April 30, 2013
Cataloging Guantanamo: inside the detention camp’s library
by Alex Shephard
Although Barack Obama came into office promising to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, both that promise and the prison itself have largely and unfortunately been ignored by both the administration and the general public over the last five years. That’s changed somewhat over the past two weeks, as coverage of a hunger strike undertaken by 93 prisoners at the offshore prison and the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library have brought some much-needed attention to those languishing in Guantanamo, which The Daily Beast‘s Baher Azmy rightfully describes as being “in violation of our most basic constitutional and human rights principles.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage—who has also written movingly and authoritatively about the hunger strike, which he attributes to “a growing sense among many prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial for more than 11 years, that they will never go home”—recently brought another aspect of the shadowy prison to light: its library. Last week, Savage began publishing pictures of books in the prison’s library, which contains roughly 3,500 books, on a Tumblr page he created, GitmoBooks. Open Culture‘s Dan Colman has a fantastic overview of the library’s offerings:
The library offers prisoners access to Captain America comics (that must go over well with enemy combatants); pulp romance books by Danielle Steele (another choice pick for Islamists); the complete Harry Potter series (I imagine the Prisoner of Azkaban volume hits home); some more serious works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Dickens; an assortment of religious books; and the occasional self help book like The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.
Earlier stories about the library have noted that the Harry Potter series and the works of Agatha Christie are especially popular among detainees.
You can see a few of the images from GitmoBooks, as well as Guantanamo’s library policy, below.
The Guantanamo Library’s policy, which notes that books with graphic violence, sexual situation, or “travel offers” are off limits.
Masterpieces in Miniature by Agatha Christie.
365 Ways to Save the Earth by Philippe Bourseiller
An Arabic edition of The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor alongside Star Wars: Blood Ties – Boba Fett is Dead
The Book of Songs a 20 volume collection of Arabic poetry which was assembled in the 10th century by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani
The Kiss by Danielle Steel
A worn copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s News of a Kidnapping
A “wideshot of religious books”
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens alongside Robinson Crusoe
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Fatawas Sur Les Piliers De l’Islam by Mohammed ibn Saleh Al-Otheimine
Too Far From Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space by Chris Jones
Detainees in Camp 4 wait for books.
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.