The unlikely friendship between an American guard and a Mauritania prisoner at the notorious Guantanamo Bay facility has become the subject of a Guardian documentary, 'My Brother's Keeper', now on the list to compete for the British short Film award at the 2021 BAFTA ceremony. Mohamedou Ould Salahi and Steve Wood's relationship was also the subject of a bestselling memoir 'Guantanamo Diary', which was released a year before Salahi was freed from 14 years of imprisonment.
"It is very hard to say someone is your friend when that someone has power over you, including terminating your life," says Mohamedou in 'My Brother's Keeper'. He recounts the various kindnesses shown to him by Woods, whom he affectionately nicknamed "Seargent Stretch", including games and gifts of coffee. The documentary captures the touching reunion between Woods and Salahi after 13 years.
Woods described himself as inspired by Salahi's cheerfulness and his steadfastness even during torture. Years before, a Justice Department investigative report had revealed that Salahi was "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."
Salahi was arrested and questioned by various security agencies due to his alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda during the mujahideen resistance against the Communist government of Mohammed Najibullah in Afghanistan. Salahi was implicated in the planning of the September 11 attacks in America and accused by the US of providing further aid to Al Qaeda since.
However, the Mauritanian has denied any further involvement with the terrorist organisation and swore that he had cut all ties with them after leaving Afghanistan. While in Guantanamo, Sakhi was never officially charged with a crime. It was also revealed that most of his statements were obtained under severe torture, making them inadmissible in court.
Now a convert to Islam, Woods hopes to continue his friendship with his old friend and hopes their story will inspire others.
"I believe in humanity," Mohamedou Salahi narrates at the end of the documentary, over the sea of sand and orange sky of his homeland. "I believe that we don't need countries; we don't need borders.[Woods] and I are the embodiment of that. We have transcended stereotypes; we have transcended hatred. We didn't do that after prison...we did that in the darkest of moments."
"The Mauritanian", a movie based on Salahi's memoir starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim and Benedict Cumberbatch, was released on February 12 of this year.