John Goetz calls him a “friend” when he has not yet met Mohamedou Slahi. Goetz wrote about him, yes, but now he’s going to meet him for the first time. At the end of the film, Mohamedou Slahi says of the journalist that he was only the “ticket” to tell his, Slahis, story: “I use you to make my film.” Not a word of friendship. And yet understandable.
Mohamedou Slahi spent fourteen years in Guantanamo because he had contacts with al-Qaeda and was allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks. In 2016, he was released without charge. Statistically, someone has calculated that Slahi was the “most tortured” prisoner in Guantanamo. Who uses whom, who asks questions and who answers them, which story is told and which one is believed, that was a matter of life and death for him.
It has to be said: Slahi has clearly caught up in the narrative competition. From John Goetz ‘film Slahi and his torturers there is a 50-minute version on Arte and a 90-minute version on ARD, plus one Podcast. Recently the Hollywood movie is The Mauritanian started with Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim and Benedict Cumberbatch. Slahi had written a book himself while he was still in custody.
When Slahi still did not deliver despite sleep deprivation, a ban on prayer, and beatings, the tormentors adopted a new method
You can reach Mohamedou Slahi via Whatsapp, it takes less than half an hour, and he sends half a dozen voice messages expressing his satisfaction with the latest phrase: When the Mauritanian secret service extradited him to the USA, “when I was kidnapped, in front of mine Mother, no law, Mafia style, they didn’t expect the whole world to find out “. Now the world has heard of it.
Even at the end of Slahi and his torturers to put it mildly, there are still doubts as to what is true and what is not in Slahi’s version. Why did his cousin call him on Bin Laden’s cell phone? Why and how often did he accommodate the assassins and masterminds of September 11th in his apartment in Duisburg, where he initially lived on a scholarship from the Carl Duisberg Society? Isn’t it too smooth, too friendly? Does he manipulate filmmakers and the audience as much as he tried to manipulate torturers and fellow inmates in Guantanamo? That’s how the interrogators describe him.
It speaks for the film that it raises such considerations for itself. However, it would not have detracted from the argument if John Goetz were only seen half as often in the picture. Because Slahi is more exciting than the reporter. Goetz actually tracks down the torturers. Researching the first name is a tough story, but then it gets easier and eventually everyone wants to talk. They too have a story.
First of all, it is not necessarily more convincing than that of the prisoner. If Richard Zuley, the team leader of the torturers, claims that he got on very well with Slahi, “we have made friends”, when he, Zuleys, parting, the prisoner even cried, then that is quite disgusting. When Slahi still did not deliver despite sleep deprivation and the ban on prayer, humiliation and beatings, Zuley resorted to a very clever method. He had an official-looking letter written threatening Slahi’s mother for her son’s “lack of cooperation” with imprisonment in a male prison. Slahi broke down, wrote pages of contacts. “It just gushed out of him,” said Zuley with satisfaction.
None of it was usable. Slahi’s statements contradicted the investigation. Polygraph tests disproved the forced confession. Without wanting to, Zuley had shown what is still the strongest argument against torture: it provides no evidence.
The interesting thing about Goetz’s film is that it shows Slahi as a comparatively intact, forgiving, almost anointed victim, while the perpetrators have not been able to get back on their feet since then. Slahi’s former guard, now a devout Christian, can only get through the day with a battery of pills. Even the analyst, who still wishes Slahi dead, is left empty-handed. She dedicated her best years to the fight against terror, she says. And now her toughest case is giving interviews to the world’s media and working as a motivational speaker while nobody cares about her merits.
“What we did was wrong,” says Mr. X, the torturer: “We are not really like that.” But that’s just how they are
The greatest internal conflict, however, is carried out by Mr. X. According to Slahi’s descriptions, he was the most brutal of them all, a tattooed giant with a chest like an oil tank. And with experience. He admits that he was trained to use “advanced interrogation methods” and that he has done this a number of times, in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a job to be done and you were almost waiting for him to talk about the cog in the gears. But the architecture of justification no longer works. When Goetz asks him: “Did you torture?”, Mr. X hesitates briefly, then he says: “Yes. That is torture.”
The memories never let go of him, he toyed with the idea of killing himself. He still considers Slahi to be an “enemy of the USA”. And yet he sees the failure of Guantanamo, of the practice of “extended interrogation methods”, of his “task” as a failure. Not because Slahi could not be proven, but because the USA itself suffered damage. “What we did was wrong,” says Mr. X: “We are not really like that.”
Well, that’s how they are sometimes. Guantanamo is not closed, the camp holds up for a long time for an extra legal excess. One cannot assume that America respects human rights, writes Slahi in a text message.
Five years after his release, however, it seems that the American chapter has been closed for him, that he has long since been concerned with something else. Around Germany, around Duisburg, where his wife and child live. But he still doesn’t get a visa to Germany, not for the premiere of the Mauritanians, not for Goetz’s film, not for family reunification. “It is a great shame that Germany does not pursue an independent foreign policy,” he said. It sounds very important to the state. He knows: the world is listening to him.
Slahi and his torturers, Das Erste, 10:50 p.m. and in the ARD media library. Editor’s note: John Goetz has been working for SZ for years. SZ cooperates with its employer, the NDR, within the framework of the research cooperation between SZ, NDR and WDR.