Monday, March 16, 2015

Guantánamo Diary - Mohamedou Ould Slahi

First line: "The music was off."

Guantánamo Diary is an astounding memoir of a prisoner in the U.S. detainee camp in Cuba. Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been imprisoned for over 13 years without any charges being brought against him. He not only hand wrote this memoir, originally weighing in at almost 500 pages, but he learned English to do it.

The book itself is heavily redacted and footnoted, which makes the audiobook a tricky beast, but it was produced superbly, allowing listeners to easily follow along to the content. Narrator Peter Ganim has a distinct sound for Mohamedou Ould Slahi's words and a completely different one for editor Larry Siems' notes throughout.

While the content is highly disturbing and should make every American uncomfortable with policies and procedures followed in our "War on Terror," there is also a very endearing human element to the book. Mohamedou's strong ties to his family, the ties he develops to other prisoners in an effort to get through his ordeal, ties he makes with the guards, even. These all reflect his similarities to each and every listener. He expresses his fears and anxieties, his hopefulness and determination. Mohamedou's English is at times awkward and sometimes funny as he uses idioms and cliches, but incredibly proficient for someone who learned the language through such a traumatic experience.

Ganim's presentation of Mohamedou's voice vividly reflects his myriad emotions as the prisoner endures year after year of threats, torture, humiliation and isolation. He easily wraps his tongue around foreign words and names. And he manages to bring a text littered with redactions to life. Listeners will experience an eerie feeling of being in the interrogation rooms and prison cells with Mohamedou.

Editor Larry Siems clearly did a tremendous amount of research into Mohamedou's case. This is reflected in the Introduction and footnotes throughout the book. He ties together pieces of the story that might otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood by listeners, and he assists in understanding sections through the redactions.

Guantánamo Diary is a long audiobook, but an important one. Allowing these voices to be heard is vital, and that's one of the added benefits of this audiobook. As a people we need to be questioning these tactics and approaches. If we simply take the stand that "it doesn't involve me" then we are as complicit as those directly involved in the wrong-doing. We might also think of Martin Niemöller's famous words. Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a brave man to endure what he has and then put his story out for the world to hear. Are we listening?

Guantánamo Diary is available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1478986942) from Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio. It is also available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316328685) from Little, Brown and Co.

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