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The plane was banking over Florida's Atlantic coast when Byron Carlos Johnson felt the first tug of the landing process beginning eighty miles from Miami. He raised the plastic window shade to his left and, for the first time in two hours, looked out at the sky and the dazzling ocean. He put the book he'd been reading—Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone—into the elasticized pouch in front of him. He'd last read the intricate nineteenth-century mystery when he was in college, and his concentrated passage through the Gothic prose had been a welcome reprieve from his incessant thinking about Ali Hussein, the Syrian who had already spent two months in the Federal Detention Center in Miami after years in foreign prisons not yet disclosed to Byron—mystery places somewhere in the world.
Since he carried only a slim briefcase for this one-day visit to Miami, Byron didn't have to wait for baggage. He left the terminal before any other passenger on the flight and was in a barely air-conditioned taxi fifteen minutes after leaving the plane. The driver was a talkative Jamaican who seemed intrigued by the destination Byron gave him: "The prison on Southwest 137th Avenue."
The driver repeatedly glanced into the rearview mirror at Byron. In that familiar Jamaican lilt, he asked, "You a lawyer, man? You look like a lawyer."
"What does a lawyer look like, Jacques?" His name was on a plastic license taped to the dashboard.
"A dude in a suit, man. Down here anybody in a suit is a lawyer."
Byron, who could see the driver's face in the rearview mirror just as the driver could see Byron's face, smiled. "only crazy men wear suits, Jacques."
"You don't look crazy, man."
"You never know, Jacques."
The Miami skyline had changed in the thirty years since Byron first saw it. Then, Miami was a city with the low, smoky skyline of a Latin American capital. Byron remembered enjoying the streets in the heart of the city with small Cuban grocery stores and colorful, hole-in-the-wall bars. He spoke fluent Spanish—his mother was a Mexican who had given him the middle name Carlos and his father, who was the United States Ambassador to Mexico in the early 1960s, during the Kennedy Administration, was also fluent. Byron still had vivid early recollections of Mexico City and the black Packards with gaudily uniformed chauffeurs who drove him around the city, the slowly rotating ceiling fans, the parties on the leafy grounds of the Presidential Palace, and the sweet grammar school where he had only five classmates, all of them children of men who worked for his father at the grand embassy.
Now Miami's skyline was dominated by high towers of flashing glass and steel. As the taxi sped along the causeway toward the city, Byron stared at the modern office buildings that reflected all the light of this brilliant day. Since Byron believed that taxi drivers knew everything, he asked Jacques, "Are there any tenants in those new buildings?"
Jacques whistled. "Empty, man. I never pick anybody up there, never drop anybody off. Somebody's not making too much money."
Byron gave Jacques a big tip, and in exchange Jacques gave Byron a big smile. "You my man," Jacques said.
As soon as Byron stepped out of the taxi at the prison's security gate, he was submerged in heat and humidity. He walked as quickly as he could across the football field-sized parking lot, his suit jacket slung over his shoulder. The Federal Detention Center, built in the 1970s, rose like a Soviet fortress over the warehouses on the waterfront. In the wide Miami harbor, tall cranes stood against the tropical sky in which cumulus clouds towered. Tankers and cargo ships, pleasure craft and sailboats moved on the water.
After thirty minutes of security checks in the ammonia-smelling entrance to the prison, where the air conditioning was so minimal that Byron continued to sweat as much as he had during the long walk, he was led by a heavy-set Hispanic prison guard to a locked room. When the guard left, the iron door resonated briefly as the magnetic lock engaged itself. Byron sat on a steel folding chair. Directly in front of him was a narrow ledge under a multi-layered, almost opaque plastic window, in the middle of which was a metal circle.
Ali Hussein seemed to just materialize in the small space behind the partition. Dressed in a yellow jumpsuit printed with the initials "FDC" for "Federal Detention Center," Hussein, who had been described to Byron as an accountant trained at Seton Hall, in Newark, was a slender man who appeared far more mild-mannered than Byron expected. He wore cloth slippers with no shoelaces. The waistband of his jumpsuit was elasticized—not even a cloth belt. He had as little access to hard objects as possible.
He waited for Byron to speak first. Leaning toward the metal speaker in the partition and raising his voice, Byron said, "You are Mr. Hussein, aren't you?"
The lawyers at the Civil Liberties Union who had first contacted Byron told him that, in their limited experience with accused terrorists, it sometimes wasn't clear what their real names were. There were often no fingerprints or DNA samples that could confirm their identities. The name Ali Hussein was as common as a coin. It was as though genetic markers and their histories began only at the moment of their arrest.
"I am." He spoke perfect, unaccented English. "I don't know what your name is."
The circular speaker in the window, although it created a tinny sound, worked well. Byron lowered his voice. "I'm Byron Johnson. I'm a lawyer from New York. I met your brother. Did he tell you to expect me?"
"I haven't heard from my brother in years. He has no idea how to reach me, I can't reach him."
"Has anyone told you why you're here?"
