Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Guantanamo Diary by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan

Mahvish Khan was the rare combination of a law student and a fluent Pashto speaker. This made her attractive to the pro bono habeas lawyers who were attempting to represent the detainees at Guantanamo. While still in law school, she signed on with a firm to serve as its interpreter.

This book is the result of her observations and experiences in Guantanamo, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Khan is a less than artful wordsmith. She ends up coming off a bit like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, young, at times shallow and yet at other times startlingly graphic and nuanced. Her book alternates between being painful due to her prose and painful due to her subject while also managing to work in a surprisingly personal perspective and a deep degree of empathy for the detainees with whom she deals.

Khan claims to be objective,

Though it may appear to some readers that I give ample, and perhaps naive, credence to prisoners' points of view, I have made every effor to verify their accounts and to explore the military's contrasting perspective . . . My objective is simply to tell the stories of some of the men held captive by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, the stories they themselves have never been able to tell.

but saying it's so doesn't make it so. She is clearly charmed by all of the detainees she met, even Taj Mohammad, the suspicious "goatherd" whose story, she admits, never added up. She concludes by stating,

I can honestly say that I don't believe any of the Afghans I met were guilty of crimes against the United States. Certainly, some of the Guantanamo detainees were, just not the men I met.

Were the men she met truly not guilty or were they simply not guilty because she met them?

And yet, that's not the point. Guilty or not, the abuses that Khan details are appalling. Members of the US military performed ghastly acts. Commander Jeffery Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, comes across as particularly ignorant, defensive and asinine.

And in the end, there is no disagreeing with Khan's central point,

Some readers may also argue that detainees, or "enemy combatants," as the Defense Department calls them, aren't entitled to the protections of U.S. law. This is an argument I reject. While I believe that Guantanamo may hold evil men as well as innocent ones, I also believe that only a full and fair hearing can separate the good from the bad.

And that is the point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I first heard of these abuses, I was surprised that there was so little outcry. It still baffles me.

This book sounds intriguing, but that in a better writers' hands would be more complex and compelling.