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What to read in limbo: a peek at the Guantanamo prison library

By Hector Tobar

12:19 PM PDT, April 29, 2013

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If you’re stuck in a cell — and in legal limbo — for an undefined period that might be forever, what do you do? You read, of course.

The library at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was established during the Bush administration, in part to allay concerns of human-rights groups about the conditions in the U.S.-run facility, where as many as 700 prisoners have been held since the facility opened in 2002. The prison has been in the news lately because of a hunger strike being conducted by several dozen detainees in protest against their indefinite detention.

The collection of books and periodicals available to the 166 remaining prisoners has now grown to several thousand. Charlie Savage, a New York Times reporter who covers Guantanamo, has posted a gallery of pictures from the library on a Tumblr page.

The images are haunting and tinged with ironies. There’s an Arabic copy of the nonfiction book “News of a Kidnapping,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which relates the story of several men and women held in tiny cells by a Colombian drug cartel.

A photograph contributed to the site by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald shows a copy of a self-help book titled “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook.”

Young adult fiction fills up many shelves at the library, apparently. There’s a complete set of Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, and several copies of the Louis Sachar novel “Holes,” which relates a story set in a youth detention facility. There are also comic books (lots of "Captain America") and children’s books, including an Arabic version of a book in the “Magic School Bus” series.

Many of the detainees have been held without trial for more than a decade. An impasse between the Obama administration and Congress had stopped efforts to close the facility and transfer the remaining detainees to other countries or bring them to trial in the U.S.

 

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hector.tobar@latimes.com