Local writer meets the human faces of Gitmo

Over the past 2 1/2 years, Mahvish Rukhsana Khan has made more than 30 trips to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and two trips to Afghanistan on behalf of Middle Eastern detainees accused of being terrorists.

After receiving security clearance to serve as an interpreter, Khan, a recent law school graduate, was eventually assigned representation of a detainee. A journalist since high school, she has also written news articles about what she witnessed at Gitmo.

Khan chronicles her story in "My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me," which was released June 23.

A first-generation American, Khan, who has two brothers, was raised in a suburb of Detroit, Mich. by parents of Afghan descent. Her mother and father, both physicians, came to the U.S. in the late '70s to pursue their medical education at Johns Hopkins in Maryland.

She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and then attended the University of Miami law school. She graduated in 2006, at which time she moved to La Jolla where she currently resides with her husband, Poe Corn.

It was her journalistic and legal background that inspired Khan to offer her services as a Pashto translator for Afghanistan detainees.

"It was my way to get involved," she said. "I figured I would start as a translator and once the attorneys I was working with knew me better, I would ask for a case of my own. I (also) made it clear from the beginning that I wanted to write about it."

Obtaining her security clearance took six months, but in January 2006 Khan made her first trip to U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, the country's oldest overseas military installation. She admitted to feeling frightened and worried, but mostly determined.

"I didn't go to Guantanamo Bay with any opinion of who the detainees were. I didn't know whether they were innocent or guilty of anything," Khan said. "The reasons I got involved as a law student were to preserve the legal principals that were at stake ... the conviction that everyone is entitled to a fair trail and the right to show that you're innocent like any alleged rapist or murderer in America."

When it came time to meet the first detainee, Khan said Ali Shah Mousovi, the physician she met, was just as scared as she was. Mousovi and his fellow prisoner Haji Nusrat Khan, an 80-year-old paraplegic with many health issues, touched Khan personally, perhaps, she said, because they were the first detainees she met when she was hypersensitive to her new environment.

Khan said she was shocked not only by the individuals she met – she said they were pharmacists and teachers who seemed unlikely terrorists – but also by the conditions and stories of torture the detainees told her.

Prisoners in Camp 6 were isolated in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day. They communicated by yelling to one another through narrow cracks along the bottom of the cell doors.

Although Camp 3 was a communal setting, these prisoners, too, suffered.

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