Certain people immediately qualify for a platform due to extraordinary life experiences . Mohamedou Ould Slahi (محمدو ولد الصلاحي) is foremost among them. Mohamedou spent 15 years in a dark prison, 14 of those in Guantanamo Bay, and 5 years on house arrest, without being tried for a crime. In 2005, while still in prison, he wrote a memoir Guantánamo Diary, which became an international bestseller after its release in January of 2015. The work was later adapted into The Mauritanian, a 2021 British-American legal drama based on his life story.
What stood out to me the most wasn’t the horrific detail of his experience. Unfortunately, many people live through unthinkable things every day, and the headline was a dead giveaway. What stood out to me was his uncommonly great mindset that kept him alive and in his right mind. Mohamedou commented the following on his frame of mind after being boarded on a CIA plane from Jordan to Afghanistan–the moment he was sure he would die in custody and never see his family again.
The thing I regretted—I didn’t have money in life, I didn’t have beautiful women, I didn’t have Fortune 500 [sic]. What I regretted were all the bad gestures, the bad comments I made to the people I love, and I took it upon myself to be nice as much as possible. And that was like a turning point for me.Mohamedou Ould Slahi
It’s amazing how a crisis can spotlight what truly matters in life. For Slahi, that thing was how he treated the people he loved.
This is one worth reading and sharing. .
Charlotte: He is widely believed to have been the most tortured man in Guantanamo Bay prison. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was held for 14 years there without a single charge being brought against him.
Ranveer: He kept a diary of the beatings, the torture, the psychological attacks that he suffered inside the notorious jail where the US government kept terror suspects. As Dr. Patel reports, his story is being told in an incredibly powerful new film.
Charlotte: Mohamedou joins us now from his home in Mauritania. Good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us this morning to talk about this. And I have to say, what a watch this film is. I saw it yesterday. It’s so powerful, so emotional. It’s based on your book about what happened. How is it for you having the world see your story like this?
Mohamedou: Good morning, Charlotte. Good morning, Ranvir. Thank you for having me. I’m so happy, you know, it’s so amazing that this whole thing started, you know, in total silence, in total darkness. And the world was not supposed to know everything. And now, almost 20 years on, the world knows everything about my story. And my story is only the illustration of so many stories. I mean Muhammad [?] who died in that cold room I described in my book. He didn’t have a chance to tell his story. But I’m so happy now I can share my story with you, with the world, with your audience.
Ranveer: It’s incredible because, as people will see here, Jody foster plays Nancy, your lawyer, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who read your book, and became obsessed with wanting to make it into a film. He plays the prosecuting lawyer for the military, who then has a crisis of conscience when he realizes what it is you’ve been through. What he says struck him was that your humanity shone through. Explain what that was like for you. You still saw the soldiers as human beings. You still kept hope.
Mohamedou: You know when I was taken from that dark hole in Jordan, and, by the way, people think that I spent only 14 years—I spent 15 years in close prison to include the secret prison, and 20 years in all, including [the] house arrest I suffered in Mauritania before and after 9/11—after my release. When they took me on that plane from Jordan to Afghanistan—the CIA plane—and they started to strip me naked using scissors and put me in a diaper, I figured I may never come back to light. I would die and be forgotten in an American—violent prison—somewhere in a place I’ve never been to—I never wanted to be.
The thing I regretted—I didn’t have money in life, I didn’t have beautiful women, I didn’t have Fortune 500 [sic]. What I regretted were all the bad gestures, the bad comments I made to the people I love, and I took it upon myself to be nice as much as possible. And that was like a turning point for me.
Charlotte: You say that, that is incredible that you don’t feel more anger over what happened because I know you say there were others that went through it, but you are said to be the most tortured man who was in prison there. And I found it hard to watch certain scenes of the film that deal with that. Have you been able to watch the film all the way through?
Mohamedou: I tried to watch it, but the violent scene, torture scene, I couldn’t watch. I had to look away or skip through them. They were very violent for me. I don’t like violence, I like comedy, simple stuff.
Ranveer: What is life like now for you? You are married, aren’t you? But there are some issues with visas and so on, which is extraordinary given how public your story is. You are still coming up against problems on the basis of a crime you didn’t commit.
Mohamedou: Absolutely. The last time–a few weeks ago–I was denied to visit my friends in the UK and promote my book and my movie, in spite of so many people asking the home office to grant me the release. This is the same circular argument and this double talk of the United Kingdom. On one side, they say they are against human rights violations, against Guantanamo Bay. But, Guantanamo Bay to them, the victims of Guantanamo Bay are still deserving of punishment to this day. And the people who committed heinous war crimes and can come freely to the United Kingdom promoting their books and promoting their work.
It’s something that I could never wrap my head around. And, to be honest, this is like an insult to me. I love the United Kingdom. I love the people of the United Kingdom. They helped me, they campaigned on my side. They made the movie—this is a British production. And the notion that I could be like a person who is dangerous to your country, is just insulting.
Ranveer: And the point that’s made toward the end of the film is that [among] the 700 or so people who were in Guantanamo Bay, there were only 8 who were ever convicted, and 3 of those were quashed on appeal, which does belight the fact that there were so many like you who were detained without any access to justice in any way.
Charlotte: And there are 40 still in there. How do you feel about the fact that facility is still open? Despite President Obama saying in 2009 that he was going to close it. Joe Biden suggesting that he will do it.
Ranveer: Well, they blocked your freedom, didn’t they? Obama and Biden, firmly enough.
Mohamedou: You know, it’s very hard to keep a lie. If you lie, you have to lie many times to keep the same lie going. They lied to people, they said we are the most dangerous people, and they knew this was wrong because we know now since at least since 2005—they knew that I was innocent. And the FBI Agent who investigated the case in the United States came, purchased the ticket, and came to Guantanamo Bay and said Mohamedou is innocent of this crime—you can kill him, you can do whatever you want, but he is innocent. This was back in 2003. . . They know that they were wrong, but they would never admit.
This obsession of some people in the United States with dictatorship. “Dictatorship works. Remove the gloves, get down and dirty.”
Ranveer: Well, it’s all laid bare in this incredible film, and it’s called The Mauritanian with Jody Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s an astonishing story and many of us this morning who talked about said it’s amazing that A) you are still compos mentis and that you are actually alive at all, because those scenes that Charlotte couldn’t watch, it’s extraordinary.
Charlotte: And having the attitude that you do. Mohamedou, thanks so much for joining us this morning.