A Guantanamo detainee who just published a critically acclaimed book about his life in captivity won't get the opportunity to see his own book. Nor will 121 of the detainee's fellow inmates.
Guantanamo spokesman Captain Tom Gresback told VICE News that "at this time" the detainee library has no intention of purchasing Mohamedou Ould Slahi's memoir Guantanamo Diary, which cracked Amazon's top 100.
"The detention center library at Guantanamo has more than 19,000 titles," Gresback said. "Books are provided as a means of intellectual stimulation. All titles available are culturally sensitive, non-extremist in nature and generally non-controversial."
Slahi's lawyer, Nancy Hollander, told VICE News that her client "has not seen Guantanamo Diary and I don't know if he will."
The book, portions of which are heavily redacted — pages 302 to 307 are entirely blacked out — recounts in vivid and harrowing detail the Mauritanian's rendition, his torture by interrogators, and the grave conditions of his confinement at the detention facility where he has been held, without charge, since August 2002. The book has been translated into 20 languages.
Turning Slahi's handwritten diary into a published book was no easy feat. His own words were considered classified, and the government argued that if what he wrote was publicly released it would threaten national security. His lawyers sued the government in 2006 and won that legal battle six years later.
"'Blindfold the motherfucker if he tries to look…' One of them hit me hard across the face, and quickly put the goggles on my eyes, ear muffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. I couldn't tell who did what. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterwards, I started to bleed. All I could hear was [redacted] cursing, 'F-this and F-that!' I didn't say a word, I was overwhelmingly surprised, I thought they were going to execute me," Slahi wrote about the "special interrogation" plan that took place at Guantanamo in August 2003 and was personally approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. According to internal government documents, it called for interrogators to take Slahi onto a boat and lead him to believe he was going to be executed.
"Thanks to the beating I wasn't able to stand, so [redacted] and the other guard dragged me out with my toes tracing the way and threw me in a truck, which immediately took off," Slahi wrote. "The beating party would go on for the next three or four hours before they turned me over to another team that was going to use different torture techniques."
The interrogator who led the "special team" that oversaw Slahi's torture is a former Chicago police officer named Richard Zuley, a fact first reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin in his book The Terror Courts. Blogger Jeffrey Kaye also discovered details about Zuley's role in Slahi's interrogation buried in the footnotes of a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report that probed the treatment of detainees in custody of the US military. Slahi's case was featured in the report. Moreover, Kaye found that Zuley, a lieutenant commander in the US Naval Reserve and a former liaison officer for United States European Command, identified his role on Guantanamo's special interrogation team in a review he wrote on Amazon for the book Killing Sharks, which seems to mirror Zuley's past. According to a description of the book:
Lieutenant Commander Grant Chisolm is on a mission to thwart jihadists. His latest assignment as liaison officer to Guantanamo brings him face to face with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and their hatred of the United States.
In his review, Zuley said Killing Sharks was an "outstanding adventure."
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information is classified, told VICE News that Slahi identified Zuley by name and the pseudonym he operated under in his book. But the government redacted both names. Larry Siems, the editor of Guantanamo Diary, unmasked Zuley in the footnotes in Slahi's memoir. Siems identified Zuley by using court documents and other public records. Reached at his home in Chicago Friday, Zuley did not deny that he was involved in Slahi's torture but refused to discuss it.
"I'm not going to talk about this," he said.
The US government accused Slahi — he traveled to Afghanistan in the 1990s, joined up with mujahedeen who were fighting a civil war against the Soviet-backed government, and swore allegiance to al Qaeda — of being one of the planners of a failed plot known as the Millennium Bombing to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. They also accused him of playing a role in the 9/11 attacks.
But US District Court Judge James Robertson said the government's evidence against Slahi was thin and granted his petition for habeas corpus in March 2010, ordering him to be released. In his opinion, Robertson said Slahi "may very well have been an al-Qaida sympathizer, and the evidence does show that he provided some support to al-Qaida, or to people he knew to be al-Qaida."
But "such support was sporadic… and, at the time of his capture, non-existent."
The Obama administration appealed the decision two weeks later. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for another hearing in November 2010, where it's still pending.
Slahi turned informant in 2003 and was rewarded with special privileges that included access to a refrigerator and a separate fenced-in compound at Guantanamo — separated from other detainees — where he can garden, paint, and write.
Gresback, the Guantanamo spokesman, would not directly answer whether Slahi would ever be permitted to have a copy of his own book. But he suggested that it's unlikely and said the same rules would apply to other detainees. Additionally, detainee lawyers would not be allowed to bring copies of Guantanamo Diary to their clients.
"Detainees are afforded legal mail exchanges with habeas and defense counsel," Gresback said. "Books provided by counsel to detainee via legal mail are required to be related to that specific detainee's habeas or commission case. Books provided to detainees via non-legal mail are subject to content review criteria."
However, "US forces personnel assigned to Joint Task Force Guantanamo are free to purchase [Slahi's] book as desired."
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold