By Alistair Bell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Sunday Times in London has called it a “Must Read”. The New York Times describes it as “profound”. And Canada’s Globe and Mail says it is “a book that both tells a story and is one.”
“Guantanamo Diary”, the first account published by a current detainee at America’s infamous prison in Cuba, is also unique in the way it will compensate its author, Mohamedou Ould Slahi.
As the book appears in best-seller lists, funds from its sales will go to a trust fund “to help him rebuild his life,” when he eventually emerges from Guantanamo, said one of his lawyers, Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Slahi cannot get access to earnings from his writings while behind bars at one of the world’s most inaccessible prisons.
"Any funds that come from the book sales are going to be held in trust for him and when he is finally freed they are going to be used to help him rebuild his life," said Shamsi.
Slahi's account describes the torture, humiliation and despair he says he underwent in U.S. captivity, most of it at the prison in Cuba where he has been held since 2002.
It recounts a desperate existence for the Mauritanian who was detained for alleged links to al Qaeda, deprived of sleep for days and at times sexually molested, force-fed seawater, chained to the floor in freezing cold rooms or subjected to a mock execution, according to his account.
The book reached ninth place on The Sunday Times best-seller list in Britain in late January following a celebrity-studded rollout in London. In the U.S., where it was also released on Jan. 20 but with less publicity, it was at 86th place last week in the Amazon.com list of 100 top sellers but has since dropped out.
Slahi traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to fight its then Communist government and swore an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda while there. But he left Afghanistan soon after and says he has never acted against the United States.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government accused Slahi of being a recruiter for al-Qaeda but he has not been charged with an offense or put on trial.
U.S. publishers Little, Brown and Company did not disclose sales numbers for "Guantanamo Diary," which had an initial U.S. print run of 30,000, or details of its financial arrangements with Slahi. He wrote the manuscript by hand in 2005.
While money is unlikely to ever compensate Slahi for the treatment he says he received at Guantanamo, industry sources say the book is likely to be a reasonably strong earner.
"A first-person account from Guantanamo is a pretty attractive property and there certainly aren’t a lot of them out there to be got so I would suspect it could get a pretty substantial advance," said publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin. "It’s total speculation but six figures would not surprise me."
Part of his advance has already been paid to the trust fund, said Albuquerque-based lawyer Nancy Hollander, who has power of attorney for his affairs. She also declined to quantify the advance.
Slahi's representatives have negotiated 23 separate deals for sales around the world and are now selecting a film agent to handle possible movie rights.
"That's actually the next step. We have gotten a lot of film interest," said Slahi's book agent Rachel Vogel, from Waxman Leavell agency in New York.
It is unclear when Slahi will be freed. In 2010, a judge ordered his release but an appeals court later vacated that ruling. President Barack Obama's administration has sped up the transfer of Guantanamo detainees in recent months but its efforts to shut the prison have been blocked by lawmakers who think the inmates pose a national security threat.
Slahi has already spent some of his book earnings to send a Mauritanian nephew to college abroad, said lawyer Hollander. He wants to fund the education of other relatives, especially female ones, she said.
(Editing by Jason Szep; Editing by Christian Plumb)