By MARIA KANSO, News Editor
Larry Siems, the editor of the Guantanamo Diary and PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write and International Programs, Rana Elmir, Deputy Director of ACCU-Michigan, and Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan, spoke at the University of Michigan-Dearborn on Thursday, Oct. 13.
Siems gave a presentation about the Guantanamo Diary, with Dawud and Elmir, who discussed the problems of the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps.
Published on January 2015, the Guantanamo Diary is an account of the experiences of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian Guantanamo detainee, at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp in Cuba.
Slahi was detained in Guantanamo’s Camp Echo in 2002, where he was tortured by the U.S Military.
“The strange journey that this book took to get into print is the journey I had to take as an editor in dealing with this very remarkable and odd manuscript,” Siems explained, “and a little bit about how this fits in the context of a larger struggle that we face to unearth the secrets that have been concealed by the United States government about the treatment of men in the U.S. custody since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”
Siems compared the experiences that Salhi wrote about in his memoir to documents released by Senate Armed Services Committee and the Department of Justice Committee about prisoners in the detainment camps.
“Page after page, I turn to his writings and go right to these declassified records that say his story is true,” Siems said.
After receiving an electrical engineering degree from the University of Duisburg, he traveled to Afghanistan in 1991. He trained in Al-Qaeda’s Al Farouq Training Camp in order to fight the communist system with the mujahideen, the Muslim opposers of the government’s ties with the Soviet Union.
Slahi fought with the mujahideen in 1992. After the communist president of Afghanistan, Mohammed Najibullah, was ousted on April of that year, fights initiated between the different Islamic groups. This gave Slahi enough reason to go back to Germany.
Because the German immigration authorities would not extend his visa in Germany, Slahi moved to Canada in 1999.
Ahmad Ressam was one of the people involved in the 2000 millennium attack plots, and was caught in December of 1999 for attempting to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve.
Slahi and Ressam happened to attend the same mosque in Montreal, which lead the United States intelligence to suspect his involvement in the 2000 Millennium attack plots. He was questioned by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and found that Slahi had no connections with neither Ressam nor his plot.
He was arrested in Senegal on his way to Mauritania on January 2000 under the request of the American government. The FBI released him after three weeks.
On November of the same year, he was interrogated by both the Mauritanian government and FBI, and then sent to Jordan by the CIA to be imprisoned for eight months. Salhi was sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp in August 2002.
The U.S Military imposed a “Special Projects” of interrogation on Slahi in 2003, where he was tortured, assaulted and sexually undignified.
“I was in a worse situation than a slave: at least a slave is not always shackled in chains, has some limited freedom, and doesn’t have to listen to some interrogator’s bullshit every day,” Slahi mentions in his memoir. “I often compared myself with a slave. Slaves were taken forcibly from Africa, and so was I. Slaves were sold a couple of times on their way to their final destination, and so was I”
In 2005, Slahi began writing the manuscript while in camp Echo, depicting the horrors of the U.S Military’s treatment.
“I was unable to comprehend when I first read the manuscript the level of brutality, that environment of brutality, that he was in, even though I have read all these documents for a period of years,” Siems said during his presentation at UM-Dearborn.
Guantanamo Diary has became an international bestseller after its release in 2015, and is translated to several languages.
“It put a human face on the torture memos that we all read,” Elmir said. “Right now, to this point, no senior official has been held accountable for the CIA interrogation program.”
On June 2, 2016, Slahi was cleared for release after deciding that he poses no threat to the United States, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).