically could not speak anymore. The colleague of _____ turned out to be one of my guards, ______________________________. _____ and __________ each took a side and started to punch me and smash me against the metal of the truck. One of the guys hit me so hard that my breath stopped and I was choking; I felt like I was breathing through my ribs.
I almost suffocated without their knowledge. I was having a hard time breathing due to the head cover anyway, plus they hit me so many times on my ribs that I stopped breathing for a moment.
Did I pass out? Maybe not; all I know is that I kept noticing _____ several times spraying Ammonia in my nose. The funny thing was that Mr. __ was at the same time my "lifesaver," as were all the guards I would be dealing with for the next year, or most of them. All of them were allowed to give me medication and first aid.
After 10 to 15 minutes, the truck stopped at the beach, and my escorting team dragged me out of the truck and put me in a high-speed boat. __________________ never gave me a break; they kept hitting me and ________________________ in order to make them stab me. "You're killing people," said _____. I believe he was thinking out loud: He knew his was the most cowardly crime in the world, torturing a helpless detainee who completely went into submission and turned himself in. What a brave operation! _____ was trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.
Inside the boat, _____ made me drink salt water, I believe it was directly from the ocean. It was so nasty I threw up. They would put any object in my mouth and shout, "Swallow, Motherfucker!", but I decided inside not to swallow the organ-damaging salt water, which choked me when they kept pouring it in my mouth. "Swallow, you idiot!" I contemplated quickly, and decided for the nasty, damaging water rather than death.
_____ and ____________ escorted me for about three hours in the high-speed boat. The goal of such a trip was, first, to torture the detainee and claim that "the detainee hurt himself during transport," and second, to make the detainee believe he was being transferred to some far, faraway secret prison. We detainees knew all of that; we had detainees reporting they had been flown around for four hours and found themselves in the same jail where they started. I knew from the beginning that I was going to be transferred to __________________ about a five-minute ride. _______ had a very bad reputation: just hearing the name gave me nausea.
At a Secret Site
Over the next several days, I almost lost my mind. Their recipe for me went like this: I must be kidnapped from ______________ and put in a secret place. I must be made to believe I was on a far, faraway island. I must be informed by _____________ that my mom was captured and put in a special facility.
In the secret place, the physical and psychological suffering must be at their highest extremes. I must not know the difference between day and night. I couldn't tell a thing about days going by or time passing; my time consisted of a crazy darkness all the time. My diet times were deliberately messed up. I was starved for long periods and then given food but not given time to eat.
"You have three minutes: Eat!" a guard would yell at me, and then after about half a minute he would grab the plate. "You're done!" And then it was the opposite extreme: I was given too much food and a guard came into my cell and forced me to eat all of it. When I said "I need water" because the food got stuck in my throat, he punished me by making me drink two 25-ounce water bottles.
"I can't drink," I said when my abdomen felt as if it was going to explode. But __________ screamed and threatened me, pushing me against the wall and raising his hand to hit me. I figured drinking would be better, and drank until I vomited.
All the guards were masked with Halloween-like masks, and so were the Medics, and the guards were briefed that I was a high-level, smart-beyond-belief terrorist.
"You know who you are?" said ___________ friend. "You're a terrorist who helped kill 3,000 people!"
"Indeed I am!" I answered. I realized it was futile to discuss my case with a guard, especially when he knew nothing about me. The guards were all very hostile. They cursed, shouted, and constantly put me through rough military-like basic training. "Get up," "Walk to the bin hole." "Stop!" "Grab the shit!" "Eat." "You got two minutes!" "You're done!" "Give the shit back!" "Drink!" "You better drink the whole water bottle!" "Hurry up!" "Sit down!" "Don't sit down unless I say it!" "Search the piece of shit!".
Most of the guards rarely attacked me physically, but ________ hit me once until I fell face-down on the floor, and whenever he and his associate grabbed me they held me very tight and made me run in the heavy chains: "Move!"
No sleep was allowed. In order to enforce this, I was given 25-ounce water bottles at intervals of one to two hours, depending on the mood of the guards, 24 hours a day. The consequences were devastating. I couldn't close my eyes for 10 minutes because I was sitting most of the time on the bathroom. Later on, after the tension was relieved, I asked one of the guards, "Why the water diet? Why don't you just make me stay awake by standing up, like in _____________?
"Psychologically it's devastating to make somebody stay awake on his own, without ordering him," said _______________. "Believe me, you haven't seen anything. We have put detainees naked under the shower for days, eating, pissing, and shitting in the shower!" he continued. Other guards told me about other torture methods that I wasn't really eager to know about.
I was allowed to say three sentences: "Yes, sir!" "Need my interrogator!" and "Need the medics." Every once in a while the whole guard team stormed my cell, dragged me out, put me facing the wall, and threw out whatever was in my cell, shouting and cursing in order to humiliate me. It wasn't much: I was deprived from all comfort items that a detainee needs except for a mattress and a small, thin, worn-out blanket. For the first weeks I also had no shower, no laundry, no brushing. I almost developed bugs. I hated my smell.
No sleep. Water diet. Every move behind my door made me stand up in a military-like position with my heart pounding like boiling water. My appetite was non-existent. I was waiting every minute on the next session of torture. I hoped I would die and go to heaven.
A Turning Point and Fabrications
"Obviously there is no way out with you guys," I addressed _________.
"I'm telling you how!" ____ responded.
Now, thanks to the unbearable pain I was suffering, I had nothing to lose, and I allowed myself to say anything to satisfy my assailants. Session followed session since I called _______________.
"People are very happy with what you're saying," said ______________ after the first session. I answered all the questions he asked me with incriminating answers. I tried my best to make myself look as bad as I could, which is exactly the way you can make your interrogator happy.
I made my mind up to spend the rest of my life in jail. You see most people can put up with being imprisoned unjustly, but nobody can bear agony day in and day out for the rest of his life.
They dedicated the whole time until around Nov.10, 2003 to questioning me about Canada and Sept. 11; they didn't ask me a single question about Germany, where I really had the center of gravity of my life. Whenever they asked me about somebody in Canada I had some incriminating information about that person, even if I didn't know him. Whenever I thought about the words, "I don't know," I got nauseous, because I remembered the words of ______________, "All you have to say is, "I don't know, I don't remember, and we'll fuck you!" Or __________ "We don't want to hear your denials anymore!" And so I erased these words from my dictionary. (...)
So far, I have personally cost American taxpayers at least $1 million, and the counter is ticking higher every day. The other detainees are costing more or less the same. Under these circumstances, Americans need and have the right to know what the hell is going on.