By Jennifer Senior
Photo Credit: Alessandra Petlin
Needless to say, when Huskey first went down to Guantánamo Bay, she was fully clad in a business suit and sensible shoes. Yet she still wondered if she was covered enough. "I brought a head scarf with me, which I was ready to put on," she says. "I was willing to set my feminism aside and let my male colleagues do the face-to-face work while I sat in the corner and took notes, and then go to work on their case back in Washington." But it never came to that. From the day they first met, Huskey's clients accepted her as their lawyer.
How does this happen, exactly? How did a former MTV dancer with a passion for outré footwear and hunting become one of the key human-rights lawyers for Guantánamo detainees? Huskey would doubtless say that it was the logical next step in a rather eccentric life, one that has always involved a fair measure of creativity, independence of spirit, and multicultural fluency. Because her mother is Filipino and her father is "a big white guy whose every other word is a swear," she was forced, from day one, to navigate between two worlds. Because her father was a pilot for various oil companies, she lived in Alaska until age 12, and then Saudi Arabia, where she grew accustomed to the rhythms and norms of life in a Muslim society. At 18, she followed her boyfriend, an aid worker for UNICEF, to Angola during that country's civil war. "And that relates to Guantánamo Bay," she points out. "When people ask what my Kuwaiti clients happened to be doing in Afghanistan in the middle of a war, I remind them that people do go and offer humanitarian assistance in dangerous places. It's not unheard of." Two years later, Huskey moved to New York City and put herself through Columbia University by tending bar. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Huskey first started working on the Guantánamo case in March of 2002, after Thomas B. Wilner, her mentor at the law firm of Shearman & Sterling and a lawyer in Washington for 35 years, was contacted by the families of the detainees. Wilner chose Huskey as a member of the legal team in part for her fearlessness: "He said I was one of the only associates even when I was junior level who wasn't deferential to the partners," she says, nibbling on a Triscuit, giving her shiny dark hair a sly shake. She's sitting in her new office at the International Human rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law in DC, where she has just accepted a teaching job. "And he liked that I wasn't going to kowtow. That I spoke my mind." Wilner also suspected that Huskey's unabashed femininity would be an asset. "The first thing anybody notices about Kristine is that she's extraordinarily attractive," he says. "Too many women try to become good lawyers by being incredibly hardass. Kristine is totally at ease using her feminine side to get her point across and she's all the stronger in making her case because of it."