Guantanamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Addresses Why Certain Books Are Banned at the Facility

Creative Commons-licensed photo on Wikipedia of Shaker Aamer, British prisoner at Guantanamo who has been detained over ten years without charge or trial

It has been almost twelve years since British citizen Shaker Aamer was brought to Guantanamo Bay and imprisoned. He has been held without charge or trial, cleared for release twice, suffered torture during his confinement and been subjected to isolation for leading prisoners in challenging conditions at the detention camps. He has been a prominent participant in hunger strikes at Guantanamo as well.

Last week, Aamer’s attorney and Reprieve director, Clive Stafford Smith, released a list of books (although incomplete) of books that have been banned by officers running the prison.

When Smith visits Aamer every three months, he brings him books. “When I am allowed to read,” Aamer wrote, “for a short while it lifts the heavily gloom that hangs over me.” And, “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’sThe Gulag Archipelago did not make it through,” Aamer reported.

Guantanamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Addresses Why Certain Books Are Banned at the Facility

Creative Commons-licensed photo on Wikipedia of Shaker Aamer, British prisoner at Guantanamo who has been detained over ten years without charge or trial
It has been almost twelve years since British citizen Shaker Aamer was brought to Guantanamo Bay and imprisoned. He has been held without charge or trial, cleared for release twice, suffered torture during his confinement and been subjected to isolation for leading prisoners in challenging conditions at the detention camps. He has been a prominent participant in hunger strikes at Guantanamo as well.

Last week, Aamer’s attorney and Reprieve director, Clive Stafford Smith, released a list of books (although incomplete) of books that have been banned by officers running the prison.

When Smith visits Aamer every three months, he brings him books. “When I am allowed to read,” Aamer wrote, “for a short while it lifts the heavily gloom that hangs over me.” And, “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’sThe Gulag Archipelago did not make it through,” Aamer reported.

In October, Smith shared a list of books that had been banned by what Aamer calls the “Guantanamo Ministry of Information.” A book by comedian Russell Brand called Booky Wook 2 was on the list.

“I understand that Brand uses too many rude words,” Aamer acknowledged. “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.”

Lord Bingham’s The Rule of Law was banned. “They have banned the rule of law in Guantanamo, so it wouldn’t make sense to permit a book on such a contraband concept.”

Aamer suggested a book by Alan Dershowitz titled, Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence, was banned because they would not want him to be equipped with the knowlege that “right-wing American people have interpreted their religion as mandating the elimination of universal rights.”

He figured Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment was banned because the title wasn’t No Crime but We’ll Still Have Some Punishment.

Smith wrote about books banned at Guantanamo for The Guardian last week. The censors find poetry to pose a “special risk,” and Defense Department standards are to “not approve the release of any poetry in its original form or language. This is based on an analysis of risk of both content and format.” (Wilfred Owen’s Futility, set during the First World war, has been banned twice.)

The facility also has a policy that prisoners should not be given any materials that might help them learn English.

Both the Bible and a four-volume commentary on the Koran, Tafsir, has not made it passed the censors. The magazine Runner’s World was not allowed, but Swimming Times was permitted to be given to a prisoner, Bisher al-Rawi, who is an athlete.

Puss in BootsCinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Jack and the Beanstalk—each has been banned. “Perhaps after reading Jack and the Beanstalk, the military feared that prisoners would escape by planting magic seeds?” Smith suggested.

John Grisham’s book, The Innocent Man, was banned, but Grisham penned an article for The New York Times. It was no longer banned after that was published.  (Note to US government officials: Not allowing authors’ books into Guantanamo may provoke them to use their stature to condemn the systemic abuse and indefinite detention of prisoners.) (more…)