Banned Books Awareness: Censorship at Guantánamo Bay (Part 2)


Aside from the complete lack of due process and blatant disregard for religious liberty, human rights and amnesty groups continue to be baffled by the random and apparently arbitrary reasoning behind what publications are and are not allowed to be read by detainees within the walls of the United States’ political prison, Guantánamo Bay.

Writing to the New Statesman, a Saudi national, Shaker Aamer, who has been held for 12 years without charge, says that his lawyer “amuses himself (and me) by testing what the censors will let through” as reading material.

As reported in Part 1 of this story, that list of “offensive” material includes such childhood fare as Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast; as well as socio-political works like The Rule of Law, by Lord Thomas Bingham- but George Orwell’s 1984 is okay.

John Grisham, who has a rocky history of censorship, had his novel “The Innocent Man” returned to the prison reading list only after his highly-publicized New York Times article blasting the Obama administration for the existence of the infamous prison and its censorship policies was published (8/11/2013).

The Innocent Man was Grisham’s first non-fiction work, but it reads with all of the suspense of his other thrillers.

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle, if not for a descent into alcohol and drugs. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron’s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was brutally murdered. The local investigation led nowhere, until, on the weakest and most circumstantial of evidence, it led to Williamson. The washed-up athlete was charged, tried, and sentenced to death in a trial that was littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would allow the true killer to go free.
It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence, but maybe that’s what frightens prison officials and hits too close to home for many of the unfortunate souls under their watch. After all, that whole “innocent-until-proven-guilty” nonsense is so troublesome.

Other famous authors haven’t been so lucky- but that’s because they’ve been dead for over a hundred years and don’t have a PR team like Grisham-

One of those more prominent novels on the “no no” list is Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Like many other titles on the list, this literary classic being included defies logic and no other cases of censorship have been found against this book since it was published nearly 150 years ago- so why now? Why here?

For those who may not remember their literature classes, the novel centers on the mental distress and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor student in St. Petersburg, who formulated and executed a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov argued that with the pawnbroker’s money he could perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of an evil. He even justifies his actions by comparing himself with Napoleon Bonaparte- believing that murder is permissible when in pursuit of a higher purpose.

Perhaps it is this allegory that frightens prison officials because of its parallels to the mindset behind jihad, but the United States would be highly hypocritical and ignorant of its own history if that were the case.

The list, and the hypocrisy, continues, as there are many other titles on the list that haven’t been discussed yet. In the meantime, read Grisham’s NYT Op-Ed- it’s a shocking revelation on the atrocities committed by the United States’ State Department.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: New York Times, Wikipedia
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

2 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: Censorship at Guantánamo Bay (Part 2)

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