Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Cover00Dan Duray at Bookforum.

A few reviews have likened Guantánamo Diary to Memoirs from the House of the Dead, written after Dostoyevsky’s four years in Siberian exile. Diary does share that book’s vignette structure. But while Dead’s narrator draws on his observation of the lives of his fellow prisoners to create a mounting sense of existential despair, the frequently isolated Slahi—who spent a decade in Germany and easily communicates without culture clash—turns his attention to Gitmo’s guards and interrogators. These figures are generalized through redaction and turn out to be, rather than ominous symbols of spiritual dislocation, merely thoughtless and careless—stupidly cruel in ways that only a late-stage empire (or maybe a fraternity) can accommodate.

The guards beat him and tried to convert him to Christianity. They taught him chess and then got angry when he won. “That is not the way I taught you,” one guard scoffed. (Slahi learned his lesson: It really is better to let the Wookiee win.) They threatened to “bring in black people” if he continued refusing to cooperate. “I don’t have any problem with black people, half of my country is black people!” he writes. They asked him to do an interview with “a moderate journalist from The Wall Street Journal and refute the wrong things we’re suspected of.” “Well,” Slahi replied, “I got tortured and I am going to tell the journalist the truth.” The interview was canceled.

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