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Saturday, March 3, 2007

Book Review - 'Inside the Wire' by Erik Saar and Viveca Novak

A Military Intelligence Soldier's eyewitness account of Life at Guantanamo

Inside the Wire is a gripping portrait of an American soldier's six month tenure at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), Cuba, a high level terrorist detention center that houses the 'worst of the worst' al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, most of whom were captured during the US led 'war on terror' invasion of Afghanistan.

The author,Erik Saar, gets posted as a military intelligence linguist at Gitmo. His job - to carefully extract crucial intelligence from the terrorists. Saar was more than excited to begin working at Gitmo and would always look forward to the day of his posting. But then he finds himself in the bizarre world of life at Gitmo that defied everything he had ever expected.

In his powerful account, he takes us inside the cell blocks and interrogation rooms and describes what its like to talk, question and sit face to face with the captives.
Saar describes all the various tortures that the captives were subjected to in order to get them speaking and blurt out valuable intel information. Most of the captives were detained way back in 2001 and many more keep arriving each month.

Gitmo has been largely criticized by many Human Rights activists group for the appalling sexual interrogation tactics used on detainees. Many of detainees were convinced that they would never be released ever again and so many went to the extent of even trying to commit suicide. Simple objects like tooth brushes, shaving blades were sharpened and used as make shift weapons. Former detainees say in most cases the prisoner made a noose out of clothes or sheets and tried to hang himself from the cell bars; one, they say, tried to slit his throat with a knife he had made from metal.

Saar describes his job of reading the letters ,both, written by the detainees to their families in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine etc. and written by their families to them. As he reads the various letters, he struggles to decide whether to be sympathetic to them or be ruthless as everyone else.

Inside the Wire is one of those rare and unforgettable eyewitness accounts for a momentous and deeply sobering chapter in American history and a powerful cautionary tale about the risks of defaming the very values we are fighting for as we wage the 'War on Terror'

* Viveca Novak is a Washington correspondent for the TIME magazine and has been covering legal affairs and terrorism for a long time.


The commander radioed the IRF (Initial Reaction Force) team leader and told him to start moving in. A detainee in the end cell shouted, "Allah Al-Akbar"- God is great-the common cry when the shit was hitting the fan. Then loud, synchronized stomping as five soldiers entered the block in helmets, over-the-knee shin pads, chest protectors and thick black-leather gloves. The first solder in line carried a shield. They were in no rush; the psychological effect of their march down the corridor, boots echoing off the metal floor with frightening, deafening thuds, were powerful. One NCO was with a radio camera. I was told the tapes were used for training.

The detainee very slowly kissed the Koran, closed it, placed it in its white covering and set it on his cell ledge. Then he stood up and took off his orange shirt. He was thin but had a wiry build with sharp muscle definition. We later learned that he was a kick boxer at home. The guard commander offered him one last chance. He said nothing and simply indicated with his hand that he was ready for the IRF team.

The air on the block seemed to vibrate as everyone anticipated the onset of orchestrated violence. Some of the detainees were genuinely frightened, moving to the back of their cells. The others started shouting "American Dogs!". "Kafer!", "Allah Al-Akbar!" I had never witnessed such mayhem.

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