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November 13, 2006

Gitmo's Girl

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Guantánamo Bay is America's oldest overseas naval base, a 45-square-mile swath of land at the southeast end of Cuba, a country with which America has no diplomatic relations. Until June of 2004, the only Americans to visit the detainee prison camp were members of Congress, officials from the International Red Cross, and a few reporters. Then the Supreme Court heard the arguments in Huskey's case, Rasul v. Bush, and ruled that Guantánamo prisoners were entitled to claims of habeas corpus. Soon, a modest group of lawyers, Huskey among them, began filing down to Cuba. Today, these lawyers know this bleak, other-planetary place better than almost anyone on earth.

Usually, Huskey and her colleagues arrive at night, after a three-and-a-half-hour charter flight on a turbo-prop jet. They stay on the leeward side of the base, where there's nothing but a bare-bones dormitory ("the bachelor quarters"),
a mess hall (already closed), and a bar (where Huskey orders a vodka tonic, while her male colleagues opt for beers). The next day, she's shuttled by military escorts to the more populated windward side, where there's a Pizza Hut, a McDonald's, a Navy Exchange store, and a souvenir shop (Huskey confesses she has purchased a couple of Guantánamo Bay T-shirts).

Then they're taken to the actual prison complex, a 15-minute ride by military bus down a solitary road dotted with giant iguanas and banana rats. When she arrives, each man is waiting in a windowless cell. One by one, they're are brought from behind bars to meet in an adjoining area, where they spend the entire time shackled to an iron ring in the floor.

The allegations against the 12 Kuwaiti detainees vary widely. Some, she admits, are "very worrisome." One client is accused of supporting the Taliban during the American invasion. But she's less persuaded by others. Abdullah Kamal al Kandari is being held on evidence that he wore the type of Casio watch preferred by al Qaeda terrorists to detonate bombs; that his supposed alias was found in an al Qaeda member's computer recovered in Afghanistan; and that he was traveling near the Afghan border during the invasion with $10,000 cash. (He, in turn, says that many Muslim men have such watches, that he doesn't have an alias, and that he was donating the money to a charity he found through his local mosque.)

"I've looked at Abdullah's file over and over again," Huskey says. "And I've talked to him a million times. Even if you believe the allegations against him, that still doesn't make him a terrorist."

True, but carrying $10,000 in cash to the Afghan border would arouse almost anyone's suspicions... "I'm not naive," she says sharply. "Of course I've considered the possibility that the $10,000 was to support al Qaeda. In fact, sometimes I have this nightmare/fantasy that my clients will get released, go back to Kuwait, and join al Qaeda."

So at moments like this, what does she tell herself?

"That this is why we have fair hearings. We could guess. We could speculate. But we could also determine, through a fair process, if the allegations against my clients are true. Everyone deserves a process based on good evidence, not torture or hearsay."

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