‘The Mauritanian’: Guantanamo Bay prisoner, forced into false confession of CN Tower bomb plot, wins best revenge — with his pen

Elisabetta Bianchini
·5 min read

After spending 14 years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s New York Times best-selling memoir, "Guantánamo Diary," has been adapted into a movie, The Mauritanian.

"I can safely tell you that I'm amazed," Slahi, who is portrayed by actor Tahar Rahim in the film, said in an interview with Yahoo Canada.

"It's a testament that the pen wins against the most atrocious violence. It wins against tanks, against drones, against B-52s, against all of this, against torture. I never thought it would but it did."

Slahi was arrested in in 2001 in Mauritania, at the request of the U.S. government, after he was suspected of being a recruiter for al-Qaeda, including a hijacker of the Sept. 11 attack. The following year, Slahi was sent to Guantanamo.

Before his arrest, he was living in Germany to study engineering but ended up in Afghanistan and joined al-Qaeda in opposition of the communist government in country in the 1990s, after the Soviet invasion. He later cut ties with al-Qaeda and went back to Germany, but his cousin stayed and ended up becoming a top advisor of Osama bin Laden. He has also contacted Slahi to help him with a transfer of money.

Slahi’s defense lawyer, Nancy Hollander (played by Jodie Foster in The Mauritanian), initially met him in 2005 and fought the government to get access to his case files, all while Slahi was learning English in detention and writing about his experience.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who wrote a best-selling book about his experiences in the military prison, poses on October 18, 2016 in Nouakchott, after he was reunited with his family in his native Mauritania on October 17 after 14 years of detention


The transfer of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, believed to be the last inmate from Mauritania held at the facility in Cuba, brings the prison's remaining population down to 60. His case became a cause celebre after the publication last year of
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who wrote a best-selling book about his experiences in the military prison, poses on October 18, 2016 in Nouakchott, after he was reunited with his family in his native Mauritania on October 17 after 14 years of detention The transfer of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, believed to be the last inmate from Mauritania held at the facility in Cuba, brings the prison's remaining population down to 60. His case became a cause celebre after the publication last year of "Guantanamo Diary", in which he outlines his treatment at the notorious US naval base in Cuba and says he was subjected to torture. / AFP / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

After the documents were retrieved, it was found that for U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld directly approved Slahi's "special" interrogation and torture, including beatings, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and water boarding.

The Mauritanian isn't a direct adaptation of Slahi's entire book, but it it depicts his imprisonment up until his appeal.

One aspect that is skipped is Slahi's Canadian connection. Before he was sent to Guantanamo, Slahi was in Montreal, moving to Canada from Germany. Suspicion started to rise when Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP had questions about his relationship with Ahmed Ressam, the "millennium bomber" who was convicted of planning a terrorist attack at Los Angeles International Airport.

In his book, Slahi states that CSIS and RCMP officials interrogated him while he was at Guantanamo. He also claims he was tortured, by American interrogators, into falsely confessing to a plan to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto.

Guantánamo Diary was published in 2015 but Slahi wasn't released until 2016. He was never charged.

"I'm interested in nothing but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," he said.

"Because I'm a very big believer that Canadian people are decent people, are people who love and who deserve to be loved, and they have nothing to do with Canadian intelligence, in my torture, and in my kidnapping, and the way they dealt with Americans."

Tahar Rahim as Mohamedou Ould Slahi in 'The Mautitanian' (Elevation Pictures)
Tahar Rahim as Mohamedou Ould Slahi in 'The Mautitanian' (Elevation Pictures)

While this movie was being filmed, Slahi was able to go onto the set of The Mauritanian in South Africa.

"It's shameful that Canada,...Canadian intelligence want to bury me somewhere in Guantanamo and in Mauritania," Slahi said, after stating that South Africa is the only country that has granted him a visa.

He also helped the actors and famed The Last King of Scotland director, Kevin Macdonald, establish details that only he would know. Slahi does admits that there were some parts that were difficult for him to relive through the filmmaking process.

"I just wanted the truth to be told and there are details that are so hard, especially the sexual assault," he said. "I'm from a certain cultural background and, you know, you shouldn't be talking about this stuff but I chose to break the silence and say, no, this is not going to stand."

"I quote The Big Lebowski here, 'this aggression will not stand,' and I can say that over and over."

Although Foster went home with the Golden Globe on Sunday night, it is Rahim's impressive and powerful performance that pushes the movie forward, largely overshadowing other stars like Foster, Shailene Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch.

For Slahi, he wants individuals who watch this movie to receive the message that "democracy works, dictatorship does not."

"This exception that some countries and some [regions] in the world don't deserve to be treated with the rule of law has to stop," he said. "People in this part of the world, my family, my neighbours, they just want the same rights as you enjoy in Canada, the same rights that American citizen enjoy."

"All human beings should be equally treated with dignity and the fact that a country, government can say you're guilty, this is [a] dictatorship, this is not a democracy, only a court of law can decide about guilt and innocence, and not the government on its own."

The Mauritanian is available on premium digital and on-demand platforms in Canada