A British human-rights lawyer offers a chilling, evenhanded eyewitness account of his penetration inside one of America’s most notorious military bases.
Guantánamo Bay has been an American naval base since the Spanish-American War and became America’s offshore gulag for prisoners from Afghanistan in January of 2002. Smith is one of 500 lawyers now working on behalf of several thousand prisoners, many held into their fifth year at the base. Only since the author—who has worked with Death Row inmates in New Orleans—and others challenged the prisoners’s basic human rights in a court case brought before the Supreme Court in June 2004 were lawyers even allowed to see the prisoners. The author takes the reader inside the facility, reached by special military plane and divided into two unequal parts, windward and leeward. The main base and prison are situated on the windward side (hence the title). As a lawyer for the “bad men,” Smith is deemed “the enemy” by the military, and has to gain the trust of the men he represents, such as Binyam Mohamed, indicted in the wake of José Padilla’s “dirty bomb plot” of 2002, and Sami al-Haj, a cameraman for the Arab TV station al-Jazeera, which has been systematically targeted by the Bush administration for its terrorist coverage. Most interesting is Smith’s exploration of the camp’s chronic use of deception, from censorship to Orwellian semantics. He exposes the continued holding of minors and the military’s inability to assess the guilt of the inmates, offering a pertinent look into the current “politics of hatred” and the ineffectual response of this dreaded garrison.
A well-wrought, timely work of personal and political commitment that should garner a great deal of deserved attention.