John Grisham backs release of one of his fans, a Gitmo detainee

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Nabil Hadjarab likes John Grisham’s books, but he isn’t allowed to read some of them because of their “impermissible content,” according to the author.

Hadjarab is a Guantanamo detainee, Grisham writes in an opinion column for the New York Times. The legal thriller author backs Hadjarab’s release, saying he became familiar with the detainee’s plight after deciding to track down one of the people who wanted to read his banned books.

The U.S. government says Hadjarab had been staying at a guesthouse in Afghanistan run by people with ties to al-Qaida. Others have also said Hadjarab is affiliated with terrorists. But Grisham thinks the proof is lacking for the detainee, an Algerian who grew up in France. According to Grisham, Hadjarab’s troubles began when he was wounded while making his way to Pakistan to avoid perceived danger in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“At that time,” Grisham writes, “the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time.” First he was taken to the Bagram Air Base, where “there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.”

In Afghanistan, Grisham says, Hadjarab “strenuously denied any connection to al-Qaida, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber.” He has been held at Guantanamo for 11 years, where he experienced “all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care.”

Hadjarab is a model prisoner, though he participated in a hunger strike at Guantanamo, Grisham says. He has twice been cleared for release by review boards, but so far he remains a detainee. He may be part of a group set to be released in Algeria, but Grisham thinks the United States needs to go further.

“First, admit the mistake and make the apology,” Grisham says. “Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo; give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry.

“This sounds simple, but it will never happen.”

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