Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How Guantánamo Diary Escaped The Black Hole And Got Past The Censors (Mostly)

with 3 comments

Cora Currier reports at The Intercept:

The first word of Guantánamo Diary is a black bar.

The book, in which Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi tells of his odyssey through overseas prisons and his torture and abuse by the US and its counterterrorism allies, is pockmarked with redactions left by military censors.

The diary was finally published last week, more than nine years after Slahi wrote it, and it jumped onto bestseller lists. But the details of how his lawyers fought for its release are still under seal – highlighting the secrecy that still surrounds everything to do with the U.S. military prison and the 122 men who remain there.

“The starting point is that everything that Mohamedou says, like anything that any Guantanamo detainee says, is considered classified and has to be cleared by the government,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, who was involved in the negotiations for the manuscript’s release.

Slahi, a 44-year-old Mauritanian educated in Germany, was rendered by the CIA to prison in Jordan in late 2001, then held by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. The government claimed that Slahi had been an al Qaeda recruiter. He admits that he went to Afghanistan in 1990 to fight against the communist government [a fight, it should be noted, actively supported by the US with weapons and money—that is, he was in effect fighting on behalf of the US. – LG]; his brother-in-law was an adviser to Osama Bin Laden; and he’d met one of the 9/11 plotters in Germany. But Slahi maintains that he’d had nothing to do with al Qaeda since 1992, and the U.S. has never charged him with a crime.

Slahi began to write his memoir in the summer of 2005, soon after he first met with attorneys. But, consistent with its policy of censoring communications from detainees, the government refused to approve it for release: Instead, the manuscript sat in a facility near Washington D.C., off-limits to anyone without the right security clearance. His attorneys, Shamsi said, fought to get it declassified, but that litigation remains under seal. Once they obtained an unclassified version, it could still only be read by Slahi’s legal team. It took further negotiations to get the government to approve it for public release.

By the time the editor Larry Siems got hold of the manuscript in 2012, volumes of information about Slahi’s case had come into the public record. In 2006, the government released transcripts from hearings evaluating prisoners’ detention status, Slahi’s among them. Reports from the Justice Department and the Senate Armed Services Committee detailed his interrogation. Documents from a federal court challenge revealed aspects of the government’s intelligence against him.

Siems was able to cross-reference these materials to establish the chronology of Slahi’s narrative, in which all dates have been redacted.

For instance, Slahi writes:

“He dropped me on the dirty floor. The room was dark as ebony. [Redacted] started playing a track very loudly—I mean very loudly. The song was, “Let the bodies hit the floor.” I might never forget that song. At the same time, [redacted] turned on some colored blinkers that hurt the eyes. “If you fucking fall asleep, I’m gonna hurt you, he said.”

The Senate report recounts a July 8, 2003 session where Slahi was “exposed to variable lighting patterns and rock music, to the tune of Drowning Pool’s ‘Let the Bodies Hit [the] Floor.”

“He’s a remarkably accurate historian of his own experience. His account just lines up with publicly available information,” said Siems.

Some of Slahi’s lawyers have security clearance, and could read the full manuscript, but they are barred from talking about what might be behind the redactions. “These were not conversations that I could have with them,” said Siems. . .

Continue reading.

US conduct has been illegal, immoral, and shameful, and saying that terrorists are even worse is scarcely an excuse. Much of the US conduct is strongly reminiscent of the Soviet gulag and torture chambers of the KGB. And none who were responsible, from the hands-on torturers and murders to those in the White House and CIA who ordered the actions, have faced any accountability, a decision solely due to Barack Obama, a man who protects torturers and murders and punishes those who try to reveal what the US has done.

Later in that report:

For Larry Siems, censorship is at the core of Slahi’s story, and while the redactions sometimes impede his narrative, they serve a literary function as well.

“Secrecy was imposed in order for abuse to happen, and then more secrecy was imposed in order to cover it up,” said Siems. “The redactions are like the fingerprints of that longstanding censorship regime.”

The redactions often appear to cover up details of the accusations leveled against Slahi, and the questions asked of him during interrogations. That gives the impression that the book elides the murky parts of his case, Siems says, when in fact, “he’s really open and transparent about the charges against him. It looks like information is being withheld but it’s not him that’s doing it.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2015 at 2:34 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on


    1 February 2015 at 3:12 am

  2. One can understand the evolution of ideologies in a culture, and, to some degree, understand the evolution of fear that follows certain events.

    But what I cannot understand, or accept, is the acceptance of the act of torture, by or own government, simply because the Bush Administration decide to redefine torture in order to legalize their immoral, inhumane, despicable behavior. Isn’t that a bit like accepting as a practice, cannibalism, simply because Dahmer says it tastes good?

    I thought we, as a species, had grown beyond this terror tactic, but apparently I am sadly mistaken.

    When I see people blog, defending torture, such as “In Defense of Enhanced Interrogations,” and read books such as “Guantanamo Diary” I feel as though I’ve left the US and entered a country whose laws were written by despots.

    Sadly, we no longer need to leave the country to find ourselves in such a situation.


    5 February 2015 at 12:57 pm

  3. It does seem that the US government is becoming something very bad—the CIA’s impunity to punishment for outright criminal behavior (and their refusal to cooperate with their own Inspector General) is one bad sign. The persecution and deportation of a man simply because he advocated on behalf of Palistine is another.

    I am particularly disappointed by Obama’s adamant refusal to seek justice in the case of torture and murder, to the point of preventing the innocents we kidnapped and tortured from getting any compensation for their suffering—Obama’s DoJ will not allow the cases to go to trial.

    The US is headed in a very bad direction. I read once where someone was talking to people in the 1950’s about their life during the Great Depression. Some were asked about why they didn’t see it coming, and they replied that they did see it coming, but there was really nothing they could do. That’s much the way I feel about the direction the US has taken.


    5 February 2015 at 1:11 pm

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