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The appeal of Mohamedou Ould Slahi

He expresses a cross-cultural understanding unlike even Moazzam Begg, well-known to this community as the Briton made captive in 2002 while satisfying an Islamic pillar of charity by establishing a school in Pakistan, author of The Enemy Combatant and outreach director of CAGE. His book was available to me in the wake of Carmen Trotta's visit to Kairos Chicago where he invited us to take up solidarity with Guantánamo prisoners. A few years later, from the cover of that book, the image of a bird on barbed wire was, in punk fashion, discussed as a collective tattoo. 

Then came the release of Mohamedou Ould Slahi's The Guantánamo Diaries, which I remember with the humbled publisher's presentation before or after Aliya Hussein from the Center for Constitutional Rights. He took us into the moment of his impact handling the manuscript. In an image shown in the film trailer for "The Mauritanian" a handwritten loose-leaf page filled with gentle curving letters--Arabic or English--I couldn't see, the the black marker censuring the page in the white clenched fist of a captor.  

"There hasn’t been a single figure who has had the charisma and the appeal"

The Director of "The Mauritanian," Kevin McDonald, interviewed on Democracy Now last Monday said he went forward with the project based on the admittedly "crass" reason was that he found Mohamedou the first figure to have "charisma and the appeal" for broader audiences. My reaction to this was immediate. I could refute this with several impossible to articulate face twitches. For my heart was struck on memory of Andy Worthington's fun with the Shaker Aamer giant-size blow-up figure. We read his letter to his children in Union Square Station, the teenage boy he had never seen. His agency as a charismatic figure uniting prisoners in hunger strike was chronicled in Karen Greenberg's "The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo's First 100 Days." 

Yet Mohamedou has shown up and cast out the ghosts, forgiving in the memory of his mother at Maha's webinar last June on International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture, time after time; I had my last memories of Beth Adams in a neck-brace after listening to Mohamedou appear, projected virtually to the Congress staff assembly room. I'm glad the world get's to share the planet with someone who not only defies the narrative Guantánamo was for the worst of the worst, but as he said on that webinar, "I have no room in my head for my torturers." His stance for a future free from torture is one of gift, a gift offered for the torturers and their enablers.

 "I think one of the struggles there’s been with communicating the sheer scale of the horror and the injustice of Guantánamo has been that there hasn’t been a single figure who has had the charisma and the appeal, I guess, if you put it in a crass way, to reach out to a wide audience to make people understand, on a human level, what went on there. And I think Mohamedou, I saw, was that person" Kevin McDonald said. "Mohamedou is such a charismatic, such an intelligent person." 

We know and love him. 


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