What Gitmo inmates want: More Will Smith and less Harry Potter

Al Kamen
Columnist August 9, 2012

One might assume that only Will Smith-o-philes and serious devotees of ’90s pop culture would still seek out “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” the sitcom starring Smith that ran from 1990 to 1996.

But the series has an unlikely fan base: Gitmo prisoners.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The Miami Herald reports that early episodes of the show have replaced the Harry Potter book series as the most-requested items by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay library.

To keep up with demand, the librarian just ordered all six seasons of the show, the Herald reports, while the Harry Potter books are sooo 2011. “They’re over that,” the librarian says of the boy-wizarding series. Oddly, too, Bill Cosby enjoyed a brief surge in popularity among the Gitmo population, the librarian noted.

Why, we wondered, might the TV show — which featured Smith as a tough kid from the streets of Philadelphia who comes to live with upper-crust relatives in a tony California neighborhood — strike a chord with Gitmo denizens?


Watching episodes of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is one of the preferred forms of entertainment for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. (Paul Drinkwater/NBCU PHOTO BANK)

“Any diversion is welcome,” says Washington human-rights attorney David Remes, who represents 17 prisoners there.

Once he left a copy of the dystopian novel “1984” for an English-speaking client, who later told him that the book “perfectly captured the psychological reality of living at Guantanamo.” Remes thinks the prisoners would prefer that kind of serious fare to more frivolous offerings such as Harry Potter and the “Fresh Prince” gang.

“They do not have a rich cultural life there,” he says.

Guantanamo’s library, housed in an air-conditioned trailer, includes a “multilingual collection of books that mostly circulate in Arabic, Pashto, English and French,” the Herald reports. Other hot titles: President Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” and George W. Bush’s “Decision Points.”

Recycle that rhetoric

Next month, it will be 25 years since Vice President Biden’s plagiarism of speeches by former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock and by former Democratic leaders derailed his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Of course, it was later revealed that speechwriters, not the speakers, were the authors of some of the more memorable passages that Biden lifted.

We were reminded the other day of that famous incident after a Loop Fan alerted us to a post by Jeffrey Lewis on the liberal Arms Control Wonk blog.

The post concerned a paragraph from a speech a couple of years ago by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.):

“A central tenet of the Obama Administration’s security policy is that, if the U.S. ‘leads by example’ we can ‘reassert our moral leadership’ and influence other nations to do things. It is the way the President intends to advance his goal of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons and to deal with the stated twin top priorities of the Administration: nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

That passage, Lewis noted, is virtually identical to one in a statement submitted for the record last week by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who chairs a House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.

Lewis speculated, correctly, as we found out, that a committee aide who had formerly worked for Kyl included it in Turner’s statement for the Armed Services Committee.

The two lawmakers share pretty much the same views, so the aide might have liked Kyl’s language — maybe even wrote it? — and could have figured it would read just as well for Turner. The miscue was “inadvertent,” we were told.

Well, could you perhaps argue that there’s no plagiarism, since you can’t plagiarize yourself? And since it’s rare that any politician in this town actually writes his or her own stuff these days, we’re guessing this sort of “rhetorical pilfering,” as our late colleague Mary McGrory called it, happens a lot.

But the committee wasn’t amused. This was a “regrettable error,” committee spokesman Claude Chafin said in a statement this week. Turner “had no way of knowing that unattributed comments were included” in that statement.

“We regret the error and will make every effort to ensure it does not happen again,” Chafin said, adding that the committee will correct the record to attribute that passage to Kyl.

Might not be a good thing to make too much of a fuss about it.

After all, after Biden’s candidacy imploded, the Democrats ended up nominating Michael Dukakis .

Quote of the week

This week’s winner is GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said, wistfully, that things just aren’t like they used to be.

“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad,” Romney said on Bill Bennett’s radio program, “Morning in America.” “They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”

This from someone who just received a maximum Four Pinocchios from Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler for an ad about Obama’s welfare policies that even Newt Gingrich said had no proof to support it.

(For the record: we’ve never, ever gotten more than one Pinocchio.)

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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