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Former Guantánamo guard visits famous ex-prisoner 'friend'

  • Former Guantánamo Bay guard Steve Wood flew to Mauritania last month to visit former detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi 
  • The guard and prisoner bonded over their love of The Big Lebowski when Wood was sent to the prison for a nine-month tour in 2005
  • Wood wrote a letter of recommendation when Slahi petitioned the U.S. government for release in 2016 
  • Slahi was released from the prison six months later - after 14 years in custody
  • Wood visited during the Ramadan holiday, so the two shared break-fast meals and Wood bonded with Slahi's extended family over soccer games 
  • The former Army sergeant said he hopes to return to visit his friend again 
  • Slahi, a former Al Qaeda member, wrote a memoir of being tortured behind bars, and claims he was wrongly detained  

By Ashley Collman For Dailymail.com

Published: 10:16 EDT, 12 June 2018 | Updated: 12:14 EDT, 12 June 2018

A former Army sergeant flew more than 6,000 miles from his home in Oregon to the African nation of Mauritania last month to reunite with a former detainee he befriended during his stint as a guard at Guantánamo Bay a decade ago. 

In 2005, 23-year-old soldier Steve Wood was sent to the military prison for a nine-month tour of duty. 

His responsibility was to guard detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 34, a former Al Qaeda member, from 6pm to 6am. 

Former Guantánamo Bay guard Steve Wood (right) flew to Mauritania last month to visit former detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi (left)
Former Guantánamo Bay guard Steve Wood (right) flew to Mauritania last month to visit former detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi (left)

Former Guantánamo Bay guard Steve Wood (right) flew to Mauritania last month to visit former detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi (left)

Wood visited during Ramadan, so he shared many break-fast meals with Slahi. A documentary filmmaker paid for Wood's trip to Mauritania and filmed the two reuniting 
Wood visited during Ramadan, so he shared many break-fast meals with Slahi. A documentary filmmaker paid for Wood's trip to Mauritania and filmed the two reuniting 

Wood visited during Ramadan, so he shared many break-fast meals with Slahi. A documentary filmmaker paid for Wood's trip to Mauritania and filmed the two reuniting 

While many Guantánamo detainees had - and continue to have - adversarial relationships with their guards, Slahi was in a special part of the prison for cooperators.

During Wood's nighttime shift, the two men interacted almost as equals, eating meals together and watching TV and movies. They bonded over their shared love of The Big Lebowski. 

So after Slahi was finally freed from Guantánamo in 2016, Wood jumped at the opportunity to fly to his friend's home country to reunite after a decade apart, with a ticket bought by a documentarian making a film about Slahi's life.

Wood visited Slahi during Ramadan, so he shared break-fast meals with the former detainee, and played soccer with the younger members of the Slahi family. Like old times, they watched The Big Lebowski as well. 

'We went to the dunes, visited a lot of family, watched "The Office" a lot. It was amazing, seeing Mohamedou,' Wood told the Miami Herald. 'We sat there drinking tea, and we watched "The Big Lebowski" like we did years ago, his same smart-ass attitude, giving each other crap. It was almost like I left Guantánamo Bay a few months ago and just saw him again. It was cool.'

Slahi is pictured above in 2016, after returning to Mauritania after 14 years in American custody 
Slahi is pictured above in 2016, after returning to Mauritania after 14 years in American custody 

Slahi is pictured on the left when he a was a prisoner at the prison. He's seen on the left, in 2016, after returning to Mauritania after 14 years in American custody

Wood, who has since left the military and now works in construction, was part of the reason Slahi was finally freed. 

When he was stationed at the prison, Wood says he was told that Slahi was a former Al Qaeda member who had been at the prison since 2002 and whose confessions helped saved thousands of lives. It was only until he left, that he learned that Slahi was 'innocent'.

Slahi would later retract his confessions, saying he pretended to have intelligence to stop being tortured. Slahi published a book while in the prison, which detailed his treatment by interrogators, who allegedly packed him in ice, blasted music in his cell for hours and threatened to capture his mother. 

While he admits to having been a member of Al Qaeda when the group was backed by the U.S. during the Soviet-Afghan War, he claims he had left the group by 9/11. 

Slahi wrote a book about his treatment by American interrogators while he was behind bars at the military prison 
Slahi wrote a book about his treatment by American interrogators while he was behind bars at the military prison 

Slahi wrote a book about his treatment by American interrogators while he was behind bars at the military prison 

In 2016, Slahi petitioned to be released from Guantánamo and Wood wrote him a letter of recommendation, saying he was always 'polite, friendly and respectful' when he acted as his guard.

Wood said he found Slahi's behavior remarkable in retrospect, considering the 'descriptions of the abuse he suffered during interrogations and in his first months in prison'.

He said Slahi had a 'good sense of humor despite his surroundings' and showed 'compassion and empathy' toward him when he learned that Wood had missed his first child's birth because of his tour at Guantánamo.

'I would be pleased to welcome him in my home. I do not have safety concerns if I were to do so. I would like the opportunity to eventually see him again,' Wood wrote at the time. 

Slahi was released from Guantánamo six months after Wood wrote that letter.

As part of the conditions of his release, Slahi is not allowed to leave his home country, so it was Slahi that ended up welcoming Wood into his own home. 

Camp Echo at Guantanamo Bay prison is pictured above. Wood met Slahi when the detainee was in this unit at the prison 
Camp Echo at Guantanamo Bay prison is pictured above. Wood met Slahi when the detainee was in this unit at the prison 

Camp Echo at Guantanamo Bay prison is pictured above. Wood met Slahi when the detainee was in this unit at the prison 

'As soon as he arrived at the airport he was my responsibility,' Slahi said. 'In a way I was his responsibility at Guantánamo Bay.'

When he picked Wood up from the airport, it was almost as if no time passed at all.    

'When he emerged out of the airport it was the same guy. He didn't change a bit. We hugged and I took him to the car and we drove off,' Slahi recalled. 

Slahi said that their relationship is a 'very, very powerful story' that should send a message to 'warmongers everywhere in the world'.   

'We are not at war with Americans. We love our American brothers and sisters,' Slahi said. 

Wood said he had a wonderful time during his visit and  hopes to return to Mauritania again.  

'He's a very forgiving guy, a big-hearted guy,' Wood said. 'I was glad I could be there for him. I feel like I was a small part of his giant adventure.'

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