North Carolinian takes US to Guantanamo Bay

by DG Martin

How would you like to spend a few months down at Guantanamo Bay?

Are there no takers? Nobody want to spend time in the confinement area where prisoners from Afghanistan and similar conflicts are held and interrogated? Wouldn’t you like to sit in on some of the interrogating sessions? Or hang around the living and social areas where the military and civilian base personnel gather and blow off steam?

Still you say, no?

Me neither, but I sure would like to know more about the place – and what goes on there.

Now, thanks to a brand new “international mystery” by a North Carolina connected author, we can. The author, Dan Fesperman, grew up in Charlotte and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. He is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and has previously written several prizewinning mysteries, all of them set in areas where his reporting duties have taken him.

His latest, The Prisoner of Guantanamo, grabs its readers, takes them to the eastern end of Cuba and places them in the middle of life in an isolated American military base. He gives them a close look at how life is experienced by the “640 prisoners from forty countries, none of whom,” according to Fesperman, “had the slightest idea how long they would be here. Then there were the 2,400 other new arrivals in the prison security force, mostly Reservists and Guardsmen who would rather be elsewhere. Throw in’… 120 or so interrogators, translators, and analysts from the military and half the branches of the federal government – and you had the makings of a massive psychological experiment on performing under stress at close quarters.”

Fesperman’s inside description of the workings of the operations at Guantanamo is particularly timely and valuable given the struggles at the highest levels of our government to come up with a set of rules and guidelines to govern the treatment, interrogation, and trial of those who are imprisoned there.

The book’s complex mystery story is engaging, full of puzzles and clues that entertain – and sometimes frustrate – a reader trying to follow the plot.

Revere Falk, the story’s central character, is an FBI officer who speaks fluent Arabic. His assignment at Gitmo (the insider’s term for Guantanamo) is to interrogate some of the prisoners.

One of Falk’s subjects is a young fighter from Yemen, Adnan al-Hamdi. Adnan has some knowledge about an extremely important foreign agent. But, like most of Guantanamo’s prisoners, he is bitter and non-cooperative.

As an FBI agent, Falk must follow the Bureau’s standards of interrogation. The FBI emphasizes patience and trust building as the way to persuade prisoners to give up important information. Other interrogators at Guantanamo, like those working for the CIA and the Pentagon, often use more aggressive tactics. As described by Fesperman, their techniques are sometimes much more than just “torture-like.”

Although the FBI interrogation techniques have been framed in the context of the restrictions of American court decisions, Falk believes they lead to more reliable results.

In the case of Adnan al-Hamdi, Falk’s FBI trust building techniques are more effective.

Adnan gives Falk a key piece of information, one so important that it could be used to “justify” another regime changing military operation, like the one in Iraq.

Although Falk does not immediately appreciate the value of what Adnan has told him, a battle for control of the discovery erupts between different groups in the US government – some who would use the information to push for another preemptive war, others to keep the information from being “misused” by the war enthusiasts.

The struggle for control of this information is complicated by Guantanamo’s location in Cuba. When the body of an American soldier washes up on Cuban territory the Cubans and the Americans have to come together to transfer the body. Later it turns out that there is an undercover agent of the Cuban government on the base. These Cuban connections lead the story to Miami, where Fesperman takes his readers inside the Cuban espionage operations in South Florida.

As much as The Prisoner of Guantanamo teaches us about important current events and issues, its greatest appeal is that it is a fast-paced, action-oriented mystery, a good candidate for a summer vacation read.