Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review-The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days

Karen Greenberg’s The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days provides an excellent and engaging analysis of Guantánamo Bay’s transformation after 9/11. The book centers around General Michael Lehnert, the man initially selected to run the renovated detention facility. Though the book does not justify or apologize for Guantánamo’s abuses, it provides insight into the mentalities of the guards and the leadership. Greenberg reminds us that after September 11, 2001, the military, like the rest of America, was scared. She reminds us that Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, and others higher in the chain of command were responsible for orchestrating policies of lawlessness and torture.

General Lehnert is portrayed as a hero, the man who aims to understand rather than simply punish the detainees, who insists on following the Geneva Conventions in spite of Rumsfeld’s contention that they do not apply, and who treats the detention center more like a refugee camp. The Least Worst Place allows us to watch Guantánamo’s chilling evolution unfold as, one step at a time, the highest-level officials of the Bush administration carefully calculate Guantánamo’s tragic course, keeping the media, the public, and even the general in the dark. Greenberg skillfully interweaves her text with quotes from news articles, memos, and interviews, giving the book a narrative quality without fictionalizing the events. Pages of endnotes offer accessible sources of often disturbing accounts and provide Greenberg’s text with academic credibility. The Least Worst Place is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about the early days of Guantánamo, a story the public has not heard until now.

Bill of Rights Defense Committee


Attorney Sabin Willett Speaks on Closing Guantánamo

On February 12, attorney Sabin Willett spoke to an audience at Smith College’s Helen Hills Hills Chapel on "Closing Guantánamo: Can President Obama Repair Torture's Wreckage?" Attorney Willett is known for his defense of several Uighurs, Chinese separatists who have been held for seven years, without charge, at Guantánamo Bay Detention Center. During his hour-long speech, Willett described in chilling detail the gross mistreatment of prisoners, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and incompatibility with the American justice system that plague Guantánamo Bay. He outlined a simple plan for ushering in a new era of transparency and human rights, and for rejecting America’s plunge into moral ambiguity. Willett began by insisting that the United States government denounce cruelty as a policy. It is unacceptable that powerful American leaders in international politics, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, effectively employed Afghani bounty hunters to sell prisoners to the United States. The policies that followed represent some of the worst aspects of a government that condones cruelty: the Military Commissions Act, which denied “enemy combatants” habeas corpus rights (though this section was later struck down by the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush); extraordinary renditions of prisoners to nations that engage in torture; and the continued detention and mistreatment of prisoners cleared for release. If we are to restore the justice system to one that values human rights and dignity, the next logical step (and the second part of Willett’s plan) is to close Guantánamo Bay as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Willett concluded with a warning that Americans must become shrewder citizens. He examined the danger of “common nouns” infiltrating think tanks and foreign policy debates, and insisted that “when in doubt, demand a proper noun.” Allow each detainee his name, his proper noun, to avoid generalizations such as “too dangerous to release but unable to try.” Sabin Willett’s address was a powerful reminder to the American citizenry to fulfill its obligation to hold the government accountable for making policy decisions that represent the will of the people.

The event was presented by Smith College under the sponsorship of the Pioneer Valley Coalition Against Secrecy and Torture and more than 20 other local, state, and national organizations, including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.


Editor: Amy Ferrer, Web & Publications Coordinator
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writer: Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator; Bethany Singer-Baefsky, Smith College Intern

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
Email: info (at)
Telephone: 413-582-0110
Fax: 413-582-0116

No comments: