Having been advised by a reporter that two of his novels had been deemed “impermissible content”, the lawyer and novelist “became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books”, he writes in a simmeringly angry New York Times.
The prisoner is Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian who grew up in France. “For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behaviour, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 11, 2001,” he writes
Nabil, along with thousands of other Arabs, left for Pakistan to avoid the inevitable conflict.
Wounded in a bombing raid and hospitalised, he was then “sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul”.
The next stop, and his home for the next 11 years: Gitmo, the “detention camp” built by President George Bush and maintained, despite promises to close it, by Barack Obama.
Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber.
Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member.
The case against him is hollow, writes Grisham.
In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime.
Nabil has not been the only “mistake” in our war on terror. Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.
The likelihood, says Grisham, is that Nabil will before long be deposited back in Algeria.
If that happens another tragic mistake will be made. His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands.
Grisham has questioned America’s belligerence before. In a 2008 interview with Bill Moyers, he said of the war in Iraq:
We attacked a sovereign nation that … was not threatening us. What was our justification? I don’t know. We were lied to by our leaders. It wasn’t what they said it was. We have killed, I’m not saying “we” have killed, but estimates are half a million Iraqis have died since the war started …
They wouldn’t be dead, I don’t think, had we not gone there. How do you get out? We lost 4,000 very brave soldiers who would love their country, and would go fighting where they were told because they’re soldiers. Tens of thousands of shattered lives. We’re not taking care of the veterans when they come home. The social cost of this … is enormous.
Postscript: According to the Wall Street Journal, the ban on two of Grisham’s books no longer applies. Apparently it was all just a misunderstanding.