"Someone on the airplane—I don't know who he was, I was blindfolded—said I was being brought here because I'd been charged with a crime. He said I could have a lawyer. Are you that lawyer?"
"I am. If you want me, and if I want to do this."
All that Ali's more abrasive, more aggressive brother had told Byron was that Ali was born in Syria, moved as a child with his family to Lebanon during the civil war in the 1980s, and then came to the United States. Ali never became a United States citizen. Five months after the invasion of Iraq, he traveled to Germany to do freelance accounting work for an American corporation for what was scheduled to be a ten-day visit. While Ali was in Germany, his brother said, he had simply disappeared, as if waved out of existence. His family had written repeatedly to the State Department, the CIA, and the local congressman. They were letters sent into a vacuum. Nobody ever answered.
Byron asked, "Do you know where you've come from?"
"How do I know who you are?"
Byron began to reach for his wallet, where he stored his business cards. He caught himself because of the absurdity of that: he could have any number of fake business cards. Engraved with gold lettering, his real business card had his name and the name of his law firm, one of the oldest and largest in the country. Ali Hussein was obviously too intelligent, too alert, and too suspicious to be convinced by a name on a business card or a license or a credit card.
"I don't have any way of proving who I am. I can just tell you that I'm Byron Johnson, I've been a lawyer for years, I live in New York, and I was asked by your brother and others to represent you."
Almost unblinking, Ali just stared at Byron, who tried to hold his gaze, but failed.
At last Ali asked, "And you want to know what's happened to me?"
"We can start there. I'm only allowed thirty minutes to visit you this week. Tell me what you feel you want to tell me, or can tell me. And then we'll see where we go. You don't have to tell me everything about who you are, what you did before you were arrested, who you know in the outside world. or you don't have to tell me anything. I want nothing from you other than to help you."
Ali leaned close to the metallic hole in the smoky window. The skin around his eyes was far darker than the rest of his face, almost as if he wore a Zorro-style mask. Byron took no notes, because to do so might make Ali Hussein even more mistrustful.
"Today don't ask me any questions. People have asked me lots of questions over the years. I'm sick of questions." It was like listening to a voice from a world other than the one in which Byron lived. There was nothing angry or abusive in his tone: just a matter-of-fact directness, as though he was describing to Byron a computation he had made on one of Byron's tax returns. "one morning five Americans in suits stopped me at a red light. I was in Bonn. I drove a rented Toyota. I had a briefcase. They got out of their cars. They had earpieces. Guns, too. They told me to get out of the car. I did. They told me to show them my hands. I did. They lifted me into an SUV, tied my hands, and put a blindfold on me. I asked who they were and what was happening."
He paused. Byron, who had been in the business of asking questions since he graduated from law school at Harvard, couldn't resist the embedded instinct to ask, "What did they say?"
"They said shut up."
"Has anyone given you any papers since you've come here?"
"I haven't had anything in my hands to read in years. Not a newspaper, not a magazine, not a book. Not even the Koran."
"Has anyone told you what crimes you're charged with?"
"Don't you know?"
"No. All that I've been told is that you were moved to Miami from a foreign jail so that you could be indicted and tried in an American court."
There was another pause. "How exactly did you come to me?" Even though he kept returning to the same subject—who exactly was Byron Johnson?—there was still no hostility or anger in Ali Hussein's tone. "Why are you here?"
In the stifling room, Byron began to sweat almost as profusely as he had on the walk from the security gate to the prison entrance. He recognized that he was very tense. And he was certain that the thirty-minute rule would be enforced, that time was running out. He didn't want to lose his chance to gain the confidence of this ghostly man who had just emerged into a semblance of life after years in solitary limbo. "A lawyer for a civil rights group called me. I had let people know that I wanted to represent a person arrested for terrorism. I was told that you were one of four prisoners being transferred out of some detention center, maybe at Guantanamo, to a mainland prison, and that you'd be charged by an American grand jury rather than held overseas indefinitely. When I got the call I said I would help, but only if you and I met, and only if you wanted me to help, and only if I thought I could do that."
"How do I know any of this is true?"
Byron Johnson prided himself on being a realist. Wealthy clients sought him out not to tell them what they wanted to hear but for advice about the facts, the law, and the likely real-world outcomes of whatever problems they faced. But it hadn't occurred to him that this man, imprisoned for years, would doubt him and would be direct enough to tell him that. Byron had become accustomed to deference, not to challenge. And this frail man was suggesting that Byron might be a stalking horse, a plant, a shill, a human recording device.
"I met your brother Khalid."
"At a diner in Union City."
"He said it was his favorite, and that you used to eat there with him: the Plaza Diner on Kennedy Boulevard."
Byron, who for years had practiced law in areas where a detailed memory was essential, was relieved that he remembered the name and location of the diner just across the Hudson river in New Jersey. He couldn't assess whether the man behind the thick, scratched glass was now more persuaded to believe him. Byron asked, "How have you been treated?"
"I've been treated like an animal."
"In what ways?"
As if briskly covering the topics on an agenda, Ali Hussein said, "Months in one room, no contact with other people. Shifted from place to place, never knowing what country or city I was in, never knowing what month of the year, day of the week. Punched. Kicked."
