Gitmo Inmate: TED Talks Couldn’t Break My Spirit

OMDURMAN, Sudan.  Ibrahim al-Wala is enjoying his first days of freedom in this sun-splashed city of nearly three million in Khartoum after his release from the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but like many former detainees of that oft-criticized facility he hopes to get back to work soon.  “I’d like to go into something with a future,” he says thoughtfully as he watches a plated lizard devour a cricket.  “Maybe suicide bombing.”

Sudan plated lizard, after licking the plate.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, al-Wala’s resolve to continue what he calls the “War Against the Crusaders” was strengthened, not weakened, during his five-and-a-half year incarceration.  “My will is strong,” he says, and begins to tick off the various forms of torture he was exposed to.  “Solitary confinement–no big deal, I need time for myself.  Sleep deprivation–hey, as Warren Zevon once sang, ‘I can sleep when I’m dead,'” he adds with a smile as he notices this reporter’s surprise that he is familiar with American rock lyrics.  “I even withstood the infidels’ ultimate weapon,” he says with a prideful toss of the head.  And what, this reporter asks, was that?

Diana Nyad:  “If you think this is boring, try swimming the English Channel.”

“Your perfidious ‘TED Talks,'” he replies, referring to the high-minded pontifications promulgated under an acronym that stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.”  “It is the ultimate test,” he says, his eyes suddenly revealing a trace of bitterness at the years of his life that he considers wasted listening to speeches such as “Let’s Build a Civil Service System Rwanda Can Be Proud Of” and “Leveraging Your Innovative Personal Skill Set to Gain Sustainable First Mover Yadda-Yadda.”


“TED Talks” are sixteen-minute speeches given by “thought leaders” who communicate by both verbal and non-verbal means, according to psychologist Morton Adelson, who has studied the phenomenon.  “You hear the words,” he notes, “but more importantly, to really appreciate the message you have to watch for visual cues, like the inevitable little ‘church and steeple’ TED talkers make with their hands to show that they’ve really thought a lot about what they’re saying.”

“I am so totally smart, it’s virtually impossible I’m not right.”

TED Talks were inflicted on Guantanamo detainees when other forms of Ted torture, including the music of right-wing rocker Ted Nugent and re-runs of Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, proved ineffective.  While the shift in tactics produced incremental improvements in interrogation results, hardened cases such as al-Wala took pride in their ability to withstand even the most tedious TED speakers.  “I listened to the Great She-Beast of the Seas,” he says, referring to long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad whose talk “Never, Ever, EVER Give Up-Ever!” is used as a sleep-inducing soporific on college students and long-haul truck drivers who overdose on amphetamines.  “She almost had me at minute fifteen, then I yawned and missed her inspirational story about being stung by jellyfish.”


3 thoughts on “Gitmo Inmate: TED Talks Couldn’t Break My Spirit

    1. They have the Diana Nyad talk on an endless loop on the screens in the lobby of my building. It finally sent me over the edge.

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