Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Discusses Prison Artwork with the BBC, While Lawyers for “High-Value Detainee” Demand His Right to Continue Making Art

Untitled (aka Crying eye) by Mohammed al-Ansi, who was released from Guantanamo to Oman in January 2017, just before President Obama left office (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last October, an exhibition opened in the President’s Gallery, in John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, that might have attracted little attention had the Pentagon not decided to make a big song and dance about it.

The exhibition, ‘Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,’ featured artwork by eight former and current Guantánamo prisoners — four freed, and four still held — which was given by the prisoners to their lawyers and their families, and it was not until November that the Pentagon got upset, apparently because the promotional material for the exhibition provided an email address for anyone “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” The obvious conclusion should have been that “these artists” meant the released prisoners, who should be free to do what they want with their own artwork, but the Pentagon didn’t see it that way.

On November 15, as I explained in my first article about the controversy, a spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going,’” while, at the prison itself, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review.” Read the rest of this entry »

Reviewing the Guantánamo Art Show in New York That Dared to Show Prisoners As Human Beings, and Led to a Pentagon Clampdown

Artwork by former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, shown in 'Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay', an exhibition in New York. This is a screenshot of the home page of the website.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Back in November, a disturbing story emerged from Guantánamo — of how a ten-year policy of allowing prisoners to give away art they have made at the prison to their lawyers and, via them, to family members had been stopped by the authorities, in response to an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, which is known for its criminal justice, forensic science, forensic psychology, and public affairs programs.

The Pentagon had taken exception to an email address provided for people who were “interested in purchasing art” from the artists featured in the show. A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said on November 15 that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.’”

One problem with this position was that some of the art was by prisoners who are no longer at the prison,which surely raises questions about the extent of the Pentagon’s claimed “ownership” of their work, but the Department of Defense wasn’t interested in having that pointed out. Instead, a spokeswoman at the prison, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review,” and Ramzi Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents Guantánamo prisoners, said that one particular prisoner had been told that, if any prisoner were to be allowed to leave Guantánamo (which, crucially, has not happened under Donald Trump), “their art would not even be allowed out with them and would be incinerated instead.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Art Scandal That Refuses to Go Away

'The Statue of Liberty' (2016) by Muhammad Ansi (aka Mohammed al-Ansi), who was released from Guantanamo in January 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Two weeks ago, in my most recent article, for Close Guantánamo, I covered the latest scandal to involve the prison — the US military’s decision, prompted by an art exhibition of prisoners’ work being shown in New York, to threaten to destroy their art, and to insist that it does not belong to the men who made it, but, instead, belongs permanently to the US military.

As I mentioned in the article, the most troubling aspect of the authorities’ position was articulated by Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch, who stated in a powerful tweet that the development was “no surprise” because the “Pentagon has long claimed it owns detainees’ own memories of torture.” When prisoners are not even allowed to own their own thoughts by the US government, it is no surprise that the government also claims that it also owns their artwork.

Nevertheless, since the article was published, criticism of the US authorities’ position has not diminished. At the weekend, the New York Times published an editorial, “Art, Freed From Guantánamo,” which began by stating, powerfully, “The American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — where men suspected of terrorism are for the most part being held indefinitely without trial — has long been a stain on this country’s human rights record. Now the military has stumbled needlessly into a controversy over, of all things, art.” Read the rest of this entry »

Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture

"Empty glassware" (2015) by Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article (as “The Persistent Abuse of Guantánamo Prisoners: Pentagon Claims It Owns Their Art and May Destroy It, But U.S. Has Long Claimed It Even Owns Their Memories of Torture“) for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

After years of letting Guantánamo prisoners keep the artwork they have made at the prison, subject to security screening, the Pentagon has suddenly secured widespread condemnation for banning its release, and, it is alleged by one of prisoners’ attorneys, for planning to burn it.

The story was first reported on November 16 by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, and updated on November 20. Rosenberg explained how, for years, prisoners’ art had been released “after inspection by prison workers schooled in studying material for secret messages under the rubric of Operational Security.”

However, as Rosenberg explained, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition in the President’s Gallery of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice until January 16, 2018, which features “paintings and other works by current and former captives” — and “which garnered international press coverage” — “apparently caught the attention of the Department of Defense,” because of an email address provided for people “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Oman, Leaving 45 Men Still Held, Including Nine Approved for Release?

The ten prisoners released from Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2017. Top, from L to R: Abdul Zahir (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Mohammed al-Ansi, Mohammed Ahmed Said Haidel (aka Muhammed Ahmad Said Haydar), Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i and Musa’ab al-Madhwani (aka Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani). Bottom, from L to R: Bostan Karim (aka Karim Bostan) (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Ghaleb al-Bihani, Mustafa al-Shamiri, Walid Said Bin Said Zaid and Hail al-Maythali (aka Hayil al-Maythali). All the photos are from the files leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2011 except the photo of al-Bihani, which was taken by the International Red Cross, and made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo during the first two months of the incoming Trump administration.

 

So there was great news from Guantánamo on Monday, when ten men — eight Yemenis and two Afghans — were released and sent to Oman, which has previously taken in 20 Yemenis. The Yemenis have been the most difficult category of prisoners to be freed from Guantánamo, because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, fearing the security situation in their home country, meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home — and are prepared to overlook the fact that the US itself is unwilling to do that, and, in fact, that Congress has, for many years, passed laws specifically preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.

The ten releases leave 45 men still held at Guantánamo, with three or four more releases expected before President Obama leaves office on Friday, according to the latest reports. At present, however, nine men approved for release are still held, and the release of those left behind when Obama leaves the White House must be a priority for campaigners as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

Of the ten men released, two were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office, while the other eight were approved for release between May 2014 and December 2016 by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level, inter-agency review process, and one that campaigners must also press Donald Trump to keep. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Yemeni Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Did He Make the List of Prisoners Being Freed in the New Year?

Yemeni prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into 2017.

 

Just before Christmas, it was announced that Mohammed al-Ansi aka Muhammad al-Ansi (ISN 029), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, had been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. The decision made al-Ansi the 38th prisoner to be approved for release by a PRB, and the seventh to be approved for release not after a first review, but after a second review. The decision also means that, of the 59 men still held, 23 have been approved for release.

The PRBs — consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and 64 men have had their cases reviewed, with just 26, to date, having their ongoing imprisonment upheld. That’s a success rate of 59% for the prisoners, which rather undermines the alleged basis of their ongoing imprisonment when the PRBs were set up.

41 of the 64 men had been described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial, while the 23 other men had been recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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