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Diary Of A Gitmo Detainee


This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Kelly McEvers.

Later on this hour, Hunter S. Thompson's booze-soaked trip to the Kentucky Derby and a look at the rise of female-fronted British rock bands, but first to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. For more than a decade, we've heard little about the lives of the detainees who are being held there until now.

This week, Slate magazine published excerpts of a 466-page memoir by a detainee named Mohamedou Slahi. It's an astounding look at interrogation techniques that were used at Guantanamo. Much of it has been corroborated by declassified documents. Larry Siems posted the excerpts on Slate.com. I asked him how he got the memoir from Slahi in the first place.

LARRY SIEMS: After a six-year struggle, his attorneys managed to get a protective order lifted on the manuscript and got in touch with me and asked if I would be willing to take a look at it and think about what might happen with it.

MCEVERS: So let's get to the memoirs themselves. How did he end up at Guantanamo?

SIEMS: Well, Mohamedou Slahi is from Mauritania. He's the eighth of 13 children of a camel herder. At 18 won a scholarship to study engineering in Germany. Then shortly after, he started college, went to Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaida units who were fighting the communist government in Afghanistan and then returned to Germany. And it's still in the early 1990s, having left al-Qaida.

His biography had a lot of details that raised a lot of red flags. After 9/11, he's put on a rendition flight to Jordan where he's interrogated by the Jordanians for nine months. The Jordanians clear him of connections to terrorist activities. Not satisfied, we pick him up, fly him to Bagram and then two weeks later to Guantanamo where he remains today.

MCEVERS: And at first, he thought it was good news, right, that he'd ended up in an American facility. Can you read us that passage?

SIEMS: (Reading) I considered the arrival to Cuba a blessing, and so I told my brothers: Since you guys are not involved in crimes, you need to fear nothing. I personally am going to cooperate since nobody's going to torture me.

MCEVERS: At some point, Slahi's chosen for what's called a special project. It was an intensive interrogation program that's basically designed to break detainees down and get them to confess. Explain to us what's happening here.

SIEMS: It's part of this very calculated, as you say, special project that included months of total isolation, sleep deprivation, 20-hour-a-day interrogations with four-hour sleep.

MCEVERS: At one point, Mohamedou Slahi is told that his mother is going to be brought to Guantanamo. Can you tell us about that?

SIEMS: This is a textbook violation of the convention against torture, which explicitly prohibits threats against family. The military had one of its interrogators pose as a naval officer dispatched from the White House with a letter saying, essentially, we have arrested your mother. We are sending her to Guantanamo. She will be the only woman in this all-male population, and we can't guarantee her safety.

MCEVERS: Did that letter actually exist, do we know?

SIEMS: Well, we know it exists because Colonel Couch - it was the discovery of that letter when he removed himself from the case.

MCEVERS: This is the prosecutor who was assigned to this case.

SIEMS: Right. Exactly.

MCEVERS: This all just begs the question, what were they trying to get him to confess?

SIEMS: What he seems to confess or be asked to confess to is not so much his crimes as to tell stories about what other detainees did.

MCEVERS: Can you read us where he writes about these false confessions that he gave?

SIEMS: Sure.

(Reading) Confessions are like the beads of a necklace. If the first bead falls, the rest follow. They dedicated the whole time until around 10 November 2003 for questioning me about Canada and September 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 him, even if I didn't know him. Whenever I thought about the words I don't know, I got nauseous because I remember the words of redacted.

MCEVERS: And when you say redacted, of course, you're saying what it looks like to read a big black bar that's been drawn across this testimony because it's been redacted.

SIEMS: Right.

MCEVERS: So what's next for Slahi? I mean, where does his legal case stand now?

SIEMS: Well, he brought a habeas corpus petition that reached a federal judge in Washington, D.C., in 2010 who heard his case and ordered him released. The Obama administration appealed the ruling, and it went to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court has sent his case down back to the district court to rehear his habeas case.

MCEVERS: Larry Siems, directs the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. And he's the author of "The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America's Post-9/11 Torture Program." Larry Siems, thank you so much.

SIEMS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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