The Fate of the Art from Guantanamo Bay

We are unwilling to loosen our grip on these men for even a second.

I was casting about for some good news, because, you know, one can only take so much. One of my most reliable sources thereof is the Good News Network. I find it interesting that much of the good news that they share gets very little press elsewhere. It’s as if mainstream media finds that good things aren’t noteworthy.

While browsing through the stories on that site, I came across one that intrigued me quite a bit. I love art, and I’m a firm believer in freedom of expression, and this story ticks both boxes. It was entitled, “Pentagon Reverses Ruling on the Release of Art Made by Guantanamo Bay detainees.”

As proof positive that humans are complex, I was astounded to discover that there are quite a few talented artists amongst the Guantanamo Bay detainees. That someone can be an alleged terrorist and still create beauty in the world is a little hard to comprehend. Our government would prefer that we view these men as evil personified, completely devoid of any shades of grey. It’s less messy that way.

Naturally, we all now understand that a lot of these men, who have been detained in Guantanamo for decades without even being formally charged, may not even be criminals. But even those who are innocent must be awfully bitter by now. And yet their creativity never dies, even though art supplies are awfully thin on the ground.

Apparently, released prisoners had always been allowed to take their art with them, and even have their work displayed in art exhibitions. Then along came Trump. I’m sure he couldn’t stand the idea that something might be improving the morale in Guantanamo. He couldn’t have that. And it must have been annoying to him to discover that, unlike him, most adults know how to color within the lines

So in 2017 it was declared that all art made by the detainees was actually property of the US Government, and couldn’t be displayed at all. This flies in the face of copyright laws, but Guantanamo is where laws and human rights go to die. It is also a blatant disregard of freedom of expression. And it’s rather ironic that these detainees, who haven’t even been formally charged with anything, can be so restricted when even American Death Row inmates can share their art with the wider world.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that any art that depicted the layout of the prison should be released to the public. I’d also be hesitant to allow art that releases the names of other prisoners or the names of prison guards. Security should be foremost.

But as you can see from the images included in this article, most of the art isn’t even political, let alone a threat to national security. All you see in these works is quite a bit of talent. I want to see what else these men have created.

So it’s good news that much of the foolishness regarding the Trump era restrictions have been reversed. But according to this article, the pentagon kept their wording vague enough to where they can still exert as much control as they want, at any time. For example, prisoners can now take their work with them, but it must be a “practicable quantity”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. And that quantity will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

And even though the art (or some quantity thereof) will now get to remain with the artists, the Department of Defense still considers it all to be the property of the US government. So it’s hard to tell if these artists will be able to profit from their work or not. Even on the issues that would have minimal impact on our country, but would mean everything to the artists in queston, we are unwilling to loosen our grip on these men for even a second. Absolutely not.

So is this still good news? Yes. Kind of. In theory. Let’s see how it goes in practice.

But I have to say that any glimmer of hope that our humanity is starting to creep back in is welcome news to me.

Untitled work by Ammar Al-Baluchi (currently detained at Guantánamo) 

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Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

2 thoughts on “The Fate of the Art from Guantanamo Bay”

  1. We all have areas in life where we feel imprisoned by our inability to control our fate. As an artist I use art to cope with the negative emotions that result, but also to nourish and grow my hopes and dreams. In essence, I use art to express my humanity with all it’s flaws and glories. Without this outlet, life is unlivable. This art is so personal that having it controlled by others, without my consent, is a soul crushing injury I’ve experienced several times. Can’t imagine that kind of control placed on my humanity while being physically imprisoned with little hope of freedom.
    More good news; how art helps other incarcerated artists deal with harsh realities and how it improves chances of healing damages that led them to jail. There’s an animated video, at the end, with their thoughts on freedom and time. [Click on ‘go to gallery’ ]
    White Snake Projects is an activist opera company which I hope can expand it’s very positive, inspirational reach, with projects like this…

    1. First of all, wow you always find the most fascinating links! This looks like an amazing program and the art is just incredible! I know when I did fractal art I viewed the results almost like loving a child. So the thought of somebody snatching that away and saying this belongs to me and you don’t have any agency over it would be the ultimate insult, and only a bully like Trump could come up with something like that. I’m definitely going to have to really look into the White Snake project and as per usual you’ve probably inspired a future blog post. Thank you, Lyn!

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