“Dime con quién andas y te diré quien eres” – Proverb.
There’s a saying in Spanish that goes “Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are”. That seemed to be the whole basis of US’ illegal detention, torture and imprisonment of Mohamedou Ould Slahi for 16 years. 16 years without being charged for a crime, without any hard evidence of wrongdoing. Mohamedou knew the wrong people and was too devout, praying to the wrong God, for the US to stomach it. Because let’s be real, if being Muslim makes you a “suspected terrorist “, a praying Muslim who doesn’t drink or have extra-marital sex is a national security threat. We only want to hear about the non-hijab wearing, alcohol loving, partying Muslims. If you are like Rami (if you haven’t watched the show on Hulu, you MUST!) or myself, a conflicted, very very flawed, private Muslim then you are OK. You are white-passing? Even better! Help us pretend we don’t know who you are and what you believe in. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
But Mohamedou was a former mujahideen who fought alongside the US in Afghanistan in 1992 against the USSR. That made him a good guy in 1992 and a terrorist in 2000. As a result he knew some pretty terrible people, and was related to Bin Laden’s spiritual guide (who btw broke off with Bin Laden upon his refusal to call off 911, and then left Al Qaeda). But it isn’t a crime to know dangerous people or have a criminal relative. Yet, though Mohamedou cooperated with police & FBI and was cleared in Senegal and Mauritania, he was kidnapped by the US in 2000 and tortured at US command in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. He won his release in court in 2010 and the Obama administration (yes, same one that promised to close down Gtmo) did not release him until 2016.
This is a humorous, sad, witty and eye-opening memoir of his life in detention. He is a charming and entertaining narrator who makes on spot commentary on torture, foreign policy and US culture.