My Guantanamo Diary

By Mahvish Khan
Sunday, April 30, 2006

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba

The sailor at the entrance to Camp Echo peers through the gate as Peter and I hold up our laminated blue cards. "HC," for habeas counsel, they read. "Escort Required." He waves us through, searches our bags for recording devices, then issues safety instructions -- dial 2431 on the wall phone in the room -- in case anything should happen in our meeting with prisoner No. 1154.

The gravel crunches beneath our shoes as we follow a soldier across a dusty courtyard to a painted brown door. Before we go in, I drape the shawl I'm carrying over my head and arms. This is my first meeting with a Guantanamo Bay detainee, and I'm feeling nervous about sitting down with a man who may be a terrorist.

Ali Shah Mousovi is standing at attention at the far end of the room, his leg chained to the floor. His expression is wary, but when he sees me in my traditional embroidered shawl from Peshawar, he breaks into a smile. Later, he'll tell me that I resemble his younger sister, and that for a split second he mistook me for her.

I introduce myself and Peter Ryan, a Philadelphia lawyer for whom I'm interpreting. I hand Mousovi a Starbucks chai, the closest thing to Afghan tea I've been able to find on the base. Then I open up boxes of pizza, cookies and baklava, but he doesn't reach for anything. Instead, in true Afghan fashion, he urges us to share the food we have brought for him.

Mousovi is a physician from the Afghan city of Gardez, where he was arrested by U.S. troops 2 1/2 years ago. He tells us that he had returned to Afghanistan in August 2003, after 12 years of exile in Iran, to help rebuild his wathan , his homeland. He believes that someone turned him in to U.S. forces just to collect up to $25,000 being offered to anyone who gave up a Talib or al-Qaeda member.

As I translate from Pashto, Mousovi hesitantly describes life since his arrest. Transported to Bagram air base near Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, he was thrown -- blindfolded, hooded and gagged -- into a 3 1/2 -by-7-foot shed. He says he was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing, deprived of sleep by tape-recordings of sirens that blared day and night. He describes being dragged around by a rope, subjected to extremes of heat and cold. He says he barely slept for an entire month.

He doesn't know why he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. He had hoped he would be freed at his military hearing in December 2004. Instead, he was accused of associating with the Taliban and of funneling money to anti-coalition insurgents. When he asked for evidence, he was told it was classified. And so he sits in prison, far from his wife and three children. More than anyone, he misses his 11-year-old daughter, Hajar. When he talks about her, his eyes fill with tears and his head droops.

I don't know exactly what I had expected coming to Guantanamo Bay, but it wasn't this weary, sorrowful man. The government says he is a terrorist and a monster, but when I look at him, I see simply what he says he is -- a physician who wanted to build a clinic in his native land.

A guard knocks at the door, signaling time's up. Mousovi signs a document agreeing to have Peter represent him in filing a petition for habeas corpus before U.S. civilian courts. "I pray to Allah," he says, holding his palms together, "for sabar." Patience. He stands up as Peter and I say goodbye. When I glance back after we walk out, he is still standing, gazing after us.

It was Google that got me to Gitmo.

My interest in the U.S. military base in Cuba was sparked by an international law class I took last year at the University of Miami. I decided I wanted to become involved in what is going on there. So I Googled the names of the attorneys on the landmark 2004 Supreme Court case Rasul v. Bush, which held that the U.S. court system had authority to decide whether non-U.S. citizens held at Guantanamo Bay were being rightfully imprisoned. Then I started bombarding them with calls and e-mails expressing my desire as a law student, a journalist and a Pashtun to help, both on the legal end and as an interpreter.


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