The Banned Books of Guantánamo

'The Kill List' by Frederick Forsyth

The writer says it's "a badge of honour" to be banned in Gitmo.

by Frederick Forsyth
10 November 2014, 10:00am

Image by Marta Parszeniew

I'd say it was rather a badge of honour to be banned in Guantánamo Bay. The book in question, The Kill List, is another variation of the old manhunt story. The hunter is an American Marine, who is head of the department detailed with tracking down terrorists. His target is a jihadist hiding somewhere in the Middle East. They can't bomb this man because houses surround him, with women and children in them. There is a lot in the book about the technology of missiles and particularly of drones, which is unavoidable, really – the background is realistic, and that's what I've done since I wrote The Odessa File, where I described what was then unknown: the ex-Nazi organisation ODESSA and what they had done.

I suspect the Americans have banned it because they feel it might give the detainees ideas. I have passages in the book, based on conversations I had with a scholar of the Qur'an, which absolutely condemn jihadist extremism and say it is the antithesis of what Islam actually says. There are other passages that show the killing of innocent people by fundamentalists. I wonder, though, what the men in Guantánamo Bay are doing there still, because the idea originally was that after the invasion of Afghanistan, only the most dangerous would be submitted there. The irrecoverables, as it were.

There's a hilarious story that is absolutely true: The Russians were about to permit the publication of The Day of the Jackal when some deranged army officer took a pot shot at Brezhnev in his limousine. That was enough for the KGB. They arrested the publisher, translator, everyone. Needless to say that book of mine was never published. There are prisons in authoritarian systems and they just don't like prison inmates to speak about the technicalities of how to kill the boss. You can buy it there now, though, everything changed after the fall of the Soviet Union and now my books are widely read in Russia. I'm absolutely certain I'm banned in North Korea, however – everything is banned there. But I'm not banned in China.

I think perhaps it's important not to forget that old American practice, "CYA": cover your ass. It costs nothing to say no, but say yes and some senator or something might hold you accountable. They prefer to say no because there is no risk.

As told to Oscar Rickett.

Header image by Marta Parszeniew.