Do you know the art of Guantanamo?
Kind of a ridiculous question because your government has made sure you don’t. The artists of Guantanamo are locked up and no longer allowed to send out their art. The latest few who have been actually released (as opposed to the 21 men “approved for release” who are still locked up) can’t bring their art out with them.
Some of the prisoners’ art is beautifully decorative, some evocative, some showing great skill. But it all conveys the humanity, emotion and spirit of the men in that torture camp, which is likely why, under Trump, they were no longer allowed to have their attorneys share it with the world. Outrageously, 21 months after Biden took office, that policy stands.
Journalist Andy Worthington’s The Powerful Artwork Still Being Created by Prisoners at Guantánamo, and the Outrageous Ban on its Dissemination That is Still in Place brings the history and current situation to us:
The only time that creative expression flowered at Guantánamo, after Barack Obama became president, when, for a brief period, the prisoners living communally in Camp 6 (who, by that time, included Mansoor) were allowed art classes, and ended up prolifically turning the prison block into a living art gallery. We also discussed how two of those artists, Moath al-Alwi, who creates extraordinary ships out of recycled materials, and Khalid Qassim, one of Mansoor’s closest friends, are still held, amongst the 14 remaining “forever prisoners” (out of 39 men in total who are still held) who have never been approved for release, despite never being charged with a crime or put on trial.
Three of nine candle paintings, made using gravel from the prison’s recreation yard, that Khalid Qasim created in memory of the nine men who have died at Guantánamo since the prison opened in January 2002. Khalid was recently “cleared” to leave, but sits in prison: Profile of Khalid after 20 years at Guantanamo.
‘Giant’ by Guantánamo prisoner Moath al-Alwi, competed in 2015 and brought out of the prison by his attorney to be exhibited in NYC before a ban on any prisoner artwork being removed from the prison was enacted under Donald Trump. From a piece by Joel Gunther: “When he finished Giant’s sails and fastened its rigging, ‘the most beautiful thing happened,’ al-Alwi said, in a conversation relayed by his lawyer. ‘I felt as if I were in the middle of the ocean. I felt waves hitting the ship from every direction, and I felt I was rescuing myself.’”
The piece by Joel Gunther, Life after Guantanamo: ‘We are still in jail’ is so worth reading to understand how some released prisoners are still punished, interviews Sabry al-Qurashi, a Yemeni who spent nearly 13 years at Guantanamo before he was forcibly resettled to Semey, a small city on a former nuclear test site in far-eastern Kazakhstan which he is not allowed to leave.
“Al-Qurashi is often stopped by the police when he leaves his apartment, he said, and asked to produce ID he does not have. Sometimes he is taken to the police station and forced to wait seven or eight hours until someone from the ICRC comes to get him. He needs specialist medical care for damaged nerves in his face after he was punched by a plainclothes policeman for refusing to remove his jacket one day, he said, but he has been refused permission to travel to the capital to get it. ‘I went to the police station to ask what happened to the guy who hit me, and they said, ‘Shut your mouth, you are nothing here, go home.'”
P.S. We just read this article published in The Guardian on Sunday.