Literary Ops Ripple Across Guantanamo Bay
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CN) - Whether through clandestine narratives or the suitcases of books meant to reach the suspected Sept. 11, 2001, plotters, a man whose father was killed in the terrorist attacks has helped steel the chief prosecutor and defense attorneys at Guantanamo Bay alike.
Glenn Morgan, a 51-year-old entrepreneur, author and father from Belmont, Mass., has been many things to different people in his travels and his fiction: a "Victim Family Member" (VFM) to the U.S. military; "Beasley Daniel Kinkade" to a select readership of his fictionalized mini-memoirs; and the once-anonymous donor of 71 books to the Guantanamo prison library.
With the help of a former chaplain, the books made their way to Camp Delta's more than 19,000-tome strong Guantanamo library serving Camps 5 and 6, but they apparently never made it to the final destination intended by the donor.
"Glenn requested that his books get to the five 9/11 accused, but we could only promise to get them to the library," VFM Program Director Karen Loftus said in an email.
Those suspects reportedly reside with in the Top Secret Camp 7.
During a phone interview, Morgan insisted that he never meant to gift the donations to the alleged plotters, per se, but he specified that he wanted them to be distributed "without restrictions."
"Basically, my position was that all prisoners could have the books," he said. "If it helps them, that's great. If there's people that can't get access to that, I did what I could."
He said that he understood that security issues could make more open access impossible.
"That's what they choose, and I have to respect that," Morgan said.
Morgan's original plan is all the more remarkable considering what brought him to the war court, and his path to becoming a writer.
His father, who was slain along with 2,976 others in New York City and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, was remembered in a New York Times obituary as the "Mayor of Con Ed" for staying true to his blue collar roots. A former steelworker who treaded the beams of the George Washington Bridge, Richard Morgan eventually served the utility company as vice president of emergency management. That job involved helping Con Ed respond more effectively to terrorism after the first attacks on the World Trade Center rocked the city in 1993.
For the younger Morgan, this work ethic had a more complicated legacy for his ailing mother, Patricia, when she learned about a relapse of breast cancer that had spread to her spinal column. She had endured debilitating chemotherapy treatments at the same time that her husband had been in and out of meetings for an initiative to integrate Con Ed's response team with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani's Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department.
Morgan thought his father was about to miss his mother's final moments, and, as recounted in his short story "One Hundred Days of Love," told him so in a tense phone conversation.
In this scene, narrator Beasley Daniel Kinkade's frustration drives him to rest his face against a cool windowpane as he asks, "In five years do you want to look back and wonder if you should have spent more time with mom before she died? Do you? And if you ever do ask yourself that, what do you want your answer to be, Dad?"
As the questions get more pointed, Kinkade does not realize the strain he is placing on the window, and the glass cracks.
"I did, in fact, break the window," Morgan said.
He also got his message across to his father, leading to the story's bittersweet conclusion.
Toward the end of the piece, Kinkade narrates, "Their renewed love lasted a total of just under three and a half months as dad went to work one Tuesday morning in September, responded to an incident, and did not return."
"The Mayor of Con Edison" had been working in the Command Center of the North Tower when the building collapsed. His wife, Patricia, lived nearly five years longer. Morgan credits the eulogy he gave his father as the beginnings of his writing.
Nearly three years after the story's publication, Morgan traveled to Guantanamo Bay with his sister through the military's Victim Family Member program, and the siblings shared their parents' experiences - but not the short story based on them - with Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor pursuing the alleged perpetrators of the attacks.
In his June 22, 2013, statement closing that month's pretrial hearings, the general called that conversation the "most remarkable thing I was fortunate to experience this week."
"They told me how their mother had been diagnosed with cancer just three months before September 11th," Gen. Martins wrote in his statement. "They told me how that tragic revelation had spurred a renewal of their parents' commitment to one another. They told me how they had hoped against hope their parents would be given just five years to cherish one another before their mother died. And in hushed tones, they told me - as they recalled their dying mother's heartbreak in having survived the life force that was their father - of how that three-month interlude came to be remembered by the entire family, and by Mom foremost, as the 'One Hundred Days of Love.'"
Martins said that he would "never forget that evening," and that this story served as a reminder for a trial's "cathartic effects" as a "forum for those affected by monstrous crimes to mourn their loss, tell their stories, and have the wrongs done formally acknowledged in a court of law."
Comparing such intimate revelations to an "open kimono," Morgan wrote them under the veil of his flamboyantly named alter ego and devised an elaborate system to limit their audience that would be the envy of late literary recluse J.D. Salinger.
Kinkade meanwhile has no fear of the limelight. The nom de plume refers to a TV showman: the band manager from "The Partridge Family."
For the past four years, Morgan has published roughly one short story per month on beasleykinkade.com, and every story stayed online until he finished the first phase of his project on Oct. 29, 2013.
Since that time, he has pulled the vast majority behind password protection, and granted fewer than 10 people - mostly family and friends - access to the code. Some stories are more closely guarded than others. A section of the website marked "Why Share?" explains that the stories exist for a "primary audience of two: Gee + DJ," Morgan's teenage children, who he says have not read most of them yet.
