Anti-war activist's works banned at prison camps
The Miami Herald, October 11, 2009
Professor Noam Chomsky may be among America's most enduring anti-war activists. But the leftist intellectual's anthology of post 9/11 commentary is taboo at Guantánamo's prison camp library, which offers books and videos on Harry Potter, World Cup soccer and Islam.
U.S. military censors recently rejected a Pentagon lawyer's donation of an Arabic-language copy of the political activist and linguistic professor's 2007 anthology Interventions for the library, which has more than 16,000 items.
Chomsky, 80, who has been voicing disgust with U.S. foreign policy since the Vietnam War, reacted with irritation and derision. "This happens sometimes in totalitarian regimes,'' he told The Miami Herald by e-mail after learning of the decision.
"Of some incidental interest, perhaps, is the nature of the book they banned. It consists of op-eds written for The New York Times syndicate and distributed by them. The subversive rot must run very deep.''
Prison camp officials would not say specifically why the book was rejected but Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt, a Guantánamo spokesman, said staff reviews "every proposed or recommended library item to assess force protection issues associated with camp dynamics -- such as impact on good order and discipline.''
The banned book showed the bespectacled professor-emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in button-down shirt and sweater staring out of a black cover of a 2007 edition printed by a Beirut publishing house.
A rejection slip accompanying the Chomsky book did not explain the reason but listed categories of restricted literature to include those espousing "Anti-American, Anti-Semitic, Anti-Western'' ideology, literature on "military topics,'' and works that portray ``excessive graphic violence'' and "sexual dysfunctions.''
The list of approved material includes poetry, fiction, art, math, history, religion, politics and current events.
A Pentagon defense lawyer sent the book to Ali Hamza al Bahlul, a confessed al Qaeda member who had worked as Osama bin Laden's media secretary in Afghanistan at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
A military jury convicted Bahlul, 40, of soliciting murder and conspiracy and sentenced him to life in prison in November for creating al Qaeda propaganda. The key evidence was a two-hour video he made by splicing fiery bin Laden speeches with Muslim bloodshed and stock news footage of the aftermath of the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Aden, Yemen.
Bahlul is currently the lone war crimes convict at Guantánamo, where the prison camps commander ordered him separated from the other 245 war-on-terror captives at the U.S. base in Cuba under an interpretation of the Geneva Conventions that forbids holding detainees with convicted prisoners. Two earlier convicts were sent back to their native countries, Australia and Yemen, and are now free after serving short sentences.
Prison camp staff would not say how many donated books have been refused.
But DeWalt said detainees are forbidden from receiving gifts of books as personal property. Instead, he said, books sent to the captives are evaluated for their suitability for the library -- a trailer where Defense Department staff have catalogued a collection that recently ballooned to more than 16,000 books, magazines and videos even as the Pentagon is downsizing the prison camp population.
President Barack Obama has ordered the prison camps closed by early next year, a deadline the White House now says it may miss.
Meantime, staff there say quality-of-life improvements will continue until the last detainee is gone.
The library is also a featured stop on weekly tours for reporters, members of Congress and other invited guests brought to the sprawling prison camp compound in a Pentagon bid to demonstrate that the much-maligned detention center is "safe, humane and transparent.''
Library staff have since 2005 described the Harry Potter series as a borrowing bestseller among the mostly devout Muslim population -- and shown off translated versions in the stacks that separate Arabic from Urdu, French from Farsi and cover more than a dozen languages.
Other reportedly popular items include old World Cup soccer playoff videos, a French cuisine cookbook published in Beirut and scholarship on the Koran, prescreened to make sure they contain mainstream messages.
For a time, Richard Nixon's Victory Without War flew off the shelves, a librarian reported. So much so that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed referred to it during a war court hearing earlier this year.
But not Chomsky, who in recent years got high-profile plugs from two of America's most ardent adversaries.
In September 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez held up Chomsky's 2003 Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance in a speech at the United Nations that also likened President George W. Bush to Satan, and gave the book a bump in sales for several weeks.
A year later, bin Laden popped up in a keep-the-faith video address to his followers that proved he was alive and ridiculed the U.S. invasion of Iraq while praising the professor's "sober words of advice prior to the war.''
DeWalt said "force protection reasons'' barred him from explaining why any title or author was banned but said as of this week there were no Chomsky works of any type at the Guantánamo library in any language.