John Grisham on Guantanamo: "US was dead wrong, but no one can admit it"

by Toby Manhire / 15 August, 2013
In a powerful op-ed, the novelist-lawyer describes tracking down a fan of his in the camp where his books were banned.
John Grisham and one of the "banned" books.

Books by John Grisham, we recently learned, have been banned from the library at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, along with works by Noam Chomsky and a handful of others.

Having been advised by a reporter that two of his novels had been deemed “impermissible content”, the lawyer and novelist “became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books”, he writes in a simmeringly angry New York Times.

The prisoner is Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian who grew up in France. “For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behaviour, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 11, 2001,” he writes

Nabil, along with thousands of other Arabs, left for Pakistan to avoid the inevitable conflict.

Wounded in a bombing raid and hospitalised, he was then “sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul”.

The next stop, and his home for the next 11 years: Gitmo, the “detention camp” built by President George Bush and maintained, despite promises to close it, by Barack Obama.

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.

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.

The case against him is hollow, writes Grisham.

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.

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.

The likelihood, says Grisham, is that Nabil will before long be deposited back in Algeria.

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.

Grisham has questioned America’s belligerence before. In a 2008 interview with Bill Moyers, he said of the war in Iraq:

We attacked a sovereign nation that ... was not threatening us. What was our justification? I don’t know. We were lied to by our leaders. It wasn’t what they said it was. We have killed, I’m not saying “we” have killed, but estimates are half a million Iraqis have died since the war started ...

They wouldn’t be dead, I don’t think, had we not gone there. How do you get out? We lost 4,000 very brave soldiers who would love their country, and would go fighting where they were told because they’re soldiers. Tens of thousands of shattered lives. We’re not taking care of the veterans when they come home. The social cost of this ... is enormous.

Postscript: According to the Wall Street Journal, the ban on two of Grisham’s books no longer applies. Apparently it was all just a misunderstanding.



MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Politicians aren’t talking to us this election year, but to Winston Peters
71902 2017-04-28 14:08:09Z Politics

Politicians aren’t talking to us this election yea…

by Jane Clifton

We don't want any David Cunliffe cod-bogan attempts to get down with the peeps, but MPs seem to be going way too far in the other direction this year.

Read more
9th Floor: Jenny Shipley on how 'middle class welfare' is morally bankrupt
71856 2017-04-28 09:53:00Z Politics

9th Floor: Jenny Shipley on how 'middle class welf…

by Guyon Espiner

Dame Jenny Shipley on being the first woman Prime Minister, plus coups and coalitions, welfare reform and Winston Peters.

Read more
Win a double pass to exclusive screening of McLaren
71854 2017-04-28 09:39:24Z Win

Win a double pass to exclusive screening of McLare…

by The Listener

McLaren is the definitive tale of New Zealander Bruce McLaren, who created a motor racing empire from his shed.

Read more
Win a double pass to Doc Edge Festival
71847 2017-04-28 09:30:01Z Win

Win a double pass to Doc Edge Festival

by The Listener

Doc Edge Festival is one of Australasia’s premier international documentary film festivals.

Read more
First look: Poké Poké
Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban
71842 2017-04-28 09:07:08Z Nutrition

Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban…

by RNZ

Should schools be selling chocolate to raise funds? The Health Minister says it's ok, but nutrition experts disagree.

Read more
Film review: Denial
71718 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Movies

Film review: Denial

by Peter Calder

The dramatisation of a Holocaust denier’s libel suit is both engrossing and moving.

Read more
Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps
71634 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Television

Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps

by Jeremy Rose

A quarter of Denmark's population regularly watch Danish TV dramas, while the highest-rating Kiwi drama attracted an audience of just over 250,000.

Read more