‘Imagine the Worst Possible Scenario’: Why a Guantanamo Prosecutor Withdrew From the Case

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch truly believed Mohamedou Ould Slahi was guilty. He also believed that Slahi’s interrogators had broken the law — tormenting him physically and sexually, and threatening the gang-rape of his mother.

Stuart Couch had been waiting nearly two years to start this job. He had been waiting since September 11, 2001.

Couch, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps, was a military prosecutor. When President George W. Bush decreed that the 9/11 perpetrators would face trial by military commission, a form of martial justice last used against German and Japanese war criminals following World War II, Couch had volunteered for the mission.

Arriving at Guantanamo in October 2003, Couch was startled by an unlikely sound: grating, blasting, heavy-metal music. He went to look into the commotion. Perhaps some off-duty guards were fooling around with a boom box, he thought.

With his escort trailing behind, Couch followed the music toward an open door, where a strobe light’s flash was spilling into the corridor.

Couch turned into the doorway. He froze.

On the floor, amid the flashing lights and the deafening metal sounds, was a shackled detainee, kneeling, mumbling, rocking back and forth. Praying. This man was in agony.

Let the bodies hit the . . . floor! the song roared. Beaten, why for (why for).

Couch suddenly noticed that two men in polo shirts — apparently civilians, judging by their hair length — also were in the room. They planted themselves in the doorway, blocking his view.

“Can I help you?” one of the men shouted over the music. They looked to be in their late 20s or early 30s. Neither seemed particularly fit, nor were they groomed like military men. One wore hair mousse. The other, the fatter one, had a chin-beard.

“I’m Lieutenant Colonel Couch, and I’m trying to have an interview over here,” Couch said. “You guys need to turn that down.”

The men shut the door.


That scene was still resonating through Couch’s mind when he met with his CITF investigator. The top priority was Mohamedou Ould Slahi — the detainee, Couch concluded, with “the most blood on his hands.”

Born around 1970, Slahi, a military interrogator later said, was “bright, capable, likable.” Slahi knew Arabic, French, and German when he arrived at Guantanamo and picked up casual English by his second year at the prison.



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