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The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days


The Least Worst Place offers a gripping narrative account of the first 100 days of Guantanamo. Greenberg, one of America's leading experts on the Bush administration's policies on terrorism, tells the story through a group of career officers who tried-and ultimately failed-to stymie the Pentagon's desire to implement harsh new policies in Guantanamo and bypass the Geneva Conventions. Peopled with genuine heroes and villains, this narrative of the earliest days of the post.9/11 era centers on the conflicts between...

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The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days

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The Least Worst Place offers a gripping narrative account of the first 100 days of Guantanamo. Greenberg, one of America's leading experts on the Bush administration's policies on terrorism, tells the story through a group of career officers who tried-and ultimately failed-to stymie the Pentagon's desire to implement harsh new policies in Guantanamo and bypass the Geneva Conventions. Peopled with genuine heroes and villains, this narrative of the earliest days of the post.9/11 era centers on the conflicts between Gitmo-based Marine officers intent on upholding the Geneva Accords and an intelligence unit set up under the Pentagon's aegis. The latter ultimately won out, replacing transparency with secrecy, military protocol with violations of basic operation procedures, and human and legal detainee treatment with harsh interrogation methods and torture. Greenberg's riveting account puts a human face on this little-known story, revealing how America first lost its moral bearings in the wake of 9/11.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"If you thought Guantanamo held no more surprises, this remarkable and timely book will change your mind. Karen Greenberg has unearthed a history we did not know we had, somehow persuading scores of military and intelligence officer—and their former captives—to break a seven-year silence. Packed with revelations, this vivid story shows exactly how nods and winks from Washington led to lawless abuse. Just at the moment we need it most, with a new president vowing to find a way out, Greenberg gives the best account yet of where and how and why the troubles began."—Barton Gellman, author of Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

"The consequences of Guantanamo on America's standing in the world have been well chronicled, but here, in heartbreaking detail, we learn the story of how it might have been different. Karen Greenberg's surprising and provocative history of the first hundred days of Guantanamo provides an invaluable comment on how the war on terror turned into a moral assault on our on values and institutions."—Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower

"Greenberg has written an important and compelling work that others will turn to fruitfully in writing the full history of Guantanamo."—The Washington Post Book World

"Karen Greenberg's deeply researched account of the early days of Guantanamo shows the legal, political and moral questions that plagued the prison camp from the outset: its dubious legal authority, the uncertain status of the prisoners, and the doubts of key officials who tried to uphold American and international law. The Least Worst Place, which is so well written that it reads in places like a prose poem, is going to be essential reading for anyone who is trying to understand the legal morass surrounding Guantanamo and detainee policy in the 'war on terror.'"-Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know

"Greenberg tells a gripping and vivid story of the first days of the Guantanamo detainee debacle. In a fast paced and well researched narrative, her characters come alive on this dusty island base as they struggle with the moral and professional dilemmas that are a microcosm of a bigger drama being played out in Washington. Policy was formulated by a small cabal of Pentagon and White House zealots who did not understand the fundamental nature of counterterrorism-and forced their ill-conceived policies on a reluctant but ultimately compliant military, judicial and diplomatic corps."-Michael Sheehan, author of Crush the Cell

"Superior Reporting."—Kirkus

"A remarkable book."—

"An excellent book."—Sacramento Book Review

"Indeed, we are unhappy to need her, but author Karen Greenberg is a hero of sorts, for having gained the trust of the people she interviewed, many of whom were no doubt skeptical of the press, and for her respectful treatment of the stories they entrusted to her." — Human Rights Review

"The most important legal book I read this year was Karen Greenberg's The Least Worst Place... It's a detailed look at an unmined sliver of history...Greenberg provides a taxonomy of what went wrong and shows us that it could all have come out very differently." — Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor, Slate

"An important and compelling work that others will turn to fruitfully in writing the full history of Guantanamo." — Peter Finn, Washington Post Book World

