10 September 2006

The Azkaban-Bagram Link

I was struck by one detail in Bookselling This Week's interview with Moazzam Begg, author of Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar: "I read the complete Harry Potter series in Guantanamo--including The Prisoner of Azkaban, which I enjoyed, but there really was nothing else to read!"

Begg is a Briton of Indian ancestry who was seized in Pakistan in February 2002 and imprisoned by the US government for just under three years. He has described being tortured and seeing prisoners' bodies at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan before US personnel moved him to Guantànamo Naval Base in Cuba. The Bush-Cheney administration felt that it had enough evidence to bring Begg before an unconstitutional military commission in Nov 2004, but after two months sent him back to Britain instead. There the Blair government questioned Begg for a day and found no cause to detain him further. The US government continues to connect Begg to al-Qa'eda.

Begg's statement above came in response to a question about what books he'd read in captivity that related to being imprisoned. It highlights something I've pondered before about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A major plot point of that book, which came out in 1999 (as well as the 2004 movie version), is that Harry's godfather Sirius Black has been unjustly imprisoned. The beings who guard prisoners and are hunting down Sirius, called the Dementors, are hideous. And millions of people in the US and UK have read the story. Has it affected people's attitudes toward imprisonment? the need for fair trials? prison conditions?

Or, as Justin Taylor wrote in a Counterpunch review of HP6:

The Ministry of Magic, though working overtime to catch the real Death Eaters, is also preoccupied with saving public face; they issue inane lists of precautionary steps citizens can take to protect themselves,...and they occasionally arrest innocent people to appear as if they're accomplishing something.

Is this starting to sound familiar yet?

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