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U.S. Military Prison Officials at Guantanamo Ban a Book Criticizing the Soviet Gulag System

Human rights group Reprieve International has released this statement about Guantanamo authorities blocking prisoner Shaker Aamer from receiving Alexander Solzhenitsyn's classic book on the Soviet "gulag" prison system, The Gulag Archipelago. The prisoners of Guantanamo Bay do have a library of approved books, and the standards by which they are denied access to certain books have been criticized before.

Solzhenitsyn was a noted dissident and was an outspoken critic of Stalinism and the Soviet-era Russian government, which banned the book as well (until it became mandatory reading in 2009). Solzhenitsyn spent time in the forced labor prison system himself. George Kennan called his book "the most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be levied in modern times."

The parity between U.S. prison officials and Soviet Russia, especially in terms of banning books, is not a good look for a country which describes itself as a beacon of freedom.

Below is the text of Reprieve's statement:

The legal team for Shaker Aamer, a British resident who has been detained in Guantanamo without charge or trial for 11 years, attempted to deliver a copy of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn during a recent visit.

However, Mr Aamer has now told his lawyers that he never received the book.

The move by prison authorities follows reports that they banned the works of John Grisham in July this year – leading to the author penning a strong denunciation of Guantanamo which appeared in The New York Times.

Guantanamo Bay has been compared to a ‘gulag’ in the past, notably by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, as well as by a number of NGOs and media organizations.

Mr Aamer’s lawyers, from human rights charity Reprieve, often bring him books during visits – he has previously described George Orwell’s 1984 as one of his favourite reads.  However, Guantanamo authorities have the ability to ban any book from the prison.

Mr Aamer is still held in Guantanamo despite having long been cleared for release, and even though British Prime Minister David Cameron has asked the US to return him home to the UK, where he has a wife and four children, all British citizens.

Clive Stafford Smith, Mr Aamer’s attorney and Director of Reprieve said: “This is yet another demonstration of how Guantanamo is destroying the very values the US once stood for.  When your country’s Government starts barring books once banned by the Soviets, alarm bells should ring.  Obama could start restoring America’s reputation by releasing those prisoners – like Shaker – who have already been cleared – so why the delay?”

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