On the same day as President Obama renewed his 2008 vow to close the highly controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp, Slate began publishing a series of excerpts from a 466-page handwritten memoir by detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Slahi has been held prisoner in Guantanamo for almost 11 years and began writing a personal account of his time in captivity in 2005. The publication of Slahi's memoir comes as Obama today reacted to the ongoing hunger strike at the prison by saying that the existence of Guantanamo is unsustainable and that he does not want the striking prisoners to die. The current strike, involving 100 of the 166 detainees still being held, is the longest in the prison's history.
The constant claims that Obama has wanted to close Guantanamo Bay all along but that Congress has been preventing him from doing so are simplistic and misleading. While the opposition of Congress has been a factor, Obama's initial promise to close the prison has been proven to be largely a symbolic gesture, given his near-complete lack of action. Stories like Slahi's should increase pressure on Obama to actually bridge the gap between rhetoric and action this time, something that he has reputation for not doing.
Despite finishing them in 2006, the U.S. government held Slahi's memoirs as a classified secret until his lawyers were able to give an unclassified version to Slate journalist Larry Siems last year.
Slahi voluntarily turned himself in for questioning in his native Mauritania in 2001 and a week later was placed on a rendition flight to Jordan at the request of the U.S. government. Despite being interrogated and cleared by Jordanian Intelligence, the CIA was unsatisfied and picked him up from Jordan in 2002. Since then he has been tortured, abused, beaten, and humiliated during his ongoing captivity, including being subjected to what the Pentagon calls "special interrogation." This included physical and sexual humiliation, being kept in a refrigerated cell, being told he would be made to "disappear," and being taken on a "torture cruise."
As you read Slahi's harrowing account, keep in mind that Obama has had over four years to make a concerted effort to close Guantanamo, to change the environment in which Slahi was held and which has led to the ongoing hunger strike. But he didn't. Instead he sought to move Guantanamo to Illinois. So don't get your hopes up now that anything is going to change.