Guantánamo Bay library's most wanted books

Sunday, August 29, 2010

HE HAS sold millions of copies of his books around the world, but it turns out that President Barack Obama's memoirs are near the bottom of prisoners' reading lists at Guantánamo Bay. The 176 prisoners at the US facility have access to 18,000 books, magazines, DVDs and newspapers across 18 languages from their prison library, according to an investigation by Time magazine. The most popular titles among inmates are the Harry Potter books, novels by John Grisham and Agatha Christie, and Islamic texts. Prisoners are also keen to get their hands on photo-packed travel books, particularly ones featuring the ocean. "I tell ya, Dan Brown's been beating me up lately," navy lieutenant Robert Collett told Time. "All his books are very popular, but we don't have all of them in Arabic."

The International Committee of the Red Cross will sometimes help out when a particular translation can't be found, sending its staff to local stores to pick up copies because it believes that "access to books and news from the outside is very important to the prisoners' mental state".

Civil rights lawyer H Candace Gorman sent the library an Arabic edition of a Harry Potter book herself because it did not have all of the published titles and her client, the Libyan national Abdul al-Ghizzawi, was keen to keep up with the boy wizard's adventures. "The guards were telling him things that had happened in the book, but he didn't know if it was true or not," she told Time. Ghizzawi saw similarities between his own situation and that of the prisoners of Azkaban, and between George W Bush and Voldemort, she said.

The Guantánamo library contains no books by political or religious extremists and nothing with excessive violence or a military focus. It also prohibits sexual content. Other books on offer include JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series and the Arabic self-help title Don't Be Sad. But Time reported that, while the library also offers Obama's books and they are read periodically, "the detainees aren't exactly fighting one another to read them".

Collett said the library had "eased the environment a bit" at Guantánamo. "It's not fancy. This is not the New York public library there are no big lions out front," he told Time. "[But] when you live in the kind of environment they live in, change is what you look forward to every day. When the library comes on the block it's exciting, especially if you've got a book they requested then you are the hero of the day." Guardian


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