Monday, August 8, 2005

Harry Potter’s worldwide popularity is so broad-based that it has become favorite reading for Islamic terror suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Lori, who for two years has overseen the detention center’s library, said J.K. Rowling’s tales about the boy wizard are on top of the request list for the camp’s 520 al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, followed by Agatha Christie whodunits.

“We’ve got a few who are kind of hooked on it. A couple have asked if they can see the movie,” said Lori, a civilian contractor who asked that her last name not be publicized.

Lori said she is compiling a list to provide to various lawmakers in Washington, who recently visited the prison at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a congressional delegation investigating accusations of torture. A U.S. military investigation last month concluded that no torture has taken place since the prison opened in early 2002.

The Guantanamo library also has drawn interest because of a separate investigation into how guards handle the Koran, which is given to any prisoner who requests it under Pentagon policy. The investigation found five cases of mishandling the sacred book, but no evidence that personnel flushed a copy down a toilet, as one press report — since disavowed — said.

The prison initially ordered 1,600 Korans in various languages for $23,000 and since has put in orders for more than 200 more.

“After a period of time, they start to fall apart because they read them constantly,” Lori said.

Most of the Muslim holy books are printed in Saudi Arabia at the King Fahd Holy Koran Printing Complex. There, Islamic clerics ensure that each edition faithfully translates the words of the prophet Muhammad.

Once the shipment arrives, Lori said, the prison staff then screens them. Saudi Arabia is the hub for extreme teachings of Wahhabism’s version of Islam. Some Korans are printed with Wahhabi commentary. But those editions are not allowed at Guantanamo.

“We only buy the Koran,” Lori said. “The Koran is the Koran is the Koran. There is no Wahhabi version. You can buy a Koran with commentary. We do not purchase the Koran with commentary. The reason we do not do that is we would end up with Wahhabi interpretations.”

Detainees may not peruse the bookshelves at Camp Delta, which is stocked with more than 800 books other than the Koran and with family-values movies. Instead, a staff of three librarians load up a book cart and go cell to cell.

The titles are not all sorcery and murder mysteries. There is, for example, “Sahih Bukhari,” a book of sayings and deeds by the prophet Muhammad compiled by the early Arabic scholar Muhammad bin Ismail Bukhari.

“We had someone from the Joint Staff [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] come down who is a Middle East Islamic specialist and gave recommendations,” Lori said.

The library bans certain book categories, such as ones that deal in political thought.

“We try to keep people calm and not incite riots,” Lori said.

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