‘The Mauritanian’ tells story of Guantánamo inmate who spent 14 years imprisoned without charges

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Mohamedou Ould Slahi was released from Guantánamo Bay detention camp in October 2016, approximately 14 years after he was first detained — but never officially charged — due to suspected involvement in facilitating the Sept. 11 attacks.

During his imprisonment at the Cuban naval base, Slahi was reportedly “beaten, sexually throttled, put in extreme isolation, shackled to the floor, stripped naked and put under strobe lights while being blasted with heavy metal music,” a Justice Department investigation found.

The native of the northwest African nation of Mauritania documented his experience in a best-selling memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” an account that has formed the foundation of the upcoming February 2021 film “The Mauritanian.”

Directed by Kevin Macdonald (”The Last King of Scotland,” “State of Play”), the big screen adaptation centers on the six-year legal struggle that eventually culminated in the release of Slahi, now 50 years old, who’s portrayed in the film by Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet,” “The Eagle”).

“I was at peace in my heart at that time,” Slahi said in an interview with NPR after his release. “There is nothing I was hiding.”

Speaking with NPR, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Hina Shamsi characterized Slahi’s confinement as unjust.

“He wasn’t captured on a battlefield,” Shamsi said. “He voluntarily turned himself over to authorities in his native country of Mauritania for questioning. He never fought against the United States. He was subjected to one of the most brutal torture regimes at Guantanamo.”

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The duties of sorting through the on-screen legal proceedings will be carried out by Jodie Foster (”Contact,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), Benedict Cumberbatch (”The Imitation Game,” “Doctor Strange”), Shailene Woodley (”The Fault in Our Stars,” “Divergent”), and Zachary Levi (”Shazam!”).

Rahim, meanwhile, called the chance to collaborate with Slahi about the role “a beautiful moment.”

“The first thing you notice is he’s such a bright man, nice, clever and with a big sense of humor, which is very surprising because of his story, and what has been through,” the actor told Variety.

“It’s a big responsibility when you carry real characters, especially him. I didn’t want to disappoint him, nor his story. He talked about the tough, tough things but a little at a time. … But when you meet him, he has got a smile from ear to ear. You couldn’t believe that he’s been through hell. … He doesn’t hold a grudge against anybody. When he first got to Guantanamo, he believed in the rule of law. He thought I’m going to be treated like a human being. And after all of it, he still believes in the rule of law, which is incredible.”

Guantánamo made headlines earlier this month after a Yemeni prisoner who had been held for over 18 years without criminal charges was cleared for release. The man, now in his mid-40s, was determined after nearly two decades to no longer pose a threat to the U.S.

“The Mauritanian” is slated to hit theaters Feb. 19. Watch the trailer below.

About

J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times who was a Marine scout observer from 2004-2008. He ugly cried when the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup.

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