April 30, 2013

Cataloging Guantanamo: inside the detention camp’s library


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.



Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.