Reviewed 12/20/2014

Justice at Guantánamo, by Kristine A. Huskey
Access to this book courtesy of the
San Jose, CA Public Library
Kristine A. Huskey
with Aleigh Acerni
Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, June 2009




ISBN-13 978-1-59921-468-9
ISBN-10 1-59921-468-7 285pp. HC $24.95

There are many books about the quest for justice at America's military prison on the island of Cuba at Guantánamo Naval Base. If they carry pictures on their covers, the pictures tend to be of detainee facilities — or, rarely and at long distance, of the detainees themselves. On first seeing this one, I felt it might be of dubious quality. The reason was a prominent picture of the author on the cover. But of course the books by Christine Crier that I've read also carry the author's picture, and I've found those to be fine.

In any case, a look at the Introduction dispelled any misgivings. It describes in down-to-earth fashion one of her trips to Guantánamo (or "Gitmo", as it came to be called) in a tiny prop plane.

After a fleeting urge to fib about my weight (a former model's first instinct), I answered the question truthfully. I'd already proffered the bundle of military passes and special security documents that proved I had permission to be on the U.S. military base. Giving a somewhat accurate weight was important; our little ten-seater plane had to be balanced. God forbid that my vanity would end up causing an improperly balanced plane to crash!

– Page vi

Ms. Huskey is currently Associate Clinical Professor with the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She also directs the Veterans Advocacy Law Clinic there.

Previously, among other academic postings, she was the founding director of the National Security Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law. She also spent six years as an associate with the Washington, DC office of Shearman & Sterling LLC. That experience on a team of attorneys defending twelve Kuwaiti citizens held without charges at Guantánamo against the Bush administration concept of justice was the motivation for this book.

To put it briefly, they faced the Bush administration's overarching vision of unfettered Executive power — a power the administration deemed necessary to protect the nation against terrorism. Much has been written about the "war on terror" and how it led to a reign of terror of its own at Guantánamo and the so-called black sites. I've written a good deal about it myself. Suffice it to say here that casting aside the respect for law and justice that characterized America weakened America's ability to combat al Qaeda.

It is noteworthy that Ms Huskey comes from a family of patriots. They vote Republican, and she herself has tended to do so, often registering with the Libertarian Party. A liberal she is not. Yet she would yield to no one when it comes to defending fair treatment of the accused. There really is no contradiction here — except in our present era, when Republican leaders have used fear in an attempt to justify any and all extreme measures against al-Qaeda terrorism, which they falsely portrayed as an existential threat. This has led, in recent years, to a Republican Party for which those suspected of terrorism did not merit the rights guaranteed by the Constitution or the protections of international treaties ratified by the U.S.

This abandonment of the precepts long held to be "truth, justice, and the American way" not only diminished America's moral standing in the world but further motivated anti-American factions in the Middle East. It follows, therefore, that holding detainees without charging them and torturing them indiscriminately are things that do not increase American security. This does not mean we should release every prisoner at Guantánamo. It does mean we should give them fair trials. Virtue matters, as Kristine Huskey understands very well.

"The rule of law and the rights of man are ideals that light the world; they are America's ideals, and they always have been no matter how hard the last administration tried to act otherwise. But terrorism is a reality that we can't simply ignore. No one wants another 9/11. Can we forge a new policy that protects both our national security and our founding fathers' ideals? The year 2009 will indeed bring much change and many challenges, and I believe in going forth to meet them that we will remain true to our values, that we will not falter in our virtue. I have hope."

– Page 275

This book is a memoir. It describes Kristine Huskey's life from the time she decided to live in Angola with her UNICEF-representative boyfriend to settling down in the Washington, DC suburb of Arlington, VA with her husband. ("Settling down" for Ms. Huskey means the sort of life most people would call globe-trotting — not in a frivolous way, of course, but in the service of purposeful assignments like accompanying some law students to a mock trial in Vienna.) It is a unique life, and I enjoyed reading about it. So will you, I trust.

Her years with Shearman & Sterling form a major part of the book. The struggles of those years are important,2 and she conveys them in a clear and engaging way. (I provide more detail on them in "The Verdict", linked below.) I have no doubt that Ms. Huskey fought hard for her clients. I do wish, however, that she had taken the time to describe all of them and their status at the end of her involvement. Her exclusive focus on Fawzi and Abdullah seems unprofessional. Also, the index is somewhat more sparse than it might have been. In sum, this account of her struggle is gripping but feels incomplete.3

Despite this, I give the book full marks and recommend it highly. I would not call it a keeper, but it is a must read and complements the more scholarly works like those of Joseph Margulies and David Rose and Philippe Sands very well.

1 Quite aside from whatever aptness this title may hold, I like it because it faintly evokes Reg Owen's Manhattan Spiritual.
2 But who can say that her teaching will not turn out to be far more important? America desperately needs improvement in the educational attainments of its citizens, not least their understanding of justice.
3 To clarify the issue of "ultimate sovereignty," while Cuba retains ultimate sovereignty over Guantánamo, the United States has "complete jurisdiction and control." Therefore, per Boumediene v Bush, detainees at Guantanánamo have the habeas corpus right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is an unconstitutional suspension of that right.
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