I Am Not Corn: Guantánamo Diary Reveals 14-Year-Long Vision of Hell
After a seven-year legal battle and 2,500 redactions by the same government that has beat, tortured, humiliated and held him incommunicado for twice that time, this week sees the release of the first book detailing harrowing life and near-death inside Guantánamo by one of its longest-held prisoners - Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a 44-year-old electrical engineer from Mauritania who studied in Germany and Canada and briefly joined (a U.S.-supported) Al Qaeda in 1992 before beginning his "endless world tour" of American black sites and torture chambers, from Jordan to Bagram to Guantánamo, because he fit a terrorist profile (distant cousin to known bad guy, prayed at wrong place at wrong time etc) that turned out to be "smoke but no fire."
Slahi's extraordinary account, born from 466 pages of manuscript handwritten from his single cell at Camp Echo, begins at his family home in Noakchott, Mauritania two months after 9/11, when he is summoned to answer questions at the country's intelligence ministry; he remembers his mother watching his disappearance, and "the taste of helplessness.” What follows is months and then years of brutal abuse: interrogation, isolation, blindfolding, shackling, sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures, sexual humiliation, death threats, a mock execution and other tortures set out in a “special plan” approved personally by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, all within an absurdist context of fantastic conjecture worthy of Kafka, Beckett, Orwell, Vonnegut and Dostoevsky, all rolled into one well-funded, quintessentially American "intricate machine for generating self-reinforcing fiction."
The book is being celebrated as "a kind of dark masterpiece, a sometimes unbearable epic of pain, anguish and bitter humor," all, remarkably, rich in humanity, and lacking in rancor. Its release comes via an unprecedented collaboration between The Guardian and Canongate Books, featuring powerful readings, graphics and animation. The book's release is also part of an ongoing campaign by Slahi's supporters to send him home; in 2010, a U.S. district judge ordered him released; that ruling was reversed by a federal appellate court. "It's not that they haven't found the evidence against him," notes his longtime attorney. "There isn't any."
Today, Slahi remains in Guantánamo. He has never been charged with a crime.