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Writing the enemy

  • By Gillian Slovo
  • 5th February 2014
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Gillian Slovo shares a reading list of works which give voice to the enemy - beginning with her work with former inmates of Guantanamo Bay.

In her feature for Guernica & Free Word’s special edition on free expression, Gillian Slovo relates how, as a writer, she approached the task of giving voice to the stories of former prisoners of Guantanamo Bay.

We asked her to share some other works that approach the subject. We’ve taken these, along with some of our own, to create this list of writers unearthing the experience of being an enemy of the state.

View the covers as a slideshow:


117 Days by Ruth First.

“I was bereft of human contact and exchange. What was going on in the outside world? No echoes reached me. I was suspended in limbo, unknowing, unreached.”

Ruth First’s powerful memoir recalls in minute detail her experience of being held in solitary confinement in 1963 under South Africa's 90-day detention law.


The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo by Ahmed Errachidi.

Ahmed recounts the story of how he ended up in Guantanamo, held there without charge for five years. Over the course of his time inside he helped organise a resistance movement, coming to be known as ‘the General’ among guards and prisoners alike.


Enemy Combatant: the Terrifying True Story of a Briton in Guantanamo by Moazzam Begg.

In another tale of kidnap into Guantanamo, Moazzam narrates the three years he spent in captivity after being arrested in Pakistan helping set up education programmes for children in the wake of 9/11. Labelled an ‘enemy combatant’ by the US government, he experienced over three hundred interrogations and witnessed the killing of two other captives.


Bad Men by Clive Stafford Smith.

Clive Stafford Smith is a human rights lawyer who has acted for more than 50 of the Guantanamo inmates (including Ahmed Errachidi, above). In Bad Men he uses their stories to show how Guantanamo’s operating outside the law – in ‘the legal equivalent of outer-space’ comes at a high cost to us all.


Ghost Plane by Stephen Grey.

One of the men who broke the story of the CIA's programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’ shines a light on its brutality, using interviews with former detainees and thousands of hours of CIA flight logs to expose the network of ‘extra-legal’ prisons.


Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo.

Also compiled from interviews with former prisoners, their lawyers and relatives, this verbatim play weaves together their stories to tell the truth about Guantanamo. Performed at many theatres around the world, the piece was also read in the United States Congress and the UK’s House of Commons.


Free Expression is No Offence, edited Lisa Appignanesi

A series of essays by writers and human rights activists on why free expression matters. Compiled with English PEN as part of the campaign against a law criminalising religious hatred.


Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country by Gillian Slovo.

Gillian’s memoir recalls the extraordinary events surrounding the persecution and eventual exile of her parents, pioneering anti-apartheid activists Joe Slovo and Ruth First, and the upheaval and transformation of her home country, South Africa.

This post was created as part of Free Word & Guernica's special issue on free expression, in association with English PEN and ARTICLE 19, and supported by Open Society Foundations. Read the complete issue at guernicamag.com, including Gillian Slovo's feature, 'Writing in the Gray Areas'.

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