Responding to its refusal to help imprisoned Cuban librarians, veteran Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff scolded the American Library Association by renouncing an intellectual freedom award he received from the group in 1983.

Nat Hentoff

As WorldNetDaily reported, earlier this month, the ALA refused to respond to a plea from independent book lenders imprisoned in Cuba to demand dictator Fidel Castro release them and end a crackdown on free expression.

In response, Hentoff wrote in his column yesterday: “I now publicly renounce the Immroth Award and demand that the American Library Association remove me from the list of recipients of that honor.”

As Hentoff noted, the citation on his June 1983 award reads: “For courageous and articulate advocacy of the First Amendment as an author, speaker, and activist for human rights”

The columnist wrote, “To me, it is no longer an honor.”

Larra Clark, press officer for the ALA, told WorldNetDaily the association had just seen Hentoff’s column and would offer a response later.

Last March, 14 members of Cuba’s Independent Library project were arrested on charges that included making available the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and books such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Some 65 others also were arrested, including journalists and human-rights activists.

At the ALA’s mid-winter meetings in San Diego this month, a joint task force refused to act on the plea from Cuban independent library leader Gisela Delgado Sablon, whose husband is among the prisoners. The task force voted down an amendment to its report, submitted by ALA council member Karen Schneider, calling for the Cubans’ immediate release.

Hentoff noted Schneider’s rejected amendment mentioned his support for the Cuban librarians and his prized ALA Immroth Award.

That decision contradicts the ALA’s own principles, he said, which were spelled out in print by ALA President Carla Hayden on Jan. 14, the very day the amendment was voted down.

Fidel Castro

In a letter to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Hayden wrote:

“ALA and other library associations around the world have a long-standing commitment to intellectual freedom and access to information. It is a fundamental value that is near and dear to the hearts of all librarians, library workers, and library supporters. … ALA stands committed to the freedom to read freely.”

However, Hentoff said, “that very day, the governing council of the American Library Association shamed rank-and-file librarians across this country, many of whom have been vigorously and publicly resisting the section of John Ashcroft’s Patriot Act that gives the FBI the power to search library records for the names of borrowers who have taken out books the FBI thinks may be linked to terrorism.”

Schneider’s amendment said, “In calling for the release of the people arrested in [Castro’s] March 2003 crackdown, we join Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, President Jimmy Carter, journalist Nat Hentoff (recipient of the 1983 ALA Immroth [Intellectual Freedom] award), and other organizations and individuals who champion free speech everywhere.”

In her amendment, Schneider emphasized that demanding Castro free the prisoners of conscience “is consistent with ALA policies, including ALA Policy 58.8, which affirms our support for Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression’ … and especially [ALA Policy] 58.1 (2) … to ‘support human rights and intellectual freedom worldwide.'”

Hentoff accused ALA leadership “of hypocrisy, of being whited sepulchres.”

“As a reporter on intellectual-freedom issues, I have known and respected many librarians around the country as they fought, sometimes in peril of their jobs, against censorship by local politicians, library boards, and right-wing and left-wing politically correct pressure groups,” he said. “It is hard for me to believe that the majority of rank-and-file librarians agree with the spinelessness of their governing council, which couldn’t bring itself to ask the luminous Fidel Castro to let these people go.”

Nevertheless, Hentoff said, an ALA member at the meeting told him some members of the council whispered privately that they agreed with the amendment calling for freeing the librarians but had to vote it down because they didn’t want to be vilified as being “on the wrong team.”

“They have put themselves in their own prison,” the columnist concluded.

Previous stories:

Librarians ignore plea of Cuban prisoners

U.S. Castro backers squelch prisoners’ plea

American librarians silence Cuban pleas

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.