Greenberg (Law and Security/New York Univ. School of Law; co-editor: The Enemy Combatant Papers, 2008, etc.) reconstructs the early history of the notorious detention camp, before it became a shameful symbol of America’s War on Terror.
Sufficiently secure and located within U.S.-controlled territory, the naval base at Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay emerged as the Pentagon’s “irresistible choice,” the “least worst place” to house prisoners from the war in Afghanistan. From the beginning, though, as the author persuasively argues, the mission suffered from an appalling lack of clarity. Where neither American nor international law clearly applied, the mission’s task force strenuously attempted to erect a humane detention regime, notwithstanding hazy directives from Donald Rumsfeld and Bush administration lawyers that left the detainees in a kind of “lawless limbo.” Greenberg reports this story largely through interviews with men like Col. Manuel Supervielle, who on his own initiative invited the International Committee of the Red Cross to Gitmo; Navy chaplain Abuhena Saifulislam, who bridged the gulf between the Muslim prisoners and the troops (and for his efforts was suspected by both); Naval Capt. Robert Buehn, who willingly subordinated his authority to help ensure a successful mission; and Marine Col. Michael Lehnert, who insisted on fair and legal treatment of the detainees. Greenberg’s account of Lehnert’s supervision of the young men he commanded, his deft handling of the media and the constant flow of visitors to “Camp X-Ray,” his response to public-relations disasters, his willingness to understand and address the grievances of the detainees, his effort to establish order, stability and humane protocols—later upset by the Pentagon’s interrogation agenda and embodied by his successor Army Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey—all make for painful speculation about how Gitmo’s slide into infamy might have been averted.