Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman

The Prisoner of Guantanamo
By Dan Fesperman
(Blogger Note: This review was originally published in "The LAMLight", the physician newsletter of the Lynchburg Academy of Medicine.  It is posted here on the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.)

     Dan Fesperman is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun who has worked in Berlin and Afghanistan.  He used his first hand knowledge and reporter’s eye for detail to great advantage to craft this spine tingling and tremendously frightening novel. In “The Prisoner of Guantanamo” Dan Fesperman tells the story of Revere Falk, an Arabic speaking FBI special agent assigned to the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  He specializes in Yemeni dialects and interrogates a subset of the al-Queda prisoners. The story begins when the body of an Army reservist washes up on the shore in Cuban territory.  Did he drown during an after dark leisure swim or is there foul play involved?  Falk is enlisted to help with the investigation and at this point the plot becomes serpentine.  The victim was a banker in civilian life and had recently authorized several large cash tranfers through his home bank and two banks notorious for drug money laundering (one in the Caymans and one in South America.)  There may have been a witness who saw the victim with two other men in a small watercraft the night of his death.  Was he a “bad guy” or a pawn in a bigger game?  Another plot line involves a prisoner who discloses a name to Falk which may link Cuban agents with al-Queda.  These two plots intertwine and the frustrating lack of cooperation between the Defense Department intelligence operatives, the CIA and the FBI becomes central.  It also turns out that Falk had been compromised by Cuban agents during a previous stint at Guantanamo while serving in the Marine Corps and has acted as a double agent ever since.  The implication in all of this is that the United States government tries to manufacture evidence of Cuban support of al-Queda to justify a take-over of Cuba.  In light of revelations regarding the lack of evidence of connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Queda this plot becomes all too believable.  The plot of this novel is actually overly complex.  The various plots and sub-plots never really come to satisfying resolutions and the characters are fairly stereotypical government types.  The book is valuable, however, because of its insights into the inner workings at the Guantanamo facility and the handling of al-Queda prisoners.  It is disheartening to think that the various U.S. agencies could still be so fragmented and competitive years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  

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