THE MAURITANIAN – Behind The Scenes with Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Directed by Kevin Macdonald and based on the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, THE MAURITANIAN is the inspiring true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years. Alone and afraid, Slahi (Tahar Rahim) finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who battle the U.S. Government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a formidable military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), reveals shocking truths and ultimately proves that the human spirit cannot be locked up.


We caught up with Mohamedou Ould Slahi author of the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” on which the film is based.

THE MAURITANIAN is now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video in Ireland and the UK 

You lived it, you wrote about it, and you have spoken about your experience in Guantanamo, but were you prepared to see it on screen?
I watched a lot of movies because I had no life.  I was in prison, and whenever the guards watched a film, I watched it with them, if they allowed me to. I saw that sometimes people don’t like to see themselves portrayed, so I was prepared not to like myself on the screen. But it felt different from what I expected when I saw it, because I knew what it would be like. I worked with the writers and the producers, not that I did anything big, they asked me questions and talked to me before making the film.


What did you think of Tahar Rahim playing you?
Are you kidding me? He’s better looking and more muscular. He works out more! I’m very lucky to have him. He’s very smart. I want to use his picture as my profile photo to make people think that it is really me!


Was it challenging to go to visit the cells and see a replica of Guantanamo?
It was eerily similar, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Just go online and check some pictures of Guantanamo Bay and compare them to the movie. As someone who lived in Guantanamo Bay, more than any place on earth, I can tell you that it’s really like Guantanamo Bay. They went into so much detail. They put so much work into it. I was really scared. When I got there, I wanted to go away. I didn’t want to stay long because I got a very bad feeling inside. I didn’t want to stay there.


One of the things that struck me about the film was seeing your determination. You learned English. You become friends with the guards. You never gave up hope. How did you manage to keep going?
When people survive torture and abuse, they become very resilient and strong. We don’t get to talk to the people that didn’t survive after their torture and abuse. You can’t ask questions of the people who died like the man we knew as Marseille in the movie – that was no game. He died in his cell. Human beings are very vulnerable, something that is insignificant could kill us, and you need so much effort to save someone’s life, but to keep yourself alive, for me, that was easy. I just wanted to live. I tried different things. I kept negotiating my way out of torture by law. I remember a conversation between a lieutenant and me. I felt she didn’t want to torture me. She was trying to convince me to cooperate with them. I asked her to explain to me why they kidnapped me, to tell me why they kept me there. I told her that if they kept torturing me, they would get an answer from someone who isn’t me. You can call me anything else, but it’s not Mohamedou Ould Slahi who will give you an answer after torture. You are not yourself when you go through that. I was aware of this, but I failed completely to convince them not to torture me.


We see in the film that you talk about forgiveness. Was it hard to forgive and was that something that you needed to do?
When the CIA took me and I couldn’t see anyone or anything. They covered my head. All I could do was feel. I could feel them cut my clothes off with scissors and then put a diaper on me. At that point, I realized that my life has changed forever and that I may never ever see the outside world ever again. I imagined being put in a strange country where no one knows me, where I didn’t know the language and would die in a prison cell. I didn’t think that I would ever be free.  I didn’t think I should have made so much more money in my life. I didn’t think about what I should have done in school. I didn’t think I should have been with this girl or that girl. None of that had any value to me when I was there. My only thought was I wish I had been nicer to people. I asked what I would regret when I was on my deathbed? And I took it upon myself to be nice to people as much as I could. Forgiveness is a way for me to free my mind, free my head, and move forward.


There are 40 prisoners still in Guantanamo. Do you hope that the film will help their situation?
When I decided to share my story, I knew I was not talking only about myself, but I was speaking on behalf of so many people. You don’t know them, you have never heard of them, they are faceless. You may be scared of them because the greatest country in the world said those are bad people, that they are out to get you. The truth is there are many Guantanamo Bays,  secret prisons all around the world where people are treated outside the rule of law. This is horrible. People discuss on TV channels and write articles about why Muslim people are evil. If you lived as we do, you would go crazy. In many countries, the police turn up at your door and beat you up and take you away for no reason. Why should you be nice? People who are living in countries where they have their lives guaranteed, where everything they do follows through the legal procedure, they cannot understand. They discuss some young men who live in dictatorships who go crazy and lose their minds, but they don’t fully get it. If you kill innocent people, you are crazy. That’s what crazy people do. That is why I told my story. I want to help make sure young people are treated within the rule of law and stop t countries where people are not treated with dignity.


THE MAURITANIAN is now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video in Ireland and the UK