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Summary and book reviews of My Guantanamo Diary by Mahvish Khan

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
    Paperback:
    Jun 2009, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lesley Marshall

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Book Summary

Outraged that her country was illegally imprisoning people at Guantanamo, Mahvish Khan volunteered to translate for the prisoners. Her story is a challenging, brave, and essential test of who she is —and who we are.

Mahvish Khan is an American lawyer, born to immigrant Afghan parents in Michigan. Outraged that her country was illegally imprisoning people at Guantanamo, she volunteered to translate for the prisoners. She spoke their language, understood their customs, and 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.

For Mahvish Khan the experience was a validation of her Afghan heritage—as 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. Mahvish Khan's story is a challenging, brave, and essential test of who she is —and who we are.

Excerpt
My Guantanamo Diary

The prisoner was standing at the far end of the room behind a long table. His leg was chained to the floor beside a seven-by-eight-foot cage. He looked wary as the door opened, but as our eyes met and he saw me in my traditional embroidered shawl, a smile broke across his weathered features. I smiled back and gave him the universal Islamic greeting:

As-salaam alaikum—May peace be upon you.”

Walaikum as-salaam—May peace also be upon you,” he responded.

With that, I shook hands with my first “terrorist.”

He was a handsome, soft-spoken man with a short, neatly groomed beard. His once-dark hair was heavily flecked with gray. He was dressed in an oversized white prison uniform. I thought he looked much older than his forty-six years—closer to sixty or seventy.

...

His name was Ali Shah Mousovi. He was a pediatrician and the son of a prominent Afghan family from the city of Gardez, where...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

This is a well organized and easy read for anyone interested in information on Guantanamo Bay as well as about the Afghani people and their culture. The prisoners' stories abound with tales of torture and inhuman treatment. Regular beatings to the head and body, sleep deprivation, extended periods of standing, being stripped naked in front of female soldiers and full cavity searches are reported by many of the detainees. On a daily basis, prisoners' legs were chained to their cell floors, and the men were placed in a seven by eight foot cage or left in solitary confinement with no light or windows for days on end. Many detainees attempted suicide or went on hunger strikes, disheartened by their daily treatment, the lack of justice and the belief that they would never be released. As an American woman, some of the details of cruelty and torture reported by the detainees are horrible, especially considering that many of them had not (and still have not) been formally charged; they are presumed guilty based on racial and ethnic profiling.

The author takes a trip to Afghanistan to collect evidence on behalf of the detainees she and the habeas counsel are representing. During her visit, she marvels at the beautiful landscape of the country and the detainees' families treat her with great hospitality. Yet, they are devastated by their loved ones continued unjust imprisonment and in some cases, their untimely deaths. Through this personal account of the author’s visit, the reader is able to visualize what life is like in this beautiful, yet war torn land and feel the frustration, anger and hopelessness of the families of men held at Guantanamo Bay.   (Reviewed by Lesley Marshall).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Nicholas D. Kristof

Reliable information is still scarce about Guantánamo, but increasingly we’re gaining glimpses of life there….Mahvish Rukhsana Khan {has written a book] that is wrenching to read.

St. Petersburg Times

My Guantanamo Diary offers a glimpse into a part of the war on terror intentionally kept in darkness. Reading it will change you. With any luck, it will change the world.

Library Journal

Khan's blistering exposé of the blatant injustices inflicted in the name of fighting terrorism will leave many readers shocked and disillusioned. This is not for the faint of heart.

Booklist

Stunning details all but hidden from the daily news reports may bring American readers to conclude, as has Khan, that 'my government has duped me.'

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] nightmarish, eye-opening and important account.

Kirkus Reviews

A gutsy and disturbing expose of U.S. civilian and military personnel out of control.

Reader Reviews
Samira

MUST-READ
This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read! It gives you a perspective you would never get from the media!! Its gripping, truthful, saddening, funny, etc. I went through all emotions while reading, and I finished in two days! ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Afghan Culture and Customs
Afghanistan's 33 million people are made up of more than twenty ethnic groups with their own distinctive languages and cultural mores. The largest and most dominant of these groups, politically and economically, are the Pashtuns (42% of the population), The second most populous group are the Tajiks (27%). Smaller groups include the Hazaras, the Aymaqs, the Uzbeks and the Turkmen. Pashto and Dari (Persian) are the two official languages of the country.

There are various Afghan dwelling styles. Rural people tend to live in homes made of sun-dried bricks, city dwellers live in homes made of baked bricks, concrete or ...

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