Excerpt from My Guantanamo Diary by Mahvish Khan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My Guantanamo Diary

The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me

by Mahvish Khan

My Guantanamo Diary
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 320 pages
    Jun 2009, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lesley Marshall

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At some point, his jailers cut the clothes off his body, and he squirmed, trying to cover himself. “This is American soil,” he was told. “This is not your soil. You will obey us.” He had become a stranger in his own land: the soil had changed beneath his feet. Twenty miles from Kabul, he was apparently no longer in Afghanistan.

Obeying, he had quickly learned, meant not resisting.

He described how he was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing. More painful than the bruises and wounds that covered his body were the unbroken days and nights without sleep. Tape recordings of screeching sirens blared through the speakers that soldiers placed by his ears. His head throbbed. Whenever he managed, mercifully, to doze off, he’d be startled awake by wooden clubs striking loud blows against the wall. He recalled the sting as he was repeatedly doused with ice water. He said he was not allowed to sit down for two weeks straight. At some point his legs felt like wet noodles; when they gave out, he was beaten and forced to stand back up. He couldn’t remember how many times this happened.

In rotating shifts, U.S. soldiers periodically kicked and beat him and the other prisoners. Some yelled things about September 11. Others spat on him. Many cursed his mother, sisters, and other family members. They cursed his nationality and religion. He wanted to stand up for his loved ones and for himself as the young soldiers swore obscenities at him, but he could only groan as the hard boots slammed into his throbbing head.

“Many of the Afghans did not understand the terrible things they were saying,” he told us, “but I understood.” He used to understand English well, he said, but years of abuse and sleep deprivation had taken a toll on his memory.

Peter scribbled notes furiously as the doctor spoke, describing how soldiers had tied a rope around him and dragged him around through dirt and gravel. He said he was subjected to extreme temperatures of heat and cold. Sometimes he was kept in complete darkness for hours and then made to stare into intense bright light. He was made to stand endless hours of the night in uncomfortable positions. He was punished if he looked to his right or to his left. Each moment, he believed, could be his last.

And with every blow, he would repeat to himself, “La-illahailla-Allah—There is no God but God.”

These words are the first words a Muslim hears upon his birth and often the last words spoken before he dies. When a baby is born, the doctor or the father utters this prayer into the crying infant’s ear. On the threshold of death, a doctor or family member often urges the dying person to speak these final parting words. And afterward, the family will echo this prayer as the deceased is laid to rest.

La-illaha-illa-Allah, Mohammad-an-rasul Allah—There is no god but God, and Mohammad is his messenger.”

Mousovi said he didn’t sleep for an entire month. Then, a uniformed soldier made him take drugs, he said. To his consternation, the names of the pills evaded him, try as he did to remember them. “A doctor remembers the names of medications the way he remembers the names of his sons,” he said, shaking his head in dismay.


Mousovi said he didn’t know why he’d been brought to Guantánamo Bay. He believed that someone had sold him to U.S. forces to collect a reward of up to $25,000 for anyone who gave up a Taliban or al-Qaeda member. Perhaps his political opponents had given false reports to the Americans to prevent him from running for parliament. He could only speculate. He insisted that he was simply a doctor who wanted to help rebuild his country.

He spent more than a year and a half in detention before he was told that he would be given a hearing before a combatant status review tribunal (CSRT). The hearing would theoretically allow him to challenge his designation as an “enemy combatant.”

From the book My Guantánamo Diary by Mahvish Khan. Reprinted by arrangement with PublicAffairs (www.publicaffairsbooks.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2008.

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