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Castro's Library Pass (Part II) By: Walter Skold
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, October 13, 2005

[This is Part II of a four-part series concerning the American Library Association's pandering to Fidel Castro's totalitarian regime. Click here to read Part I. - The Editors]

Since the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) website says the primary audience for their postings is the general public, and since readers are encouraged to write Don Wood with questions, I sent him an e-mail on June 25 to inquire why the news of Castro’s book burning was not included on the book burning page he edits?

On June 27th, the esteemed author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradury, was the keynote speaker at the ALA’s annual convention in Chicago. As a vocal advocate for reading and intellectual freedom, the ALA is usually able to present several nationally-acclaimed authors at their conventions, and it was a coup for them to have Bradury. On the day he spoke he made a forceful statement regarding book-burning in Cuba, but ALA membership never heard about that from their leaders.

Not wanting to enter into the internal politics of the ALA, and desiring to speak only for himself, Bradbury released his statement to famed civil-libertarian, Nat Hentoff, later that day. In the story I wrote for World Net Daily the 28th, I discussed what the literary icon said:

“I stand against any library or any librarian anywhere in the world being imprisoned or punished in any way for the books they circulate," Bradbury said. "I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison, and to send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people."

You would think such a strong statement from the man whose name is synonymous with book-burning would have inspired his ALA hosts to support his principled stand, but then you wouldn’t know how the ALA nomenklatura thinks about Cuba. When I called and asked for a comment from the leading intellectual freedom officials there, they could not be found for two days and all I got was a press office e-mail which reiterated a January 2004 policy report, which, I was reminded, was crafted as a "result of almost a year of discussion and investigation."

Now that's a pretty strong response, eh, from the group which claims to be the “voice of American Libraries.” I wondered if it was also because they do not want to answer the question, for the same people can issue indignant and rousing press releases within the hour when enemies of liberty like Bush, or Ashcroft, or the Supreme Court make statements about the Patriot Act or the filtering of pornography in public school libraries, or some other front-burner issue on their multi-million-dollar legal agenda (which the membership might want to know isn’t doing too well.)

Unfortunatley, the spectacle of fascists in Cuba torching thousands of books and personal papers is apparently not even on the back burner for these folks, who will drop everything and scream censorship when a single Mom in Topeka, KS., complains only that a book promoting gay marriage should not be mandatory reading for her 4th-grader.

In my story for WorldNet Daily it was noted that for two days the ALA Press Office could not find any officials to find whether or not the ALA was going to join with Bradbury in his challenge to Castro. The only feedback I received is one brief, absurd e-mail, in which Mr. Wood nonchalantly said:

“I and others have attempted to verify the instances of book burnings in Cuba that you cite, but we are unable to find any references to them in legitimate news sources (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle).  Please send me such sources for your information.”

Well, Mr. Wood, I’ve made a few simple phone calls since you and various other officials at the ALA have claimed they are “investigating” or attempting to verify these sentencing documents (See Part 1) from Cuba and I have an answer for you, sir. In the process I’ve also found some other very troublesome claims and statements about “book burning” on your website.

The trouble starts back in 2003, when the head of the Independent Libraries of Cuba had sent an urgent appeal to the ALA in which she asked them to come to the defense of that persecuted movement. Despite the fact that Noam Chomsky, the world’s leading human rights groups, numerous press associations, hundreds of formerly staunch supporters of Fidel Castro, including leading members of the Communist Party in Portugal, Howard Zinn, Jimmy Carter, and the whole European Union denounced the arrest and imprisonment of these dissident librarians, and others who had been tossed into jail, the ALA referred the matter to a joint committee!

During the few months that committee looked into the situation in Cuba, the former president of the ALA and head of the task force, John W. Berry, claimed in an e-mail to the ALA Council that “The International Relations Office is currently investigating the group hosting these documents and is examining the veracity of the documents themselves.”

Here are the serious problems with this claim that ALA committee-members should be forced by Council members to explain:

1.) I called Mr. Mark Schlakman, who directs the FSU Center for Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. Not only did he provide me with three news articles from major Florida newspapers, the professional editors and journalist of which all apparently trusted validity of the Cuban court documents, but he also discussed the often-dangerous process by which these sorts of documents escape Cuba. Why couldn’t Mr. Wood find these press articles, and if he tried to verify the disputed documents, why didn’t he simply call FSU like I did?

2.) Mr. Berry said his task force was “investigating” the FSU center, but officials I spoke to there have no recollection of anyone from the ALA calling them to ask about the documents or how they judged them authentic. Mr. Berry, who did you ask about this group, Fidel Castro? How did you examine the veracity of these documents if you or a staffer never called the center that released them?

3.) Perhaps something of the zeal of this task force to get to the bottom of Cuban crimes is best revealed in this pathetic fact.  Mr. Berry claimed that his task force looked at reports written by Amnesty International (AI) and other human rights groups. That’s funny, I called one Holly Ackerman, the main Cuba researcher for Amnesty International in the US and herself an academic librarian, and she said no one from the ALA ever called her to ask about these documents. What is worse is this – Ms. Ackerman told me that she sent a personal letter to the committee and offered to help them with their investigation and to answer any questions they had. Guess what? She told me that no one ever wrote her back. Essentially, the AI contact in the US was ignored by this dedicated task force! Even Ms. Ackerman was astounded, as she said that at least when groups or governments don’t want AI’s help they at least write back and say thank you for offering!

