peter tinti

independent journalist

A Postcard from Guantánamo: How Mohamedou Ould Slahi Became a Suspected Terrorist, Then a Best-Selling Author


It was a simple prayer. Every day, Mariem Mint Elwadia asked God for the same thing: She wanted to see her son, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, just one more time before she died.

The last time she laid eyes on him, Slahi was on his way to the police station for questioning, an inconvenience that had become somewhat routine back then, in November 2001. It was just after dusk on the outskirts of Nouakchott, the dusty capital of the arid West African nation of Mauritania. Slahi had come home from work and was preparing to shower when the police arrived at the family home. As usual, he drove his own car to the police station.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon,” the 30-year-old told his family. But Slahi never returned. His car sat idle in the police parking lot for weeks, and Mauritanian authorities refused to provide his family with any information on his whereabouts.

Sixteen months later, in March 2003, a 4-by-6 postcard arrived at the house. It didn’t offer much in the way of details. At the top right sat an 80-cent stamp from the US that featured a picturesque mountain vista. The return address read 160 Camp X-Ray, Washington, DC 20353, USA. The postmark, dated 2002, suggested the card had been sent via the US Postal Service. In a section labeled “camp,” there was a four-letter acronym penned in narrow, inelegant handwriting.

It read “GTMO.”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi had become a Guantánamo Bay detainee, and his mother found out through a postcard.

“I am writing this postcard for the fourth time, and I have not received any response from you. I do not know if you are receiving these cards or not,” Slahi wrote on the back. “I do not know if God will help me and deliver me from this injustice, but in any case, be patient and invest time in prayer.”

At the time, Elwadia could not have known that US intelligence officials considered her son to be a key player in al Qaeda’s European and North American operations and a central figure in the 9/11 attacks. Nor could she have known that Slahi would be tortured for months at a time over the course of several years, or that a judge would order his release, or that that decision would be cruelly reversed. And no one could have predicted that Slahi would become a New York Times best-selling author from inside the walls of the world’s most infamous prison. But there is little about the globe-spanning life of Mohamedou Ould Slahi that follows a straight line, which is why his story, steeped in unknowable complexity and murky details, is perhaps the perfect parable of the post-9/11 era.

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Tackling Ebola, One Broadcast at a Time

Foreign Policy

Health workers aren’t the only ones fighting Ebola — so are radio journalists, hip-hop singers, and imams.

Guéckédou, Guinea — Diallo Fatou Traoré stands at the entrance of a rural radio station, of which she is the director, and asks that everyone entering use a hand-washing station. In less tenuous times, such a request would be unfathomably rude. But here in Guinea’s southeastern Forestière region, the heart of the current Ebola epidemic, extreme caution has become the norm

Traoré and her team of 18 journalists, technicians, and on-air presenters are probably not the first people who come to mind when thinking about those on the front lines of the battle against Ebola, but each have been deeply engaged in fighting the spread of the disease. “We had seven cases and four dead at the start, and people did not believe in Ebola,” says Traoré, who recalls people calling into her station with personal theories and anecdotes. “We started interactive programming with a doctor answering questions and responding to phone calls, and the mentality changed.”

Across Guinea, it is ordinary citizens like Traoré who are fighting Ebola despite limited resources and no prior experience with the virus. Attention and praise are rightly given to the health workers risking their lives to treat the sick; across West Africa, 382 health workers had become infected and 216 had died as of Oct. 1, according to the World Health Organization. But countless other people from a range of backgrounds — journalists, religious leaders, artists — have been doing their own small part to combat the disease, even as national and international leaders have equivocated and global health organizations dithered.

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The Toxic Politics of Ebola

Foreign Policy

In Guinea, the epidemic isn’t just killing people. It’s threatening to tear the country apart.

Guéckédou, Guinea — Thérèse Moundekeno was a pharmacy student in Conakry, Guinea’s coastal capital city, when she received a phone call in April advising her to do everything possible to come home to Guéckédou, a city deep in the country’s southeastern Forestière region. It was the latest in a string of bad news for Moundekeno, whose sister and brother-in-law had died of a mysterious illness weeks earlier. Now her mother had fallen sick. By the time Moundekeno could leave school and make the daylong trip back to Guéckédou by public transport, her mother was dead.

When she arrived at the hospital, a doctor with the organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) refused Moundekeno’s request to see her mother’s body. “He told me the same virus that killed your mother can kill you,” she recalls.

For her mother’s funeral, Moundekeno says she had little choice but to eschew local traditions and her religious beliefs, which would require her to clean and dress her mother’s body before burying it. It was an agonizing decision, made all the more painful when she saw her mother’s cadaver loaded into the hospital vehicle in a graceless body bag rather than vibrant traditional fabrics.

