By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
As our "tax day" approaches, most Americans are engaged in that annual rite of legal compliance. While there might be gray areas and even some cheating, by and large, we do what the law requires, even when it is inconvenient or painful. But just off our shores, there is a zone with an entirely different relationship to the rule of law. In the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 122 are still held without normal recourse to the U.S. justice system and without many of the protections of international law. Without formal charges, and often without much in the way of legal checks and balances, these men are in legal limbo. Earlier this year, a window opened into that world with the publication of Guantánamo Diary, a book written by hand by a detainee named Mohamedou Slahi and edited by journalist, Larry Siems. The 466 page manuscript faced a six-year Freedom of Information Act battle to release, and after government review, it contains more than 2,500 black bar redactions, some covering full pages of text. What is left, however, provides a chilling portrait of officially-sanctioned abuse.
Mr. Slahi has been detained since 2001, and perhaps that reason alone should make us skeptical of the narrative. At the same time, there is a great deal in the story pointing to his reliability as a source, and even to his character. The editor's lengthy introduction provides critical context, and based on years of study of Slahi's case, Larry Siems concludes, “The story he tells is well corroborated by the declassified record; he proves again and again to be a reliable narrator. He certainly does not exaggerate."
After reading the book, I believe it should be on the "to read" list for all Americans, and particularly those with an education, a role, and an affinity with the institutions that support the rule of law. The book is quite unique. The writing is insightful, at times sarcastic and even funny. In addition to providing us with a critical view into the circumstances of those who enjoy the least in the way of legal protection, the text also provides a searing account of what can happen when the institutions that are designed to protect liberty and human rights are consciously set aside in the name of security. More specifically, I think the book provides a few reminders about the law, and these reminders apply in every case, large and small.