Guantanamo Inmates Turn to Library Books
Sunday, September 24, 2006; 3:26 PM
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Men held captive at this U.S. military base are confined to small cells, but their minds can wander far and wide by reading philosophy, history, murder mysteries _ even Harry Potter.
A detainee library is housed in a trailer inside the Guantanamo Bay prison complex. Even as U.S. military commanders are tightening controls over detainees to try to prevent attacks on guards, library books are being delivered to all the detention camps, officials said.
Nonfiction _ particularly philosophy, biographies and Arabic history _ is most popular, the librarians say. But fiction is also big. Popular authors include Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese-American; Agatha Christie; and J.K. Rowling, who penned the Harry Potter series about an English wizard in training.
The detainees are avid readers, according to the librarians. With detainees largely confined to cramped cells most of the day, reading provides an outlet and can help take their minds off the prospect that they may be jailed for years or even the rest of their lives with no trial.
The deputy commander of the detention facilities said many of the roughly 460 detainees have college degrees.
"There are some very smart individuals here," said Army Brig. Gen. Edward A. Leacock.
All detainees are offered Qurans, the Muslim holy book, to permanently keep in their cells. A detainee is never brought to the cramped library but can order a particular book and have it for a week.
The existing collection more than tripled in May to 4,200 books with purchases made in Detroit, which has a large Muslim population.
"We want to have 20,000 books within the next five years," said Army Lt. John Brown, a librarian.
Some detainees have tried to use books to pass messages to each other, comprising some of the 414 "unauthorized communications" that were intercepted at Guantanamo during the past year, military officials say.
Returned books are inspected. Writers of clandestine messages lose library privileges for a week, Brown said.
One self-help book that librarians say is checked out a lot is "Don't Be Sad."
Available in Arabic and English, the book cites verses from the Quran. Among the chapter titles: "Leave the future alone until it comes" and "Contemplate and be thankful."
One chapter carries this verse from the Quran: "And those who repress anger, and who pardon man; verily, Allah loves the good-doers."
While Harry Potter may be sought after these days, not all detainees adore the tales of the student wizard.
In June 2005, an interrogator was observed trying to wear down a detainee by reading a Harry Potter book aloud. The prisoner turned his back and clapped his hands over his ears.