Criminalizing Librarians


Confronted with Section 215 of John Ashcroft’s USA Patriot Act, Marie Bryan—library services director of the Woodland, California, public library, considered her options. If the FBI, conducting an investigation of links to terrorism, decided to come with a list of books to be matched with borrowers of those books, she would have to turn over the names. And she would be forbidden by the law to tell anyone, including the press, of the visitation by the FBI.

In The Sacramento Bee‘s superb and exemplary four-part series, “Liberty in the Balance,” on the scope of the Bush-Ashcroft war on the Bill of Rights (September 21-24), available at, Marie Bryan told users of the library: “You may think, ‘This won’t happen to me. It will only happen to terrorists.’ The vagueness and broadness of these measures mean that yes, it can happen to anybody.”

A librarian for 30 years, Bryan told the newspaper she will not turn over her records to the FBI regardless of the consequences. “And I am literally willing to go to jail.”

Because of the nationwide resistance to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, not only by librarians but also by a bipartisan coalition in Congress, the ACLU, and prominent libertarian conservative organizations, it is very doubtful that Marie Bryan—and the many other American librarians shredding borrowers’ records as soon as books are returned—will be behind bars.

And if there should be even a threat of retaliation against Marie Bryan, or other noncooperative members of the 64,000-strong American Library Association, that national group, along with many thousands of library users, will make their outrage plain and direct to Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and George W. Bush—with national elections in the offing.

But in Cuba, 51-year-old Victor Rolando Arroyo—who directed an independent, private library before being sentenced to 26 years in prison after Castro’s crackdown on dissenters (as reported in last week’s column)—is now also in solitary confinement after protesting the treatment of another prisoner.

Arroyo also belongs to the Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers Union. At his trial for “undermining national independence and territorial integrity,” Arroyo refused a government-appointed defense lawyer because, he said, the verdict had been decided in advance. Arroyo also knew that a lawyer employed by the state is continually aware that his fealty to Castro will be judged by his performance for the defendant.

According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières), Arroyo “has high blood pressure, headaches, and diarrhea, and has lost between 15 and 20 kilograms since he was imprisoned.” He is not receiving treatment. At his trial, closed to foreign journalists, the judge called Arroyo a “traitor to Cuba” and a “lackey of the U.S. government.”

I have other reports of Cuban independent librarians who are in Castro’s gulag for so many years that they will likely die for insisting on Cubans’ freedom to read, and their own right to free thought.

There are members of the directorate of the American Library Association, and some rank-and-file members, who agree with the Castro judge who declared Arroyo a “lackey of the U.S. government.” Their charge is that the independent librarians are de facto agents of the American government, which supplies them with fax machines, funds, and other resources—including publications—aimed at overthrowing the Castro regime. Accordingly, the ALA has refused to condemn Castro’s locking up the independent librarians.

Amnesty International, a persistent critic and chronicler of United States human rights abuses at home and around the world, released a 57-page report on June 3: “Cuba ‘Essential Measures’? Human Rights Crackdown in the Name of Security.” The report answers the ALA’s defenders of Castro.

“The dissidents were not charged under articles of the [Cuban] Penal Code covering spying or revelation of secrets concerning state security (articles 95-97), and the evidence does not point to such activity. . . . According to the trial documents available, the activities on which the prosecutions were based included:

“Publishing articles or giving interviews, in U.S.-funded or other media, said to be critical of economic, social, or human rights matters in Cuba.

“Communicating with international human rights organizations . . . distributing or possessing material, such as radios, battery chargers, video equipment, or publications, from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Being involved in groups which have not been officially recognized by the Cuban authorities and which were accused of being counter-revolutionary, including, among others, unofficial trade unions . . . doctors’ and teachers’ associations, academic institutes, press associations, and independent libraries.”

The report continues, “Despite the Cuban government’s claims that such acts threatened national security and therefore warranted prosecution, the above activities constitute legitimate exercise of freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.” (Emphasis added.)

And that is why Amnesty International declares the independent librarians and the other 65 dissidents sentenced to draconian prison terms “prisoners of conscience.”

In an article in the September 18 Washington Post, Vaclav Havel (former president of the Czech Republic), Lech Walesa (former president of Poland), and Arpad Goncz (former president of Hungary) declare:

“It is time to put aside transatlantic disputes about the embargo on Cuba and to concentrate on direct support for Cuban dissidents, prisoners of conscience and their families.”

So too should there be support from the American Library Association and those of the rest of us who do not romanticize dictators. A member of the ALA’s policy-making governing council, Mark Rosenzweig, says patronizingly that “we cannot presume that all countries are capable of the same level of intellectual freedom that we have in the U.S. Cuba is caught in an extremely sharp conflict with the U.S. . . . I don’t think [Cuba] is a dictatorship. It’s a republic.”

The internationally respected Cuban journalist and poet Raúl Rivero disagrees with Mr. Rosenzweig. Before being put in Castro’s gulag for 20 years, Rivero wrote in the Argentinean newspaper La Nación, “No one can make me feel like a criminal, or an enemy agent, or someone who does not love his country. . . . I am only a man who writes. And writes in the country where he was born, and where his great-grandparents were born.”

And where, at 57, Raúl Rivero is very likely to die in a prison cell in Castro’s “republic.” His wife, Blanca Reyes, adds: “What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade.”