Jodie Foster in SA to film movie about Guantánamo's 'most tortured' prisoner
Mohamedou Salahi visits Hollywood stars in Cape Town as shooting starts on a film based on his autobiographical book, 'Guantánamo Diary'
If prisoner 760 had visited Cape Town when prisoner 46664 was still alive and well, there’s a good chance Nelson Mandela would have given him a personal tour of Robben Island.
As it is, Mohamedou Salahi — who was detained at Guantánamo Bay without charge from 2002 to 2016 — went to the island of Cape Town with the lawyer who won his release.
Afterwards, he tweeted: “I felt very humbled inside the holding cell of a former Robben Island political prisoner. So much pain! How is it that powerful human beings hurt the weak?”
As the person said to have experienced the most torture at Guantánamo, the US military prison in Cuba, Salahi is the right person to pose the question.
But his trip to Cape Town was primarily to visit movie stars Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch on the set of the film about his detention, documented in the bestselling 2015 book Guantánamo Diary. It is being turned into a movie by director Kevin Macdonald.
After being trapped in Mauritania without a passport since his release, Salahi also had a Cape Town reunion with Nancy Hollander, the lawyer from New Mexico who successfully argued for his release. She is played by Foster.
The 57-year-old actress, who won Oscars for her roles in The Silence of the Lambs and The Accused, has been seen in a Kloof Street restaurant, Black Sheep, and in a nearby hair salon.
Movie industry sources said the sets were on a Strandfontein farm and indoors, meaning public opportunities to spot Foster and her co-stars have been scarce.
Foster was pictured in a Cape Town restaurant with Salahi, Hollander and Big Little Lies actress Shailene Woodley, who plays Teri Duncan, the lawyer who worked with Hollander for Salahi’s release.
She has also been photographed in costume standing by a yellow prison bus with Macdonald, Woodley and director of photography Alwin Küchler.
Salahi, whose book recounted being force-fed seawater, sexually molested, subjected to a mock execution and repeatedly beaten, is played by Tahar Rahim. The French actor’s parents are from Algeria, which borders Mauritania.
Cumberbatch, a producer on the movie, plays Lt-Col Stuart Couch, who refused to prosecute Salahi in 2003 because his incriminating statements had been obtained through torture.
The movie is being shot under the alternative title Habeas, a reference to a 2004 US Supreme Court ruling that Guantánamo detainees had the right of habeas corpus to challenge their detention, meaning they could insist on appearing in court.
When he was subjected to CIA rendition two months after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Salahi was accused of being part of al-Qaeda, just as Mandela was accused by the National Party government of being a terrorist.
And like Mandela, he has emerged from prison without resentment, telling CBS News in 2017 that he forgave everyone who wronged him during his detention.
But he hasn’t forgotten. After visiting Mandela’s cell, he tweeted: “As I exited the Robben Island prison, the sign caught my attention. It says: ‘We serve with pride’. In Guantánamo, it says: ‘Honor-bound to defend freedom’. ”
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