By Mohamedou Salahi, former Guantánamo detainee
I remember that ever-present day that is seared in my memory forever as if it was yesterday. It was more than 17 years ago when secret police officers led me to my old car parked outside my mother’s house in Mauritania, and asked me to follow them in their unmarked, inconspicuous vehicle. There was a visibly ashamed agent waiting to sit beside me in my car.
As I emerged from my mother’s door, she stopped me. She suspected these were agents just from the way they looked. She was afraid for me. Even an apolitical person like my mother could spot them every time.
“I didn’t want them to find you,” said the young agent beside me in the car. I’d met him before. In 2000 on my way home to Mauritania from a trip to Canada, I was arrested in Senegal for baseless suspicions at the request of the US government. When I was rendered from Senegal to Mauritania, this young agent had acted as my prison guard. He had shared with me some of the hardship he was facing because his job wouldn’t pay his bills. I had promised to help him if I ever got out of prison. He told me that he could fix TVs and set up the channels, and I planned to find him clients and improve his knowledge. The night before my kidnapping from my mother’s house, I had hired him to fix my own TV.
As we drove off, I could see in the rear-view mirror the fingers of my mother raised to the sky and counting prayers. I would never see my mother again, nor my older brother because they passed away before my release.
Back then, there wasn’t yet Guantánamo prison as we know it today. I was rendered to Jordan and later onto Bagram Air Base before I was delivered to the Guantánamo detention center.
In an attempt to get a confession from me, US agents subjected me to torture and to other cruel and inhuman treatment. As if losing my freedom, my livelihood and forcibly being separated from my loved ones wasn’t cruel enough.
It would take years of deprivation, pain and suffering until I finally joined my family at the end of 2016. And more than two years after my release I am still a prisoner in my own country, forbidden from seeking the medical treatment I badly need abroad because the U.S. government has instructed the Mauritanian government not to issue a passport to me.
All the above happened in the name of democracy.
In the name of security.
In the name of the American people.
With the premise that only very few people deserve due process, dignity and human rights and the rest of humanity is fair game for the most powerful democracy in the world.
I believe that the U.S. has the right and duty to protect its citizens but that it should never do it outside of the rule of law that it promised to uphold.
I can safely say that I am a living example that a government’s suspicion can never be the reason for undermining the rule of law, for which generations upon generations in the U.S. have fought for. I am an example because the government’s suspicion that I was a criminal was totally and one hundred percent wrong. I was never charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. The only independent judge I ever faced during my ordeal had ordered my release after seeing the secret evidence that even I wasn’t allowed to see.
Brave activists with Amnesty International recognized that non-Americans, too, have the right to be treated with dignity and benefit from the rule of law. They have actively been helping me, to this day. They helped give the world access to my side of the story when I remained imprisoned year after year, stifled and shouting in the dark. And for that I am forever thankful!
It was never, and it still isn’t, popular to stand up for human rights if the accused is considered an ‘other,’ and much less if the accusation is terrorism-related. However, I would say that precisely for that reason, government violence should not be given free reign just because of the nature of the accusation and the background of the accused. Lynching was condemned and eventually abandoned for a reason.
It’s now been 17 years since the opening of that infamous hell that is Guantánamo Bay. The decency of good American people requires their government to close that damn thing.
Please close that prison and treat people within the rule of law!
God Bless you all!
This is a modified version of testimony to be delivered at a US Congressional briefing. Mohamedou Salahi is a former Guantánamo detainee. He is currently a human rights activist living in Mauritania and the author of the best-selling book “Guantánamo Diary”.