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November 13, 2006

Gitmo's Girl

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By April of 2002, Wilner and Huskey were on a plane to Kuwait. By May, they'd filed a complaint with the DC District Court that their clients were being robbed of due process. The court threw out the case. The lawyers appealed; their appeal was denied. Finally, they took their case to the Supreme Court and won in June of 2004, allowing for the first time the legal representation of Guantánamo detainees. Six months later, they were on their way to Cuba.

"It was all very professional," says Huskey, describing the initial visit. "It was basically, 'I'm your lawyer; I've met your families; I've been to Kuwait. Describe to me what your life is like in here...'" She found herself compiling a staggering list of grievances. As military officials themselves admit, 41 inmates have attempted suicide since 2002 (three actually succeeded in July), and human-rights groups have catalogued a range of horrors and humiliations. In September 2005, more than 125 detainees staged a hunger strike to protest their conditions — one of Huskey's clients dropped down to 93 pounds. Health officials had to strap him to a chair, loop a feeding tube through his nose, and pump him full of Ensure.

When Huskey returned to Washington, one of the first things she did was file a motion with the DC District Court to improve her clients' living conditions. "I asked for adequate medical and dental care — they'd never received any dental treatment," she says. "And I asked that they be allowed to exercise more. They were only getting out of their cells one or two times a week for 20 minutes." At a press conference, she and Wilner mentioned that some of the detainees complained their Korans were being defaced. Four months later, Newsweek ran a stronger version of this charge, saying a Koran had been flushed down the toilet. (The magazine later printed a retraction saying it couldn't quite substantiate the claim.)

But more valuable than tallying grievances, says Huskey, and even more valuable than giving legal counsel, was the simple human contact she provided clients. "You have to understand," she says, "we spent so much time talking about how grim the conditions were. It got to the point where they didn't even want to talk legal strategy with me, because they didn't think the law was working."

As conversation shifted to the personal, Huskey found herself relying on her native charms. And the men began confiding in her. One can see how they would: Though hardened and worldly, there's also something innocent and childlike about Huskey — she reminds one almost instantly of Holly Golightly, on her weekly trips to visit mobster Sally Tomato in Sing Sing. She smiles easily and listens well; she speaks in a melodic sing-song. ("I see no reason why smart women can't be attractive and girly, and attractive women can't be smart," she says. "Really, you can be both.") One of the detainees soon began showing her pictures of his daughters back home and discussing the problems he was having with his teenage girl. Another broke into a smile — for the first time — when Huskey screamed as a cockroach climbed onto her shoe. With the volleyball player, she talked about her modeling. "That, and the fact that I do triathlons to de-stress," she says. "It was sort of weird. Almost like a blind date."

The comparison might sound strange, trivializing — an analogy a former model, not a human-rights lawyer, would be apt to make. But Huskey clarifies: "These men are bored senseless." She points out that Guantánamo Bay isn't like a federal prison, or even a maximum-security prison, where inmates are allowed contact with their families. Here, they are suspended from all connection to the outside world. "They don't have anyone to talk to except interrogators and guards," she says. "I became their sister, their mental-health person, everything. And that's what those discussions — about modeling and volleyball — were about. Tiny moments of normalcy."

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