“When the vehicle arrived at the cemetery, everyone dispersed,” Moundekeno says, holding back tears. “Everyone.”

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Sketches of West Florissant Avenue


Amid the teargas and rubber bullets on West Florissant Avenue were the less tangible, but no less real complexities that my camera could not capture. What follows is the humble observations of an outsider who spent seven days in Ferguson, made possible by your support.

Ferguson, Mo. — By the time I arrived at the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive, Michael Brown’s death was already a national story. Not because the unarmed black teen was shot several times in broad daylight by a white police officer named Darren Wilson, but because the violent clashes between protesters and police in the wake of his death made for must-see TV.

Crowds had gathered to call for justice for Michael Brown, which in the short term, meant calling for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him.  In response, police dressed like soldiers pointed sniper rifles at unarmed citizens. They deployed tear gas. They fired rubber bullets. They lobbed stun grenades at unsuspecting citizens and used something called a “sound cannon” to disperse crowds.

During my seven days in Ferguson, my dispatches from West Florissant Avenue focused on these dynamics. They emphasized the weapons of war, the looting and Molotov cocktails, and the tension between police officers and protesters. But these raw moments, while compelling and important, are only one part of the story unfolding on West Florissant Avenue.

What follows are notes from West Florissant Avenue that eschew play-by-play reporting in favor of something less tangible, but no less real. They do not aspire to tell the whole story, but to shed light on the underlying complexities that my camera could not capture. They are the humble observations of an outsider.

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The US and France Are Teaming Up to Fight A Sprawling War on Terror in Africa


In July of this year, France launched Operation Barkhane, an ambitious counterterrorism initiative spread across five countries in Africa’s Sahel and Sahara regions. The mission seeks to build upon the success of the French military intervention that drove al Qaeda-linked jihadi militants from northern Mali in 2013, and comes at a time when the US is expanding its own counterterrorism operations on the continent, setting the stage for what some analysts consider a burgeoning Franco-American alliance in Africa.

“This is a new chapter in French-American relations,” Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst who is now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told VICE News. “There is an unprecedented level of cooperation going on.”

In an August 11 memo to US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama, citing an “unforeseen emergency,” authorized the transfer of up to $10 million “to assist France in its efforts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremism.” The move hints at a division of labor in which the US foots the bill for a cash-strapped French military that is both logistically and politically better placed than the US to engage in combat operations in the Sahel.

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The New French Militarism In the Sahel


France’s new counterterrorism mission in the Sahel represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward the African continent, and with its commitment to actively hunting and killing terrorists, Opération Barkhane could radically alter security dynamics throughout the region.

French government officials recently unveiled plans to launch a new counterterrorism initiative in the Sahel, code-named Opération Barkhane.The mission consists of over 3,000 troops spread across five countries who, according to The Economist, will be supported by 20 supply helicopters, ten transport aircraft, six fighter planes, three drones, and 200 armored vehicles.

Although the bulk of the forces and equipment required for Barkhane are already on the ground in Africa, it would be a mistake to characterize the operation as a mere reshuffling of French military assets in the region. In fact, Barkhane represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward Africa, which in turn was meant to be a departure from France’s previous post-colonial posture toward the continent.

“The objective is principally one of counterterrorism,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris last month. “The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffic to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups can rebuild themselves between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean.”

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The Untold Stories of World War I in Africa

The World War I in Africa Project is an ambitious initiative by Kathleen Bomani and Jacques Enaudeau, who seek not to commemorate the passing of World War I, but to restore its meaning by challenging “boilerplate narratives” and finding new narrators.

As the project’s website explains, two million African soldiers, workers and porters participated in the war, yet their story remains largely ignored to this day. “Europe’s 20th century started in 1914, and the yoke of colonialism steered Africa along for the ride,” Bomani and Enaudeau write. “Battles between the French, British, Belgian, German and Portuguese colonial empires pitted Africans against each other on their own soil,” they continue.

Tens of thousands of African lives were lost, while migration trends were set, economies transformed, and borders redefined all as a result of “the war to end all wars.”

Both Ms. Bomani and Mr. Enaudeau were kind enough to speak with me via skype. You can listen to the interview by clicking on this link.

Understanding Ebola: A Roundtable Discussion with Four Experts


For this week’s podcast on Beacon, a discussion of the deeper issues behind the Ebola epidemic in West Africa with professors Kim Yi Dionne, Adia Benton, Jeremy Youde, and Stéphane Helleringer.

The deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history is happening right now in West Africa, with three particular countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone desperately trying to curb the spread of the disease. At the time of recording this podcast, over a dozen cases have also been reported in Nigeria.