The 18-year-old "Gee" - Georga Morgan-Fleming - has illustrated at least two Kinkade stories so far, in monochrome sketches of friendly and open figures. Some appear modeled after Guantanamo detainees, but one starker image that stands out depicts a couple suspended in free-fall.
It is called, "Steeled for their journey, they leap."
The line comes from her father's story "It's Not Natural," a tale that resonated with the other side of Guantanamo's war court.
It takes its title from a startling comparison between firefighters entering the burning Twin Towers and defense attorneys representing the alleged perpetrators of those attacks. Both groups, the narrator explains, must overcome an instinctual response to danger to perform their jobs.
Describing a fictionalized Marines major assigned to a suspect, narrator Kinkade states, "He is a member of the Defense team and in that role he defends five instruments of death; five men responsible for terminating 2,977 lives.
"He defends the type of men he trained his entire adult life to fight. To kill.
"What he does is hard.
"What he does is not natural."
The conceit resonated with Navy Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, whose client Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh is the alleged co-conspirator of the self-professed "mastermind" of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, widely known by his initials KSM.
In October, Bogucki had recommended the story during a conversation at the Guantanamo Airport while waiting to board a plane bound for Andrews Air Force Base near Washington.
Without revealing the true identity of the author, Bogucki linked to the Beasley Daniel Kinkade tale in an email headed "VFM Story."
"I hope you find it as moving as I did," he wrote, adding mysteriously that the vignette would disappear within three days.
Clicking through, it became immediately apparent that the author did his research in depicting attorneys representing despised and notorious clients. The story twice footnoted a biography of John Adams, the Founding Father who represented traitor Benedict Arnold and the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre. This legacy rippled through Guantanamo Bay through the "The John Adams Project," an initiative of the American Civil Liberties Union to provide detainees with pro bono attorneys.
Speaking of the Sept. 11 lawyers, Kinkade says, "Perhaps, one day when the building burns no more, they too shall consider their actions 'one of the best pieces of service (they) ever rendered to (their) country,'" paraphrasing Adams.
At another point, Kinkade compares the questioning by defense attorneys to hammers striking the prosecution's "unyielding anvil."
"And, with every strike of the hammer the strength of the proceedings is forged as the prosecution is forced to react, to confirm and to validate each element of the process," the narrator states.
Even outside of his literary persona, Morgan also speaks fondly of "Commander Kevin" and eloquently of the importance of adversarial proceedings.
Defense attorneys for the Sept. 11 suspects clearly do not always get such warm receptions from Victim Family Members. Morgan recalled when he sprang to the defense of these lawyers as one firefighter in his group "laid into" them during a meeting. He said that even those in his group who did not agree with him respected these sentiments coming from someone who shared their grief.
"They have two sets of clients: the perpetrators and the legal process," Morgan said of the defense attorneys in a phone interview. "If this trial is viewed as a sham, and viewed as a kangaroo court, that is a terrific blow to the American judicial system."
Morgan's impulse to leave a gift for Guantanamo detainees sets him even farther apart from his peers in the program.
"This is the first VFM to detainee donation that I am aware of," Loftus, the program director, wrote.
When he first ran the idea past Guantanamo personnel, Morgan recalled, "I was told, 'This is unusual. Let me investigate.'"
He praised what he called their "solution-oriented" response.
"I think there was some thinking going on behind the scenes about how to accommodate my request rather than how to say yes or no," Morgan said.
In a phone interview, the program director said that she had only met Morgan once before that conversation, and she came to "admire" him.
"I don't know how you could not admire someone who could do that," Loftus said. "Everybody who met him had the same reaction."
When Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg found out about the trove, Morgan insisted on remaining anonymous for her article, which focused on the books themselves.
"Name a classic you read in school and it's probably there - from John Steinbeck to William Shakespeare to Mark Twain," Rosenberg reported on Aug. 18, roughly two months after Morgan's trip to Cuba.
Most of the titles are in Arabic or dual Arabic-English translations, but a handful of English works are also included. Morgan found many of these at the Boston-area bookshops Harvard Coop and Schoenhof's Foreign Books, and Jarir Bookstore, a company specializing in Arabic classics and contemporary fiction that he found online.
Rosenberg wrote that other titles "might suggest a subliminal message for an indefinite detainee in the war-on-terror - Charles Dickens' 'Hard Times,' Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and Ernest Hemingway's 'A Farewell to Arms.'"
But Morgan insisted in a phone interview that his gesture was "not political," and he stressed that he is "not sympathetic" to the detainees.
"Some of these people there killed many of our family and friends, and left my mother a widow, and some of those people who have that same intent are there," he said.
As for the Sept. 11 suspects, Morgan said he does not imagine them reading any particular title.
"I do not imagine them doing anything," he said.
