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The Guantanamo Bay Prison Library

I came across this photo of a section of the Guantanamo Bay Prison library this morning and found it interesting:

Guantanamo Bay, Josh Wieder, 127 Hours, prison library, Aron Ralston

The copy of Aron Ralston's 127 Hours was specified by the photographer as being specifically dog-eared, but personally the Nora Roberts novel to the right appears to have been more thoroughly examined. Is trashy romance a Jihadi thing?

What really got my attention, though, was the *multiple* copies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract (that appear to be untouched). Prison censors even in domestic US prisons tend to omit any works of political philosophy from the library - when you do see prisoners reading this stuff they typically have to make special arrangements to get it by purchasing it directly from the publisher or through an inter-library loan as part of an in-prison education program. A colleague of mine recently published a series of damning articles on the prison health system in the state of Florida; wardens of prisons who were implicated had prison staff cut her articles out of newspapers before they arrived at the prison. That's the sort of handling you expect of political content in US prisons. What you don't see is political prisoners being provided with works of philosophy that helped spawn violent revolts and famously include lines like "Man was born free but everywhere is in chains".

To be sure, I have no idea how the Guantanamo Bay Prison Library came into existence, who provides the books, or really if prisoners are actually allowed to read any of these books or if it is a sort of Potemkin Village Library that is only trotted out for members of the media.

Whether the library is real or fake, there is no part of Guantanamo Bay that has not been carefully reviewed by military bureaucrats, and that makes the choice of including Rousseau fascinating. For one thing, you would think a military that is as invested as the US military is in the continual expansion of the Executive branch to be, well, somewhat more sympathetic to the Monarchists. At least in an Edmund Burke kind of way.

If any controversial-in-content-but-not-in-character works of political philosophy were allowed, I'd think that it would be someone like John Locke; a figure more directly connected to America.

On the other hand, perhaps the inclusion of Rousseau is an attempt at a semi-literate in-joke.

The same 2013 media junket that spawned the photo above also featured a tour of the Guantanamo Bay medical facilities, which were even then famous for their force feedings of prisoners who have resorted to starving themselves in a final bid to escape an Orwellian situation in which they remain imprisoned often without charge and without any form of legal recourse or redress. All of the members of the military who spoke to the press provided either fake names or no names. The nom de guerre of the officer in charge of the Guantanamo prisoner hospital who explained how force feeding prisoners was a painless and comfortable process despite international claims that such procedures are torture was "Leonato" - a character taken from Shakespeare comedy "Much Ado About Nothing." 

Guantanamo Bay, force feeding, Josh Wieder, restraint chair
A restraint chair used in Guantanamo force feedings. Note the horrific nature of everything about this room.
Choosing that name was an obvious act of condescension. Coverage of the Guantanamo Bay hunger strike and the nasal force feedings that followed was non-stop for months. Opting for the pseudonym Leonato was a passive-aggressive jab at the media and based on the assumption that the fakers in the news business are secret illiterates who wouldn't catch the obvious reference.

Guantanamo Bay, Josh Wieder, Leonato, force feeding, torture
This is Leonato. He is a registered nurse who knows his Shakespeare better than his Hippocrates.

Although not explicitly stated as such in The Social Contract Rosseau will forever be tied to the notion of a Noble Savage, as put here as succinctly as remains credible by Luke Mastin:

    Rousseau saw a fundamental divide between society and human nature and believed that man was good when in the state     of nature (the state of all other animals, and the condition humankind was in before the creation of civilization), but has       been corrupted by the artificiality of society and the growth of social interdependence. This idea of the natural goodness       of humanity has often led to the attribution the idea of the "noble savage" to Rousseau, although he never used the
    expression himself and it does not adequately render his idea.
The word Savage has taken on a particularly loaded meaning for the US military following the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As Chris Kyle, the polarizing subject of Clint Eastwood's film American Sniper, put it in his autobiography:  “Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages.’ There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.” Kyle went on: "I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives. Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government ." (Bold mine)

The word has taken on a larger context. It's become a goto headline for the NY Post (and quite a few other news organizations) in their coverage of Middle Eastern Violence:


The idea of the conflict between Western governments and their client states on the one side and terrorist extremism on the other is in reality a proxy for a fundamental, existentialist war between social progress and backwards cavemen is so prevalent in the US today that it remains difficult to track where it ends and where it began.
California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez weighs in
People using Yahoo! Answers, the cavepeople of the internet, are in no position to call anyone savages
The point is that there has been a decade of inflammatory mud-slinging here in the States that specifically surrounds the word savages. Rosseau is widely mis-remembered as arguing on behalf of noble savages. Its the sort of pseudo-intellectual elbow-throwing you might expect to see from a guy who would use a half remembered play from high school to screw with journalists.