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After Guantánamo, Another Injustice August 12, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Roger’s note: I am an unrepentant Grisham addict.  In addition to being a page-turning novelist, he writes about and combats injustice.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees at the military hospital at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

ABOUT two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”

I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.

Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened.

According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability.

In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day.

DEPRESSED and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it gained momentum, and as Nabil and his fellow prisoners got sicker, the Obama administration was backed into a corner. The president has taken justified heat as his bold and eloquent campaign promises to close Gitmo have been forgotten. Suddenly, he was faced with the gruesome prospect of prisoners dropping like flies as they starved themselves to death while the world watched. Instead of releasing Nabil and the other prisoners who have been classified as no threat to the United States, the administration decided to prevent suicides by force-feeding the strikers.

Nabil has not been the only “mistake” in our war on terror. Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.

In Nabil’s case, the United States military and intelligence agents relied on corrupt informants who were raking in American cash, or even worse, jailhouse snitches who swapped false stories for candy bars, porn and sometimes just a break from their own beatings.

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was transferring some more Arab prisoners back to Algeria. It is likely that Nabil will be one of them, and if that happens another tragic mistake will be made. His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands.

What should they do? Or what should we do?

First, admit the mistake and make the apology. Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo; give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry.

This sounds simple, but it will never happen.

A lawyer and author of the forthcoming novel “Sycamore Row.”

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    • Earthling
    • A Small Blue Planet, Milky Way Galaxy

    Who would have thought we would ever hear a United States Attorney General justify and condone torture and the USA would become a torturing nation? And whatever happened to the concept of a speedy and public trial? What is wrong with the US Justice Department that it cannot get it together to try or release prisoners in over a decade?

    Police, guards, soldiers, interrogators promulgate injustice daily on black and brown and poor Americans and on those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the custody of the United States.

    I am ashamed of this nation, of its leadership and its people who allow this. But I do sense the truth of the laws of karma and the national karma that the USA is creating is horrific. When mad gunmen kill theaters full of people, when no place in the nation is safe from the gun nuts and their violence, this is just a small taste of the violence and evil that the USA has meted out to the world.

    It is truly time for a Second American Revolution, but the government has all the firepower and the bureaucrats and autocrats will murder its own people rather than allow freedom and justice to flourish.

    • BSC
    • Canada

    After he left office, Bush had brought horrors on couple of hundred suspects in order to make America safe. The constitution was shredded in the process and thousand or so terrorists have now multiplied into millions through his ill conceived policies and rule. Now we find a book could destroy America. Should we believe all that? For humane laws do not exist in here, the only law is a jungle law. Too tragic for one man rule in age of democracy.

    • Dotconnector
    • New York

    Gitmo is a national disgrace, a symbol of not only inhumanity, but rank hypocrisy.

    • Tom B
    • Lady Lake, Florida

    If we believe Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, it is likely that cops are sometimes wrong, but unable to stop themselves from doing what they do. Kind of like Pit bulls trained to attack. So, I think John Grisham might be right about this poor guy, and right about the Pit bulls, too. On the other hand, the world needs cops, as we also know, and the presumption of guilt does indeed get put ahead of the presumption of innocence.

    • Caspin
    • United States

    Thank you so much, John Grisham! When we say that “this isn’t the country I grew up in,” I believe reading an article like this, written by such a high profile author such as yourself, that this IS the country I believe in. I believe in brave acts such as this, speaking truth despite the hordes who will rally against you for writing it.

    So many are in absolute denial that the nation under the flag they were made to pledge allegiance to since 5 years old is not operating honorably. It seems to be a psychological identification process, whereby the individual has been so identified with the idea of “America” that all negative aspects MUST be denied in order to maintain a certain level of self-esteem to remain intact.

    Anyways, Mr. Grisham, thank you. Thank you for caring and sharing. And may we all help to see the vision through, and create a fund to compensate these falsely accused and detained brothers of ours.

