Truthdig Goes to Guantanamo

Leading progressive news site Truthdig published an excerpt from The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law.

I first saw him on a TV screen. Before my initial meeting with Murat Kurnaz in October 2004, the U.S. military police escorted me—the third civilian lawyer to enter the inner sanctum of Guantánamo’s Camp Echo— through several fifteen-foot-high locked gates and into the guard booth of the world’s most notorious military prison. On my way to the booth, walking across gravel made bright white by the blazing Caribbean sun, my status as a civilian—clean shaven, dressed in a tie and formal shoes—was punctuated by the loud sounds of practice machine-gun fire in the distance.

The military showed me the surveillance they would employ during my otherwise private meeting with my client: he was on a video screen, waiting for me. The image was blurry, like the grainy picture on a store security camera or a late-night news broadcast’s depiction of a wanted menace, and it was unsettling: here was a man with a beard and hair seemingly befitting a prehistoric warrior. Prior to the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Rasul v. Bush, which first opened up the camp to law, lawyers, and therefore a minimal amount of scrutiny, Bush administration officials had claimed that all the detainees in Guantánamo were a sort of maniacally diabolical lot—not only were they “trained killers,” but they had nearly superhuman ability to, for example, “gnaw the hydraulic wires of a C-17 transport plane.” I was naturally distrustful of these claims, but this first image obviously did not advance my skepticism. Another military guard carried out what appeared to be his somber duty, instructing me to push away from the table in case the man lunged for my throat.