John Grisham calls for justice for Guantánamo Bay detainees

Some of his books are banned at the shadowy detention center. The writer shares the tragic story of one of his fans

Published August 11, 2013 3:00PM (EDT)

In a heartwrenching op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, novelist and activist John Grisham expressed his disgust at President Obama and the United States government for the on-going human rights atrocities occurring in Guantánamo Bay.

After learning that some of his books have been banned at Guantánamo Bay, Grisham, who has also worked with the Innocence Project, tracked down one of his fans within the detention facility. He learned about a man named Nabil Hadjarab, a 34-year-old Algerian from France who has been detained for 11 years without ever being charged for a crime. Hadjarab was one of the detainees who was brutally force-fed after participating in a hunger-strike at Guantánamo.

Grisham relays Hadjarab's fate, a tragically familiar story among the inmates:

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, 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. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to 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. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

After more than a decade of torture, Hadjarab is likely to be released back to Algeria as quietly as he was taken away. But, as Grisham explains, he will remain disenfranchised:

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was transferring some more Arab prisoners back to Algeria. It is likely that Nabil will be one of them, and if that happens another tragic mistake will be made. His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands.

So far, Grisham writes, "There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it."

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Books Guantanamo Bay Human Rights Hunger Strike John Grisham Terrorism