4.) Without getting into details (for interested readers can look at the documents and judge for themselves), but one of the wolves on this chicken-coop task force asked to look into Cuban repression is one of the most zealously Pro-Castro Council members (See Part IV) in the whole ALA. In his e-mail debates with fellow ALA Council members about the “problem” of noisy Cuban dissidents, Mr. Al Kagan concluded, in direct contradiction to the Amnesty Report, that the best way “to influence the situation in Cuba is to call for a repeal of US sanctions and the Helms-Burton Act.”  

In another sterling recommendation that shows his true loyalties, Mr. Kagan neglected to mention that AI called on Cuba to immediately release the jailed librarians, and he urged the ALA Council that the answer was “Really quite simple,” as he went on to assert they needed more “mutually beneficial contacts” with the “main Cuban library organization.” Folks, this is the very same State-run group (See Part III) whose leaders came to the ALA Toronto meeting in June of 2004 and said the independent librarians had been duly jailed for plotting with the CIA, and that Amnesty International usually lies when it comes to Cuba! Yet these are the very people that one of the ALA’s top Cuba “investigators” looks to for reliability?

Now, beside this very worrisome indication of the thoroughness and legitimacy of the ALA’s own “investigation,” an issue which should be addressed by ALA members if they care about the ALA’s credibility, there is the issue of the veracity of the book burning reports to return to.

First, Mr. Wood, Mrs. Ackerman spent 30 minutes explaining the detailed, careful and sometimes dangerous process by which the International Secretariat of AI goes about verifying documents like those smuggled from Cuba. She said the organization would never have concluded that these 75 people were prisoners of conscience if they did not have full confidence that the documents were authentic copies. She explained that because of intelligence officers infiltrating groups like the independent libraries, there is much danger, as well as disinformation, when it comes to information coming from Cuba. Also, the sources which AI have actually risk their freedom by helping to smuggle such documents out, so I ask you Mr. Wood, do you trust the legitimacy of these documents now, even though the New York Times doesn’t care about book burning in Cuba either?

Secondly, you demanded from my colleagues and me at FREADOM articles from “legitimate” papers and now I have at least three of them. One of them is an editorial about the documents from the September 6, 2003 issue of the Sun-Sentinel, which include this:

“The charges, not the dissidents’ actions, are what is criminal. No human being, in any country on this planet, should be jailed for one second, let alone decades, for voicing an opinion.”

It seems pretty clear that Mr. Wood trusts the editorial judgments of this paper because jut two weeks ago he alerted his IFACTION readers about the story from the Sun-Sentinel in which a local library director caved into pressure by a Cuban-American Democrat official to change the date of a showing of the movie “Motorcycle Diaries,” which glorifies the mass murderer, Che.

Now, even though the movie was not banned, nor burned, but merely moved to a different date, I would agree that this kind of behavior violates the spirit of clause six of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, which says: “Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.”

But Mr. Wood, there are those of us who wonder how you choose what is fit news to print for your own readers, especially in light of what the ALA’s Freedom To Read statement affirms in paragraph 1: “It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.”

How is it that you pick up news stories like this one about such injustice against the legacy of dear Che, but you missed this July 3rd editorial in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which took issue with the ALA’s track record on Cuba by pointing out:

“The librarians' silence has to do with the lingering romantic attachment of the American left to communism in general and Fidel Castro in particular. "The Motorcycle Diaries," the glowing movie about the young Che Guevara, is the current horrible example. The romantic left never would do a similar film about a young Nazi. Guevara killed a lot of people and dreamed of slaughtering more. How about "On the Road With Adolf"? Let's not dwell too much on what came after.”

Could this particular lack of unorthodox or unpopular stories about Cuba found in your daily IFACTION alert have something to do with the sources you choose to inform people about? To test that theory I analyzed three recent logs that I picked out randomly in the IFACTION archives list, and I found these sources; readers can decide on their own about any bias therein.

Certainly Mr. Wood is not an outright censor of all things Conservative or libertarian or Christian, as I did find these stories: one from the Washington Times about a boy not being able to read his Bible in school; one about a Conservative librarian; one about academic freedom from the Christian Science Monitor; and one about a Freedom House study on how civil society movements help bring democracy to nations (the same Freedom House some of his colleagues vilify, Part III).

The majority of stories came from the New York Times, and after that, his most trusted source is Alter Net (which says of its totally left-wing news service “Without qualified editors to evaluate material and make it easier for users to find and act upon it, the public interest information people want and need will continue to be marginalized.”)

Besides these two major sources (although some would think it quite a stretch to consider Alter Net “major”) here is a random list of the publications which Mr. Wood choose to send important information from about “intellectual freedom: Village Voice, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Air America Radio, Democratic Underground, The Nation, People for the American Way, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, ThomasPaine.com, The Progressive, and, well, need I go on?