"They are in hell. Deservedly so I may add. That said, given the darkness of hell how can I not reflect a bit of light into that darkest of places when afforded the opportunity? What sort of person would I be if I simply looked away, or worse, took pleasure in another's suffering?"
Whenever he explains the motive for his donation, Morgan speaks about his own encounters with being in a "dark place," and this is a recurring motif in "I Know This Place."
This story begins with a pariah known only as the "slender man" languishing in an undisclosed location when he receives a donation of "70 or so" books.
At first blush, the "slender man" appears to be a detainee amid imagery of Caribbean sand, an island, corrugated metal, sniper netting and a gate guarded by young people "trained to kill," but there is no mention of "prison," "soldiers" or even "Guantanamo." The man speaks mostly Arabic, but he has learned a few words of English in captivity. He "goads" his captors and has a "stained beard," an unmistakable reference to the scraggly reddish facial hair of KSM.
"Here, in this place, he is revolting; an animal worthy of touching only through Latex," the narrator describes.
In a phone interview, Morgan confirmed that these allusions were intentional, but he added that he left the slender man's identity deliberately vague. This becomes apparent as the slender man twice imagines himself outside the prison: first, inside his mother's "white walled kitchen" and later, at a picnic bench with an "older man" who is depicted as a father figure.
"My son," the older man says in the story, "until the chosen time, we must escape in our own private ways; in private moments of our own construction.
"To live we must dream.
"To leave we must dream."
The pastoral settings and images of family could have been pulled out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and they leave the reader with a quintessentially American sentiment all the more jarring because of their juxtaposition.
It becomes unclear during these moments whether the character is a Guantanamo detainee literally confined in a prison or a man figuratively held in a place of anguish, darkness and isolation - and longing for escape.
Of all the books in the donation, the slender man's eyes turn toward one title symbolizing this breaking away: "Seabiscuit," based on a racehorse whose unlikely Triple Crown victory inspired millions of Americans during the time of the Great Depression.
The slender man and the older man discuss the book in Arabic, a scene that the author said was made possible through Internet translation.
In real life, "Seabiscuit" was the only nonfiction work in Morgan's donation. In the story, it carries the perfume of the bookseller: a mother whose son was a soldier killed in the Iraq War.
Morgan said that he remembers the perfume of the woman who actually suffered that loss. She is depicted as having a "battle" raging inside her when she learns of the intended recipients of the books.
"'Help them?' she asks softly. 'You want to help them?'" (Italics in original)
Out of respect for her privacy, Morgan did not want to give her name, and he requested that the name of the popular chain bookstore where he found her not appear in print.
The Miami Herald's article noted that Morgan had spoke "mostly cryptically and with the condition that he not be identified" because the reporter pressed him for an explanation.
Morgan explained that his then-desire for anonymity stemmed from his belief that a "gift loses its sense of wonder" if the giver is accused of seeking publicity.
He finally agreed - reluctantly - to step forward because the story has blown his cover. He explained that identifying himself through his Kinkade persona also served as a sort of escape hatch.
"I'm a big fan of plausible deniability as kind of a Reagan Republican," Morgan quipped.
Indeed, Morgan has described Kinkade as a mask he wears to gain control over experiences that society constantly reminds him to "Never Forget."
"With 9/11, you don't have any control," he said, speaking of the bumper stickers and "Law & Order" episodes triggering his memories. "If I don this mask of this fake world, and say I can go back and think about things that happen, then I get a bit of control. This process, what I've done is hiding in plain sight."
As elusive in his politics as in his fiction, Morgan prefers paradox to polemics, and he said he has supported both major U.S. political parties throughout his life.
During his screening for entry into VFM program, for instance, Morgan said an interviewer asked him what punishment he thought would be appropriate for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
His answer, inspired by his mother, would fit into neither party platform. "Just put them in the general population at Rikers Island because that'll be more painful than death, and that will be good enough for us," Morgan remembered saying.
On a few occasions, Morgan has signed his own name to essays on the Beasley Daniel Kinkade website: recently publishing "An Open Letter to the Grand Old Party (or is it Grand Antiquated Party)" and "Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned," a letter praising Pope Francis for building a more inclusive Catholic Church.
Both pieces appeared under a cheeky disclaimer that Kinkade has felt "compelled to share a letter penned by the person responsible for reviewing, editing and posting Beasley Stories."
Morgan said he recently mailed a hard copy his letter to the new pontiff.
"It cost me $1.10," Morgan said. "The guy at the post office was like, 'Vatican City! This is my first one ever. I've been here 20 years'"
The influence that he seeks, however, appears more intimate in nature.
About a week before this story reached publication, Morgan spoke of his plan to share "I Know This Place" with the Iraq War mom who eventually signed up as his "helper" for the "Seabiscuit" purchase. "Of course, I'm terrified," he confided over the phone. "I send the stories, or I share the stories with people who have touched me or I admire."
Morgan sent an email about her feedback a few days later.
"She read it this morning and she just reached me," he wrote. "She cried. And she shared some beautiful words and thoughts.
"My heart is soaring.
"There is no other reason to write."