The New York Times
My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Meby Mahvish Khan
Mahvish Khan is an American lawyer, born to immigrant Afghan parents in Michigan. Outraged that her country was illegally imprisoning people at Guantanamo, she volunteered to translate for the prisoners. She spoke their language, understood their customs, and brought them Starbucks chai, the closest available drink to the kind of tea they would drink at home. And
Mahvish Khan is an American lawyer, born to immigrant Afghan parents in Michigan. Outraged that her country was illegally imprisoning people at Guantanamo, she volunteered to translate for the prisoners. She spoke their language, understood their customs, and brought them Starbucks chai, the closest available drink to the kind of tea they would drink at home. And they quickly befriended her, offering fatherly advice as well as a uniquely personal insight into their plight, and that of their families thousands of miles away.
For Mahvish Khan the experience was a validation of her Afghan heritageas well as her American freedoms, which allowed her to intervene at Guantanamo purely out of her sense that it was the right thing to do. Mahvish Khan's story is a challenging, brave, and essential test of who she is and who we are.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
In her moving debut memoir, a young journalist recounts her time as a translator for the detainees of notorious Guantánamo Bay prison. As a law student and American-born daughter of Pashtun (ethnic Afghan) immigrants, Khan seeks a translator position at one of the private law firms that represent the Guantanamo inmates, some of whom spend years in prison before offered a "fair" trial-or even access to counsel. Shockingly, many of the detainees Khan encounters are average citizens placed in prison due to unfortunate circumstances, the blind aggression of modern anti-terror tactics and the incompetence of its enforcers; one detainee, elderly stroke patient Nusrat, was detained after questioning the authorities regarding the arrest of his son (accused of having ties with al-Qaeda). Revealing near-universal abuse, both mental and physical, inflicted on the prisoners, Khan's account is plenty powerful-and that's before she travels alone to war-torn Afghanistan in order to prove her clients' innocence. Khan also divulges her poignant reunions with several prisoners following their release, a bittersweet breath of fresh air amid a nightmarish, eye-opening and important account.
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In this highly disturbing and impassioned memoir, Afghan American law school graduate and journalist Mahvish Khan writes of her experiences serving as a translator for lawyers representing detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Khan perceptively details a catalog of horrors and humiliations suffered by the prisoners, including many instances of torture, lack of medical care, and other human rights abuses. She highlights the plight of many so-called enemy combatants who ended up at Guantánamo only because of large bounties paid by U.S . forces for turning over suspected terrorists. With no right to a fair trial and often facing a litany of trumped-up charges, the falsely accused have little recourse; many resort to suicide attempts and hunger strikes in desperation. Khan's blistering exposé of the blatant injustices inflicted in the name of fighting terrorism will leave many readers shocked and disillusioned. This is not for the faint of heart. With parallels to Clive Stafford Smith's The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side and Murat Kurnaz's Five Years of My Life, this work is highly recommended for all public libraries.
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Meet the Author
Mahvish Khan is a recent law school graduate and journalist. She has been published in the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media. She lives in San Diego.
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“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. I highly recommend “My Guantanamo Diary.” It’s a book that will make you think, feel, and maybe research some of the information yourself.
I read this book for a book club. I was somewhat skeptical at the beginning but became totally immersed in its telling. Ms. Khan shares her experiences and puts faces on the minimal facts one stumbles over in the daily news about Guantanamo. During our book club discussion, everyone had the same reaction. It is a very important book that needs to be discussed. As I read, I found stories about her contacts with the detainees so interesting. The references she makes about the 3 simultaneous suicides is particularly timely right now as the investigative reporter for Harper's Magazine writes about the confusing details surrounding their deaths. I particularly was fascinated by her visit to Afghanistan not only to visit the families, but the reconfirmation of her own cultural awareness. A badly needed book indeed.