An inmate's riveting account of life in Guantanamo Bay raises serious questions about why America is comfortable in failing to live up to its constitutional idealsby Mark Mazower / February 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
US Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, hit the headlines on 5th February when he sandbagged a Pentagon official sent by President Barack Obama to make the case for further releases from Guantanamo Bay. “The only problem with Guantanamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now,” said Cotton. “We should be sending more terrorists there for further interrogation to keep this country safe.” The Senator, an ex-serviceman, continued: “As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell, but as long as they don’t do that, then they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.”
After the attacks of 11th September 2001, the United States extended greatly its archipelago of jails and camps. Some of these were secret black sites run by the CIA, which also outsourced prisoners to foreign intelligence agencies, especially in Africa and the Middle East. There was a network of military prisons, including Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. And then there was Guantanamo, a camp on a US naval base on Cuba’s southeastern flank, which had been mostly lying idle since housing refugees from Haiti a decade earlier.
Earmarked as a place to hold “high-value detainees” (the highest were kept mostly hidden by the CIA), a place that was conveniently close to the US yet beyond its jurisdiction, Guantanamo received its first inmates on 11th January 2002. Its prisoner population peaked 18 months later. At that point, there were more than 680 detainees under guard. Drawn from 48 countries, the majority hailed from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan. So far as we can tell, all were Muslims. Today 122 are left, among them a Mauritanian, Mohamedou Ould Slahi.
When Slahi arrived in Guantanamo in the summer of 2002, he was regarded as a prime suspect in the planning of the 9/11 attacks; but after a gruelling period of interrogation, his captors concluded that he had nothing more to tell them and allowed him to write about his experiences. They did not, to be sure, encourage him to publish his thoughts but thanks to his lawyers, the manuscript has been retrieved from the bowels of the Pentagon. The result, complete with redactions, is Guantanamo Diary, a riveting account of what Amnesty International has called “the gulag of our times.” It provides a devastating insight into an unusual and intense form of incarceration in which America grapples with its view of the enemy, and its constitutional values. Slahi, despite his release having been ordered by a US federal judge, remains in prison, pending a government appeal. He has now been incarcerated for more than 12 years.