Guantanamo Diary (Slahi, ed. by Siems)

This book prompted questions from my children just by its mere existence. “How,” one child asked, “did he write a book in jail?” “Why are there sentences crossed out?” asked the other.

In his diary, Slahi recounts with astonishing fluidity (since English is his 4th language and he picked it up while in prison) and just jaw dropping equanimity the story of his arrest and interrogation. It goes on for so long and in such detail that it’s easy to forget you’re reading non-fiction.

Having read the New York Times review (, I wondered how I would get past the suspicion that creeps over me each time I read a diary. How will I know what’s true? The editor, Larry Siems, has done a great job in his Notes, Introduction, and footnotes explaining his process. Consequently, I believe Slahi.

Not only do I believe Slahi’s story, I found that, with Siems’ help, the redactions themselves told another story. Why did our government go to such great pains to hide the fact that there are female interrogators? And why are they so bad at redacting (they miss some pronouns)? Siems’ notes often present a compelling argument about what’s behind the blacked out portions.

This is just an astonishing and important piece. Read it.


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