"Do you have any marks on your body?"
"I'm not sure yet what your name really is, or who you really are, but you seem naive. Marks? Are you asking me if they've left bruises or scars on my body?"
Byron felt the rebuke. over the years he'd learned that there was often value in saying nothing. Silence sometimes changed the direction of a conversation and revealed more. He waited.
Hussein asked, "How much more time do we have?"
"Only a few minutes."
"A few minutes? I've been locked away for years, never in touch for a second with anyone who meant to do kind things to me, and now I have a total of thirty minutes with you. Mr. Bush created a beautiful world."
"There's another president." Byron paused, and, with the silly thought of giving this man some hope, he said, "His name is Barack Hussein obama."
Ali Hussein almost smiled. "And I'm still here? How did that happen?"
Byron didn't answer, feeling foolish that he'd thought the news that an American president's middle name was Hussein would somehow brighten this man's mind. Byron had pandered to him, and he hated pandering.
Ali Hussein then asked, "My wife and children?"
No one—not the ACLU lawyer, not the CIA agent with whom Byron had briefly talked to arrange this visit, not even Hussein's heavy-faced, brooding brother—had said a single thing about Hussein other than that he had been brought into the United States after years away and that he was an accountant. Nothing about a wife and children.
"I don't know. I didn't know you had a wife and children. Nobody said anything about them. I should have asked."
It was unsettling even to Byron, who had dealt under tense circumstances with thousands of people in courtrooms, that this man could stare at him for so long with no change of expression. Hussein finally asked, "Are you going to come back?"
"If you want me to."
"I was an accountant, you know. I always liked numbers, and I believed in the American system that money moves everything, that he who pays the piper gets to call the tune. Who's paying you?"
"No one, Mr. Hussein. Anything I do for you will be free. I won't get paid by anybody."
"Now I really wonder who you are." There was just a trace of humor in his voice and his expression.
As swiftly as Ali Hussein had appeared in the interview room, he disappeared when two guards in Army uniforms reached in from the rear door and literally yanked him from his chair. It was like watching a magician make a man disappear.CHAPTER 2
It was an internal conference room. Beige walls and fluorescent lighting made the faces of the other people in the room sallow or haggard or both. The makeup of the only woman appeared to be flaking in the unforgiving light. Plastic chairs surrounded a utilitarian wooden table. There were photographs of Barack obama and the Attorney General on the wall, both men posed next to American flags. The photographs had the quality of high school graduation pictures. The men were eager to please, wholesome, and highlighted with flesh-colored tints.
Over the years Byron had rarely attended meetings with other lawyers alone. He once heard that large firms like his always sent at least two lawyers to even insignificant meetings because lawyers, like nuns, travel in groups. Now, on the other side of the table, were four people: two lawyers, one agent from the CIA, and another from Homeland Security. Byron was the only one on his side of the table. only the lawyers mentioned their names. Byron wasn't introduced to the agents.
His attention was immediately captured by the presence of the lead government lawyer. Hamerindapal Rana was a Sikh. He was well over six feet tall. He wore a deep brown turban of elegant fabric. His suit was beautifully tailored. Byron, himself a careful dresser, recognized that Rana's suit was handmade, possibly in London. The other men on Rana's side of the table were bulky and blond, like former college football players, and wore off-the-rack suits with American flag lapel pins.
Excerpted from Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista. Copyright © 2012 Paul Batista. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 18, 2012
Paul Batista has written an extraordinary novel. it tells the story of an accused terrorist, believed to be the banker for Al Quaida, brought from Gitmo to the US for trial. A famous Wall Street lawyer volunteers to represent him. The US is certain the terrorist knows where millions of dollars in funds are located around the world, and government agents want the money. At the same time, the terrorist"s cohorts want the money. Both sides intersect on the lawyer as the means to find the money. The pressure and violence escalate as both sides pursue what they want. Ahead-of-the headline news, treachery, sex, intrigue, murder and greed, not to mention a startling ending. Read it.
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Posted January 6, 2013
This book was a complicated read. It was not written in the smooth and visual style of writing that I like. The main character, Byron, was not a likeable person, as was any of rest of the characters. I love court room drama, but the scenes in this book's court room were boring and bland and hard to follow. It did have some interesting moments, maybe thats what complelled me to finish reading it. This is my take on this book, maybe another reader will come along.and give it five stars.
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Posted March 8, 2015
Paul Batista has written a compelling story. I truly hope this is fiction and not based on fact. The lawyer, Byron C. Johnson is a well established New York city litigator. He is petioned by a foreign national to represent him in an upcoming trial, where he is being prosecuted as being the financial wizard behind terrrorist attacks against the United States. He complains of being held in isolation for years, being savagely beaten and waterboard treatment. Againest all odds, Attorney Johnson undertakes the case. An interesting story that might lead you to ask, "Fact or fiction?" Strongly recommended.
J M Lydon
Posted March 10, 2014
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Posted January 8, 2013
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Posted January 24, 2013
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