Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Gitmo Memoir: A Slow Death

Slate has a remarkable three part excerpt from the memoir of Mouhamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian Gitmo detainee subjected to some of the worst torture. The intro, by Larry Siems, is here. (Some posts on his still-ongoing habeas fight are here, here, and here.) The whole thing reflects a remarkable, chilling, understanding of the Americans who kept him captive, even as he succumbs to his torture and starts lying to make the torture stop.

Reading the memoir, even as over a hundred detainees continue their hunger strike, I’m struck by the repeated theme of slow death, both in what Americans say to him, and in how he processes his own torture.

In Slahi’s story of Bagram, he tells of a “cowboy,” believing he doesn’t speak English, wishing he’ll die slowly.

Now I am sitting in front of a bunch of dead-regular U.S. citizens; my first impression, when I saw them chewing without a break: “What’s wrong with these guys, do they have to eat so much?” Most of the guards are tall, and overweight. Some of them were friendly and some very hostile. Whenever I realized that a guard [was hostile], I pretended that I understood no English. I remember one cowboy coming to me with an ugly frown on his face.

“You speak English?” he asked.

“No English,” I replied.

“We don’t like you to speak English, we want you to die slowly,” he said.

“No English,” I kept replying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that his message arrived. People with hatred have always something to get off their chests, but I wasn’t ready to be that drain.

Slahi thinks about slow death as he recounts the fake rendition staged with Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization, in which a Jordanian and Egyptian took Slahi on a boat trip to make him think he might be rendered to Egypt. After hours a beating, they wrapped him in ice.

The order went as follows: They stuffed the air between my clothes and me with ice cubes from my neck to my ankles, and whenever the ice melted they put in new hard ice cubes. Moreover, every once in a while, one of the guards smashed me, most of the time in the face. The ice served both for pain and for wiping out the bruises I had from that afternoon. Everything seemed to be perfectly prepared. Historically, dictators during medieval and pre-medieval times used this method to let the victim die slowly. The other method of hitting the victim while blindfolded in inconsistent intervals of time was used by Nazis during WWII. There is nothing more terrorizing than making somebody expect a smash every single heartbeat.

“I am from Hasi Matruh, where are you from?” said the Egyptian, addressing his Jordanian colleague. He was speaking as if nothing was happening. You could tell he was used to torturing people.

“I am from the south,” answered the Jordanian.

What would it be like if I landed in Egypt after about 25 hours of torture? What would the interrogation look like?

And even after they break Slahi and he begins to invent lies for them, guards kept repeating the theme  of endless death.

“You know who you are?” said [redacted guard name].

“Uh.”

“You are a terrorist,” he continued.

“Yes, sir!”

“If we kill you once, it wouldn’t do. We must kill you 3,000 times. But instead, we feed you!”

“Yes, sir.”

Remember, Slahi, because he broke down and made up lies for his captors, is treated better than most other compliant detainees.

Yet it seems, like them, Slahi experiences just slow death.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    And Americans, too, experience a slow moral death, living with the knowledge that the government that rules you, to whom you pay taxes, whose military you trumpet as heroes,many whose monuments speak of the forgotten promises of Enlightenment humanism, is in fact a hideous torturing machine.

    They make us all complicit in their terror because they make it so it seems nothing can be done. In Gitmo they are doing the only thing they can, living the slow death of the hunger striker.

    But America is already morally dead.

  2. der says:

    @nobody: The answer is yes. The JCS and the Pentagon run the show now. If not for weak-kneed politicians the Generals would win every war.

  3. posaune says:

    Laurence Rees’ BBC Series, Stalin, Nazis and the West, looks closely at Katyn, and the effect of the 22,000 slayings on the executioners. A majority committed suicide eventually.

  4. rosalind says:

    @nobody: if it’s Hillary fuckin’ Clinton, you betcha! Hillary as the first female Commander-in-Chief??!! good god, she’d probably have drone bombs landing across the globe before her swearing ceremony had come to a close, to show our MIC overlords she is muy muy macho. Hillary dial back an iota of the Commander-In-Chief over-reach? ha.

  5. HotFlash says:

    It is not Obama, it is not Hillary, it is not Bush, or the CIA or Rumsfield or whoever. It is us. So long we/you/I are/is not stopping this, we/you/I are doing this.

    So long as this is going on, there is no way out of being responsible. Still paying your taxes? Not in jail? We/you/I are responsible.

  6. RirerCapital says:

    The people of the United States have embraced terrorists as leaders. They applaud the killers and torturers on every rung of the ladder. Most either support or ignore Manning’s confinement and torture for exposing war crimes. Pop Fascism rules. The cheering crowds in Boston for the Tanks, Humvees, and 9,000 jackboots who were given permission, by the people’s obedience, to shut down an entire city, served as one more example of a greater problem: It Has Already Happened Here.

  7. Bay State Librul says:

    @RirerCapital:

    I was one of those jackboots who clapped for the Watertown Police and others. I thought they did an admirable job under the circumstances.

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