Runtime: 90 Minutes
Director: John Goetz
Stars: Mohamedou Ould Slahi
By Bianca Garner
What does it mean to forgive someone? The act of forgiveness is perhaps the most powerful weapon someone can wield. It can restore your very soul, and hopefully repair another. But, how does one forgive another, after they had to endure a living hell? This is the question posed by the documentary, “Guantanamo Diary Revisited”. From 2002 until 2016, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was a prisoner of Guantanamo Bay, held under suspicion of being the recruiter of the 9/11 hijackers. Slahi endured all forms of torture at the hands of the mysterious “Special Projects” group. His tormenters included Mr. X, a man who admits on camera to using “enhanced techniques” on Slahi. “Did you use torture?” He’s asked during this documentary as the director, John Goetz, drives around him. There’s a long pause, and then Mr. X answers in one simple sentence, “Yeah, it’s torture”. Despite, all the history between them. Slahi wants to invite his torturers (including Mr. X) to have a tea with him. In Slahi’s own words, “Forgiveness is the best form of revenge”.
Slahi has written a memoir regarding his time in Guantanamo Bay, called “Guantanamo Diary”. Unsurprisingly, the book became a best seller. Never before, had the public been such a first-hand account of the monstrous acts that had taken place all in the name of ‘the war on terror’. The memoir was adapted into the feature film, “The Mauritanian,” a 2021 legal drama directed by Kevin Macdonald that starred Tahar Rahimas who played Slahi, alongside the likes of Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Zachary Levi. Despite becoming a media sensation, Slahi comes across as quite a humble, ordinary man who tries to hide his vulnerability with a big wide smile. But, there’s moments where he seems lost and hopeless, where you can see the fear in his eyes as he comes face to face with demons from his past.
“What’s most powerful about Goetz’s documentary is that he allows the subjects to speak for themselves. As time unfolds, they slowly open up and reveal more regarding their thoughts about the ‘war on terror’, insecurities, and doubts regarding Slahi’s story. “
Slahi reached out to Goetz after he read his article regarding the release of Slahi’s book. The two of them have an unlikely friendship. Goetz is an American who emigrated to Germany, and Slahi also lived in Germany for sometime during the 1990s. After Slahi makes his video appeal to his ex-torturers, Goetz decides to head off to the Unite States to see if it’s possible to locate any of them. It becomes a detective story of sorts, as they try to piece together the identities of the guards whose real names were never listed in Slahi’s memoir. The people we meet on the way aren’t exactly who we would expect…They’re like us, they’re ordinary.
There’s characters like Master Jedi, a guard that was close to Slahi and was in his early 20s when he worked at Guantanamo Bay. Master Jedi was from a poor background, and saw the Army as a way to make money with the limited education he had. In his own words, he didn’t like the torture. Now, he’s a family man, attending church regularly and taking a mountain of prescription drugs that have been prescribed for conditions such as depression, insomnia and PTSD. We even get to meet the notorious Mr. X who wrestles with his own nightmares by painting about the torture he carried out on Slahi. Unlike Master Jedi, Mr. X isn’t seeking forgiveness. Maybe, even he knows that he’s past the point of redemption?
What’s most powerful about Goetz’s documentary is that he allows the subjects to speak for themselves. As time unfolds, they slowly open up and reveal more regarding their thoughts about the ‘war on terror’, insecurities, and doubts regarding Slahi’s story. We meet the likes of Sydney, an intelligence officer, who is convinced that Slahi was the ‘right man’. She’s 100% certain that he was a terrorist and she describes him in the most demeaning way possible, calling him a “car salesman” and accuses him of being a manipulator. At times, Goetz even has his doubts about Slahi. There’s something about his calm, peaceful and forgive demeanour that just feel off, but we can’t quite put our finger on it. Perhaps, it just seems impossible that a man who had endured so much, wants to have tea with those who tormented him.
Sydney isn’t the only one who is adamant that Slahi was a terrorist. Dick Zuley, a retired police integrator, is interviewed about his involvement with “Special Projects” and gloats about how he managed to get a ‘confession’ out of Slahi. It’s fascinating to see how people like Zuley and Sydney still believe their version of the story, and have created their own ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ and they refuse to even contemplate another version of the story. Zuley reacts angrily, storming out of the interview declaring that he’s not the bad guy. But, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this tale? Were people so caught up in their hysteria and fear that they wanted so badly to find the big bad monster and lock him up?
This is a very powerful and insightful documentary that leaves a lasting impression. I haven’t been so moved by a documentary for a very long time, and I was left feeling uncomfortable. What would I have done if I’d been in Slahi’s shoes? Would I have forgiven the likes of Mr. X? And, is it wrong of me to feel so sort of empathy towards the likes of Mr X. and Master Jedi, who have to battle with the horrific memories of what they did to all the countless victims of Guantanamo Bay? This is truly captivating stuff, and a documentary that you must seek out at all costs.
“Guantanamo Diary Revisited” is AVAILABLE ON DVD & VOD