World Book Day: Guantánamo’s Restricted Library
Today's World Book Day celebrates and encourages reading. What will you pick up today? Some Shakespeare, a classic fairy tale such as Puss in Boots perhaps, or something weightier like Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment? For Guantánamo detainees, however, none of these books are options; they are banned from reading them
The reading material requested by detainees is vetted and some books fail to make it through. To say the decisions are curious would be an understatement. Russell Brand’s Booky Wook 2 is forbidden. Franz Kafka’s The Trial is permitted. The protagonist in The Trial, Josef K, is arrested and prosecuted without ever learning of the charges brought against him. If any book were deemed too close to the bone, surely it would be The Trial.
The incendiary, inappropriate material in banned stories such as Cinderella and Jack and The Beanstalk is obvious. Other books appear to have been vetoed for their titles alone, regardless of the content – Crime and Punishment, John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, and Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, for example. The ban on The Innocent Man was lifted after Grisham wrote an article in the New York Times about Nabil Hadjarab, the man who had requested the book.
Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law is prohibited. In this book, published towards the end of his life, the former Lord Chief Justice discusses law as the basis of a just society and the potential erosion of a fair legal system under the threat of terrorism.
Shaker Aamer’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, has suggested that prisoners have been denied access to materials that might help them learn English. This stretches as far as banning the New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary. Just as communication seems to be frowned on by the US military, so does creativity. A poetry collection, Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, was published in 2007 despite suspicion and opposition from the Guantánamo staff.
A restricted library is one of the lesser human rights violations experienced by Guantánamo’s detainees. Nonetheless, the arbitrary, sub rosa process of book censorship follows a pattern of decision-making that began when the GTMO military prison was set up in 2002.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.