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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Chris Serres, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi; Little, Brown (466 pages, $29)
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Near the end of his hellish account of perpetual torture, Mohamedou Ould Slahi makes what appears to be a remarkable confession.

Slahi, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who wrote a 466-page memoir from his cell, admits to his captors that he planned to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto with explosives from Russia. The military interrogators who have been questioning him for four years “almost had a heart attack from happiness,” Slahi writes.

The confession, however, is an elaborate lie. It is a desperate act by a man subjected to four years of near unimaginable terror, including regular beatings, sleep deprivation, death threats, starvation, and sexual molestation. “I had to wear the suit the U.S. Intel tailored for me, and that is exactly what I did,” Slahi wrote.

More than just a memoir, Slahi’s “Guantánamo Diary” is a unique and intimate view of what happens when due process is suspended and detainees (or, in this case, “enemy combatants”) are cast into zones of nonbeing, where they are not even recognized as human. In these lawless zones, conjecture and hearsay provide the rationale for indefinite detention, and torture methods become almost limitless in their scope and sadism.

The manuscript raises a broader question about whether torture actually works. As Slahi demonstrates in his blow-by-blow account of his interrogation, the prisoners detained indefinitely at Guantánamo will say just about anything to stop the abuse. His account is consistent with last year’s exhaustive Senate committee report on CIA torture methods, which concluded that no actionable intelligence information came from the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Slahi, a native of the North African nation of Mauritania, gives us a rare window into the Kafkaesque dilemma faced by a tortured detainee, who is assumed guilty by virtue of his very captivity.

“The problem,” Slahi writes, “is that you cannot just admit to something you haven’t done; you need to deliver the details, which you can’t when you haven’t done anything. It’s not just, ‘Yes, I did!’ No, it doesn’t work that way; you have to make up a complete story that makes sense to the dumbest dummies. One of the hardest things to do is to tell an untruthful story and maintain it, and that is exactly where I was stuck.”

In Hollywood films, torture is often portrayed as the infliction of physical pain. And while Slahi is subjected to a relentless onslaught of physical abuse — from being soaked in ice water to being forced to stand for hours on end in freezing cells — the most dehumanizing aspects of his indefinite detention at Guantánamo involve ritualized psychological terror. He is told, for instance, that his beloved mother from Mauritania has been captured and detained and that he would be sent to far worse places, such as Egypt or Israel, if he did not cooperate.

At one point, his interrogators stage an elaborate mock kidnapping — taking a shackled and hooded Slahi on a high-speed boat ride out to sea — to make it appear as if he is being transported to a faraway prison. During the ride, Slahi’s kidnappers force him to drink saltwater until he vomits and immerse him in ice cubes to hide the bruising from beatings.

As Slahi begins to confess things that not even the U.S. government believes he did, his captors give him a pillow — the first personal item of any kind he is allowed to have during his confinement. Slahi, deprived of sensory material, takes to reading the tag of the pillow over and over again in his isolated cell.

The shadowy reach of the U.S. government can be felt throughout the book, in the form of more than 2,500 black-mark redactions by government censors who pored over the text. Many of the redactions seem as arbitrary and bizarre as the torture described in the book. At one point, Slahi is moved to tears by a guard’s kind words — but the word “tears” is blacked out.

In 2010, a federal judge granted Slahi’s habeas corpus petition for release after finding no evidentiary basis for his confinement. An appeals court overturned the release order and Slahi, now 44, remains in the same cell where he wrote his diary in 2005.

(c)2015 Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.