Sunday, April 30, 2006

Interpreting from inside the wire

Law student Mahvish Khan has written an account of her visits to Gtmo prisoners in today's WaPo. She volunteered to help habeas counsel attorneys translate for the prisoners. Please check it out. I've excerpted a few passages below but the whole thing is a must read.
"My Guantanamo Diary: Face to Face With the War on Terrorism"
Mousovi [a prisoner] is a physician from the Afghan city of Gardez, where he was arrested by U.S. troops 2 1/2 years ago. He tells us that he had returned to Afghanistan in August 2003, after 12 years of exile in Iran, to help rebuild his wathan , his homeland. He believes that someone turned him in to U.S. forces just to collect up to $25,000 being offered to anyone who gave up a Talib or al-Qaeda member.
As I translate from Pashto, Mousovi hesitantly describes life since his arrest. Transported to Bagram air base near Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, he was thrown -- blindfolded, hooded and gagged -- into a 3 1/2 -by-7-foot shed. He says he was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing, deprived of sleep by tape-recordings of sirens that blared day and night. He describes being dragged around by a rope, subjected to extremes of heat and cold. He says he barely slept for an entire month.
No matter the age or background of the detainee, our meetings always leave me feeling helpless. These men show me the human face of the war on terrorism. They've been systematically dehumanized, cast as mere numbers in prison-camp fashion. But to me, they've become almost like friends, or brothers or fathers. I can honestly say that I don't believe any of our clients are guilty of crimes against the United States. No doubt some men here are, but not the men I've met.
[...] Over steak dinner, I comment on how nice our military escorts are. They joke and laugh with us. Primo gives me pointers on shooting pool in the CBQ lobby. Everyone brings them beer and cigarettes. I think I had expected them to be more aloof, even hostile.
But Tom Wilner, a partner in the Washington office of Shearman & Sterling LLP, quickly retorts: "Yeah, they're nice. But this whole place is evil -- and the face of evil often appears friendly." [...] Tom and his firm got involved representing 12 Kuwaiti detainees in March 2002, after a group of families contacted him. At first, like most of the lawyers here, Tom took up the cause because of the legal principles at stake. But after he finally met the detainees in January 2005, his attitude changed. Suddenly he was fighting for real people. "Most of these guys," he says, "were totally innocent and simply swept up by mistake."
[...] At 80, Haji Nusrat -- detainee No. 1009 -- is Guantanamo Bay's oldest prisoner. A stroke 15 years ago left him partly paralyzed. He cannot stand up without assistance and hobbles to the bathroom behind a walker. Despite his paralysis, his swollen legs and feet are tightly cuffed and shackled to the floor. He says that his shoes are too tight and that he needs new ones. He has asked for medical attention for the inflammation in his legs, but has not been taken to a hospital.
"They wait until you are almost dead," he says.
He has a long white beard and grayish-brown eyes that drift from Peter's face to mine as we explain his legal issues to him. In the middle of our meeting, he says to me: " Bachay ." My child. "Look at my white beard. They have brought me here with a white beard. I have done nothing at all. I have not said a single word against the Americans."


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