An Exhibition of Guantánamo Prisoners’ Artwork at Humboldt University of Berlin

The poster for the exhibition, featuring a painting by Sabri al-Qurashi.

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I’m delighted to be flagging up an important exhibition of Guantánamo prisoners’ artwork that is currently on display at the Atrium-Gallery of the Institute of Cultural History and Theory at Humboldt University of Berlin (Georgenstr. 47, 10117 Berlin).

The exhibition — of original artwork by one current prisoner, Moath al-Alwi, and three former prisoners, Sabri al-Qurashi, Mohammed al-Ansi and Ghalib al-Bihani, all Yemenis — is the first to take place outside the US, where several exhibitions have taken place since the ground-breaking “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo” was presented at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York from October 2017 to January 2018. See here for my report about that exhibition, and see here and here for my reports from a subsequent exhibition held at CUNY School of Law in New York in 2020. Please also check out my articles here and here (and follow the internal links) for the full story of how, from November 2017 to February 2023, the US government imposed a ban on prisoners leaving with their artwork (and threatened to destroy it) in a fit of pique triggered by the John Jay College exhibition.

Moath al-Alwi, best known for his impressive sailing ships made out of recycled materials, was approved for release from Guantánamo over two years ago, on December 27, 2021, but, shamefully, is still held. Sabri al-Qurashi, meanwhile, was resettled in Kazakhstan in 2014, but promises that he would helped to rebuild his life have turned to ashes, as he explained to Elise Swain for an article for the Intercept a year ago.

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UN Finally Gets to Visit Guantánamo; Also Secures End to Trump-Era Ban on Prisoners Leaving With Their Artwork

One of the ships made at Guantánamo out of recycled materials by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni prisoner who was approved for release in December 2021, but is still held. A third country must be found that is prepared to offer him a new home, because provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Republicans under President Obama, and maintained ever year since, prohibit the repatriation of Yemenis from Guantánamo.

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Finally, over 21 years after the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, a UN Rapporteur has visited the prison, to meet with prisoners as part of what a UN press release described as “a technical visit to the United States” by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

“Between 6 and 14 February,” as the UN explained, Ní Aoláin “will visit Washington D.C. and subsequently the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” and, over the next three months, “will also carry out a series of interviews with individuals in the United States and abroad … including victims and families of victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and former detainees in countries of resettlement/repatriation.”

Ever since Guantánamo opened, successive UN Rapporteurs for Torture tried to visit the prison, but were rebuffed, either by the hostility of the US government, or through a failure on the part of officials to guarantee that any meetings that took place with prisoners would not be monitored.

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Guantánamo Art Ban: Ex-Prisoners Urge Biden to Drop Trump Ban on Released Prisoners Leaving With Their Artwork

A ship made entirely out of recycled materials by Guantánamo prisoner Moath al-Alwi. This was allowed out of the prison before the ban on any more prisoner artwork leaving the prison was enacted in November 2017, but al-Alwi, who was finally approved for release in January this year, has continued to make art, and recently told his lawyer that he would rather his artwork be released than himself, “because as far as I am concerned, I’m done, my life and my dreams are shattered. But if my artwork is released, it will be the sole witness for posterity.” 

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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.

I’m delighted to be posting below a letter to President Biden written by eight former Guantánamo prisoners, urging him to drop a ban on prisoners leaving the prison with artwork they have made — and also giving artwork they have made to their lawyers (and, via them, to their families) — which has been in place since November 2017.

I’ve been writing about this outrageous ban since it was first implemented, when the Pentagon took exception to “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition of artwork by eight current and former prisoners at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which ran from October 2017 to January 2018.

As I explained in an article six weeks ago, The Powerful Artwork Still Being Created by Prisoners at Guantánamo, and the Outrageous Ban on its Dissemination That is Still in Place, following up on a BBC World article by Joel Gunter, The sudden silencing of Guantánamo’s artists, the artwork featured in the show was “mostly innocuous scenes drawn from nature, all of which had been approved for release by the Pentagon after screening to assure officials that they didn’t contain hidden terrorist messages.”

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The Powerful Artwork Still Being Created by Prisoners at Guantánamo, and the Outrageous Ban on its Dissemination That is Still in Place

A painting from 2016 by Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qasim, created before the ban on any artwork being released from the prison was introduced under Donald Trump in 2017, a ban which, shamefully, still stands.

