Indeed there is. Art classes have been held there for at least eight years, if only to give prisoners something to do and perhaps reduce tensions with their jailers and among themselves. The paintings are unthreatening, having been vetted for hidden messages and inflammatory political statements. Elaborate ship models made by a Yemeni man out of cardboard and glue-stiffened cloth were X-rayed to ensure they contained nothing untoward. Their sails are stamped, “Approved by U.S. Forces.”
Prisoners were permitted to give their works to their lawyers, sometimes as thank you gifts. But now the Pentagon says that, while the art instruction will continue, any new creations will go nowhere. They will stay at Guantánamo, a spokesman said, and “remain the property of the U.S. government” (even though some materials were supplied by detainees’ lawyers, not the military).
There has been no claim of a security breach or risk to Americans. The military, it would seem, is simply unsettled by the attention that the John Jay exhibition has drawn from news organizations. It may also be annoyed that some paintings are for sale — not by the college but by a few of the artists and their representatives. Of the eight men, only four are still detained, three of them without any formal charges having yet been brought; they are among 41 men still being held at Guantánamo. The other four artists have been cleared and released, and thus are free to do as they wish, including sell their work.
Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who represents three detainees, said it isn’t “the art exhibit per se” that offends the Pentagon. “It’s that prisoners take control of their own narrative,” he said, describing the new policy as “a kneejerk ‘let’s stomp it out’ approach.”
An inevitable question is whether unseen art is, in fact, art. For Ms. Thompson, there’s another consideration. “We spend years trying to get inside their minds,” she said of the prisoners, adding that the art is one way for interrogators to gain possible insights. And the viewing American public reasonably gets a peek behind the curtain that has long enveloped Guantánamo.
She added, “Why cut off the information?”