From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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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Khan, the daughter of Afghan immigrants and a recent law-school graduate, began volunteering as an interpreter for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) following the 2004 Supreme Court decision stating that Guantánamo prisoners had to be allowed access to U.S. courts. She first visited the base in January 2006 and met prisoners with widely diverse backgrounds, from a 22-year-old picked up in Pakistan, probably by bounty hunters, and turned over to U.S. forces to detainee #1009, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, an illiterate old man from the mountains of Afghanistan. Acknowledging that she had no access to the 14 high value detainees with obvious ties to the Taliban, Khan interviews many whose incarceration appears dubious at best. Each has a story of being savagely beaten, deprived of sleep, sexually abused, left in solitary confinement for months, exposed to extreme cold and constant noise—all with no opportunity to prove their innocence. Stunning details all but hidden from the daily news reports may bring American readers to conclude, as has Khan, that my government has duped me. --Deborah Donovan