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Chosen for the New York Times Notable Books of 2015

guantanamo diaries

"A vision of hell, beyond Orwell, beyond Kafka:  perpetual torture prescribed by the mad doctors of Washington."
—John le Carré

An unprecedented international publishing event: the first and only diary written by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. Since 2002, Mohamedou Slahi has been imprisoned at the detainee camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In all these years, the United States has never charged him with a crime. Although he was ordered released by a federal judge, the U.S. government fought that decision, and there is no sign that the United States plans to let him go.

Three years into his captivity Slahi began a diary, recounting his life before he disappeared into U.S. custody and daily life as a detainee. His diary is not merely a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir---terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious. Published now for the first time, GUANTÁNAMO DIARY is a document of immense historical importance.




“An extraordinary document—‘A vision of hell, beyond Orwell, beyond Kafka,’ as John le Carré aptly describes it— that every American should read.”—Joe Nocera, New York Times

“Necessary reading for those seeking to understand the dangers that Guantánamo’s continued existence poses to Americans in the world.…a fluent, engaging and at times eloquent writer even in his fourth language, English.”
Washington Post

Guantánamo Diary…will leave you shell-shocked.”—Vanity Fair

“The most profound account yet written of what it is like to be collateral damage in the war against terror.”
New York Times Book Review

“Gripping.…Mr. Slahi emerges...as a curious and generous personality, observant, witty and devout....Guantánamo Diary forces us to consider why the U.S. has set aside the cherished idea that a timely trial is the best way to determine who deserves to be in prison.” —New York Times

“In addition to being appalling and sad, it’s funny.…a triumph of humanity over chaos.…Guantánamo Diary turns out to be especially humane.”—New Yorker

“An instant classic....an honest and humble cry from prison for justice and humanity….Its pages reflect an intelligent human being, befuddled, betrayed, battered unceasingly for weeks and months at a time, but still capable of humor and heart.” —Kansas City Star

“A dramatic firsthand account.”—NY Daily News

“Vital and stunning.”—Salon

“A riveting…urgent memoir.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Slahi’s ordeal is at the heart of Guantánamo Diary, but the book is about much more. It is a chilling story of the United States’ worst abuses in the post-9/11 era. It is an account of other countries' complicity in these abuses. It is a terrible example of what happens to innocent people when the rule of law is suspended. In the words of Larry Siems, the book’s editor, it is ‘an epic for our times.’”—Huffington Post

New in paperback, Guantánamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Back Bay Books/Little, Brown; December 1, 2015), is the remarkable account of imprisonment, torture, and day-to-day human interactions in the world’s most infamous prison. Slahi’s is the first and only public account written by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. Thememoir offers a unique and vital new perspective on American policy, and also forms the basis of an international campaign to free its author.

Since 2002, Slahi has been imprisoned at Guantánamo. The United States has never charged him with any crime. Although a federal judge ordered his release in 2010, the government appealed this decision. Now, five years later, there is no sign of any plans to let him go. During Slahi’s time in custody he has been subjected to multiple forms of torture, including isolation, beatings, sexual humiliation, death threats, and a mock execution.

Three years into his U.S. captivity, having learned English from prison guards, Slahi began a diary to recount both his life before he was seized by the United States and his experiences as a detainee. Like all materials created by Guantánamo prisoners, the 466-page handwritten manuscript was classified. His attorneys fought for seven years to have it declassified and cleared for public release. Even so, some sections remain redacted, and the black bars over Slahi’s words appear in the book.

An authoritative, firsthand account of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in modern American history, Guantánamo Diary is not merely a vivid record of what life at the prison is really like, but a deeply personal memoir—terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious. A document of immense historical importance, it is edited and introduced by author and human rights advocate Larry Siems. Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s spokeperson is internationally recognized defense attorney Nancy Hollander.

* * *

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was born in a small town in Mauritania in 1970. He won a scholarship to attend college in Germany and worked there for several years as an engineer. He returned to Mauritania in 2000. The following year, at the behest of the United States, he was detained by Mauritanian authorities and rendered to a prison in Jordan; later he was rendered again, first to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and finally, on August 5, 2002, to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was subjected to severe torture. In 2010, a federal judge ordered him immediately released, but the government appealed that decision. The U.S. government has never charged him with a crime. He remains imprisoned in Guantánamo.

Larry Siems has balanced writing and activism, publishing scores of articles on human rights and cross-cultural themes and serving for many years as director of Freedom to Write Programs for the writers’ advocacy organization PEN. His other books include Between the Lines: Letters Between Undocumented Mexican and Central American Immigrants and Their Families and Friends and The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Nancy Hollander is an internationally recognized criminal defense lawyer from Albuquerque, New Mexico and an Associate Tenant with Doughty Street Chambers, in London. Her practice is largely devoted to representing individuals and organizations accused of crimes. She has also argued and won a case involving religious freedom in the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Hollander represents two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and is lead counsel for Chelsea Manning on appeal.

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