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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.

Many thanks to BBC World reporter Joel Gunter for his recent detailed article, “The sudden silencing of Guantánamo’s artists,” about the wonderful artwork produced by some of the men held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, a lifeline for them since they were first allowed to express themselves during the Obama presidency, but one that has become considerably compromised in recent years, after the Pentagon took exception to an exhibition of some of the prisoners’ artwork at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City from October 2017 to January 2018.

Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay” featured art by eight current and former prisoners, mostly innocuous scenes drawn from nature, all of which had been approved for release by the Pentagon after screening to assure officials that they didn’t contain hidden terrorist messages. Some of the artists showed noticeable talent, although the most striking works were ships and boats made by a Yemeni prisoner, Moath al-Alwi, using recycled materials.

I wrote at the time about the importance of prisoners being allowed to express themselves artistically after their long years of what was, fundamentally, profound isolation under President Bush, and of the importance of their art being allowed to be seen in the US, to show the men as human beings rather than the “super-terrorist” bogeymen that is the default position towards them that has been taken by the US government and the mainstream media, even though the overwhelming majority of the 779 men held at Guantánamo since it first opened in January 2002 have never been charged with a crime, and were almost certainly nothing more than foot soldiers or even civilians seized by mistake.

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Joy as the Talented Artist Khaled Qassim is Approved for Release from Guantánamo, But When Will He Be Freed?

Khaled Qassim, in an undated photo taken at Guantánamo in the early years of his imprisonment.

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20 years and two months since the Yemeni prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim) arrived at Guantánamo, where he has been held ever since without charge or trial, he has finally been approved for release. 25 years old at the time his capture, and frozen in time in the only known photo of him, taken at Guantánamo in the early years of his imprisonment, he is now 45 years old, and has, as a result, spent almost half his life at the prison.

The announcement that Khaled has been approved for release is wonderful news, as those of us who have been studying Guantánamo closely know that he is a talented artist (I posted an article about his art when it was shown in New York two years ago), and, in addition, we learned via his close friend, the released prisoner and author Mansoor Adayfi, that he is also a natural leader, a beautiful singer, a writer, a teacher and a talented football player.

Mansoor told us that Khaled’s natural leadership abilities meant that, in 2010, a Navy Commander said of him, “We like Khalid to represent all the detainees. He talks like a poet when he speaks on behalf of the detainees, and he’s an easy man to deal with,” although he was also, in the prison’s early years, a persistent hunger striker, one of around dozen young, mainly Yemeni prisoners who, as Adayfi explained in his powerful memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here,” published last year, countered the US’s brutality and injustice with perpetual resistance, as did Adayfi himself.

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“Forever Prisoner” at Guantánamo: The Shameful Ongoing Imprisonment of Khaled Qassim

Guantánamo prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Please be aware that this photo doesn’t reflect what Khaled looks like now, as it was taken 14 or 15 years ago, when he was around 30 years old. According to his birthdate in the Pentagon’s records, he has just marked his 45th birthday, and in May will have been held at Guantánamo for 20 years without charge or trial.

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On the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay — a disgraceful anniversary that should never have come to pass — President Biden sought to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that five men had been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama. 

What was less widely reported was that another prisoner, Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), held for nearly 20 years, had his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by a Periodic Review Board, not because of any crime he has committed — the board members recognised his “low level of training and lack of leadership in al Qaida or the Taliban” — but because of his “inability to manage his emotions and actions”, his “high level of significant non-compliance in the last year”, and his “lack of plans for the future if released.”

The decision reveals a fundamental weakness in the PRB system, a purely administrative process, which is not legally binding, and has, essentially, replaced reviews of prisoners’ cases in the courts via habeas corpus petitions — a process that led to dozens of prisoners having their release ordered by the courts between 2008 and 2010, when cynical, politically motivated appeals court judges passed rulings that shut the process down.

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Five More Prisoners Approved for Release from Guantánamo: 18 of the 39 Remaining Men Are Now Waiting to Be Freed

The five “forever prisoners” approved for release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards in November and December 2021. From L to R: Suhayl al-Sharabi, Guled Hassan Duran, Moath al-Alwi, Omar al-Rammah and Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu.

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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.

In the run-up to the shameful 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, I had the sneaking suspicion that President Biden would seek to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that more of the facility’s “forever prisoners” had been approved for release.

