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By Ben Taub. For two weeks, he worked as a guard in the cellblocks, monitoring men who had been captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan. The man confined there was referred to by his detainee number, Wood was the second of three boys.
His father died in a plane crash when he was three years old, and his mother brought him and his brothers up in Molalla, Oregon, a lumber town about an hour south of Portland. In , shortly after graduating from high school, Wood started a job at the local sawmill. Several of his co-workers were missing fingers, and the manager took every opportunity to denigrate the staff. After a few months, he signed up for the Oregon National Guard, on the military-police track.
He sought structure and discipline—a life of pride, purpose, and clarity of mission. Wood, who was twenty-three, had recently learned that his girlfriend was pregnant. Until recently, the guards and the interrogators had worn Halloween masks inside the cell. Wood walked through the camp to Echo Special proud to be part of a serious national-security operation. He thought, It must be somebody really important—the most dangerous person in the world, perhaps—to have this special attention, a guard force just for him.
Echo Special was a trailer that had been divided in two. He wore a broad smile and a white jumpsuit, and moved cautiously toward Wood. Although he towered over Salahi, he hesitated before taking his hand, and when he did he noted how delicate Salahi was. But he thought, What the fuck is this? Other men carried box cutters and explosives; Salahi was a ghost on the periphery.
The evidence against him lacked depth, but investigators considered its breadth conclusive. His proximity to so many events and high-level jihadi figures could not be explained by coincidence, they thought, and only a logistical mastermind could have left so faint a trail. The U. In , shortly after Al Qaeda detonated truck bombs outside the U. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Salahi took a call from a phone number belonging to bin Laden.