'Guantanamo Diary,' the first Gitmo account by a detainee still imprisoned, will be published

“Guantanamo Diary” will be published simultaneously around the world on Jan. 20, 2015, as part of an international campaign to free Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Gitmo prisoner and author of the memoir.

Bill Gorman/AP
A sign is posted outside the Courthouse One Expeditionary Legal Complex at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Canongate has just announced that it will publish “Guantanamo Diary,” the prison memoirs of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the first Gitmo account to be released by a detainee still imprisoned at the camp.

“Guantanamo Diary” will be published simultaneously around the world on Jan. 20, 2015 as part of an international campaign to free Slahi, who has been held at the camp since 2002 despite never having been charged with a crime. Little, Brown has acquired the US rights to the book, the Bookseller has reported.

The memoir details the harrowing conditions to which Slahi was subject, including beatings, sexual humiliation, and round-the-clock interrogation. Slate published an excerpt of the memoir last year.

“The cell – better, the box – was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time," he writes. "I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don't remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn't know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off." 

The story behind “Guantanamo Diary” is as captivating as the memoir itself promises to be. 

According to reports, Slahi voluntarily turned himself in for questioning in Mauritania, his native country, in 2001. He was taken to Jordan in a CIA rendition plane, where he was interrogated for eight months before Jordanians cleared him. From there, the US took him to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and then finally to Guantanamo in 2002. 

“During his time in custody he has been subjected to multiple forms of torture including isolation, beatings, sexual humiliation, death threats, and a mock kidnapping and rendition,” Canongate said in a statement.

Soon after his detainment at Guantanamo, Slahi learned English from his prison guards. His account of life at Guantanamo began as letters to his lawyers and soon became a memoir which Slahi wrote from his prison cell in 2005. Lawyers have fought for seven years to have the manuscript declassified, yet parts still remain redacted, according to the UK’s Guardian.

In 2010, a federal court in Washington, DC, ordered Slahi’s immediate release, but the decision was appealed and Slahi remains at Guantanamo awaiting another hearing.

The book will be edited and introduced by author and human rights advocate Larry Siems, lead author of the Torture Report.

Slahi "endured one of the most stubborn, brutal, and deliberate interrogations on record,” despite never having been accused of any crime by the US, Siems told the Guardian.

“Slahi's treatment in Guantánamo is among the most extreme, and most well-documented, cases of torture in the record,” Siems said. “When, after more than six years of litigation and negotiations, his lawyers succeeded in getting a redacted version his manuscript cleared for public release, they asked if I would like to see it. I couldn't believe it: I knew from the record how vivid and harrowing his story was likely to be, and from bits of his voice in the transcripts of his Guantánamo hearings that he was very likely to be an insightful and compelling storyteller. Of course I said yes. The manuscript is 466 pages, handwritten, in English – a language he largely acquired in Guantánamo. It did not disappoint.” 

Because Guantanamo has largely remained a secret, the book will provide a critical glimpse inside one of the most secretive and controversial places in modern history. It will also present a rarely heard view of America’s war on terror, its prison camps, and its torture techniques.

Canongate calls it “a document of immense historical importance.” Yet, despite Slahi’s experience, his account “terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious,” Canongate said in a statement. 

Slahi “manages to do something that I think very few of us could do,” says Siems. “[H]e treats everyone he writes about as individuals, trying, as he puts it, 'to be as fair as possible to the US government, to my brothers, and to myself'. In doing that, he renders an account of Guantánamo that is unlike anything we have seen before, one where humor and unexpected kindnesses exist alongside dumbfounding degradations and brutalities.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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