In his first year in office, President Biden released just one prisoner, even though he inherited six men approved for release from the previous administrations, but crucially, via the Periodic Review Boards, the review process established by President Obama, he has also now approved an additional 13 men for release — one-third of the remaining 39 prisoners — bringing to 18 the total number of men still held who the US government has conceded that it no longer wants to hold.

This is definitely progress — although it means nothing until the men in question are actually released — but it does show a willingness to move towards the prison’s closure, and also indicates that the administration has taken on board the criticism of numerous former officials, and, in particular, 24 Senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives, who wrote to President Biden last year to point out how unacceptable it is that the government continues to hold men indefinitely without charge or trial.

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Video: I Discuss Resistance and Creativity at Guantánamo and the Plight of Former Prisoners with Mansoor Adayfi

A screenshot of “Life After Guantánamo,” an online discussion between Andy Worthington and former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective, which took place on December 9, 2021.

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Last week, I was delighted to take part in “Life After Guantánamo,” an online discussion with former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective, which was also intended to raise funds for Mansoor, who, like the majority of former prisoners, remains haunted by the unjustifiable “taint” of Guantánamo, preventing them from getting paid work and supporting themselves.

The fundraising page is here, on Facebook, if you’re able to make a donation, although it closes in two days’ time. To date, around $5,700 has been raised towards the target of $20,000 — to cover Mansoor’s medical care, tuition fees and his work as a writer and advocate for Guantánamo’s closure.

The event, introduced by Maha Hilal, lasted for just over an hour, and the video of it is here.

Mansoor is the author, with Antonio Aiello, of the justifiably acclaimed memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, which was published in August, and I was pleased to finally have the opportunity to talk with him about aspects of his narrative, covering the 14 years he spent in Guantánamo before his resettlement in Serbia in 2016, as well as discussing the plight of prisoners following their release.

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“My Best Friend and Brother”: A Profile of Guantánamo Prisoner Khalid Qasim by Mansoor Adayfi

Khalid Qasim (left), who is still held at Guantánamo, and his friend Mansoor Adayfi, released in 2016, and resettled in Serbia, who has written a powerful and moving profile of him, published below.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

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.

Today we’re delighted to be publishing a brand-new article by former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, about his friend Khalid Qasim, who is one of the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay in its latest iteration under Donald Trump — a place without hope, cruelly and pointlessly still in existence 18 years after it first opened.

To try and shine a light on the continuing injustice of Guantánamo — and the plight of the men still held — we were delighted, two weeks ago, to publicize an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork taking place at CUNY School of Law in New York, in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York. The exhibition was formally launched on February 19, and I wrote about its launch here, but my initial article focused on the work of just one prisoner, whose work had ben shown before the official launch, during my annual visit to the US in January, to call for the closure of the prison on the anniversary of its opening.

The prisoner is Khalid Qasim (also identified as Khalid Qassim or Khaled Qassim), and as I was writing my article I noticed that Mansoor Adayfi had posted a message on Facebook stating, “My best friend and brother Khalid Qassim, 18 years behind bars at Guantánamo, without any charges or trial. What is enough for Trump?”

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Photos and Report: The Launch of “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison” at CUNY School of Law in New York

One of the extraordinary ships made out of recycled materials at Guantánamo by Moath al-Alwi, who is still held, as shown in the exhibition, “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” at CUNY School of Law in New York (Photo: Elena Olivo).

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

Last week was the launch of “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” a powerful new art exhibition featuring work by eleven current and former Guantánamo prisoners at CUNY School of Law’s Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, in Long Island City in Queens, New York, which I wrote about in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York

This is only the second time that Guantánamo prisoners’ artwork has been displayed publicly, following a 2017 exhibition at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also in New York, which became something of a cause célèbre after the Pentagon complained about it. That institutional hissy fit secured considerable sympathy for the prisoners — and criticism for the DoD — but in the end the prisoners lost out, as the authorities at Guantánamo clamped down on their ability to produce artwork, and prohibited any artwork that was made — and which the prisoners had been giving to their lawyers, and, via their lawyers, to their families — from leaving the prison under any circumstances. 

Since the launch, a wealth of new information has come my way, via Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents around ten of the 40 men still held at Guantánamo, and who was one of the main organizers of the exhibition, which is running until mid-March, with further manifestations continuing, I hope, throughout the rest of the year.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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