But getting back to the issue of burned books in Cuba, now that a fellow librarian has provided him with several reliable sources, as well as information from the head researcher for Amnesty International, whose phone number I’ll gladly give him, I wonder if he will now add the incidents of fanatical communist book burning in Cuba to the OIF public-service website? In the first part of this series I said that ALA officials seemingly have no problem censoring such information. If nothing is added to the website, and no credible reason is given as to why the sources I cite are themselves wrong, then the public would sadly have to conclude that the ALA wants to censor this information.

The valid concerns about censorship, self-censorship and hysteria within the ranks of those nationally-respected officials who make up the lists of banned books for the rest of the public, do not end with Herr Fidel. (Indeed, see this minority library blogger (meaning white, male, and conservative) for how the game works)

Since Mr. Wood made it clear to FREADOM inquiries the he judges WND an unreliable news source, I did a little digging into the links cited by Mr. Wood and found that some burned books don’t even need to burn.

For the first example we can see that Cuba is indeed mentioned on the ALA book-burning page, but only in reference to this April 6th story about US soldiers 'mishandling” the Koran at Guantanamo Bay. Not only does the story finally conclude, if one reads it, that “The inquiry found "no credible evidence" that a member of the military joint task force at Guantanimo ever flushed a Koran down a toilet,” there is something even more disturbing about this link (put up on the same day of release, mind you).

Nowhere, not once, nada, never, not anywhere in the text is anything whatsoever at all – zilch – mentioned that talks about any charges of book burning!!!! Why on earth is the story there on that page in the first place?

The second example of false charges of book burning on the OIF page is this story, about a charge against a group of Christian parents who were concerned that their kids were being forced to read a book which they felt promoted paganism. Looking further into the story, the more authoritative Rocky Mountain News reported that “The books weren't burned, as had been reported…Instead, about two dozen copies were turned over to the Olivers to be destroyed.”

Given the conflicting accounts, and the seriousness of the charges of book burning, I called Katharynn Heidelberg, the editor of the Montrose Press, which initially ran the story that Don posted, and she confirmed to me that in fact it turned out that the books were not burned. Apparently, imagine this; someone had lied to make the Conservative parents look worse.

I agreed with Mrs. Heidelberg when she said “Still, they were taken to the dump and destroyed, and that isn’t much better,” but the fact remains that no one raided the school library lighting matches as they ran.

As for trusting content from Alter Net, here is their moral panic about a book burning that turns out was only in their overheated left-wing brains. On June 25, Mr. Wood posted a link to this AlterNet story with the subject heading “Burning Books.”

The AlterNet editorial blurb which caught Mr. Wood’s ear was "Uber-conservative online magazine Human Events Online has the Top 10 Most Harmful Books ever,” but if you actually follow the link to the story, you find that there was absolutely never, once again nada, no and nyet, any discussion whatsoever of burning books in it. The story was about the 10 most-dangerous books which picked the brains of leading conservative academics. Where is the book burning here Mr. Wood?

Now the reader can get a better understanding of what Alter Net means about themselves when they claim that “Public interest websites need an infomediary to steer like-minded people to their content.” Like-minded? BINGO – They hit the ideological hammer and sickle right on the head!

So just to review this astoundingly bizarre situation, we have a situation where one of the intellectual freedom Tzars at the ALA refuses to post news of the books burned in Cuba, but he then goes ahead and posts links to articles about “book burning” which have no factual foundation. He seems content to condone or promote inflammatory judgments about the US military, Conservative parents, and academic scholars who dissent from mainstream liberal opinion, yet he puts a lid on the fires of repression that are smoldering in Cuba.

In light of this hypocrisy and different levels of zeal in authenticating sources, I can only conclude that in the eyes of ALA elites, "All book burners are equal, but some are more equal than others."

Since the editors of FRONTPAGE believe in academic freedom, I’m sure they would be happy to give Mr. Wood an opportunity to explain why book burning and library destruction in Cuba is not a human rights or censorship issue.  

And let me be clear again, I am not talking about the large majority of conscientious public librarians who work for their communities every day. I am referring to the talking heads at the pinnacle of ALA bureaucracies who lecture the rest of us about “censorship.” If people think that our constitutional liberties rely on the judgment of these folks, then you better work hard for the preservation of our 2nd Amendment rights for these Castro-coddlers would gladly trade them away for a more just, equitable, and cohesive America.

In the meantime, I have another great idea for celebrating the end of banned books week, other than reading “The Black Book of Communism,” (if your local library hasn’t censored that too). Until Mr. Wood and the other staff make up their collective minds as whether or not they are going to add Cuba to their burned book page, while removing the false charges of book burning that remain there, here is something fun you can do to show these guardians of our liberties just how much you appreciate their unbiased pursuit of intellectual freedom abuses.

Given the nature of some of the information they recommend for the public, here is a gift that should really come in handy.

O yes, one last thing about the burned book site that’s a bit too humorous to pass bye. The  link to “Tortured Logic” is no longer valid.

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Walter Skold is a librarian, poet, and journalist living in Freeport, Maine with his five children and trusty computer, Rover. He is co-chair of the advocacy group FREADOM.

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