Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who is doing the reading at Gitmo?

There has been alot of discussion of late about the reading material at Gitmo so I just wanted to weigh in (again). First Marbury reported that the Gitmo library has 13,500 books. A nice even number but a rather meaningless number without knowing what languages the books are in. The number also becomes less meaningful when you learn that it is not just a library for the prisoners....but for the military and contractors too. I will explain more in a minute. The second part of the story is the top 3 list... which Juan Carlos has commented on here. I also weighed inon an aspect of this story a few years back when I visited my Algerian client Razak Ali for the first time and we discusssed his favorite books the Harry Potter series. Book five of the Harry Potter series had been out for several months when I visited Ali but it was not available at Guantanamo in Arabic only in English. Ali had heard some reports about what happened in the book (from the guards) and I was searching my brain trying to remember what happened in book five as opposed to the other four books. When I went back home I started searching for an arabic version and a kind person found two copies for me. I "donated" the books to the library but it was almost a year before the book made its way to Ali.
So one thing to keep in mind when you read these reports of the great library at Guantanamo is that the military lies...more than it tells the truth. For years, yes years, the library for the prisoners consisted of a box of books being passed down the halls of the prison and they were the same books year after year. The prisoners could take out one book (or magazine) per week.

Another thing to keep in mind that most of the men at Guantanamo still do not read English. It is not because they didn't want to do something useful while detained indefinitely. It is because our military thought it would be dangerous for them to learn english. The military only started english classes about a year ago and those lessons were only available to the men at camp 4 until more recently. So keep in mind that there are several different languages spoke by the men at the base and very few books available in languages other than English. The fact that the books in the Guantanamo library are not just for the prisoners is probably also reflected in the top 3 books but I can't say that for sure.


Laura said...

Hi! I just found your blog and am very excited to read about Guantanamo from the perspective of someone who has had so much experience with it. I also noticed that you've spent some time in the Hague! I am a law student in Utrecht and co-author of a blog on (international) human rights matters (www.LivingTheEuropeanDream.blogspot.com) as well as on life in Europe. I look forward to reading your posts!

H. Candace Gorman said...

Hey Laura,
I tried to find an email address for you on your blog but to no avail. Welcome...and next time I am back in the Hague (Utrecht) area I will let you know...
You have a great blog going, so keep it up.