Publishers Weekly

This study of values corrupted by the war on terror examines how the Guantánamo Bay detainee camp declined from a relatively enlightened place to a symbol of American brutality. Legal scholar Greenberg (Terrorist Trial Report Card) covers the period from December 2001 through March 2002, when Camp X-Ray opened to house suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives captured in Afghanistan. The story's hero is X-Ray's first commander, Marine Gen. Michael Lehnert, who scrupulously observed the Geneva Conventions; he emerges as an almost saintly figure as he tearfully pleads with detainees to end a hunger strike. The villains are Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Bush administration lawyers, led by John Yoo, who advanced specious rationales for stripping detainees of legal protections that would ban harsh and abusive treatment. Greenberg's account is not an exposé of Guantánamo horrors; instead, she draws a lesson on "the banality of goodness"-that dutiful adherence to international law, not personal integrity, is the ultimate guarantor of humane policy. Unfortunately, her story's restricted scope and its celebration of Lehnert's personal integrity blur her focus on the legal and institutional determinants of good and evil. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Greenberg (Law and Security/New York Univ. School of Law; co-editor: The Enemy Combatant Papers, 2008, etc.) reconstructs the early history of the notorious detention camp, before it became a shameful symbol of America's War on Terror. Sufficiently secure and located within U.S.-controlled territory, the naval base at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay emerged as the Pentagon's "irresistible choice," the "least worst place" to house prisoners from the war in Afghanistan. From the beginning, though, as the author persuasively argues, the mission suffered from an appalling lack of clarity. Where neither American nor international law clearly applied, the mission's task force strenuously attempted to erect a humane detention regime, notwithstanding hazy directives from Donald Rumsfeld and Bush administration lawyers that left the detainees in a kind of "lawless limbo." Greenberg reports this story largely through interviews with men like Col. Manuel Supervielle, who on his own initiative invited the International Committee of the Red Cross to Gitmo; Navy chaplain Abuhena Saifulislam, who bridged the gulf between the Muslim prisoners and the troops (and for his efforts was suspected by both); Naval Capt. Robert Buehn, who willingly subordinated his authority to help ensure a successful mission; and Marine Col. Michael Lehnert, who insisted on fair and legal treatment of the detainees. Greenberg's account of Lehnert's supervision of the young men he commanded, his deft handling of the media and the constant flow of visitors to "Camp X-Ray," his response to public-relations disasters, his willingness to understand and address the grievances of the detainees, his effort to establish order, stability andhumane protocols-later upset by the Pentagon's interrogation agenda and embodied by his successor Army Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey-all make for painful speculation about how Gitmo's slide into infamy might have been averted. Superior reporting. Agent: Sydelle Kramer/Susan Rabiner Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199754113
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/13/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 229,081
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen J. Greenberg is Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security, NYU School of Law. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, The Nation, The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, and the American Prospect.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

Guide of People xi

Guide to Acronyms xiii

Preface xv

1 World Gone Wrong 1

2 The First Team 23

3 The Void 41

4 Filling the Void 50

5 The Bad Guys First 68

6 The Petting Zoo 87

7 The Caribbean Hilton 105

8 The General and the Chaplain 126

9 Missing Pieces 143

10 A Political Animal 163

11 Towels into Turbans 176

12 Bowing Out 198

Postscript 213

Notes 223

Bibliography 247

Index 253

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2010

    The Least Worst Place

    Irritatingly minor discrepancies noticeable only to those who experienced it first hand from behind the scenes.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An imprisoned ideology insulting a new generation

    I come to this book from a very different standpoint to that of Karen Greenberg because I have served in the armed forces, and I am a practising lawyer.

    For anyone involved in law enforcement and custodial systems, certain rules must be followed in a civilised society- they weren't here.

    Greenberg, from her perspective, outlines (with edge) the initial phase of this 'custodial operation' beginning with the concept of confinement which gives the public a rest from these alleged terrorists' acivities, to outright torture...without trial.

    The 'T' word (torture, not trial) must be used sparingly but the evidence which Greenberg assembles from observers and participants between December 21, 2001 to March 31, 2002 is compelling...and damning.

    The book makes disturbing reading, especially for Obama supporters who now see some idea of the measure of responsibility and the task set for the new President to make amends.

    There is only one conclusion to this book- it mustn't happen again. And how many times have we heard that before?

    The title 'The Least Worst Place' is just the start of the twisting and the bending of policies which Allies and supporters had trustingly placed in Bush's administration.

    To say the US has lost its moral bearings with this camp is strong but just when Greenberg provides excellent footnotes to justify her assertions albeit it from her left wing perspective which I have no quarrel with here as this is not about 'left' or 'right' wing to me.

    This book should be read to remind people of how not to behave when we are the 'good guys' for fear of turning us into the 'bad guys'...which is exactly what has happened with Guantanamo.

    As a lawyer, my basic creed, like that of saving life with a doctor, is to try people fairly, telling them what they are accused of- not to lock people up without trial and throw away the key whilst the inmates suffer serious violence. The behaviour at this prison was not acceptable and I find no words in mitigation.

    I am glad Karen Greenberg has written this book- she ends it with 'what goes around comes around'- the conclusion of the man on the Clapham Omnibus is that the circle must be stopped in the 21st century, and there are no excuses in a civilised society.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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