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My Guantanamo Diary

Desiree Cooper

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Mahvish Khan
(Courtesy Mahvish Khan)
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This weekend, Mahvish Khan is packing to go to Cuba. Not for a sunny vacation, but to visit the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In 2006, Khan was a law student at the University of Miami when her international law class talked about Gitmo. That's the U.S. base where the Bush Administration has held so-called enemy combatants for years without providing them hearings. An American born of Afghan parents, Khan got a security clearance to act as an interpreter for lawyers representing Afghan detainees. Since then, she's gone back several times and has befriended some of the prisoners who have since been released without charge. She wrote about her experiences in her book "My Guantanamo Diary." Ahead of her latest trip back to Gitmo, Khan spoke with Weekend America's Desiree Cooper.


Mahvish Khan: When I first got to Guantanamo Bay, I was nervous. I was nervous that I would be meeting somebody who was Taliban or Al Qaeda, or somebody who wouldn't want to necessarily sit down with me because I was a woman. I opened the door to our meeting room, and there was this prisoner who was shackled to the floor standing at the other end of the room. He looked just as nervous as I did. The military referred to him as "Prisoner 1154." When he saw me, I had my hair covered because I didn't know how conservative he would be, and he broke out in a smile. It was an embroidered shawl familiar to him, where he was from. He gave me the smile, and I smiled back and gave him the universal Islamic greeting, "As-Salamu Aleykum," which translates to "May peace be upon you." And I went over, and I shook hands with my first "terrorist." But the more I learned about 1154, from that meeting, from research of his file and where he came from, the less it made sense of why he was there.

Desiree Cooper: What's the status of your case of the detainee that you represent?

Khan: The individual that I'm representing is an Afghan who's family is from Kabul. He's a real estate developer and a car salesman, and he is currently still being held at Guantanamo. He's never been charged. I've gone to Afghanistan and collected exonerating evidence to show that he was in fact a real estate developer for X amount of years, showed land-title transactions and submitted all of that to the military.

Cooper: Mahvish, what do you think you'll take with you from this experience?

Khan: I've definitely formed a lot of friendships in a place that I didn't expect to. I have become very close to some of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The first individual I met was pediatrician Dr. Ali Shah. I've visited him since his release.

He was released about three years after his arrest, never having been charged with anything criminal. When I visited him in Afghanistan, he was in fact who he said he was: he was a pediatrician; he set up this clinic to help his countrymen. And I really value our friendship. As well as that of 80-year-old Haji Nusrat Khan. He's a parapalegic, he can't walk without assistance. And he was also released, fortunately, and I was able to visit him. I carry with me these friendships of invididuals from Afghanistan, and they've strengthened my desire to learn more about my heritage. I've gained a lot through this experience.

Cooper: How do they feel about America, now that they've been released?

Khan: When I visited Haji Nusrat, the first thing he asked me was whether I could help him get a visa to come to the United States. I thought it was a joke, and I was like, you know, "Why?" And he went on to say that it wasn't the U.S. that he believed had maliciously arrested him, and that he believed he was picked up for bounty money and that the problem was that the United States didn't investigate.

Cooper: Mahvish, I want to thank you for joining us.

Khan: Thanks for having me.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Adrian Gutierrez

    From Weston, FL, 04/08/2010

    I was one of the pilots that flew Mahvish several times to Guantanamo and back. I did not know she was a lawyer or that she was writing a book. I did notice that she would write on her computer while flying the three hour trip back to Fort Lauderdale. I am sorry we had to make her share a double seat on most of the flights. I feel privilaged to have witnessed some of her story. I want to congratulate Mahvish for all her impressive accomplishments.

    P.S. She referred to our aircraft as a '"puddle jumper". That hurt!

    By Barry Ladehoff

    From Chicago, IL, 10/25/2008

    Thank God for Mahvish Khan and her commitment to the wrongly detained at Guantanamo. I am a Vietnam veteran for peace and protested as such prior to our invasion of Iraq. The horific violation of human rights in Guantanamo is incomprehensible. This young woman's work on their behalf is a small light in this very dark time in our history. The Bush junta should be jailed for crimes against humanity.

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