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

I wonder why...

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?”

Why American history lives between the cracks

The stories we tell define history. So who gets the mic in America?

Videos
  • History is written by lions. But it's also recorded by lambs.
  • In order to understand American history, we need to look at the events of the past as more prismatic than the narrative given to us in high school textbooks.
  • Including different voices can paint a more full and vibrant portrait of America. Which is why more walks of American life can and should be storytellers.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap
popular

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less