The official death toll at the moment is 1,550 and counting. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said the actual number could be as many as four times greater than the 1,550 reported. WHO officials have conceded that it will likely be 6 months before they can bring the spread of the virus under control and some estimates suggest that as many as 20,000 people may contract the virus before the end of the crisis.

With international air carriers cutting off flights to Ebola affected areas and local governments deploying their militaries to impose mass quarantines, the current outbreak now represents much more than a public health crisis. In fact, the International Monetary fund recently stated that the ongoing crisis has had an acute impact on economies throughout the region.

On today’s podcast I discuss the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa with professors Kim Yi Dionne, Adia Benton, Jeremy Youde, and Stéphane Helleringer.

All four experts were kind enough to take the time to join me via skype, in what I pitched to them as a virtual roundtable of sorts.

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50 Photos from Ferguson


On August 14, I travelled to Ferguson, Missouri thanks to generous donations from readers. Your support provided the budget for a full week of coverage from the front lines of the crisis. As I work on a longer piece that builds on my previously published day-to-day accounts, here are 50 photos from those seven days in Ferguson.

Ferguson, Mo. — 

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Days of Peace, Nights of Violence in Ferguson, Missouri


After two consecutive days of peaceful protests were shattered by two consecutive violent nights, Ferguson residents see no end in sight. This is the latest crowd-funded dispatch from West Florissant Avenue for Beacon.

Ferguson, Mo. — Despite calls for peaceful protests and a gentler, more nuanced approach to community policing, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has been rocked by four consecutive nights of chaos stretching from Friday night into Tuesday morning (see notes on Friday and Saturday night here and here). 

Violence came to Ferguson earlier than usual on Sunday evening, when gunshots rang out from a crowd that had gathered on West Florissant Avenue to protest the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  

The 9 p.m. volley sparked clashes between police officers and protestors, many of whom had come to Ferguson from outside the area to participate in ongoing demonstrations. Police used stun grenades, smoke canisters, and tear gas to disperse a crowd that included peaceful protestors and young children. 

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You Shoot, We Shoot Back: Notes From the First Curfew in Ferguson


On Saturday, August 16, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered a state of emergency and implemented a midnight curfew in the city of Ferguson in an attempt to restore order in the wake of the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Though many of the protestors returned home as midnight approached, a few hundred stayed in defiance of the curfew. Here are photos and video from the standoff that ensued.

Ferguson, Mo. — An air of uncertainty hung over the Ferguson community on Saturday night and into Sunday morning, as police and protestors prepared for a showdown in advance of the first curfew since the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. 

Protestors assembled at the lot of a QuikTrip convenience store on West Florissant Avenue. Since protestors set the store on fire last week, the charred remains of the QuikTrip have become a key gathering point for demonstrations in Ferguson.

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Peaceful Protests Take a Troubling Turn in Ferguson


Demonstrators gathered on West Florissant street in Ferguson, Missouri for the seventh consecutive evening to protest the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. The protests began just as they had on Thursday night, in an organized and peaceful manner with minimal police presence. But the evening took an ugly turn when gun shots rang out. Amid teargas and a stalemate between protestors and police, looters targeted several local businesses. Photos and video below.

Ferguson, Mo. — Protestors in Ferguson took to the streets for a seventh consecutive evening on Friday in what many hoped would mark a turning point in relations between local police and the Ferguson community.

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Voices from West Florissant, Ferguson, Missouri.


The Ferguson Police Department held a press conference today during which they disclosed the name of the police officer who shot unarmed teen Michael Brown on August 9. The much-anticipated press conference sparked outrage, however, when Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson chose to make Brown’s alleged participation in an unarmed robbery of a convenience store the focal point of the event. Here are some perspectives recorded in Ferguson following the press conference.

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Anatomy of a Peaceful Protest in Ferguson, Mo.


Protestors from the Ferguson community and broader St. Louis metropolitan area gathered for a sixth consecutive evening to protest the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown. But as much as the gatherings were meant to protest the killing of the black teenager at the hands of local police, they also served as a rebuttal to the widely-criticized, heavy-handed police responses to earlier protests.

FERGUSON, Mo — On Thursday evening, protestors initially gathered blocks away from where a police officer shot Michael Brown on Saturday, August 9.

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The Golden Hour and US-Africa Relations. An interview with Todd Moss


On today’s podcast, I’m joined by Todd Moss, the Chief Operating Officer at the Center for Global Development, where he is also a Senior Fellow. From May 2007 to October 2008, Moss served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. In addition to being an expert in US-Africa relations, finance, and capital markets, Moss is also a novelist. His debut novel, The Golden Hour, will be released on September 4th.

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