Mahvish Rukhsana Khan
is an American lawyer, born to
immigrant Pashtun parents in
Michigan. While pursuing a law
degree at the University of Miami,
she became enraged by the illegal
detainment of prisoners at
Guantanamo Bay. Having grown up
listening to her mother tell her
"Now is not the time to be
complacent," Khan felt compelled to
help any way she could. With her
fluency in Pashto and a familiarity
with Afghan cultures and customs
that no other "habeas" lawyer with
security clearance had, she was
quickly taken on as an interpreter
for Afghan detainees. Six months
later, in January 2006, Khan was on
her way to Guantanamo Bay. Her role
with the detainees quickly
developed. She began providing
supervised legal counsel and
traveled to Afghanistan to find
exonerating evidence for prisoners.
During more than thirty trips to Guantanamo, Khan unexpectedly connected with the very men that Donald Rumsfeld called "the worst of the worst." She brought them Starbucks chai, the closest available drink to the kind of tea they would drink at home. And they quickly befriended her, offering fatherly advice as well as a uniquely personal insight into their plight, and that of their families thousands of miles away. As time went by Khan began to question whether Guantanamo truly held America's most dangerous enemies. But regardless of each prisoner's innocence or guilt, she was determined to preserve their most fundamental right, the right to a fair trial.
For Mahvish Rukhsana Khan, the experience was a validation of her Afghan heritageas well as her American freedoms, which allowed her to intervene at Guantanamo purely out of her sense that it was the right thing to do. Her story is challenging, brave, and essential test of who she isand who we are.
Mahvish Rukhsana Khan is a recent law school graduate and journalist. She has been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media. She lives in San Diego.
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A conversation with Mahvish Khan, author of My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me
You were in law school in 2006
when you decided that you wanted to do something about the illegal detainment of
prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. When most people decide to volunteer, they usually
serve at soup kitchens or walk dogs at animal shelters. However did you end up
at Guantánamo translating for detainees?
I was studying Gitmo at the time and found myself constantly ranting about how criminal the situation was. Eventually I googled the cases I had read so much about. My internet search revealed who the attorneys on those cases were and I quickly got in touch with them. I wanted to be involved as a journalist and a lawyer. When I learned that there was no one with security clearance who spoke Pashto (a predominant Afghan language) I applied for security clearance and got my foot in the door as an interpreter for habeas lawyers representing detainees. My role eventually grew, but that's how it all started.
Specifically, my desire to bring awareness and get involved was triggered by how appalled I was while studying Gitmo and the Federal torture statutes in my international ...
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