    • Hakuna Matata
    • San Jose

    I remember when Guantanamo just opened, the CIA placed a mole (the young son of a terrorist; the son had a different agenda for his life) in the prison to get some information. There was a Frontline episode on the story. He came out saying what the administration did not want known, namely, that many if not most did not belong there. The CIA ended up dumping him in Canada. The Bush administration and Cheney kept on insisting that everyone in Guantanamo was the worst of the worst and drafted torture memos. And, so it continues with no end in sight. It is truly sad to see how, in the most sophisticated country in the world, mistakes cannot be undone. Do you remember the uproar among the citizenry (and some politicians who should know better) when it was suggested that terrorists be kept in mainland prisons and be tried under the judicial system?

    • Eugene
    • in Oregon
    NYT Pick

    Like several other commenters, I have my doubts that Mr. Hadjarab is as pure and innocent as Mr. Grisham describes him. That said, however, no one seems to have proved — or even alleged — that he committed any sort of crime or engaged in any sort of activity that justifies a the punishment that he has been given. The horror of Guantanamo and the other detention facilities was not simply that Americans engaged in torture (although that was certainly bad enough), but that hundreds have been held without any real justification. Some of those held probably are nasty characters, but absent some sort of trial or other adjudication we are holding these men without any real legal or moral right. If they are terrorists, try them. If they are POWs, follow the relevant international rules. If they are ‘mistakes’, let them go.

    • MAW
    • New Windsor, NY

    Thank you, Mr. Grisham, for parting the clouds on this disgraceful horror perpetrated by my government on what I believe is an innocent man. We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. I am sickened beyond comprehension at this kind of injustice. I hope you will write more, but most of all, I hope this man will be freed and compensated (happily by my tax dollars) for the terrible injustice he has been put through.

    • Richard
    • Camarillo, California

    Thank you, President Obama, for bringing “transparency” and “justice” to our handling of detainees in the “War on Terrorism”. Thanks, too, so much, for closing the illegal and immoral prison at Guantanamo Bay. Great work!

    • Jim O.
    • Charleston, SC

    I am a fan of Mr Grisham’s writing, but I am surprised that, as a lawyer, he apparently accepts Mr Hadjarab’s account of his recent life uncritically and with no substantiating evidence. Since Mr Grisham states that there is nothing to be done about Mr Hadjarab’s case, why in the world would he waste his time writing this article? He gives no motivation in the article.

    • johnaskins
    • San Jose, CA

    The unfulfilled promises of Barack Obama are almost as disheartening as the unrepentance of Dick Cheney. I’m from a generation old enough to remember when we had reason to think of ourselves as the good guys. Hard to believe America has reached this nadir.

    • pibis0
    • Sun City West, AZ

    God bless America, land of the free??????
    What goes around comes around.

    • Citizen
    • Texas

    It is against International law to force feed prisoners. It is considered a form of torture. The military medics and doctors doing this force feeding at Gitmo should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It should also be made perfectly clear that these criminals doing the force feeding are never allowed to practice medicine the rest of their lives. But, of course, none of this well ever happen; the good old boy system in the military will shield and protect these criminals. Their kangaroo courts need to be stopped also. But alas, the great and glorious military are going to do whatever they so choose. They have been given far too much power with no oversight. They’ll be patrolling the American streets any day now if they aren’t stopped. Of course, the excuse given will be that they are protecting us and saving our freedoms and democracy. Right.

    • Benny
    • san diego

    Because of these actions other countries in the world hate us and plans attacks against us. Then when something happens we complaint why there’s so much hate towards us. I’m embarrassed of our Government.

    • Marilynn
    • Las Cruces,NM

    We will be unwinding the judicial system put in place by the Bush Administration to justify the Iraq War for years to come, including closing of Gitmo. , which I believe can only be done with the approval of Congress, thanks to G.W.

    • GMGUERRERO
    • 94010

    Being a big fan of John Grisham does not make him innocent. I’m a big fan of John Grisham.

    • Mariano
    • Argentina

    These things always happen during war. They happen in every war, but the difference is, that years ago they werent so public because media wasn’t so massive like today, but horrible things happen in every conflict.

    USA is at war on terrorism. It’s naive to expect no innocent casualties. I’m very sorry for these innocents, and i hope they can recover. But that’s war. The worst side of humanity.

