“My Guantanamo Diary” by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan is not a book that I had on a list or had recommended to me. While gazing through the “Librarian’s Choice” section in my library, I stumbled across the book and thought the title looked intriguing. Luckily, I decided to read “My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me” because it was a fantastic, thoughtful, and even political, read.
“My Guantanamo Diary” is written by former law student and journalist Mahvish Rukhsana Khan, who has been published in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.
The book tells the story of Mahvish in law school, learning about the injustices that were occurring at Guantanamo Bay, and wanting to get involved. Mahvish begins her journey believing that these men may be terrorists and dangerous criminals, but they deserve a fair trial. She quickly discovers that more of the detainees may be innocent rather than guilty, and the evidence for their detention is slim to none. Mahvish explores some of the Afghan detainee’s stories, their capture, torture, journey through Gitmo, as well as their family life at home.
The book does get political (although very easy to read and understand for someone who is not political at all), and has some anti-Bush comments, although it is not anti-America. The stories are touching and the injustices that are committed are hard to argue with. Here are some of the quotes that I found notable from the book, which may help to illustrate what I mean:
- “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” – Author’s note, xxi
- “A statistical analysis of DOD documents relating to 517 current and former Guantanamo detainees shows that only 5 percent of the detainees has been captured as a result of U.S. intelligence work.” – p. 59, regarding the fact that many detainees were given up by Pakistani society for large bounties, so big that the bounty could take care of the families for life
- “The West fears the Muslim world because of the actions of a few bad people, and those bad people are considered just as evil in the Muslim world as they are in America.” – p. 242, spoken by a Gitmo detainee
Mahvish also described Afghan society, humanizing the men, women, and children, and reminding readers that there are many Muslims and Afghans out there that are not Taliban, that love America and Americans, and that are suffering injustices due to the Taliban regime. Some startling faces about Afghan life are that the average Afghan earns $0.83 a day, and one in four children dies before the age of five.
“My Guantanamo Diary” also illustrates some baffling situations, such as when flowers are no longer allowed inside Gitmo (threat to security?) and when one law firm representing clients was accused by Gitmo superiors of giving his clients Under Armour underwear, and the ensuing responses back and forth with which to prove the law firm’s innocence and the back story of where the underwear might have come from.
I highly recommend “My Guantanamo Diary.” It’s a book that will make you think, feel, and maybe research some of the information yourself.
“It’s easy to mistreat something being called No. 1154. It’s easy to shave its beard, kick it around like an object, to spit on it, torture it, or make it cry. It’s harder to dole out such abuse when No. 1154 retains its identity: Dr. Ali Shah Mousovi, a pediatrician who fled the Taliban, worked for the United Nations encouraging Afghans to participate and vote in the new democracy.” – back cover
Afterthought: The book reminds me of Khaled Hosseini‘s books, “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” because both of those books humanized the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan people identified in the novel, were victims of the Taliban regime, not terrorists. My eyes were opened up to that fact, and I feel like I’m less quick-to-judge other cultures after reading his novels. If you haven’t read his work, they are amazing reads, with “The Kite Runner” being my favorite of the two.