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Center to host video conference with former Guantanamo Bay prisoner

| Friday, January 26, 2018

Members of the Notre Dame community will explore themes of torture, terrorism and identity Sunday at 4 p.m. as part of an event led by the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Christine Cervenak, associate director for the center, said this event is a collaboration of several groups on campus including the Film, Theatre and Television Department and the Center for Social Concerns. The main event will be a video conference with Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Slahi wrote “Guantanamo Diary,” a book recounting his treatment at the notorious prison.

“To read his book is to deeply be moved and admire him,” Cervenak said. “In person, he is the person he is in the book. He’s extremely funny, ironic, he’s so articulate in what I think is his third or fourth language and he’s honest.”

The book was released about a year before Slahi was released from Guantanamo Bay. Its editor, Larry Siems, is a Notre Dame alumnus from the class of 1981.

Through this event, the audience will be given the opportunity to explore the deeper themes of humane treatment and torture, Cervenak said.

“For me, he’s the Nelson Mandela of Guantanamo Bay,” she said. “He was innocent, and he suffered the worst torture that we inflicted on detainees. And he comes out on the other side wanting to forgive.”

Cervenak said the event is truly interdisciplinary in nature, as evidenced by the efforts of multiple campus departments. In addition to the video conference on Sunday, several other events to invite the public to further engage in conversation. Notre Dame students will perform excerpts from “Guantanamo Bay” at the Philbin Studio Theater in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Center for Social Concerns is also hosting a discussion session about the book.

Cervenak said this event is the first university-wide initiative to engage with Slahi’s story.

“I hope that [people] take away new questions and new perspectives on how the United States treats its prisoners and especially about the use of torture,” she said.

As a human rights lawyer, Cervenak said she has been interested in Guantanamo Bay for quite some time.

“There’s something going on in our culture where we’re seeing torture as acceptable under certain circumstances, and I hope that an hour and a half with Mohamedou and our guests will help them understand how this diminishes us as a country,” she said.

The event on Sunday will use a forum-style format and will culminate with five students asking their questions to Slahi. Afterwards, there will be a reception and a book sale.

“You get the perspective that you wouldn’t get otherwise that you can’t get from any reports at what’s happening in Guantanamo and you get to know this human being,” Cervenak said. “You get to know a fascinating, brilliant, talented human being from Mauritania. A computer engineer from Mauritania who you normally wouldn’t cross paths with.

“I would hope that those who’ve engaged with this book take his story and the lessons out to their family, their friends, whatever they do next in their lives. As a Catholic institution we are taught the value of respecting every individual and the dignity of every individual, so exploring how Mohamedou’s dignity was violated should be of interest to all of us.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena