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 by Dan Fesperman X
The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2006, 336 pages
    Jul 2007, 336 pages

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On the first day of his transition from captor to captive, Revere Falk stood barefoot on a starlit lawn at 4 a.m., still naively confident of his place among those who asked the questions and hoarded the secrets.

Falk was an old hand at concealment, trained from birth. The skill came in handy when you were an FBI interrogator. Who better to pry loose the artifacts of other lives than someone who knew all the hiding places? Better still, he spoke Arabic.

Not that he was putting his talents to much use at Guantanamo. And at the moment he was furious, having just returned from a botched session that summed up everything he hated about this place: too few detainees of real value, too many agencies tussling over the scraps, and too much heat—in every sense of the word.

Even at this hour, beads of sweat crawled across his scalp. By the time the sun was up it would be another day for the black flag, which the Army hoisted whenever the temperature rose beyond reason. An apt symbol, Falk thought, like some rectangular hole in the sky that you might fall into, never to reappear. A national banner for Camp Delta's Republic of Nobody, populated by 640 prisoners from forty countries, none of whom had the slightest idea how long they would be here. Then there were the 2,400 other new arrivals in the prison security force, mostly Reservists and Guardsmen who would rather be elsewhere. Throw in Falk's little subculture—120 or so interrogators, translators, and analysts from the military and half the branches of the federal government—and you had the makings of a massive psychological experiment on performing under stress at close quarters.

Falk was from Maine, a lobsterman's son, and what he craved most right now was dew and coolness, moss and fern, the balm of fogbound spruce. Failing that, he would have preferred to be nuzzled against the perfumed neck of Pam Cobb, an Army captain who was anything but stern once she agreed to terms of mutual surrender.

He sighed and gazed skyward, a mariner counting stars, then pressed a beer bottle to his forehead. Already warm, even though he had grabbed it from the fridge only moments earlier, as soon as he reached the house. The air conditioner was broken, so he had stripped off socks and shoes and sought refuge on the lawn. But when he wiggled his toes the grass felt toasted, crunchy. Like walking on burned coconut.

If he thought it would do any good, he would pray for rain. Almost every afternoon big thunderheads boiled up along the green line of Castro's mountains to the west, only to melt into the sunset without a drop. From up on this scorched hillside you couldn't even hear the soothing whisper of the Caribbean. Yet the sea was out there, he knew, just beyond the blackness of the southern horizon. Falk sensed it as a submerged phosphorescence pooling beneath coral bluffs, aglow like a candle in a locked closet. Or maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, a garden-variety case of Guantánamo loco.

It wasn't his first outbreak. Twelve years ago he had been posted here as a Marine, serving a three-year hitch. But he had almost forgotten how the perimeter of the base could seem to shrink by the hour, its noose of fencelines and humidity tightening by degrees. A Pentagon fact sheet for newcomers said that Gitmo—the military's favorite slang for this outpost—covered forty-five square miles. Like a lot of what the brass said, it was misleading. Much of the acreage was water or swamp. Habitable territory was mostly confined to a flinty wedge of six square miles. The plot marked out for Camp Delta and the barracks of the security forces was smaller still, pushed against the sea on fewer than a hundred acres.

Falk stood a few miles north of the camp. By daylight from his vantage point, with a good pair of binoculars, you could pick out Cuban watchtowers in almost every direction. They crouched along a no-man's-land of fences, minefields, wet tangles of mangrove, and scrubby hills of gnarled cactus. The fauna was straight out of a Charles Addams cartoon—vultures, boas, banana rats, scorpions, and giant iguanas. Magazines and newspapers for sale at the Naval Exchange were weeks old. Your cell phone was no good here, every landline was suspect, and e-mail traffic was monitored. Anyone who stayed for long learned to operate under the assumption that whatever you did could be seen or heard by their side or yours. Even on the free soil of a civilian's billet such as Falk's you never knew who might be eavesdropping, especially now that OPSEC—Operational Security—had become the mantra for Camp Delta's cult of secrecy. It was all enough to make Falk wish that Gitmo still went by its old Marine nickname—the Rock. Like Alcatraz.

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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