Excerpt from The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Prisoner of Guantanamo

by Dan Fesperman

The Prisoner of Guantanamo
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2007, 336 pages

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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 bad—a 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 days—an 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 publisher.

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