The Itinerant Box Library
I was meeting with my attorney in Guantanamo Bay.
After conversing about some legal questions related to my case, we turned to the issue of the Delta Camp library in Guantanamo, and about the false propaganda being spread by the camp administration about that library.
Some people think that the Gitmo camp library is a big hall with large drawers, well-organized shelves, shiny marble floors, state-of-the-art electronic catalog system for a rich library in which the detainees browse morning and evening, choosing the best of the available books in all fields and sundry sciences, in many different languages – just like that magnificent library I used to walk through five years ago when I was a student at Imam Muhammad ibn Su`ood University in Riyadh, conducting my scholastic research work at the time.
The truth, as all will attest, is that the Gitmo camp library is nothing more than two small gray boxes with which guards walk around in some cell blocks, carrying them above their heads to protect themselves from the burning sun, or, at best, dragging them on a dolly with two little wheels.
Inside the two boxes, there are no more than a combination of old, worn-out books, with their covers and some of their leaves torn by rain and other adverse factors that surround these two boxes.
Furthermore, they are the same books that have been passed by the detainees for years.
Arabic-speaking detainees are given access to a collection of boring works of fantasy fiction in addition to books filled with atheism and possibly attacks on Islam and some of its precepts.
After continuous, arduous efforts by detainees and their counsel, one religious book was finally allowed in Camp 4 for each 40 detainees.
Afghani detainees, on the other hand, are provided with several literary works in Pashto and Farsi. These books have not changed since the itinerant box library was formed some years ago.
If we look at the books that are available in the other common camp languages, we will not fail to see a book or two in each language – worn out and covered with cobweb.
The opposite– and shining – side of this itinerant box is the majority of reading material available in English, which is not spoken or read by the overwhelming majority of inmates.
You will surely find books about American history and the founding fathers. The detainees can do no more than turn these books this way and that and enjoy their shiny covers, not knowing what the books are about or gaining any knowledge of their contents. In addition, you will find worn-out copies and old issues of National Geographic.
A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of that magazine from the ruins of books in that dilapidated box and was astonished that the issue I picked up was dated 1973 – over 30 years ago. I asked the itinerant box carrier (the librarian, as the administration likes to call him) if I could have a more recent issue, dated 2000 or above. Evidently tired of carrying these boxes and walking around with them, he replied very calmly, “You have five more minutes to choose the books you want. This is all we have.”
I thanked him for performing this arduous task and making this strenuous effort, placed that magazine on top of the stack of books in the box, and told him as nicely as I could, “please take my number off the check-out list. As of today, I will have no need for your plentiful library.”
He smiled broadly, looked at his wrist watch, carried his box on his head, and retreated to where he came from.