Monday, August 19, 2013

Gitmo Prison Library

The prison library at Guantanamo Bay detention camp is strange. When I think about libraries, I think about the highest sense of freedom. Librarians are generally against censorship, and libraries provide information free and clear of use prohibitions.

Not so at Gitmo. "The prison library is housed in a prefabricated building behind chain-link fencing and razor wire inside Camp Delta, an older, largely disused wing of the complex. [I]ts patrons may not browse the stacks. Instead, the chief librarian, a civilian who asks to be identified as “Milton” for security reasons, or an aide fills plastic bins with about 50 books and takes them to each cellblock once a week. If they obey prison rules, the 166 detainees may peer at the spines through the slots in their doors and check out two titles at a time, or make specific requests.The library has about 18,000 books — roughly 9,000 titles — the bulk of which are in Arabic, along with a smaller selection of periodicals, DVDs and video games."

"Books are screened out if they include too much profanity, anti-American or extremist themes, or too much sex and violence." Although 'Milton' did note that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” made it through the filter (so did 1984). But some John Grisham novels did not.

After recent news that some John Grisham novels were banned, Grisham shared the story of one of his fans detained at Gitmo.

Some of the prisoners have been detained for over a decade with no end in sight. At least they get this library amenity if they follow prison rules. So I guess this doesn't apply if they don't eat. And I'm not sure that the idealistic nature of a library (see beginning of post) matters in this case. Even if there was access to information about laws for the prisoners, many of them have never been charged with a crime. That makes it difficult to fight the nature of your detention. The sensory deprivation might come in handy while reading "The Odyssey," however.

If you would like to see more of the collection, after a visit to the Gitmo library, several reporters posted photos on http://gitmobooks.tumblr.com.

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