    • Joel Huizenga
    • San Diego California

    It is now possible to tell if someone is telling a lie or the truth with an fMRI and pattern recognition technology. All of the over 40 original scientific journal articles on this topic conclude this fMRI technology works. There are no original scientific articles that conclude it does not work since this technology has been invented and there has been a lot of desire and financing to do so. People should be allowed to verify their statements, presently they are not. We have started a non-profit to gain this right for individuals. See www.medforlaw.org for information on our organization. If this technology was available to this individual this would not have ever happened.

    • Larry
    • Brussels

    As a US citizen, I feel a patriotic duty to take responsibility for my government’s misdeeds. If it refuses to pay compensation to former GITMO detainees, then I would like to make a personal donation to a charitable fund to be established for that purpose, and I would invite others to do the same.

    • Gudrun
    • Independence, NY

    I read somewhere that the only book that every prisoner gets at Guantanamo is the Koran. Then we wonder why they turn out so extreme after reading nothing else for a decade– why just reading that book and nothing else would be a way to go nuts.

    Now they won’t let them read John Grisham ? People in prison should be able to read a whole lot of books that are deamed inspiring, creative, thoughtful etc etc. Start with Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Grisham, etc etc. the more the merrier.

    • gomez
    • bronx, ny

    There is no modern torture without torturers and psychiatrists to teach them about how the mind ‘ought’ to work under extreme conditions. Who benefits from the ‘knowledge’ acquired under torture? Take a guess.

    More interesting to me is: How do we train THE TORTURERS, what become of them once we released them back to ‘civilian’ life, and how do we live without remorse knowing that our ‘kids’ are now professionally practicing the torture they inflicted to that cat when they were kid. Because, I doubt that any soldier who was an animal lover as a child could have been trained to do this to humans.

    Those are the ones that end up committing suicide. For them, I have a place in my heart.

    https://thecitywidementalhealthproject.wordpress.com/

    • Athenian
    • Danville, CA

    As I read Grisham’s article, I kept wondering, how does he know this is true?

    A prisoner claimed to be innocent? Certainly possible, but where is the proof?

    • Ana
    • Kentucky

    It’s a sick feeling when you know your country has done and continues to do disgusting and immoral activities. It’s a sicker feeling when you realize you can’t do anything about it.

    I don’t understand how a man who made constitutional law his life’s work can allow this kind of thing to continue. With all our military budget, resources for anti-terrorism, and lawyers chomping at the bit to get these prisoners processed and out of our hair (and our headlines), you’d think Obama would have forced a solution by this point. What are we going to do? Continue to keep them there until they (and we) all die of old age?

    • Gudrun
    • Independence, NY

    We have more people in prison than any other country and we cannot afford it. I just read about Lynne F Stewart , lawyer for unpopular clients and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for smuggling messages from an imprisoned sheik to his violent followers in Egypt. She wants out because she has metastasis of breast cancer– cannot the state take away her law license and let her out for two years served????

    I agree with John Grisham that we need to pay for prisoners who are trying to get back into society and who have not been proven to have done anything wrong in the first place– that payment might prevent these prisoners from becoming terrorists and they might be grateful for getting some kind of monthly stipend and US could follow them if they give a monthly check to them. – good insurance. .

    Let us please be creative in letting people out of jail. Bryant Manning served many years in isolation already and now they want to throw the book at him for hundreds of years– his main crime was that he recorded and passed around a video of US soldiers shooting civilians including Reuter reporters — now who was the criminals in that case?

    However, Mr Zimmerman got no jail at all and killed a person he did not need to kill.

    • Ted
    • Forest Hills

    This is what happens to a foreigner who had the grave misfortune of being labeled a suspected terrorist by the US government. Does anyone doubt what is going to start happening to Americans once someone in the government deems them an undesirable, labels them a terrorist, and has a few incriminating bits of digital evidence against them based on limitless surveillance authority?

    The full force and fury of American police and military powers is a really scary thing. Military and police organizational culture is one where there is very little interest in the protecting the rights of those suspected of crimes. We need to draw a line in the sand and stop these activities now, before they get turned on American citizens at the first chance the executive branch discovers a legal loophole to exploit and keep secret for years.

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