Critics say the change in policy dehumanizes prisoners at the center of international controversy since the Guantánamo facility was opened.

The 41 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay just lost ownership to their own artwork — paintings, drawings, and even sculptures created while shackled to the floor. According to Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald, the Pentagon has decided to claim ownership of all creative works made inside the detention center, and they may even decide to burn them.


Ahmed Rabbani, “Untitled (Binoculars Pointing at the Moon)” (2016), work on paper
Ahmed Rabbani, “Untitled (Binoculars Pointing at the Moon)” (2016), work on paper © Art from Guantánsmo Bay

According to Rosenberg, art classes started at Gitmo “in the later years of the Bush administration as commanders explored ways to distract detainees who had spent years in single-cell lockups from getting into clashes with the guards.” The program appeared successful, and even US military personnel were impressed. Detainees began sending works they’d created as presents to their lawyers and families — after close inspection and screening for subliminal messages, of course.

Rosenberg’s article sites an ongoing exhibition of Guantanamo artwork at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Ode to the Sea(which has gotten international media attention), as the impetus to the Pentagon’s latest decision. On the exhibition’s website, there is an email address listed for those interested in purchasing work. Rosenberg cites a Pentagon spokesperson concerned about “where the money for the sales is going.”

Erin Thompson, associate professor of art crime at John Jay College and one of three curators who organized Ode to the Sea, told Hyperallergic that of the eight artists featured in the exhibition, four are former prisoners, and only their work is for sale. Furthermore, no one from the Pentagon even tried to contact her to ask about sales, even though her email address is plainly listed on the site. (Thompson responded to Hyperallergic’s inquiry almost immediately.)