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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: Public Service in Magazine Journalism


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Tuesday, July 3, 2007
SDX Awards: Public Service in Magazine Journalism

Winner: Staff, National Journal

by Jim Poyser

In late 2005, little was known about Guantanamo Bay detainees other than that a growing number of them were going on hunger strikes. National Journal staff correspondent Corine Hegland started digging through court files and found that some judges had ordered the government to file explanations of why they were holding the men. What she found, 6,000 pages of court documents later, was that most of the men weren’t terrorists, weren’t caught on the battlefield, and weren’t even accused of fighting the Untied States.

Judges said, “‘Guantanamo’s Grip’ stood out in a competitive field of strong contributions, many of which undoubtedly served the public through information and insights. But none had the overarching combination of revelatory reporting and clear, penetrating writing of Hegland’s package.”

Like many of the men who came handcuffed to Cuba, Detainee 032 has never been accused of fighting against America. He fell into U.S. custody far away from the battlefield. But today, after four years of interrogations and investigations, he is still an “enemy combatant,” even though he was never an enemy or a combatant …

In some other world, one where the earth still turned west to east instead of inside out as it did on September, 11, 2001, Detainee 032 would be finishing college this year, like his brother, father and uncle before him. In this world, he’s beginning his fifth year in prison, with neither charges nor freedom in sight.

Hegland, along with deputy editor Patrick B. Pexton, were alarmed about the rising number of hunger strikers. “We weren’t so sure that if we were…in a place far from any family or friends, with no recourse to any sort of court, we might do something desperate too,” Pexton said.

“This story took an emotional toll,” Hegland said. “There were moments in writing when I found myself consumed by white fury: My country does not imprison a 17-year-old boy and throw away the key. But, in fact, it does.”

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