The Freedom of Information Act, conceived by Navy veteran and California Rep. John E. Moss more than 50 years ago, is the world’s best vehicle for absurd bureaucratic trivia. A tool of transparency, the FOIA request can surface government documents on everything from the fascinating to the banal — from evidence of government malfeasance to Barack Obama’s secret beer recipe. And in the case of Guantanamo Bay, sometimes those documents are fascinating and banal.
On Aug. 14, the government document clearing house Government Attic posted an unusual 636-page file: a complete catalog of every book, movie and periodical available to Guantanamo Bay detainees as of 2017, compiled by U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force-Guantanamo and released in response to a July 25, 2015 FOIA request by an unnamed individual. The catalog — surfaced on Aug. 17 by The War Zone — is as massive as it is batshit fascinating, loaded with books in every language from English to Swahili. It is, in War Zone writer Joseph Trevithick’s description, “one part foreign archive, one part second-hand book store, and one part middle school library.”
On one hand: How nice that Gitmo detainees have books and movies to help pass the time! On the other: Some of the inclusions feel somewhat bizarre, and the inclusion of incomplete series — why so little Law and Order?!?!?! — feels like torture. At The War Zone, Trevithick keenly highlights the ironic inclusion of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the plot of which revolves against a wizard wrongfully imprisoned in a legendary prison:
Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen who was a legal resident of the United Kingdom at the time of his capture in Afghanistan in 2001, had this to say in an interview with the BBC after his release in 2015: “The closest thing for my mind is [a] Harry Potter story. They got an island in Harry Potter, it says ‘Azkaban,’ where there’s no happiness and they just suck all your feelings out of you, and you don’t have no feelings any more. And truly that’s how I felt all the time. Because that’s what they tried, you know. They want to make you feelingless [sic]. They want to deprive you from everything, anything.”
To wit, we’ve curated some eye-catching selections. Don’t forget to bring the popcorn!
Maybe a movie about nuclear terrorism in the U.S. isn’t the best choice:
Time for a history lesson, y’all:
Let’s be real: Nobody loves Raymond:
Maybe it’s not the best idea to give a bunch of pissed-off detainees overviews of major landmarks:
Presented without comment:
You can browse the whole catalog here: