My Guantánamo Writing Seminar

Abstract: In this essay, Mohamedou Ould Slahi reflects on how fifteen years of indefinite detention, torture, and abuse in the war on terror contributed to his development as a writer. He discusses the ways in which solitary confinement and other rules governing his captivity in a prison in Jordan and for fourteen years at Guantánamo forced him to keenly observe his surroundings and to conjure characters and stories from the smallest of details in his material life, from the most mundane interactions with guards, interrogators, and other prison personnel, and from dreams. Stitching these bits into narrative came about through listening to guards and other detainees tell their stories and from consuming approved television and film, often alongside the guards. For the author, writing both fiction and nonfiction provided an outlet for mental torment, but also created intense feelings of freedom, of imaginative life beyond cell walls. At the same time, he reflects on his role as a writer who survived Guantánamo as one of obligation to the memory of the many other young men who were disappeared and sometimes killed in the war on terror.

This content is restricted to site members. If you are an existing user, please login. New users may click here to subscribe.

Existing Users Log In

About Mohamedou Ould Salahi

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (who writes under the name Slahi) was born in Rosso, Mauritania, the ninth of twelve children of a camel herder. His family moved to the capital of Nouakchott when he was a child, where he attended school and earned a scholarship to study electrical engineering at Gerhard-Mercator University in Duisburg, Germany. In 2001, he was living and working in his home country of Mauritania when he was detained and renditioned to Jordan, beginning an ordeal that he would chronicle in his internationally-bestselling Guantánamo Diary. The manuscript, which he wrote in his isolation cell in the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, remained classified for almost eight years and was finally released, with substantial redactions, in 2013. It was first published in the United States and United Kingdom in January, 2015, and has since been published in twenty-five languages. After fifteen years of detention, Mohamedou was released on October 17, 2016 to Mauritania. The following year he published a "restored edition" of Guantánamo Diary, filling in the US government's redactions, and in February 2021 his first novel, The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga (Ohio University Press). Since January 2022 he is a writer-in-residence with NNT/NITE and De Balie, The Netherlands. He is a PAX Peace Prize Laureate.