Detainee

There is a story written by a Guantanamo inmate — Mohamedou Ould Slahi (or Salahi); he’s still there — that describes the “horrific torture” he was put through by US interrogators. The story portrays him as a completely innocent man — and there are tens of thousands of hits on this just published book, with multi-part writeups in Slate, loving responses in The Atlantic and countless other left-wing publications.

They all agree: He had been briefly involved with al Qaida, but abandoned them and had no further contact until he was arrested in Mauritania in 2000. Over and over again, his innocence is asserted, and he says that he finally broke and gave his interrogators made-up information about al Qaida.

So, we should believe his grotesque story about the torture, right? Well, perhaps not completely…

The Left Loves Slahi and Demands His Release

The New Stateman is breathless in their acceptance, like the rest of them:

Slahi’s editor, Larry Siems, supplies informative footnotes, which demonstrate that this account is supported by copious, now public, official records. It is therefore safe to conclude that when Slahi describes being kept for weeks on end in freezing temperatures, being shackled in agonising positions for hour after hour, being doused with icy water, being made to wear a special torture suit lined with ice and being beaten so badly that he felt he was “breathing through his ribs”, he is telling the truth.

The “informative footnotes,” if you actually follow where they lead, point to something rather different. Salahi is a consummate liar.

First, after 1992, and through at least 1999, he evidently acted as an al Qaida recruiter; faxes that he sent to his al Qaida contacts in Afghanistan are apparently in evidence. (This was determined after omitting all references to his own account; it is independent documentary evidence.) In this effort, he recruited three men; one would soon become one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks, the other two would join the hijackers.

A True Group and Place for Some Brother Jihadists

Ah! Here is an article that deals with those allegations. Here is a collection of excerpts from the evidence:

For example, the district court found that Salahi sent a fax to al-Qaida operative Christopher Paul in January 1997, asking for his help in finding “a true Group and Place” for “some Brothers” interested in fighting jihad. Salahi, 710 F. Supp. 2d at 11 (quoting Salahi’s fax to Paul). Salahi admitted to interrogators that he knew Paul to be a “man of great respect in Al-Qaida” and that he sent the fax to “facilitate getting the [aspiring jihadists] to fight.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

As the district court recognized, “[t]he most damaging allegation against Salahi is that, in October 1999, he encouraged Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah to join al-Qaida.” Id. at 10. Bin al-Shibh helped coordinate the September 11 attacks, and al-Shehhi and Jarrah were two of the September 11 pilots. Nat’l Comm’n on Terrorist Attacks Upon the U.S., The 9/11 Commission Report 225, 434–35, 437 (2004) [hereinafter 9/11 Commission Report]. The government contends that while bin al-Shibh, al-Shehhi, and Jarrah had originally intended to travel to Chechnya to wage jihad against Russian forces, Salahi convinced them to travel instead to Afghanistan to receive military training. According to the government, the three men followed Salahi’s advice and with his assistance traveled to Afghanistan, where they were recruited by al-Qaida into the September 11 plot. But the district court, having discounted portions of the government’s evidence as unreliable and inconsistent, found only that “Salahi provided lodging for three men for one night at his home in Germany, that one of them was Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and that there was discussion of jihad and Afghanistan.” Salahi, 710 F. Supp. 2d at 11.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Second, the whole meme of “tough interrogations just cause you to make up what the interrogator wants to hear” is just silly. False information, even false self-incrimination, is quickly punished; you learn not to do that. You have no idea what your interrogators know, but they are constantly cross-checking your revelations and mistakes are costly.

Salahi (almost every article spells it “Slahi” making the legal information and charges a bit harder to find) turned out to be one of the richest sources against al Qaida that we have yet obtained. We were able to roll up some operatives as a result, and he was rewarded by being given a large, detached enclosure with television and access to a computer and writing materials. His buddy took up painting, and was allowed walks along the seashore for inspiration. (It is not clear whether Salahi was allowed this or not.)

Salahi and the Truth

It was in this comfortable setting that Salahi composed his tale of horrible treatment. Watching how the topic of torture affected US citizenry, the material he wrote pushes all the right buttons. It is still pushing the right buttons: Google “Slahi” for a third of a million references to his “Guantanamo Diary.” As Slate said, echoed all over the net with cries to “free Slahi!”:

Detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s account of the camp is heartbreaking. But it is crucial the truth is told.

I agree. But whitewashing this fellow and accepting his story as “the truth” is hardly advancing the cause of truth.

==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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