John Grisham, best known as a prolific writer of legal thrillers, penned an op-ed in The New York Times this weekend taking up the case of the Guantánamo Bay prisoners who could soon find themselves transferred back to their countries of origin. In short: Grisham doesn't think that the detainees will find life after Guantánamo that much easier.
His story opens with Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian who apparently requested a bunch of Grisham's books to read while in detention. He never got them — guards at the prison don't let detainees read Grisham's books, saying that they contain “impermissible content.” Given Grisham's previous work with the Innocence Project (which works to overturn wrongful convictions of death row inmates in the U.S.), the author took up Hadjarab, who's spent the past 11 years at Guantánamo, as an example of the never-ending saga of the “mistakes" in Guantánamo. Grisham tells a familiar version of events to those following Hadjarab's case (somewhat counter to the U.S. government's story on Hadjarab in official documents, which Grisham acknowledges) that led to the Algerian's imprisonment after he attempted to flee from Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded:
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... 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.
Grisham continues with Hadjarab's story after arrival in Guantánamo:
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.
Hadjarab, one of many prisoners subject to force-feeding during a hunger strike over prisoner release and conditions at Gitmo, has been recommended for transfer out of the prison at least once, and as early as 2007. He's also widely flagged by those trying to shut down Guantánamo as a prisoner who definitely doesn't belong there. In any case Grisham thinks he'll get a transfer, soon: the U.S. recently announced plans to transfer more Algerian prisoners from the detention center, and many (including Grisham) think Hadjarab will be in the next round. Many narratives of the plight of Guantánamo detainees ends with hope for their release and presumed reunion with their families and their old lives. Grisham, however, doesn't stop at that point:
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...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.