23 December 2013

Literary censorship at Guantanamo Bay

From a letter written by one of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay:
I have been in Guantanamo Bay for almost 12 years now. I arrived on Valentine’s Day in 2002, the day my youngest son, Faris, was born. I have never seen him; nor have I seen my other three children or my wife, all of whom live in south London, in years. I have been cleared to leave here for over half of my time behind bars – first by the Bush administration in 2007 and then by the Obama government in 2009 – and yet I remain here.

My lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, comes to see me every three months or so. I ask him to bring me books. When I am allowed to read, for a short while it lifts the heavy gloom that hangs over me. Clive amuses himself (and me) by testing what the censors will let through. It is difficult to identify a consistent or logical basis for the censorship: in months gone by, I have been allowed to read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell but Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago did not make it through.

On his most recent visit in October, Clive gave me a list of the titles he had dropped off for me, so I could let him know later which books had been banned by what I prefer to call the “Guantanamo Ministry of Information”. One was Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand. I understand that Brand uses too many rude words. I suppose you have to be amused by that: the US military is solicitous of my sensitive nature and wants to protect me from swearing. These are the same people who say that all of us at Guantanamo are dedicated terrorists...

They censored Blasphemy: How the Religious Right Is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence by Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard. I suppose that is understandable, as well. They portray me as some kind of religious nut, just because I am a person of faith. The God I believe in (Allah) seeks only justice. But the US military would not want me reading that some right-wing American people have interpreted their religion as mandating the elimination of universal rights.

Finally, they banned Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, perhaps because the Russian author didn’t write No Crime but We’ll Still Have Some Punishment, which would have been better suited to Guantanamo. After all, I (like others) have had 4,360 days of punishment without ever being accused of any offence.
There's a bit more of the letter at the link (via Boing Boing).  I'm baffled by the existence of Guantanamo in general, but even beyond that, I cannot conceive of a reason to censor the reading material available to prisoners in the most secure prison in the world.  What do the authorities fear??


  1. Throw someone in prison to make some money, torture them for a few years, clear them a few years later for release, and them keep them indefinitely eventhough you know they're innocent. I can't think of a better way to inspire, create and recruit terrorists worldwide...

  2. One of the problems with Guantanamo is that while the Obama administration wanted to close the jail there, and move the prisoners to the US, Congress will not let him do so. And actually, with regard to releasing prisoners, Obama is worse then George was, and George opened that damn thing in the first place.

  3. I suppose _The Count of Monte Cristo_ is totally out of the question?



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