RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Over the next few minutes, we're going to hear about the first memoir ever written by a man still imprisoned in Guantanamo. It's published today, after years spent getting it declassified and then heavily redacted. In "Guantnamo Diary," Mohamedou Ould Slahi traces his journey after 9-11, seized in his home country of Mauritania, sent to a prison in Jordan and eventually flown to Guantanamo. In this excerpt from the memoir read by the narrator of the audiobook, Slahi is leaving Jordan in chains and about to be stripped naked.
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Reading) Now, my hands were shackled in front of me. Somebody started to rip my clothes with something like scissors. I was, like, what the heck is going on? Many thoughts went quickly through my head. The optimistic thoughts suggested, maybe you're in the hands of Americans, but don't worry. They just want to take you home and to make sure that everything goes in secrecy. The pessimistic ones went, you screwed up. The Americans managed to pin some [bleep] on you, and they're taking you to U.S. prisons for the rest of your life.
MONTAGNE: The Pentagon has confirmed to NPR that for a brief time, at Guantanamo in 2003, a, quote, "special interrogation plan" was designed just for Mohamedou Slahi, approved by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld because it was outside the military's own standard interrogation procedures. As Slahi tells the story, he came to the attention of the U.S. after fighting briefly with the mujahideen in Afghanistan. That led to a web of friendships which he says became a net that caught him up. To talk more about the book, we turn to the editor, Larry Siems, and Slahi's attorney, Nancy Hollander. Good morning to both of you.
NANCY HOLLANDER: Good morning.
LARRY SIEMS: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Give us a thumbnail, please, to begin with, with what U.S. authorities thought he had done.
HOLLANDER: The United States thought he was involved with what was called the millennium bombing. They had figured out that it had nothing to do with Mohamedou. Later, they decided that he was one of the recruiters to the pilots at 9-11. That wasn't true. And the government actually admitted in court that there was no way he could've known about 9-11.
MONTAGNE: He did have some reason - that you would imagine - why the U.S. would be interested in him. It's something he freely admitted - was that he had sworn an oath of loyalty to al-Qaida while he was in Afghanistan, back in the very early-'90s, to fight with the mujahideen against the communist government there. I mean, he admitted that. He admitted a connection to al-Qaida.
HOLLANDER: He admitted that. But let me remind you that the United States also was involved in that war. The United States provided billions of dollars and Stinger missiles. This is all in a movie called "Charlie Wilson's War." And that al-Qaida was not the same al-Qaida that, years later, came and bombed the United States. And in fact, the judge found that specifically.
MONTAGNE: Larry Siems, you edited this memoir. If you had to describe, in brief, the litany of the sorts of tortures that he experienced, how would it go?
SIEMS: Extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, subjection to extremes of temperature, sexual abuse, stress positions, a fake kidnapping in which he was shackled and dragged onto a boat and sent out into the Caribbean and beaten, and ice was put in his clothes to sort of disguise the beating and also to further the physical suffering - dragged back into a complete isolation cell in Guantanamo that had been blacked out. And he was not allowed to see the sun or know the time of day for months while the interrogation continued. And, you know, the most kind of awful threats to family members as well.
MONTAGNE: Was there one that stuck out for you?
SIEMS: Well, I was, you know - during some of the most physically abusive scenes, he has this interesting capacity of kind of being able to disengage. He talks about drowning in his dreams often. It's kind of a repeated phrase. You know, he kind of seeks a refuge in his mind and in his imagination. The physical intensity of it - you know, the reaction to it - to find a kind of a psychological refuge.
MONTAGNE: Well, there is one passage - and I think this suggests how he wrote - with a lot of black humor. He writes about, early on, when one of his guards was a kind of a nice guard after a really mean guard had been sort of working him over verbally. So this guard talked to him about American history and how in Puritan times, innocents used to be punished by drowning. And then when Mohamedou says, well, I'm innocent, the guard says - he's sympathetic - he says, well, that's really too bad. I mean, that's the shame. So why don't you, the guard suggests, just think about all of this like you have cancer. It's so dark, but it's - you start just to laugh. I mean, you actually kind of laugh.
SIEMS: Well, I think, you know - what I think one of the most amazing things about the book for me is how it opened up a world to me of the American servicemen and servicewomen and intelligence agents that we put in these situations. And that's a kind of an amazing example. Mohamedou, you know, his most impressive ethic as he wrote this book was that he treats every single person he writes about as an individual.
MONTAGNE: He does apply his ability to describe things in a way that makes you stop and think. There was one passage where he talks about being tied up, restrained so tightly, that it hurt so bad, that it was a relief when someone kicked him.
HOLLANDER: And then he also describes the relief of sitting next to another prisoner on the way to the airplane - just the warmth of another body.
SIEMS: Yeah, I think that's very true. It's those little brushstrokes, you know. I mean, at this point, I think the American people should have a good idea about the kinds of things that have gone on in Guantanamo like the things that have gone on in the CIA black sites. But I think what we don't know, what we haven't thought about, what we haven't let ourselves think about is what it felt like to be in that place and to experience those things. And I think that's part of the narrative that's been, you know, systematically denied to the American people. We have been denied access to the voices of the people who have lived inside of Guantanamo - the prisoners and the jailers.
MONTAGNE: Thank you both for joining us.
HOLLANDER: Thank you very much, Renee.
SIEMS: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Larry Siems is the editor of the new memoir "Guantanamo Diary" by detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Nancy Hollander is Slahi's attorney. He has never been charged. Five years ago, a federal judge ordered him freed, but an appeals court blocked that decision. Mohamedou Slahi remains at Guantanamo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.