Excerpt of The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman
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"Sorry," Falk offered, just in case. "It was Tyndall. From the goddamn Agency."
No reply, which was just as well. The fewer people who knew about their little
dustup, the better. People who ran afoul of Mitch Tyndall soon found themselves
being shunned. It wasn't the man's winning personality that turned everyone
against you, it was the perception that he was privy to the big picture, while
all you had was a few fuzzy snapshots. So if you were on the outs with Tyndall,
there must be an important reason, even if no one but him knew what it was. Falk
had long ago concluded that Tyndall wasn't fully aware of his mysterious powers,
and it probably would be unwise to clue him in.
The subject of their dispute this evening was a nineteen-year-old Yemeni, Adnan
al-Hamdi, a pet project of Falk's if only because he would talk to no one else.
Adnan had been captured in Afghanistan nearly two years earlier, during a
skirmish just west of Jalalabad. He and sixty other misfit jihadists from
Pakistan, Chechnya, and the Gulf States had been rounded up by Tadjik fighters
of the Northern Alliance in the wake of the Taliban's mad-dash retreat to the
south. They wound up rotting in a provincial prison for six weeks until
discovered by the Americans. Adnan attracted special interest mostly on the word
of a fellow traveler, an excitable old Pakistani who swore that Adnan was a
ringleader. Adnan, in his usual monosyllabic way, said little to confirm or deny
it, so into the net he fell, joining one of Guantanamo's earliest batches of
imports. He arrived blindfolded and jumpsuited in the belly of a roaring cargo
plane, back when the detention facility had been a rudimentary collection of
monkey cages known as Camp X-Ray.
By the time Falk came aboard more than a year later, Adnan had been deemed a
lost cause by Gitmo's resident shrinks, the Behavioral Science Consultation
Team, known as Biscuit. He was a mute head case who regularly threw his own shit
at the MPs, sometimes after mixing it with toothpaste or mashed potatoes.
So he was unloaded on Falk, whose linguistic specialty was the dialect of
Adnan's hometown of Sana, only because Falk had visited the place during the
Bureau's investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole, back in 2000.
Falk set about taming the young man with gossip and lies, tales embellished by
bits of color recalled from Sana's dusty narrow streets. Before long Adnan at
least was listening instead of shouting back or clamping hands over his ears.
Occasionally he even spoke, if only to correct details that Falk got wrong.
Progress was slow, but Falk knew from experience that hardness at such an early
age didn't mean there were no remaining soft spots. Unlike most detainees, Adnan
couldn't even grow a full beard, and to Falk the scruff on his chin was almost
poignant, like an undernourished bloom in an abandoned garden.
Perhaps Falk also recognized a fellow loner. At age thirty-three he, too, was
nominally alone in the world. He had no wife, no kids, no dog, and no fiancée
waiting back in Washington. The Bureau's personnel file listed him as an orphan,
a conclusion left over from a lie Falk had told a Marine Corps recruiter fifteen
years ago in Bangor, half out of spite and half out of a runaway's yearning for
a complete break. The recruiting sergeant could have easily flushed out the
truth with a little more digging. But with a monthly enlistment quota to meet
and a bonus of a week's leave hanging in the balance, he hadn't been inclined to
question his good fortune once Falk walked through the door.
Besides, it had almost been true. Falk's mother left when he was ten. Shortly
afterward his father began a love affair with the bottle. By now, for all Falk
knew, the man really was dead, drowned by either alcohol or seawater.
His earliest memories of home weren't all that bada white clapboard farmhouse
along a buckled road on Deer Isle, birch trees out back with leaves that flashed
like silver dollars. There were five Falks in those daysan older brother, an
older sister, his parents, and him. To stay warm in winter they slept head to
toe in bedrolls around an ancient woodstove, arranged like dominoes on a
creaking pine floor. At bath time they hauled in an aluminum washtub and poured
hot water straight from the kettle, his mom scrubbing his skin pink while his
sister laughed and covered her mouth.
Excerpted from The Prisoner of Guantanamo
by Dan Fesperman Copyright © 2006 by Dan Fesperman. Excerpted by permission of
Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the