John Knefel
May 13, 2013

As the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay enters its fourth month and pressure to close the prison mounts, it’s easy to forget that Guantanamo is not only a detention facility but also the site of a unique legal experiment that has no direct precedent in U.S. history. At times, it can be difficult to keep track of the tangled mess of authorities claimed, cases appealed and lives destroyed with Guantanamo at its center. Those looking for clarity on these issues have a new, important resource in author Jess Bravin’s book The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, which tells the story of the evolution of Guantanamo’s legal universe in captivating detail, and provides the reader with a clear picture of just how we arrived at this bizarre moment in our history.

Bravin, who is also the Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, populates his narrative with memorable characters, like Charlie Swift, the defense attorney in Navy whites who pulls a surprise Columbo moment before an early commission. Or Tom Umberg, who can’t believe that some of his fellow prosecutors want to push forward with the case against a detainee named Salim Hamdan despite a federal judge ruling it would be unlawful. “Guys, this is huge,” Umberg says in disbelief. “This is Marbury v. Madison.” Stu Couch, a prosecutor who refused to bring charges using evidence he thought was obtained through torture, plays a prominent role in the book as well.

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