A Manhattan exhibit of artwork created by Guantanamo detainees is stirring controversy, and it's apparently caught the attention of military officials and prompted a policy change at the prison. NY1 Political Reporter Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Some artwork on display at John Jay College doesn't seem out of the ordinary, but the artists are current and former detainees of the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay.
"It turns out that detainees have been making art at Guantanamo for years," said Erin Thompson of John Jay College.
Thompson is the curator of the exhibit, "Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay." Military officials created the Guantanamo art program about nine years ago as a diversion for prisoners, and the program was even a point of pride.
The artwork, which is displayed in the detainee library, was highlighted in a Defense Department video and a newsletter. The artwork, after being scrutinized for any hidden messages, could be released, usually through detainees' attorneys.
But the John Jay exhibit appears to have raised a red flag: There are extensive artist bios. And the exhibit's website has a note for those interested in purchasing art from these artists.
Thompson notes only artwork from former detainees is available, but military officials have now declared detainee art government property and blocked any further release to the public.
"I wanted this to be the first of many exhibits of detainee artwork, and I fear that this will be the last," Thompson said.
One artist featured in the exhibit is Ammar Al-Baluchi, one of five men charged with orchestrating the September 11th terror attacks.
Thompson said while she's heard from some people angry that she's seemingly glorifying terrorists, she said she's also heard from 9/11 widows with a very different message:
"'Thank you for putting on the show and for drawing attention to the issue of Guantanamo,'" Thompson recalled them saying. "Because they want to see justice done. They want trials, and that isn't happening."
Ammar al-Baluchi and his four alleged co-conspirators were arraigned in a military court in Guantanamo in May of 2012. But thanks, in part, to legal questions about the legitimacy of the court, the trial hasn't yet begun and likely won't for several years.