The True Story Behind ‘The Mauritanian’

The Mauritanian brings to light the harrowing experiences of Mohamedou Ould Slahi during his 14-year detention at Guantanamo Bay and the relentless legal battle fought for his release.

The Mauritanian

The film features an immensely talented cast, including Tahar Rahim as Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Jodie Foster as defense attorney Nancy Hollander, Benedict Cumberbatch as formidable military prosecutor Stuart Couch, and Shailene Woodley as Hollander’s associate Teri Duncan. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, known for his work on The Last King of Scotland, The Mauritanian is based on Slahi’s best-selling memoir Guantánamo Diary.

Born in Mauritania, Slahi traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to support the Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union-backed government. During this time, he swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda but later severed ties with the group in 1992. In 2000, he moved to Germany, where he lived with his cousin Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, a known Al-Qaeda member.

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Slahi was arrested in Mauritania due to his connections with Al-Qaeda and his cousin, who was suspected of being a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Slahi was subsequently transferred to a CIA black site in Jordan, where he was interrogated and tortured for several months. In August 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, the infamous U.S. military prison in Cuba, where he remained until his release in 2016.

Slahi’s memoir, Guantánamo Diary, was written during his detention and details the inhumane treatment and torture he experienced at the hands of his captors. The book became an international bestseller, shedding light on the controversial practices and human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay. The memoir was eventually adapted into the film The Mauritanian by screenwriters Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, who carefully pieced together Slahi’s harrowing story from his detailed accounts and personal experiences.

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The Mauritanian film highlights the legal battle fought by defense attorney Nancy Hollander and her associate Teri Duncan to secure Slahi’s release. Their tireless efforts, despite facing numerous obstacles, including a lack of access to crucial documents and resistance from the U.S. government, were instrumental in bringing Slahi’s story to the public’s attention. Hollander and Duncan filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of Slahi, asserting that his detention was unlawful and that he had the right to be brought before a court to determine the legality of his imprisonment.

Nancy Hollander( Jodie Foster )and Teri Duncan( Shailene Woodley ).

Throughout the legal proceedings, Hollander and Duncan discovered evidence of Slahi’s torture and forced confessions, which were deemed inadmissible in court. The torture techniques employed against Slahi included physical abuse, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, and psychological manipulation, resulting in a false confession that he was involved in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.

Meanwhile, military prosecutor Stuart Couch, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the film, was tasked with building a case against Slahi. Couch, a former Marine and close friend of a pilot killed in the 9/11 attacks, initially pursued the case with fervor. However, after uncovering the extent of Slahi’s torture and the dubious nature of his confessions, Couch made the morally courageous decision to withdraw from the case due to the unethical means employed to obtain evidence.

Stuart Couch, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Slahi’s case gained international attention and sparked controversial advocacy from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, who campaigned for his release and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. In 2010, a U.S. federal judge ordered Slahi’s release, but the decision was appealed by the government, prolonging his detention. It was not until 2016, after years of legal battles and negotiations, that Slahi was finally released and returned to his home country of Mauritania.

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The filming of The Mauritanian took place in Cape Town, South Africa, with the crew constructing a replica of Guantanamo Bay to recreate the authentic atmosphere of the notorious military prison. The cast and crew also had the opportunity to meet Slahi in person, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of his experiences and develop genuine connections with the individual they were portraying or representing on screen.

The Mauritanian has received critical acclaim for its outstanding performances by its lead actors, notably Tahar Rahim, who delivers a gripping portrayal of Slahi’s resilience and unbreakable spirit. Jodie Foster embodies the fierce determination and commitment to justice that characterized Hollander’s real-life efforts on behalf of her client.

Tahar Rahim playing Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Several documentaries have also delved into Slahi’s story and the broader issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay, including the documentary Guantanamo’s Child explores the experiences of other detainees held at the military prison and raises questions about the ethical implications of the U.S. government’s actions.

The film brings the Mauritanian true story to life through its narrative, performances, and commitment to exposing the truth. By examining the real-life events behind this story, we gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by those who seek justice in an increasingly complicated world.