Book Review: My Guantanamo Diary: The detainees and the stories they told me, by Mahvish Rusana Khan; Public Affairs 2008
You are promised a combination of amusement and rage in this book that brings to light the world of Guantanamo and the daily life of prisoners. Author Mahvish Rusana Khan grew up in an American Afghan home and had never travelled to the land of her ancestors until she began her work as a legal intern in Guantanamo as a University of Miami law student. Beginning in 2006 she made more than 30 trips to Guantanamo and was one of the few persons in the legal establishment working for Getmo detainees who spoke Pashto, the language of eastern Afghanistan, the language of a minority of the detainees held there. A majority of the detainees are from Arab background.
When you read the story of No 1154 you will realize the prisoner is more than a number. He is a pediatrician named Dr. Ali Shah Mousovi who fled the Taliban and was working for a new Afghanistan when he was swept up by US Forces. His wife waited months to find out what happened to him and his children were forced to grow up without him. The author visits Afghanistan several times to gather more information about specific cases and during one trip she is able to visit Dr. Mousovi at his home after his release.
This book gives a sense of the diversity of the Afghan prisoners. Behind the fences of Guantanamo are people who have done evil and people who were unlucky to have been found in a dangerous place at the wrong time. Other Pashtoon detainees were passed to US Forces from the Pakistani military who wanted these particular Pakistanis out of sight. All detainees described the painful and cruel character of the interrogation process.
Mahvish Rusana Khan’s book will help you discuss Guantanamo with people who believe critics of the system are naive. The human stories of No. 1009, No. 1021 and many more are followed through months of visits and legal processes until you are left asking why there are no trials, why there is no way to prove innocence and why does Guantanamo detention center exist. Lawyers, prison keepers, interrogators and even courtrooms cannot give us a window into Guantanamo like the author who has unique listening credentials and fluency in the difficult Pashto language.
I wish the stories that the author shares with us did not sound so familiar to me. But they do. During my trips to Iraq I heard similar tales from people who were swept up and cruelly interrogated after the occupation began in 2003. This book is not only important because of the dangers it points to for the American legal system. It is important because it leaves us empowered to believe that something decent and worth while could be done.
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